(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #427 -- 3/17/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
Just before dawn one August morning last year, a Sunrise, Florida, SWAT team moved into position outside its target. At a commander's signal, the team kicked down the front door and began its assault with paramilitary precision. Within seconds shots rang out, and within moments it was clear that the team had secured its objective and killed its target.
The Sunrise SWAT team left with the evidence: A couple ounces of pot, and a set of scales. And while Anthony Diotaiuto was dead as a result of the SWAT team's actions, not one of its members faced criminal charges or even departmental discipline. They had gone by the book, even if the result was a life snuffed out over a couple ounces of marijuana.
While the Sunrise incident was unusual in that it ended up with a young man dead, fatal outcomes are bound to happen when the aggressive tactics of SWAT are employed. There are numerous examples: Eleven-year-old Alberto Sepulveda killed by a SWAT team shotgun blast as he lay on the floor during a 2001 Modesto, California, drug raid. Alberta Spruille, a 57-year-old New York City woman who died of a heart attack after a SWAT team with the wrong address threw flash bang grenades into her apartment. John Adams, a 64-year-old Lebanon, Tennessee, man killed by a SWAT team when he picked up a shotgun to defend himself and his wife from masked invaders who kicked down his door in the middle of the night -- another case of the wrong address. And on and on.
All of the incidents above are examples of paramilitary policing run amok. Whether they are called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, Special Operations teams, Emergency Response Teams, or something else, paramilitary police units are now common throughout the country -- and are the stuff of fawning reality TV programming. The heavily-armed, often black uniformed, helmeted, masked police squads look and behave as if they are chasing insurgents in the back alleys of Baghdad, and that is little surprise given their antecedents in military special forces units.
SWAT teams are designed for use and are arguably appropriate in limited, extremely dangerous circumstances, such as capturing armed, barricaded hostage-takers. But they are now widely used for run of the mill drug raids and other routine law enforcement work. In the last month, SWAT teams have been used to arrest seven Tibetan Buddhist monks on immigration charges (Carter Lake, Iowa), raid an apartment above a busy restaurant owned by the mayor only to find less than an ounce of marijuana (Denver), search for a missing woman in a well-publicized case (Orlando), and to conduct a routine drug raid on a house they managed to set on fire with flash bang grenades (Pompano Beach, Florida). A few weeks earlier, in late January, a Fairfax, Virginia, SWAT team shot and killed an unarmed optometrist under investigation for gambling when he walked out his front door. Those are just the examples that make the news.
Across the country, seven days a week, SWAT teams are kicking down doors on drug raids that don't make the news -- it's just business as usual. In a scene undoubtedly repeated across the country, in Huron, SD, last month, a multi-agency SWAT-style team investigating an apartment house where a multi-pound package of marijuana being surveilled by police had previously been refused, burst into one apartment with guns drawn, knocked the female inhabitant to the ground, handcuffed the male inhabitant for three hours while they searched the premises, and came up with a couple of marijuana pipes. It being South Dakota, police were also able to order the inhabitants to submit to drug tests and were able to charge them with "internal possession" of drugs based on those tests, so they didn't come up completely empty-handed.
"This is an under the radar, but truly massive phenomenon," said Dr. Peter Kraska, professor of criminal justice and police studies at Eastern Kentucky University and author of "Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police."
"Very few people understand the magnitude of what it means to have police go from enforcing the drug laws through traditional undercover operations to a paramilitary approach where they gather together in heavily-armed squads and conduct crude investigations using search warrants to get inside people's homes," Kraska told DRCNet. "This has not happened before in American history, except way back when the military was looking for contraband."
According to statistics uncovered by Kraska, there were some 3,000 SWAT team deployments a year in the mid-1980s. By the late 1990s, that number had increased ten-fold, to some 30,000 a year, and is probably near 40,000 a year now. The resort to SWAT teams has also spread from large urban police departments to such violent crime hot spots as Grand Island, Nebraska, Bullhead City, Arizona, and Eufala, Alabama.
"We now have a situation where even in small departments, more than 70% have a fully functioning SWAT team," said Kraska. "The question is what are they going to do with them? It's highly unlikely these small-town departments are going to run into a legitimate hostage or barricade situation, so the departments have to figure out a way to use the SWAT teams, something to use them for."
