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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #423 -- 2/16/06

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Drug War Chronicle comes out a day early this week due to staff travel schedule. Let us know which day you like better!

News about New Mexico is expected later today, after publication time. Check back at the article web page tonight for an update.

Table of Contents

    big marijuana news in Argentina
    The New Mexico legislature's 2006 short session ends at noon Mountain Time today, and barring a last-second, long-shot maneuver, the medical marijuana bill supported by the state's governor will go with it.
    In a decision that could go before the nation's Supreme Court, a judge in Argentina's Buenos Aires province has found a penalizing drug possession unconstitutional.
    For the second year in a row, drug reformers took the message to a seemingly unlikely audience -- the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
    It's a bumper crop of bad cops this week, with strange goings on in two Arkansas towns, cops up to no good across the South and in Massachusetts and Washington state, a prosecutor in trouble in San Francisco, and a pair of federal air marshals who were apparently marshaling white powder safely to its destination. And we give a shout-out to a web site that you'll like if you like this feature.
    In an attempt at using tough-on-crime rhetoric to win partisan political advantage, a number of Democratic senators are criticizing the Bush administration for seeking further cuts in drug war spending programs beloved by law enforcement.
    In the first of many steps, a bill that would impose fines -- not jail time -- for marijuana possession in Massachusetts has been approved by a legislative committee.
    People involved in Oakland's groundbreaking 2004 initiative -- which made private, adult marijuana transactions the city's lowest law enforcement priority -- are set to expand the effort to other California cities.
    The Ecstasy curve appears to be past its peak, according to standard measures. But that hasn't stopped a Wisconsin legislator from taking action now.
    A junior partner in Belgium's governing coalition is calling for the country's three-year-old marijuana decriminalization experiment to be extended to outright legalization.
  10. WEB SCAN
    Sentencing Project on the War on Marijuana, Marsha Rosenbaum on Drug Hysteria for Alternet
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. Feature: New Mexico Medical Marijuana Bill Likely to Die Without A Floor Vote Barring Last-Ditch Effort

ED: Check back later today to find out whether the last-ditch effort succeeded.

The New Mexico legislature's 2006 short session ends at noon Mountain Time today, and barring a last-second, long-shot maneuver, the medical marijuana bill supported by Gov. Bill Richardson (D) will die with it. The bill sailed through the state Senate with broad support during the abbreviated session, but was shunted off to a House committee largely irrelevant to the measure -- and more importantly, hostile to it -- that voted against it by a 4-3 margin. As of Wednesday evening, the only remaining hope for success this year was the faint chance that House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Albuquerque) will exercise his prerogatives and push for a floor vote this morning.

"We're hoping we can pull off a last-minute effort and get the speaker to take this to the House floor tomorrow morning," said Melissa Milam of the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office late Wednesday afternoon. "That's our last chance for this session; the session is over at noon tomorrow." DPA has been working all out to deluge House members and especially Speaker Lujan with messages urging them to get the bill to a floor vote Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), SB 258, the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, would allow patients suffering from illnesses like cancer or AIDS to use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms if recommended by a doctor. The bill also calls on the state to set up a system of distribution of medical marijuana, including a medical marijuana registry and ID card program. Patients and caregivers would be exempt from criminal prosecution, but would not be allowed to grow their own.

The bill sailed through the state Senate earlier this month despite opposition from local law enforcement, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and out-of-state activists like Steven Steiner of Dads and Moms Against Drugs, whose son died of an Oxycontin overdose. With no apparent sense of irony, Steiner takes money from Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, as well as other pharmaceutical companies, to lobby against allowing sick and dying patients access to medical marijuana.

But despite overcoming the objections of Steiner and his allies, the fast-tracked bill was derailed late last week when, after passing the Senate, it was sent to the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, where opponents of the measure voted to kill it on a motion by Rep. Richard Cheney (R-Farmington). Voting with Cheney to thwart the bill were Reps. Joseph Stell (D-Carlsbad), Sandra Townsend, (R-Aztec), and Don Tripp (R-Socorro).

The committee members were apparently swayed by testimony from the likes of New Mexico High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area director Errol Chavez, who wrongly told them marijuana use and growth increased in California after it passed a medical mariuana law, and US Attorney David Iglesias, who warned them that even if medical marijuana is legal in a state "anyone who violates the federal Controlled Substances Act is subject to federal prosecution." He didn't bother to tell the committee that no patients have been prosecuted by the feds in any state where it is legal.

Rep. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), an Agriculture committee member who voted for the bill, said it was detoured to the committee because the committee was stacked with conservative rural representatives who opposed it. "It's been sent here to kill it," Cervantes said, as he fruitlessly urged committee members to pass it so the entire House could vote on it.

The vote caused an emotional response from the gallery as its meaning sunk it for bill supporters. "Why are you trying to kill us?" shouted Essie DeBonet, 61, who suffers from AIDS and testified in support of the bill in the Senate.

It also brought a tight-lipped reaction from DPA's Reena Szczepanski, who had led the lobbying effort for the bill. "We're really disappointed, absolutely heartbroken," she told the Associated Press after the vote.

Sen. McSorley, the bill's sponsor, was similarly disappointed. The bill was not a move to legalize marijuana, he said, and federal laws had not resulted in patients being arrested in states where it was legalized. The bill was aimed at treating seriously ill patients, McSorley said. "They just want to live," he said. "They are seriously ill and dying. They are trying to pass this law so that they have a chance at life while they are recovering from their diseases."