"I think this is an example of build it and then you have to find a use for it," said retired Detective Lieutenant Jack Cole, a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police who is now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "SWAT tactics are appropriate when you have a life and death situation, but they are being used when they simply are not necessary. When I was a drug detective, one partner and I would go and arrest people when now they're calling in the whole SWAT team. Back then we did it better and did it quietly without people getting hurt. I worked narcotics for 14 years, and we never needed a SWAT team," he told DRCNet.
"This has all happened in a decade or so," said Kraska, "and it represents a fundamental shift in how police approach the drug war. In fact, it is the single most important indicator of them handling it as though it were a war as opposed to a drug problem. They are using teams modeled on military special operations squads, and even though they have different rules of engagement from the military, they are still using highly aggressive tactics for generally low-level drug use and dealing. SWAT teams place themselves and citizens in an extremely dangerous situation and not for justifiable reasons like a dangerous felon with a hostage, but for a few people smoking pot."
"Using SWAT teams to enforce the drugs laws is, in most instances, like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer," said Cole. "It's not necessary and it's very expensive. That's part of the problem. Departments equip these people at great expense and train them and train them, and then the departments figure they should use them for something, but they are really only appropriate in very limited circumstances."
SWAT teams come dangerously close to crossing the bright line separating law enforcement from military operations, Cole said. "There is something about training a police officer to go to war that I don't like," he said. "We're police, not soldiers, but we've got these guys dressed in black from head to toe, wearing body armor and riot helmets, carrying superweapons -- and we're using them for drug raids and walking the beat. This is a real warlike mentality that we don't need as far as I'm concerned."
Many departments allow SWAT team members to hide their identities. "Why on earth do these departments allow their SWAT teams to wear ski masks?" Cole asked. "That's just horrible. It intimidates and terrorizes people, and it hides your identity so you can do anything you damn well want. What do you think happens to kids traumatized by a dozen masked, uniformed strangers charging into their homes with machine guns and laser search lights running across their chests? Why do the good guys feel they have to wear masks? They're treating American citizens as if they were enemy combatants."
The Cincinnati city council is on the verge of passing an ordinance that would recriminalize marijuana possession in the conservative Ohio River city, despite the lack of any public outcry or signs of support for it. Under Ohio state law, possession of up to 100 grams (nearly a quarter-pound) of marijuana has been decriminalized since the 1970s, with those caught subject only to ticketing and a maximum $100 fine.
The ordinance is sponsored by self-professed crime-fighting Councilman Cecil Thomas, who heads the council's Law & Safety committee and who argued it would reduce the violent crime rate. "The most important aspect of this is it gives officers an additional tool for search and seizure," he said Tuesday.
At the committee meeting, 12 people spoke out against the ordinance -- and more were lined up to do so -- while the only one who spoke in favor was Councilman Thomas, a former Cincinnati police officer. Among those speaking against the measure were medical marijuana patients like Tanya Davis of the Ohio Patient Network, Libertarian Party activist Paul Green, Cincinnati State University SSDP member Todd Roy, cannabis activist Lynne Wilson of Hemp Rock Productions, and Mason Tvert, head of Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), the Colorado-based organization that took a marijuana legalization initiative to surprise victory in Denver last November.
"Marijuana users do not commit crimes, other than using marijuana," Tvert told the committee. Tougher marijuana laws would encourage more drinking, he warned. "Marijuana users do not engage in violent behavior, unlike alcohol users," Tvert said.
"There were perhaps a hundred people in the chamber for unrelated council business, and our speakers got recognition and applause from that crowd," said Rob Ryan, former head of the Ohio Patients Network and current regional director of Republicans for Compassionate Access. "When Councilman Thomas spoke, it was the sound of one hand clapping. People know this war on drugs does not work and is actually counterproductive," Ryan said.
But that begs the question of why, given loud public opposition to the ordinance and no support for it, the committee voted to approve it and why a majority of council members have said they would vote for it. A similar effort by Thomas's predecessor as chair of the Law & Safety committee, David Pepper, was roundly defeated last August.
"That wasn't only shot out of the air," said Ryan, "it went down in flames. The difference now is that we have a new, inexperienced council and a strong ex-cop who is pushing this. The new council members are bowing to Thomas's will," he said.
But Cincinnati is also a fundamentally conservative city, nationally known for persecuting Larry Flynt, banning Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic art, and for the tensions between its predominantly white police department and its black population, especially in the inner city Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Police harassment of the area's residents as part of drug law enforcement efforts led to rioting in 2001.