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2. Feature: Drug Possession for Personal Use is Not a Crime, Argentine Court Rules

In a decision that could bring the question of whether drug possession is legal or not in Argentina to that country's Supreme Court, a judge in the in the province of Buenos Aires has ruled that a tough provincial law penalizing drug possession violates the South American republic's constitution. Penalizing drug possession for personal use is barred under the constitution's privacy provisions, Court of Guarantees Judge Luis Estaban Nitti ruled in the last week of January. A second provincial judge has since followed in Nitti's footsteps.

big news in Argentina
While drug laws have traditionally been the bailiwick of the federal justice system in Argentina, a move last year toward "defederalization" allowed provincial governments (and their police forces) to get involved in the drug war. In Buenos Aires province, which surrounds the capital city, hard-line provincial Gov. Felipe Sola engineered a tough provincial drug law that went into effect in December. That law was passed in the context of an anti-rave campaign conducted by provincial Health Minister and sub-secretary for the Prevention of Addiction Claudio Mate. It was also apparently aimed at the hordes of young people who visit the province's Atlantic Coast beaches in the Argentine equivalent of spring break. Since December, police in one provincial town alone, Pinamar, have arrested at least 180 young people on drug possession charges, according to the Buenos Aires newspaper Pagina 12. According to figures released this week by the provincial Supreme Court, more than 1,700 people have been arrested province-wide on the new drug law.

"Up until last year, drug crimes were punished only under federal law," said Silvia Inchaurraga of the Argentine Harm Reduction Network (ARDA), which has been a leading force pushing for drug law reform in the country. "But in Buenos Aires province, they decided to create their own provincial drug law. ARDA demonstrated against this law last year, saying it would only increase the repressive power of the state and lead to corruption in the police force, which is already known to be corrupt. We also said that this law would only broaden the persecution of drug users."

The provincial Supreme Court statistics suggest that Inchaurraga and ARDA were correct. In its review of Buenos Aires province drug arrests, the court found that 84% were for simple drug possession and 86% were busted for marijuana. "This evidence shows that it's not true that the law is helping police catch the big drug dealers, just punishing more drug users," she said.

Defense attorneys in Buenos Aires province moved to challenge the law, despite believing that their efforts would be fruitless in the provincial courts. "I now come forward to ask that the law is declared unconstitutional, particularly the section that reads 'the penalty will be from one month to two years in prison when the small quantity and the rest of the circumstances suggest unequivocally that the possession is for personal use," said Dolores district court assistant public defender Veronica Olindi Huespi in her motion to the court seeking to overturn the law.

Much to her surprise, Judge Nitti agreed. "The scourge of drugs in our society must be combated with all our strength and means, but without resorting to terror or easy solutions that point in the direction of the person who possesses drugs for personal use, while not focusing on the drug traffic, a sector where unscrupulous people are filling their pockets," he noted in the case of a youth arrested for possessing eight grams of marijuana and rolling papers at a concert. "By punishing simple drug possession for personal use, the state only adds to the problem of drug addicts or, in the case of recreational drug users, by criminalizing them and inserting them into the penal system."

"We tried this believing that they would tell us no and that we would go through successive stages of appeal until arriving at the Supreme Court of the Nation," Veronica Olindi Huespi, assistant public defender in the judicial district of Dolores, told Pagina 12.

Nitti threw out 35 drug possession cases, but allowed cases against five people caught smoking marijuana in public to stand. Those cases were different -- and punishable -- Nitti ruled, because "the person is in public and in that manner is affecting the public health," a portion of the decision that did not sit well with Olindi Huespi.

ARDA conference display
Personal drug use "doesn't hurt anyone except the user, in the same way that, for example, unprotected sexual relations does," Olindi Huespi said. "If the law is unconstitutional, it is so in all cases," she argued.

The issue is not a new one in Argentina. Even during the rightist military dictatorships on the 1960s, Argentine jurists upheld the right of people to use drugs, but that changed with the rise to power of Jose "The Warlock" Lopez Rega, the Rasputin-like behind-the-scenes advisor to then President Isabel Peron, who pushed through a law that not only recriminalized drug possession, but cast it as an offense against national security.

With the fall of the post-Peron military government after the Falklands debacle, Argentine jurists returned to their earlier reasoning, and in its 1986 Bazterrica decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the constitution's privacy provision protected drug possession for personal use from the power of the state. But that decision was overturned a few years later by a new Supreme Court packed with judges appointed by then President Carlos Menem, and there matters stand pending resolution of the current case.

While discontent over arresting people for simple drug possession has been simmering in the Argentine judiciary and some federal judges have simply placed drug possession cases on hold, the case from Buenos Aires province appears to be the first destined to provide a rehearing of the issue at the Supreme Court.

The judicial challenge to Argentina's laws against drug possession runs parallel to an effort in the national legislature to undo them. As DRCNet reported during last fall's Buenos Aires conference on hemispheric drug reform, two Argentina legislators working with ARDA, Deputy Eduardo Garcia and Sen. Diana Conti, introduced bills that would decriminalize -- or in the favored Argentine terminology, "depenalize" -- drug possession for personal use.