The only member of the council to oppose the ordinance, Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, cited those sorts of race and class issues in rejecting it. "This will not change anything appreciably," Tarbell said. "This is a class issue. The people caught and prosecuted will be low-income African-Americans. I think this sends the wrong message to police."
When Tarbell's opposition threatened to scotch the deal, the ordinance was saved in a compromise brokered by Councilman Jeff Berding, who suggested the sunset clause requiring the city to report in six months and one year on the measure's impact. "By placing a one-year sunset clause, we're forcing this council to analyze the information," Berding said. "Then we can decide with a lot of knowledge if it's effective. But the way to study it is to implement it for one year. I think that's good public policy."
While that's better than a permanent change for the worse, it's not good enough for Cincinnati activists. "We're still fighting to kill the whole thing," said Ryan.
Those activists have a only a few days to change minds, with the council meeting next week to vote on the ordinance. The vote should have happened Wednesday, but Mayor Mark Malloy asked for a delay after being persuaded by the group. "This is an emergency ordinance and should have been voted on Wednesday, but Mayor Malloy said uh-uh" said Ryan. "They had been watching the committee meeting on closed circuit TV, and after it got over, the group of people who testified went down to his office and asked for and got a meeting. He heard what we had to say and agreed to postpone it for a week.
The postponement could give opponents a chance to undo what looks like a done deal. "It gives people a chance to rally and speak up," said Ryan.
The clock is ticking. By this time next week, either the activists and good citizens of Cincinnati will have prevailed on their elected leaders to see the light, or the city will have taken a brave step forward to the 20th Century.
Portland is gearing up to be the latest city to jump on the "lowest law enforcement initiative" bandwagon. A home-grown group, Safer Portland, announced last week that is has begun a signature-gathering drive to put an initiative on the November ballot that would make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.
The Portland initiative is similar to successful measures such as Oakland's 2004 Proposition Z or Seattle's 2003 Initiative-75, with their lowest law enforcement priority language. It is also very close to four similar initiative efforts in the smaller cities of Missoula, Montana, and Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo, California.
If approved by voters, the measure would create a city ordinance making marijuana law enforcement aimed at adults the city's lowest law enforcement priority. The measure includes exceptions for offenses relating to minors, driving under the influence of marijuana, offenses occurring within a thousand feet of schools, offenses occurring on public property, and offenses occurring or private property or near businesses if the owner complains.
"We are one of five cities working on the most cutting edge marijuana law reform project around," said Chris Iverson, campaign manager for Safer Portland. "It is a lowest law enforcement priority, but it's a hybrid. Instead of calling for personal possession to be the lowest priority, it's all marijuana offenses involving adults. People haven't yet figured out how all-encompassing that is. This kind of ordinance will allow for dispensaries, it will allow for cafes with smoking rooms, it will allow our culture to develop," he told DRCNet. "This is how legalization will come, by building the culture. Until then, I don't think we have a chance."
The measure would bar Portland police and other city employees from being deputized or commissioned by the DEA if it would require them to participate in enforcement of marijuana laws against adults. It would also bar the city from accepting state or federal funds if such funds require that the city use them to enforce marijuana laws.
The measure calls for the creation of a community oversight committee to monitor implementation of the ordinance and calls on police to submit reports on marijuana arrests in Portland on a regular basis. Finally, it requires the city of Portland to annually notify state and federal government representatives and officials that the city has deprioritized adult marijuana crimes and request "that the federal and Oregon state governments take immediate steps to legally tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution, and to authorize state and local communities to do the same."
Portland could save big money by not arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders. In 2003, the last year for which official Oregon statistics are available, Portland police arrested 117 people for crimes involving more than one ounce of marijuana and 832 people for possession of less than an ounce. Each offender processed through the Multnomah County Drug Court costs nearly $6,000, while each offender processed through regular court costs more than $7,000, according to the Oregon numbers.
"That's almost $6 million a year coming out of the pocket of taxpayers in Portland alone," said Iverson, "and $60 million statewide. Once we win in Portland, we're looking at taking this statewide," he said.
The Safer Portland campaign is largely being bankrolled by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, which has already awarded the group a $60,000 grant, with another $60,000 held in reserve. The group also aims to raise an additional $24,000 from other donors, Iverson said. "We couldn't have done this without MPP's help," he added.
Like other West Coast metropolises, Portland has a well-deserved reputation as liberal, reform-friendly city. It has also shown itself skeptical of overweening law enforcement. The city is the first, and so far, only city to vote not to participate in a homeland security anti-terrorism task force, and the city's marijuana task force was disbanded, although Multnomah County has stepped in to carry the burden.
"The city task force was a huge bust machine," said Iverson, "but the police here are very cool. They are professional and courteous -- except for shooting someone every once in awhile -- and all of the ones I've talked to would rather be going after violent criminals than pot-smokers, but their hands are tied. We want to free them from the burden of enforcing the marijuana laws."
So far, the Portland police don't seem overly concerned about the initiative. "We don't comment on political issues," said Portland Police Bureau Lt. Paul Dolby when asked if the department approved or disapproved of the proposed initiative. "Whatever laws the citizens tell us to enforce, we enforce."
Safer Portland is covering its bases with city officials and other opinion leaders, said Iverson. "We're already meeting with government officials, and it looks like all four city council members will endorse this, and perhaps even the mayor," he predicted. "It looks like we'll get some good grasstops endorsements as well."
Media coverage so far has been minimal, and that's just fine with Safer Portland. "We're in sort of a stealth mode right now, and we are not really engaging the media. We're hoping that if we don't get too much coverage early on, we'll be able to get a lot of free media in the fall, when it's get out the vote time. In fact, I'd say right now I'm pleasantly surprised at the lack of coverage."
That won't last, and opposition is bound to emerge, but right now, Safer Portland has the playing field to itself and a little less than four months to meet its signature drive goal. Come the dog days of summer, Portland could awaken from its torpor and begin to realize it is about to extend the margins of marijuana law reform just a bit further.
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A classic corrupt cop trial is underway in New York, two Texas Border Patrol agents are headed for prison, cops in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania get in trouble for warning drug dealers they were being watched, and a sticky-fingered Texas deputy couldn't keep his hands off the drug buy money. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:
In New York City, the racketeering trial of two former New York detectives linked to the Mafia murders of eight people got underway this week. Detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa are charged with racketeering, kidnapping, murder, obstruction of justice, and money laundering. The indictment also alleges that when the pair retired, they moved to Las Vegas and began distributing methamphetamine. Prosecutor Mitra Hormozi told jurors during opening statements that the pair had put themselves on the payroll of Mafia figure Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, an underboss for the Luchese crime family. The pair got $75,000 for each murder and also got $4,000 a month each for funneling information to the Mafia, Hormozi said. In one case, Eppolito and Caracappa arrested a mobster, but turned him over to Casso to be killed. In another case, they mistakenly identified a man with the same name as their mob target; the innocent man was gunned down in a Christmas Day 1986 hail of gunfire. Both men put in more than 20 years with the department before retiring in 1990.
In El Paso, Texas, two Border Patrol agents who shot a fleeing drug courier in the buttocks were found guilty March 9 of assault, weapons crimes, tampering with evidence, and deprivation of civil rights. Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean face at least 10 years in federal prison for shooting Osvaldo Andrade Davila, a Mexican citizen, as he fled back across the border when they interrupted his effort to carry a package of drugs into the US. Ramos and Compean also conspired to cover up the shooting by removing spent shell casings from the scene. The pair turned down a plea bargain for 18-month sentences. They have been suspended with pay since the February 2005 incident, and Border Patrol officials said they will now consider firing them.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa police officer has been indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of obstructing justice, KOTV-6 reported Tuesday. Tulsa Police gangs officer Rico Yarbrough was indicted last month and is accused of giving confidential police information to a suspected drug dealer. According to the complaint, Yarbrough, an 11-year veteran, was told that a certain suspect was "under investigation by the FBI for narcotics distribution, illegal gambling, money laundering, and other potential federal violations," and then tipped the suspect to an impending raid. The FBI had tapped Yarbrough's phone for a month and caught him saying things like: "They, federal agents, are getting ready to hit the house right now!" and "I'll tell you what's got the FBI so ticked -- I didn't let on I knew you as well as I did." Yarbrough has been suspended pending trial.
In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a former New Britain police officer faces trial for tipping off a drug dealer that he was the subject of an undercover investigation, the Bucks County Courier Times reported March 10. Jonathan Knight, 35, waived a preliminary hearing last week. Knight was charged in September with hindering apprehension and obstructing the administration of law for allegedly telling a local marijuana dealer who was a long-time "buddy" he was under investigation. He faces up to three years in prison.