"These are good bills, and ARDA was involved in this, but we don't think we have the votes to pass them," said Inchaurraga. "We think there is a better chance the Supreme Court will declare the law unconstitutional. There are now lots of judges saying they cannot punish drug possessors because it was for personal use, that they think it is crazy to punish people for this, and we think we have some friendly judges on the Supreme Court as well. If we can get a case to the Supreme Court, we think we could get a ruling this year that the law is unconstitutional."

The ruling won support from prominent judicial and criminal justice figures in Argentina and neighboring countries. "As a defense attorney, I have argued the same," said Stella Maris Martinez, whom President Kirchner has nominated to be head public defender for the country, in an interview with the Buenos Aires newspaper El Pais. "It is unconstitutional to repress the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use because it does not affect the public health. The decision of the judge in Dolores is very good. Now we are ready to bring a case to the Supreme Court."

"The law is reactionary," said La Plata federal court judge Leopoldo Schiffrin in an interview with Pagina 12. Federal judges don't like it and have acted to undercut it, he said. "In general, federal judges have shown themselves very reluctant to pursue proceedings in cases of possession for personal use."

Argentine marijuana stash seized in Brazil
While the growing criticism of criminalizing drug possession in the judiciary is important, said Inchaurraga, it is rulings from the bench that count. "It is one thing for judges to say in a conference or in the classroom that they agree with depenalization, but the crucial thing is when they make rulings to that effect."

Since Nitti ruled, another provincial court judge, Daniel Viggiano in Lomas de Zamora, has followed his lead. In a decision announced February 6, Viggiano declared the drug possession law unconstitutional, saying that personal drug use did not affect the public health. The Argentine constitution's Article 19 guarantees "the right to privacy" and "defines a sphere of individual liberty that excludes the intervention of the state," he ruled.

At least one leading Brazilian jurist looked on enviously. The Argentine provincial court decisions build on the "remarkable" earlier Supreme Court decisions asserting the privacy right under the Argentine constitution, said retired Court of Rio de Janeiro Judge Luisa Maria Karam. "The right to privacy protects the individual option for using drugs, or possessing them for personal consumption, or doing any other thing that does not affect directly and concretely the rights of others," she told DRCNet. "This right to privacy is an expression of the principle of legality that submits the exercise of state powers to the rule of law and guarantees individual freedom as a general rule, situating prohibitions or restrictions as exceptions that can only be established in order to guarantee the free exercise of rights of others."

The rulings are also justified under the "principle of hurtfulness," said Karam. "The individual option for using drugs, or possessing them for personal consumption, or doing any other private behavior, is also protected by the so-called principle of the hurtfulness of the prohibited behavior, under which criminalization is authorized only if a behavior is able to cause a concrete and significant damage or injury to others."

While the Brazilian constitution is not as explicit on the issue of privacy, said Karam, "a similar case could and should be made under Brazilian law." Some Brazilian judges are already deciding cases along similar lines, she said.

In Colombia and Peru, simple drug possession is already decriminalized. Now, a case that could return Argentina to those ranks may make its way to the Supreme Court. If Brazilian jurists and defense attorneys would embrace similarly creative thinking, the same could happen in South America's largest country. In the Western Hemisphere, at least, it appears Latin America is leading the way to fundamental reform of the drug laws.

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3. Feature: Foes Fume and Flee as Drug Reform Reaches Out to Conservatives

Last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference drew about 5,000 activists and numerous elected officials and movement luminaries to the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC, for three days of fire-breathing rhetoric on topics dear to conservatives: illegal immigration, the war on terror, fiscal responsibility, gay rights, how liberals are destroying America -- and, surprisingly, reforming the nation's drug laws. For the second year in a row, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) cosponsored the event in a bid to reach out to what many drug reformers would consider "the other side." This year, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) came along for the ride.

While a conservative political conference may not, on first glance, appear to be fruitful ground for "legalizers," as some conservative activists call them, drug reformers who attended said that would be a mistaken impression. With the American conservative movement running the gamut from small-L libertarians, free marketeers, and small government conservatives to militaristic neoconservatives and fundamentalists worried about gay rights, rampant sexuality, and "traditional family values," DPA and MPP see an opening.

DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann showed up to debate the failures of the drug war, while MPP executive director Rob Kampia moderated that debate and joined Nadelmann in a smaller panel discussion that same day. Both groups had tables and they jointly sponsored a reception one evening where conservatives could meet and greet, discuss and argue with drug reformers.

"The drug policy reform movement is composed of people coming from many different political directions, and most people realize we need to reach out to everyone. That's a sign of political maturity and sophistication," said DPA director for national affairs Bill Piper. "We think most people understand that ending the drug war will take a big tent coalition. While some Democrats are good on many drug policy issues, they can be a big obstacle when it comes to cutting some of the waste," he told DRCNet.

"It was a great opportunity," said Piper. "We were pretty well received last year, and we definitely got a lot of support this year. That is especially true among young people. While people who don't like us probably didn't stop by to say hello, we did get an enormous amount of sympathy. Some issues generally get strong support, like treatment versus incarceration or treating drugs as a public health issue versus a criminal justice issue, but this is the first conservative conference I've been to where support for marijuana legalization is strong. There were quite a few people who thought drugs should just be legalized, those Milton Friedman or William F. Buckley kind of conservatives. What this suggests to me is that influential conservative leaders and the Republican Party leadership are out of touch with a good part of their base."