In Gatesville, Texas, a Coryell County Sheriff's Deputy who serves as an undercover investigator was placed on paid leave February 22 after being accused of stealing money intended for use in drug buys by the Narcotics Division, KCEN-TV reported. Senior Deputy Gary Medford, a 21-year veteran, is being investigated by the Texas Rangers. Although the investigation began early last month, it was not made public until last week.
DEA agents accompanied by Riverside County sheriff's deputies raided a small Palm Desert medical marijuana growing collective Tuesday and sent homeowner Gary Silva to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder when they burst through his door in the early morning assault. The raid was only the latest DEA attack on medical marijuana patients and providers since the agency got a green light from the US Supreme Court last June when it ruled that federal law outlawing marijuana trumped any state laws making an exception for medicinal production, distribution, and use.
Agents confiscated 80 plants and an unspecified quantity of prepared marijuana from the home, as well as seizing patient records and equipment. The grow was operated as a legal patients' collective under California law. No arrests were made, but DEA agents told Silva he would be arrested if he grew again.
"Everything I was doing was within California law," said Silva after being released from the hospital where he was treated for his law enforcement-inflicted injuries. "I grew for myself and a few other patients, and donated the excess to a nearby dispensing collective. There was no need for our California sheriffs to call in federal agents to injure me and harass my family."
"This sounds like pure harassment by the DEA and by a local sheriff that isn't happy to uphold state law," said ASA field director Rebecca Saltzman. "It was just a matter of time before a patient would be injured from a federal raid, and if this hostility by the DEA continues, it's going to happen again."
In addition to injuring Silva, who suffers from degenerative disc disease, agents also held his wife and daughter at gunpoint, Silva said. He liked the encounter to being assaulted by robbers. "They did a home invasion," he said.
Medical marijuana supporters and activists planned protests at locations across the country Thursday, including Austin, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Missoula, Montana, and Riverside, California. The medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access also urged people to call the Riverside DEA offices to tell them to quit harassing patients.
Late Thursday afternoon, California NORML head Dale Gieringer reported that medical marijuana patient and Supreme Court plaintiff Angel Raich had been arrested at an Oakland protest against the Palm Desert raid. According to Gieringer, a security guard told Raich she was using a megaphone too close to the building and arrested her after she talked back to him through the megaphone as she walked away. She was released with a citation.
DEA agents raided a building in the heart of Oaksterdam, Oakland's cannabis friendly near-downtown neighborhood, as well as locations in Emeryville and Lafayette, and arrested 13 people Thursday in what they called "a sophisticated marijuana operation" involving large grows as well as the production of marijuana candy and soft drinks. The main target was Kenneth Affolter, 39, who is allegedly the main man in a company called Beyond Bomb that manufactured the candies.
Agents said they seized thousands of plants from four different grows, a large amount of currency, three weapons, and hundreds of pot-laced candies and drinks. The candies were packaged to parody well-known brands and included products called "Buddafingers," "Rasta Reece's," "Keef Kat," and "Pot Tarts." Soft drinks were packaged under names including "Bong's Root Beer" and "Toka-Cola."
Such products are widely available through (perhaps now not so) mysterious channels in various medical marijuana outlets and cannabis-friendly businesses in the Bay Area and beyond, and provide an alternative to the inhalation of marijuana smoke for people who cannot or will not tolerate it.
"This can be tragic," said DEA spokesman Javier Pena. "A young child or adult could eat one of these and drink one of the sodas. As you can tell, they mimic the brand names."
And now Mr. DEA Man has taken down the candy man.
The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled March 10 that an Alaska high school principal violated a student's constitutional right to free speech by suspending him for 10 days for holding up a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a televised parade near the high school campus. Juneau-Douglas High School student Joseph Frederick unfurled his banner for camera crews during the January 2002 parade. Principal Deborah Morse ripped the banner from his hands and told him he was suspended for promoting illegal drug use.
The student said the banner and the phrase -- which he called meaningless -- were designed solely to attract the TV cameras during the parade. But the school district argued the student was suspended because the phrase was a "pro-marijuana" message that conflicted with school district anti-drug policies.
The 9th Circuit was having none of that. In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel held that even high school students have a right to express themselves if they don't disrupt school or its educational mission. "A school cannot censor or punish students' speech merely because the students advocate a position contrary to government policy," wrote Judge Andrew Kleinfeld for the panel.
Frederick unsuccessfully appealed his suspension, then sued, seeking removal of the suspension from his record, an admission his rights had been violated, and damages. He lost in federal district court, but picked up support from the Student Press Law Center, the Village Voice newspaper, and the First Amendment Project. Sonja West, an attorney for those organizations, told the San Francisco Chronicle they intervened out of concern the federal district court ruling that the banner was school-sponsored expression was too broad and would allow the school to control any student speech as if it were a school newspaper, which the courts have ruled schools can censor. The 9th Circuit's decision "reaffirms the idea that for a school to simply allow students to express themselves during school hours does not mean the school is endorsing the message," West said.
The case is not over. Frederick, now a University of Idaho student, will seek to end the case with an order barring the school from punishing students for non-disruptive speech. Oh, the 9th Circuit also held that Principal Morse is not entitled to qualified immunity and may thus be liable for monetary damages for violating Frederick's rights.
California medical marijuana activist Steve Kubby is back behind bars, but there is a not so distant light at the end of the tunnel. The coauthor of Proposition 215 and former Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate was sentenced Tuesday to serve 60 days for violating his probation by moving to Canada in 2001 rather than serve a 120-day sentence for drug possession.
Kubby, who suffers from a rare form of adrenal cancer whose symptoms are alleviated by marijuana, was the subject of a 1999 raid by Placer County authorities who sought to convict him as a marijuana trafficker for growing his own medicine. When that effort failed, they tried and convicted him for possession of a mushroom stem and a peyote button found in a guest bedroom in his home.
Fearing that he would die in jail without his medicine, Kubby moved himself and his family to Canada. But, after a lengthy legal process, Canadian authorities ordered him deported in January, and he was arrested on a Placer County warrant when he returned to the US.
Kubby was not allowed to use medical marijuana while jailed in Placer County on the 120-day sentence and suffered weight loss and bloody urine, but was able to stabilize his condition -- at least for the short term -- with the synthetic cannabinoid Marinol. He was released last week after serving only 20 days of his sentence, with jail officials citing good behavior and jail overcrowding.
Kubby and his supporters are hoping this sentence will be similarly truncated. "Hopefully, I can just serve 20 days of it," he told reporters Tuesday, "but I've been given no guarantee."
In a ruling last week, an Argentine federal court threw out the marijuana possession conviction of a Buenos Aires woman who argued that she used the herb for medicinal purposes. The court also ordered the sentencing judge to reconsider the case, taking into account Argentine privacy law, the state of the research on medical marijuana, and the claims that the woman made about how marijuana relieved her symptoms, according to reports in the Buenos Aires daily Pagina 12.
The woman, who was not named in the proceedings, admitted that she used marijuana on occasion to quiet the pains from a spinal cord problem and to fight insomnia because her stomach could not tolerate other analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. The trial judge heard these claims, but did not investigate them, and ordered her tried for simple possession of marijuana.
On appeal, the woman's attorney, Gustavo Kollman, argued that the woman's right to health overruled Argentine marijuana laws and presented expert witnesses to back up her claims. Among them was Rodolfo Rothlin, head of the Pharmacology Department of the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine, who cited US FDA approval of synthetic cannabinoids (Marinol) for AIDS wasting and cancer chemotherapy patients, as well as other conditions, including "chronic pain."
"The state must recognize the right of all individuals to alleviate the effects of their illnesses in the best manner possible," Kollman told the federal court. "Always when they weaken these rights, as is the case with repressing through the penal law the conduct under consideration [the medicinal use of marijuana], the result is mistaken and unconstitutional."
The federal appeals court largely agreed. The facts of the case merited consideration of "a probably disculpatory hypothesis" given the medical testimony, the court found. While the medical evidence may be contradictory, the court held, the primary issue was the right of the individual to seek to protect his or her health. "She cannot be reproached for not having sacrificed her health" to uphold the complex set of interests on which Argentine drug law is based."
"It is necessary to analyze whether the defendant suffered a physical ailment of such magnitude at the time that, given her economic as much as her personal situation, the necessity of overcoming the ailment through the use of the drugs that were seized could be argued in such a manner that that possession could be found to be justified."