"We've already won on the liberal side," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "We've got 72% of House Democrats voting with us on key bills, but until the leadership of the House changes, we need Republicans to be able to pass legislation. Going to CPAC and reminding conservatives of the support for people like Buckley and Friedman for ending marijuana prohibition can, we hope, help us pick up some votes," he told DRCNet.

"For the most part, even people who disagreed with us welcomed the debate on the issue," Piper said. "The Partnership for a Drug-Free America people, who also had a booth there, were hostile, but they were in a minority."

As Piper indicated, not everyone was happy with the presence of "legalizers" at CPAC. While the demagogic author and columnist Ann Coulter garnered the most press attention for remarks calling Moslems "ragheads" -- much to the embarrassment and dismay of many conservative and other bloggers -- some conservatives managed to create a minor flap by attacking the drug reform presence even before the conference started.

The preemptive strike against drug reform was lead by ultra-conservative "press critic" Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy In Media. Last week, Kincaid took time off from his other crusades to launch a jeremiad against foolish conservatives who would allow "two advocates of drug legalization, both of them funded by leftist billionaire and anti-Bush activist George Soros" to use CPAC as a forum for debate. Attempting to cover all the conservative bases, Kincaid's attack dog column warned that, in addition to supporting drug reform, the evil Soros supports "open borders, gay rights, abortion rights, opposition to the death penalty, lighter sentences for criminals, and assisted suicide." The crafty financier is also "a big backer of the UN and opposes the Bush administration's war in Iraq," Kincaid fulminated.

But Soros wasn't Kincaid's only target. He also attacked MPP for plans to hold a fundraiser at -- gasp! -- the Playboy Mansion and tried to tarnish Kampia by writing that he had been convicted of a marijuana charge in 1989. Worse yet, in Kincaid's view, Tommy Chong is a member of the fundraiser host committee.

But wait, there's more. "DPA and MPP are part of a major deception campaign to convince people that marijuana is harmless or even has medical benefits," Kincaid wrote, citing as evidence a few seconds worth of decade-old clips featuring activists joking about the issue. After a few more paragraphs of spleen, Kincaid finally got down to his censorious bottom line: "So why is CPAC giving Nadelmann, Kampia and their ilk a platform?

Kincaid's jeremiad provided fuel for arch-drug warrior and self-avowed Christian conservative Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), who used the ammo to attack drug reformers in the Congressional Record. Comparing the "radical liberal financier George Soros" to disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Souder expressed shock "that a representative of the Marijuana Policy Project is slated to moderate -- yes, moderate -- a panel Friday discussing drug policy. For those who are unacquainted with it, the pro-marijuana MPP has been funded by Soros in the past. Also represented on the panel is the Drug Policy Alliance, which is Soros' principal pro-drug arm. Incidentally, the moderator himself is a convicted drug dealer," Souder added in an ad hominem attack -- and an inaccurate one, Kampia pointed out in an e-mail to supporters yesterday, his conviction was not for dealing but for growing marijuana in his college dorm room for personal use. "What on earth were the CPAC organizers thinking?" Souder asked. "Why would the American Conservative Union allow extremist liberals like George Soros and Peter Lewis (who is responsible for most of MPP's funding) to access a meeting of conservatives?"

DRCNet was curious about that, too. Unfortunately, none of the conservative groups associated with the conference contacted by DRCNet responded to our queries. The Young America's Foundation, the American Conservative Union, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America did not bother to return calls for comment. It would have been particularly interesting to have heard from Calvina Fay of the Partnership, who was slated to debate Nadelmann, but cancelled at the last minute, complaining the debate was stacked against her because MPP's Kampia was to be the moderator.

Drug reformers didn't just roll over and play dead when attacked. "It is one thing for Souder to support the war on drugs and to ignore all its costs, including wasting taxpayer money, destroying families, and undermining the rule of law. What is really tragic is when an elected official seeks to censor open discussion and debate," said DPA's Nadelmann. "There is a long and distinguished tradition within the conservative movement in America of opposing the war on drugs and its violation of fundamental principles. Perhaps, it is Souder who is outside the mainstream among his conservative colleagues."

"Calvina was afraid to debate," said MPP's Houston. "She didn't back out for any reason other than that she was going to lose. In fact, we offered both her and Cliff Kincaid slots on a panel discussion, but they refused. Calvina didn't want to be embarrassed because she knows she couldn't win."

Despite efforts by people like Faye, Kincaid, and Souder to sabotage open debate on drug policy at CPAC, the debate went forward. Philadelphia sports writer Gary Cobb stood up for drug prohibition, but his best applause line came when he turned to stereotypes about marijuana users. "Marijuana makes people lazy, and we have enough lazy Americans already," he said to loud applause.

"I'm not sure exactly what people were applauding," said DPA's Piper. "Was it the notion that marijuana makes people lazy? Was it the idea that Americans are lazy? I'm not sure what excited them."

Cobb was little match for an experienced debater like DPA's Nadelmann, who aimed at jugular by asking conservatives to consider the positions of some of their heroes. "Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley are probably the two most distinguished conservative thinkers of the second half of the 20th Century," he said. "Both of them made clear that they considered the drug laws absurd and antithetical to conservative values."

"What do conservatives stand for?" Nadelmann asked, citing a litany of conservative values like individual freedom, personal responsibility, small government, and fiscal restraint. "Isn't that what conservatism is all about?"

"Yes, there were some crazy drug war extremists around, but I don't think most people there were driven by this issue," said DPA's Piper. "I would bet most of them are closer to Friedman and Buckley than Calvina Faye and Mark Souder."

For Piper and DPA, it's all part of building a winning movement. "We're going to follow up with the people we met there and we're going to try to work with conservative organizations to push a common agenda for drug reform. We will build alliances where we can."

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

It's a bumper crop of bad cops this week, with strange goings on in two Arkansas towns, cops up to no good across the South and in Massachusetts and Washington state, a prosecutor in trouble in San Francisco, and a pair of federal air marshals who were apparently marshaling white powder safely to its destination.

We also have to give a special shout-out to a freshly discovered web site -- -- that offers a wealth of similar information, and not just about drug enforcement.

Without further ado, let's get to it:

In Lonoke, Arkansas, the mayor was arrested on corruption charges, the police chief was charged in a meth-cooking scheme, and the chief's wife is accused of taking prisoners from the jail to have sex with them, the Associated Press reported. Police Chief Jay Campbell is accused of conspiring with a local bail bondsman to make methamphetamine and use it to frame someone else. He and his wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, are also accused of stealing antique jewelry from a residence and pawning it, while Mrs. Campbell faces escape-related charges for taking prisoners out for sex romps at local ballparks, the police chief's office, and a hotel. Mayor Thomas Privett faces misdemeanor theft of service charges for using state prisoners to work on his home, as does Chief Campbell. He is on paid suspension.

In Keiser, Arkansas, Police Chief Jimmy Bohannon, Jr. and former Mississippi County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Brawley were arrested on burglary charges February 8 by police in the nearby town of Osceola. Bohannon, 37, was also arrested on two counts of distribution of the prescription pain reliever hydrocodone, said Osceola Police Chief Ray Rigsby. The drug charges resulted from an investigation into earlier drug arrests, he said. The wayward duo also face eight burglary-related charges in Mississippi County, said Sheriff Leroy Meadows. Bohannon was jailed on $150,000 bond; Brawley on $100,000.

In Lake Worth, Florida, former Miami police officer Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and domestic abuse charges February 8. Flynn, a 20-year veteran patrol officer, was arrested in July 2003 after his girlfriend accused him of beating her and sticking the barrel of a pistol in her mouth. He was rearrested while out on bond in October 2004 and charged with cocaine possession and trafficking in heroin. Flynn resigned from the department as it moved to fire him. He now faces a minimum of 13 years in prison and could get as much as life plus 50 years. He was led away in handcuffs to await sentencing, CBS TV4 News reported.

In Union, South Carolina, former Union police officer Rodney Curt Johnson, 36, pleaded guilty February 9 to one count of misconduct in office for paying a prostitute in crack cocaine for her services, Myrtle Beach Online reported. The five-year veteran could have faced up to 55 years in prison on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of cocaine distribution, but was sentenced to only two years on probation and 20 days of community service. Assistant prosecutor Kevin Brackett said he accepted the deal because his case against Johnson relied on the testimony of the prostitute.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Montgomery police officer and his twin brother were arrested during a drug raid in the southeast part of town over the weekend, the Associated Press reported. Officer Donny Young, 25, and his twin, Danny, were charged with felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after police seized "a sizeable amount" of the weed in their apartment. Department spokesman declined to elaborate, saying an investigation was ongoing. The twins were being held at the Montgomery County Jail on bonds of $100,000 each.

In Des Moines, Washington, former Des Moines police officer Barron "Bruno" Baldwin failed February 7 to win back his job after being fired for a 2003 incident where he and two King County sheriff's deputies beat up a drug informant and threatened to throw him in the Green River, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. An arbitrator denied his appeal. Baldwin and Deputies George Alvarez and Jim Keller beat up informant Michael Winchester, but managed to escape conviction on unlawful imprisonment and assault charges when juries deadlocked. Baldwin, a five-year veteran, was fired a year after the incident, but the appeal examiner had little sympathy: "Officer Baldwin... engaged in deliberate, abusive intimidation... Officer Baldwin verbally and physically harassed Mr. Winchester, including levels of force that were unnecessary and unreasonable."

In Chelmsford, Massachusetts, a former DARE officer pleaded guilty February 3 to 20 counts related to stealing money from the program, the Lowell Sun reported. Former Chelmsford police officer Michael Horan came under suspicion of police officials looking for missing funds in June 2003, was placed on leave without pay that November, and arrested in May 2004. Horan may have gotten away with $20,000, but was ordered to repay the department only $5,000. He was also sentenced to one year's house arrest and two years' probation, although he could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

In San Francisco, a city prosecutor resigned after pleading guilty February 8 on federal drug possession charges, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Robert Roland, 34, admitted receiving Ecstasy tablets from defendants in two cases he was prosecuting, but denied he went easy on these defendants in exchange. Still, in his plea agreement, he said he dropped a felony drug charge against one man, allowing him to plea guilty to a misdemeanor, and received Ecstasy from him the next day. In the second case, Roland said he received Ecstasy after allowing a defendant to avoid jail by entering a diversion program.