Now the case has been returned to the lower court with an order to reopen the investigation into the medical efficacy of marijuana in general and the particular facts of this case. While this does not appear to be headed for the Supreme Court, the federal appeals court has opened the door to a serious reconsideration of the balance between private health needs and the state's interest in enforcing the drug laws.
The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai will attempt to integrate profits from the opium trade into the legitimate national economy, the governor of the country's leading opium growing province told the Associated Press Tuesday. Drug lords would be encouraged to invest their ill-gotten gains in-country as part of an effort to rebuild a poverty-stricken nation shattered by decades of invasions and internecine conflict.
"We as a government will provide them the opportunity to use their money for the national benefit," Helmand Gov. Mohammed Daud told the AP in front of visiting US Ambassador Ronald Neumann. "They must invest in industries. They must invest in construction companies," he said.
The traffickers have the capital to invest. According to the United Nations, Afghan traffickers banked about $2 billion last year. Another $600 million went to the hundreds of thousands of poppy farmers and their families. This year, the UN and Afghan officials predict an even larger crop, with plans to eradicate only a fraction of it.
It is difficult to confront the traffickers head on, an unnamed US diplomat told the AP. The Karzai government could grant them an "informal amnesty" if they agreed to get out of the business, pay taxes, and invest their fortunes in rebuilding the country. The diplomat added that one or two traffickers had talked to the government about coming in from the cold.
On the record in an AP interview
Monday afternoon, Ambassador Neumann did not reject the idea outright.
Neumann said he was not aware of a formal program encouraging traffickers
to invest. "There is a lot of effort to get Afghans as a whole to
invest... but I don'
He compared bringing in the drug traffickers to the broader project of reconciliation with Taliban militants and war lords. "It's part of a larger problem, you have militia commanders, you have drug lords, you have all kinds of people that at the end of the day, some of them need to be arrested and put in prison, but basically Afghanistan has to come back together," he said.
The reason for such apparent complacency toward drug traffickers from US government officials may well lie in the recognition that the Afghan state is so weak and so implicated in the trade already -- it has never prosecuted a major drug trafficker -- that the trade cannot be defeated by traditional means. Still, the effort continues. The Afghan government, with NATO troops hovering in the background, has already begun this year's eradication efforts in southern Helmand and Kandar provinces. So far, violence has been minimal, but in a part of the country where the Taliban roam and have vowed to protect the poppy crop, it's likely to be a long, hot growing season.
Israel's pro-marijuana reform Ale Yarok (Green Leaf, or marijuana) Party is poised to win a pair of seats in the Knesset in elections set for the end of this month, the Associated Press reported. Two years ago, the party came within 7,000 votes of winning a seat, and this year, according to some pollsters, it could go over the top.
"If it was up to the youth, I would be the Prime Minister of Israel," Wachtel told the AP. That's unlikely, but the chances of winning seats in parliament are less so. "If I didn't think we had a chance of getting into the Knesset, I wouldn't be wasting my time," he said.
While single-issue parties are nothing new in Israel, Green Leaf manages to stand out. Past campaigns have included an election jingle using the national anthem to a trance music beat, and the party's calls for settlers to just light up and chill out during the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer also made waves. This year, the party made the news when two of its candidates were arrested for trying to enter a high school to participate in a mock election and made news again when their legal petition to be allowed to participate was rejected by the courts.
Green Leaf has become the de facto home for a variety of youth and alternative culture dissidents, but Wachtel said it was mainly about pot. "The common denominator is the love of cannabis," he said.
About one out of six Israelis have tried the weed, according to government statistics.
Last weekend's BBC segment got postponed but is now schedule for this Sunday, March 19, at 2:00GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The BBC program "Have Your Say" will discuss the global drug trade in "Can the War on Drugs Be Won?" The segment will feature UNDCP chief Antonio Maria Costa as well as drug reformers Danny Kushlick of Transform and Jack Cole of LEAP. Visit http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/default.stm for a webcast and http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=1261 to participate in the online discussion before and during the show.
"State drug reform law needs to reform ... itself," editorial by 15 To Life author Anthony Papa in Newsday
A drug war prisoner takes to the net, with the help of the "We Believe Group"
March 17, 1999: A report by the Institute of Medicine for the Office of National Drug Control Policy states that "there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs" and "scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic values of cannabinoid drugs for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."