In Houston, two federal air marshals were arrested February 9 and held on suspicion of involvement in possessing or smuggling cocaine. Shawn Ray Nguyen, 38, and Burlie Sholar III, 32, were arrested by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office after receiving more than 30 pounds of cocaine and $15,000 in "front money" from an undercover informant. The pair agreed to transport the drugs on an airline flight, federal officials said. They agreed to use their official positions to bypass airport security and fly the coke from Houston to Las Vegas, the US Attorney's office explained. One of those arrested is a former DEA agent, Time magazine reported. The pair were formally charged Monday in federal court in Houston.

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5. Federal Drug Budget: Democratic Senators Urge Restoring Funds for Drug Task Forces

In an attempt at using tough-on-crime rhetoric to win partisan political advantage, a number of Democratic senators are criticizing the Bush administration for seeking further cuts in drug war spending programs beloved by law enforcement. In its 2007 budget proposal, the administration proposed cutting more than $1.2 billion in federal funding for state and local law enforcement, including the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, which goes to fund the multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces that have run amok around the country for years.

The JAG program has pumped about $500 million a year into the drug task forces, which have made a reputation for themselves as the focus of abuse, corruption, and bad policing. Texas narc Tom Coleman, the man whose perjury sent dozens of black residents of Tulia to prison on bogus charges, was working under the auspices of a JAG-funded drug task force. Other Texas task forces have managed to arrest dozens of blacks -- and no whites or Hispanics -- in another Texas town, Hearne, and have taken to buying $5 crack rocks from addicts, charging them as drug dealers, sending them off to prison for years, then claiming victories in the drug war for doing so.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Dayton (D-MN), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have all loudly called for restored funding for the program, even though the Office of Management and Budget has found it is a failure and taxpayer watchdog groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers Union have described it as little more than "pork barrel spending." All three senators called the grants essential "for a rural state" and cited the much-hyped methamphetamine "epidemic" as the reason the program must continue.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was the latest to jump on the JAG bandwagon. In a press release last Friday, Reid joined his Democratic colleagues in criticizing the proposed cuts, and he hit the same talking points. "Once again, President Bush's budget will inhibit the ability of first responders to prepare for new threats and law enforcement to combat the growing methamphetamine problem," he said, adding that the programs are "specifically designed to assist rural communities."

Reid attacked the Bush budget not only on the JAG program, but also for proposing deep cuts in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which, Reid noted, helps "combat methamphetamine use and distribution," among other things. And while the Bush budget proposes $40 for a Methamphetamine Cleanup Program, that isn't enough, Reid said.

The Bush budget, with its cuts in just about everything except military spending, provides Democrats with countless opportunities for opposition based on their own principles. Too bad some this time are instead siding with Republican drug warriors like Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) and self-interested law enforcement lobbyists to argue for more funding for a failed program that is a synecdoche for a failed drug policy.

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6. Marijuana: Decriminalization Measure Moving in Massachusetts

A bill that would impose fines -- not jail time -- for simple marijuana possession in Massachusetts has been approved by the General Court's Joint Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, the first step in a lengthy legislative process that could see the Bay State finally joining the ranks of states that have decided jailing pot-smokers is not worth it. Simple possession is currently considered a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Senate Bill 1151, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Shannon, would impose a $250 civil fine on adults in possession of less than an ounce of weed without the possibility of a jail sentence. The parents or guardians of juveniles caught in possession would be notified and the citation would be delivered directly to them.

Marijuana has already been decriminalized in 11 other states. Most of those laws were passed in the 1970s, but for Massachusetts lawmakers it is a case of better late than never. In a 2002 study, Harvard economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron estimated that decriminalizing marijuana in the state would save taxpayers $24.3 million in arrest and booking costs alone. He did not factor in revenues generated by a system of fines.

"The committee is reflecting the attitude of the majority of Bay Staters -- that personal possession of marijuana should not lead to a criminal record that will damage the rest of someone's life," said committee chair Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton). "It is the goal of the Mental Health & Substance Abuse Committee to have drug abuse seen in a treatment context, not a criminal justice context."

"We must be realistic about the differences between various illicit substances and the dangers they present to our communities," said Committee Chairman Senator Steven Tolman (D-Boston). "It is time the legislature had an honest debate on marijuana and our criminal justice system and I look forward to participating in that debate."

"It is wonderful to see Massachusetts legislators taking this step toward a sensible debate on marijuana control policies," said Whitney A. Taylor, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts. "We are moving away from policies based on stigma and punishment, to those based on science, efficacy and human dignity."

While there are still legislative hurdles to overcome, the committee vote is a significant milestone, Taylor said. "This is the first time in over a decade that a Massachusetts legislative committee has voted in favor of civil fines for marijuana possession," she noted.

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7. Marijuana: Oakland-Style "Measure Z" Campaigns Slated for More California Cities

In November 2004, Bay Area cannabis activists scored a victory with Oakland's "Measure Z," a ballot measure that instructed the city to make "private, adult cannabis (marijuana) use, distribution, sale, cultivation and possession" its lowest law enforcement priority. While activists have sparred with city hall over issues such as whether the law applies to the cannabis clubs that marked Oaksterdam in its heyday, it stands as an enlightened municipal approach to marijuana.

courtesy SF Bay Area Indymedia
Now, some of the people involved in the Oakland campaign are set to expand it to other California cities, according to the Oaksterdam News. The political consulting group that ran the Oakland campaign, The Next Generation, is overseeing the California Cities project to push Z-style initiatives. After analyzing demographics, voting records, and polling data, the project has joined with local activists to form exploratory committees in five cities, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and San Francisco.

Initiatives are being drafted now, with an eye to both local sensitivities and avoiding some of the bureaucratic obstacles that popped-up in Oakland. "We made sure that these initiatives had teeth, and are not simply symbolic," a campaign spokesperson told the News. "We are especially excited to help activists advance cannabis reform in Southern California. It is vital that the southern part of the state gets on board and stop criminalizing good, productive members of society who happen to be cannabis consumers, if we ever want to make changes to our state marijuana laws –- which, of course, we do."

The Oaksterdam News is itself a manifestation of the region's thriving cannabis culture. Published by Oakland cannabis activist and entrepreneur Richard Lee and edited by cannabis expert witness Chris Conrad, the News is resolutely pro-cannabis legalization and set to add its voice to the Bay Area dialogue. Look for a Drug War Chronicle feature article on the News and East Bay activism next week.

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8. Ecstasy: After the Fact, Wisconsin Legislator Seeks to Stiffen Penalties

The use of the popular psychedelically-tinged stimulant Ecstasy (MDMA) peaked shortly after the turn of the century, according to the standard measures of drug use in the US, but that isn't stopping Wisconsin Rep. Gene Hahn (R-Cambria) from going after the drug, no matter how far behind the curve he is. Hahn introduced a bill last week that would stiffen penalties for Ecstasy possession and sale in the Badger State.

Ecstasy tablets
(courtesy Erowid)
Under current Wisconsin law, possession of Ecstasy is punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Under Hahn's proposed legislation, the penalty would increase to a one-year sentence on a first offense and a 3 ½ year sentence for subsequent convictions.

Hahn's bill comes two years after a similar effort died in the legislature and despite testimony from law enforcement and prosecutors suggesting it wasn't that big a problem -- at least not anymore. "We had a fairly significant problem with it, and we struggled with that problem because it involves mostly young people," Columbia County Sheriff's Detective Lt. Wayne Smith told a committee hearing. "Lately, other prescription drugs have really overtaken the whole segment of users. Where we would have seen ecstasy with a younger person, we're now seeing heroin and OxyContin or oxycodone."

While prosecutors from Dane and Dodge counties said the drug was still prevalent in their counties, Marquette County District Attorney Richard Dufour said he had prosecuted only one or two people in for it in recent years. "It's not a major problem we've had," he said.

Those comments are in line with national figures suggesting Ecstasy peaked several years back. "The number of current users of Ecstasy remained the same in 2004 (450,000) as it had been in 2003 (470,000), after it had decreased significantly between 2002 (676,000) and 2003," noted the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in its latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Similarly, the Monitoring the Future survey of teenagers found that life-time use among high-school seniors declined by more than half since 2000, with 11.7% reporting having tried it that year, compared to 5.4% in 2004.

But that isn't stopping Hahn. "This Ecstasy is not in the proper category for penalties and fines," he warned. With people facing only 30 days in jail for possessing it, "there are folks who are not giving too much thought to purchasing or selling ecstasy."

Time is running short for Hahn and his Ecstasy bill in this year's legislative session. Still, Hahn said he believes the bill is on a fast track to passage, after already having had a committee hearing.

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9. Europe: Belgian Socialists Call for Regulated Marijuana Sales

In June 2003, Belgium effectively decriminalized marijuana possession. Under that policy, marijuana remains illegal, but possession of less than three grams is not considered as a prosecutable offense. Now, two-and-a-half years in, a junior partner in the Belgian governing coalition is calling for outright decriminalization of up to five grams, as well as a move toward regulated marijuana sales.

Parti Socialiste leader Elio di Rupo made the proposal to relax the marijuana laws in a Monday press conference announcing the party's comprehensive drug policy proposals, according to a report issued by the European Coalition for a Safe and Effective Drug Policy (ENCOD). The party called for improved drug treatment, better coordination among government agencies, and more coherent sentencing policy. While di Rupo called for intensifying the fight against the illicit drug trade, he also called for a year-long campaign to educate marijuana smokers about the health consequences of the herb to be followed by introduction of the regulated sales and decrim proposal.

Di Rupo urged the Belgian government to do serious research about how to implement a regulated sales regime. The neighboring Netherlands would be a good place to start, he suggested.

The Parti Socialiste, a French-speaking party, is the third largest party in the left-leaning government of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. The Parti Socialiste holds 25 House seats (out of 150) and six Senate seats (out of 40). The Flemish Liberals and Democrats Party holds 25 House seats and seven Senate seats, while the Flemish-speaking Socialist Party -- Different Spirit holds 23 House seats and seven Senate seats.

According to ENCOD's Joep Oomen, the other two coalition parties are unlikely to move on the issue, largely for fear that any move to soften the drug laws would throw votes to hard-line rightist Flemish parties. Both parties released statement in response to di Rupo's remarks saying they felt no need for further cannabis liberalization.

The Antwerp Users' Union, a group of cannabis consumers in the Belgian port city, has its own ideas. In a Saturday meeting, the group announced a plan to develop collective cannabis cultivation that is says would stay within the law and asked the political parties to keep its ideas in mind.

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10. Web Scan: Sentencing Project on the War on Marijuana, Marsha Rosenbaum on Drug Hysteria for Alternet

"The War on Marijuana: The Transformation of the War on Drugs in the 1990s," report by Ryan King and Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, published in the Harm Reduction Journal

"The Truth About Drug Hysteria," editorial by Marsha Rosenbaum on Alternet

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

February 17, 1997: Legislation to repeal an 18 year-old state law permitting physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from cancer or glaucoma is voted down by a Virginia Senate committee in a 9-6 vote.