March 18, 1839: Lin Tse-Hsu, the imperial Chinese commissioner in charge of suppressing the opium traffic, orders all foreign traders to surrender their opium. In response, the British send expeditionary warships to the coast of China, initiating the First Opium War.
March 19, 1983: Best known for her role in Just Say No, First Lady Nancy Reagan appears on the NBC sitcom Different Strokes, declaring: "Let me tell you a true story about a boy we'll call Charlie. He was only 14 and he was burned out on marijuana... One day, when his little sister wouldn't steal some money for him to go and buy some more drugs, he brutally beat her. The real truth is there's no such thing as soft drugs and hard drugs. All drugs are dumb... Don't end up another Charlie."
March 21, 2003: President Bush announces his intention to nominate Karen P. Tandy to be the Drug Enforcement Administration's new administrator. Tandy served in the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. She also previously served in DOJ as Chief of Litigation in the Asset Forfeiture Office and as Deputy Chief for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Earlier in her career, she prosecuted drug, money laundering, and forfeiture cases as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and in the Western District of Washington.
March 22, 1972: The Richard Nixon-appointed, 13-member National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommends the decriminalization of marijuana, and concludes, "Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it."
March 23, 1983: Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush is placed in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, which was supposed to staunch the drug flow over all US borders.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
March 23, 7:00pm, Boca Raton, FL, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," followed by discussion with two local attorneys. At Florida Atlantic University, the Majestic Palm Room of the University Center, sponsored by FAU NORML. For further information, visit http://www.faunorml.org or e-mail [email protected].
March 26, Kabul, Afghanistan, "Kabul International Symposium: Bridging Security and Development -- New Perspectives in Afghanistan." Sponsored by the Senlis Council, at the Intercontinental Hotel, visit http://www.senliscouncil.net or call +93 75 200 1176 for further information.
March 27-April 10, eastern 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 http://mppplayboyparty.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=153214 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, Washington, DC, "Drugs, Poverty, and Ethnicity: Enhancing Treatment, Eliminating Disparities, and Promoting Justice," second annual summit of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition. At the Marriott at Metro Center, 775 12th Street NW, registration $500. Visit http://www.naadpc.org or contact (202) 806-8600 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 http://www.medicalcannabis.com 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 http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bikeride/ 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 http://www.compassionatecoalition.org 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 18, 6:00-8:00pm, Washington, DC, Americans for Safe Access cocktail reception, at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Contact Abby Bair at [email protected] for further information.
April 20-22, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
April 21, San Francisco, CA, Americans for Safe Access Fourth Birthday Reception and Bash, location TBD. Contact Abby Bair at [email protected] 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 http://www.housingworks.org/activistfund/cylarawards2006.html 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 http://www.housingworks.org/activistfund/cylarawards2006.html 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 27-May 7, western Montana, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Jay Fleming, starting 7:00pm at Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell. Contact Jean Rasch at (928) 768-3082 or [email protected], or Ron Ridenour at (406) 387-5605 or [email protected] for further information or to schedule a presentation.
April 28-30, New Paltz, NY, SSDP Northeast Regional Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact [email protected] for further information.
April 29, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Hear and Now: Harm Reduction in Nursing Practice," visit http://www.canadianharmreduction.com for 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 http://www.harmreduction2006.ca for further information.
May 5-6, Seattle, WA, "1st National Harm Reduction Therapy Conference: Bringing Us Together," visit http://www.harmreductiontherapy.com for further information.
May 6-7, worldwide, Million Marijuana march, visit http://www.globalmarijuanamarch.com for further information.
May 4-14, eastern Iowa, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Captain Peter Christ. For information or to schedule a presentation, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] or Iowa tour coordinator Beth Wehrman at [email protected].
June 3, 1:00-11:00pm, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10th Legalize! Street Rave Against the War on Drugs. Visit http://www.legalize.net or contact Jonas Daniel Meyerplein at +31(0)20-4275626 or [email protected] for info.
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.
July 15-20, Chicago, IL, "Freedom, Tolerance, and Civil Society," free summer seminar for college students, sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. At Loyola University, visit http://www.i-liberty.org by April 10 for information or to apply -- apply before March 31 and receive a free book.
August 19-20, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest, visit http://www.hempfest.org 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 http://www.MassCann.org 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 http://www.harmreduction.org/6national/ or contact Paula Santiago at [email protected].
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