February 18, 1999: Dr. Frank Fisher, a pain doctor from Northern California, is arrested and charged with five counts of murder. After about six years of legal wrangling and having more charges levied against him, he is determined to be completely innocent.

February 18, 2000: President Clinton signs the "Hillary J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000," categorizing GHB as a Schedule I drug.

February 19, 2004: Veterans and medical marijuana activists in San Francisco hold a protest/rally in front of San Francisco's Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic and ask doctors working for the Veteran's Administration to help provide better access to medical marijuana.

February 20, 1997: CNN reports that a prestigious panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health said there is promising evidence that smoking marijuana may ease the suffering of some seriously ill patients.

February 21, 1971: The United States joins with other countries in signing the international treaty Convention on Psychotropic Substances, in Vienna, Austria.

February 22, 2000: Due to drug-related violence, the US State Department issues a traveler's advisory warning for Tijuana, México City, and Ciudad Juárez, which are labeled as "dangerous." Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo protests to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

February 23, 1887: The 49th Congress of the United States enacts legislation that provides a misdemeanor fine of between $50 and $500 for any US or Chinese citizen found guilty of violating the ban on opium.

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12. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

February 23, 8:00pm, Providence, RI, " Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age 1945-2002," author talk with Martin Torgoff. At Brown University, MacMillan 117, contact [email protected] for further information.

February 25, 1:00-5:00pm, Boston, MA, Drug Policy Conference. At the West Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library, 1961 Centre Street, including various drug policy reform organizations.

February 25-26, New York, NY, 2006 NYC Ibogaine Conference, sponsored by Cures Not Wars and Columbia University SSDP. First day at Columbia University, Lerner Hall, Satow Room, 5th Floor, 115th St. and Broadway; second day at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, 540 West 27th Street, Fourth Floor. For further information call (212) 677-7180 or visit online.

February 28, 5:00pm, Abbotsford, BC, Canada, "Should Canada Really Legalize Dangerous Drugs?", panel debate/discussion with retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper of LEAP, Abbotsford police chief Ian McKenzie and others. At the University College of Fraser Valley, Room B101, 33844 King Road, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

February 28, 8:00pm, Providence, RI, screening of "High: The True Tale of American Marijuana." At Brown University, List Art Center 120, contact [email protected] for further information.

March 3-5, Columbia, MO, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwest Regional Conference. At the University of Missouri, contact Joe Bartlett at [email protected] for further information.

March 9, 7:30pm, Ridge, NH, "Cops Say Legalize Drugs. Come Ask a New Hampshire Cop Why." Forum featuring LEAP speaker Bradley Jardis, at Franklin Pierce College, hosted by FPC SSDP. For further information, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] Jonathan Perri at [email protected].

March 13-26, central New Jersey, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Peter Christ. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

March 27-April 10, western Kansas, focusing on Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence & Kansas City, speaking tour by LEAP executive director Jack Cole. Contact Bill Schreier at [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

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 29-April 1, Cincinnati, OH, "Howard Wooldridge Returns to the River City" speaking tour by LEAP. 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 2-8, St. Louis, MO, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Howard Wooldridge. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] 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 7, Charleston Beach, SC, launch of "Journey for Justice Number Seven: Cross Country Bicycle Ride for Medical Marijuana Safe Access," by medical marijuana patient Ken Locke. Visit for further information.

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 9-12, Vancouver, BC, Canada, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Norm Stamper. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

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

April 25, 4:00-6:00pm, Washington, DC, forum with recipients of the 2006 Keith D. Cylar Activist Awards for HIV/AIDS Activism. Sponsored by Housing Works, location TBA, contact Christopher Sealey at [email protected] or visit for further information.

April 25-27, Olympia, WA, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Norm Stamper. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

April 26, 6:30pm, New York, NY, the 2006 Keith D. Cylar Activist Awards for HIV/AIDS Activism. At the Prince George Ballroom, sponsored by Housing Works, contact Christopher Sealey at [email protected] or visit for further information.

April 27, 6:30pm, Portland, ME, "Patients, 'Potheads,' and Dying to Get High: the Challenge of Medical Marijuana," lecture by Dr. Wendy Chapkis. At the University of Southern Maine, Glickman Family Library, 7th floor special events room, admission free, call (207) 780-4757 for further information.

April 28-30, New Paltz, NY, SSDP Northeast Regional Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact [email protected] 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.

May 5-6, Seattle, WA, "1st National Harm Reduction Therapy Conference: Bringing Us Together," visit for further information.

May 6-7, worldwide, Million Marijuana march, 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] for info.

July 4, Washington, DC, Fourth of July Rally, sponsored by the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition. At Lafayette Park, contact (202) 887-5770 for further information.

June 8-9, Monterey, CA, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson James Anthony. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.

August 19-20, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest, visit for further information.

September 16, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, 17th Annual Boston Freedom Rally. On Boston Common, sponsored by MASS CANN/NORML, featuring bands, speakers and vendors. Visit for further information.

November 9-12, Oakland, CA, "Drug User Health: The Politics and the Personal," 6th National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, for further information visit or contact Paula Santiago at [email protected].

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