(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #433 -- 4/28/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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Table of Contents
This week, the US Senate voted to divert nearly $2 billion dollars from the Iraq war effort and instead use the money to beef up enforcement efforts along the US-Mexican border. Driven by the explosive emergence of the immigration issue as immigrants and their supporters took to the streets in massive numbers to block a House bill that many have criticized as draconian, the move is only the latest in a long line of efforts to secure the borders.
Now, a perfect storm of bogeymen -- Drugs! Terrorists! Mexicans! -- is threatening to unleash a new wave of increased law enforcement on the border. According to border rights activists, academics, and drug reformers, increased law enforcement on the border may put a slight crimp in undocumented immigration, but won't stop the drug traffic -- and it will lead to more abuses, more violence in the desert, and a strengthening of the trend toward increased surveillance of all of us.
Despite -- or because -- it consists of more than 1,700 miles of rough, remote, hostile terrain separating the First World and the Third World, the US-Mexico border is a very busy place. There a lively local cross-border traffic in "the Borderlands," that frontier area roughly 100 miles wide that encompasses both sides of the line, with Mexicans crossing daily to work and Americans to shop, dine, and get medical care, in places like San Diego-Tijuana, El Paso-Juarez, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley conurbation of Brownsville-McAllen-Matamoros-Reynosa. And the Department of Homeland Security reports detaining about one million people a year trying to get into the US without papers.
The border is also a very busy place for drugs. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, each year since 2001, US agents have seized more than 2 million pounds of Mexican marijuana (compared to the record 25,000 pounds of pot seized at the Canadian border in 2003). They also seize significant amounts of methamphetamine produced in Mexico -- more than 4,000 pounds worth in 2004. Controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organizations that emerged in the 1980s to work with Colombian traffickers but which then took over from them, heroin and cocaine also flow across the border in an unceasing torrent.
Heightened border security will not stop undocumented workers from coming across, but it will ensure they pay a high price, said Pedro Rios, Project Voice coordinator for the AFSC in San Diego and a member of the Border Alliance for Human Rights. "Every time they have increased security at the border, more people end up dying as they try to cross. When people come to the US, they have no idea what the desert is like, and they are unprepared for the extreme elements," said Rios. "When they began putting up fences in the 1980s, people thought the harsh landscape would act as a natural barrier, but it hasn't stopped people from coming."
Instead, they die in the desert. For the last few years, the death doll has averaged more than 300 a year, with the number exceeding 400 in 2005.
The abuses are on the increase, Rios said. "As we have seen an increase in border enforcement personnel, we have also seen an increase in human rights abuses, including those directed at US citizens and legal permanent residents. We are receiving more complaints that they are being verbally and physically maltreated. In one case, a woman with a new-born child complained that a Customs agent forced her to express milk from her breasts to prove the infant was hers. That's the kind of thing we deal with on a regular basis," Rios said. "It's getting worse."
"Attempting to secure the border is ultimately futile, certainly when it comes to keeping drugs out, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and coauthor of the forthcoming book "Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations." "You can build a fence to keep people from walking over, but you can't stop them from throwing a bag full of drugs over the top. The compactness and ease of smuggling of illicit drugs is extraordinary, and if they don't come through Mexico, they will come over the water."
In fact, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, about half of all cocaine smuggled into the US comes by maritime routes, either through the Caribbean or through the Pacific off the Mexican coast.
Some advocates see the immigration
and drug trafficking issues as analogous. "It is just a demonstration
of people's ignorance about what's behind migration and what's behind the
Unease about frontiers is nothing new, said Isaacs, but the immigration issue is taking it to a new level. "On the border, the situation is, almost by definition, one of tension, but now, there has been a mainstreaming of extremism on the immigration issue. Last year and this year, we've had the press fawning over armed vigilantes like the Minutemen taking the law into their own hands, and hard-line anti-immigration folks in Washington took that as a mandate that people are fed up and immigration is a crisis. They have upped the tension, but on the other hand, there has always been vigilante violence and abusive, excessive enforcement of the laws on the border. They think they're leading a revolution on Capitol Hill, but it's really just more of the same. The same failed policies, whether its drug policy, criminal justice policy, or border policy. In the cases of both drugs and immigration, they are going up against market forces."
In the past decade, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled and doubled again to nearly 12,000 in an effort to control the border. Similarly, state and local law enforcement agencies are taking on an increased role. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), for example, has shifted federal grants that formerly went to drug task forces to new border task forces. And the US military looms in the background.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the US military began becoming involved in a patrolling the borders, but after an unfortunate incident in Texas, it pulled back. Chastened by the 1997 shooting death of Texas shepherd Esequiel Hernandez by a US Marine patrol looking for drug traffickers, the US military retreated, said Tim Dunn, sociology professor at Salisbury College in Maryland and author of "The Militarization of the US-Mexico Border."
"The military suspended its border operations for 15 months and did an interim review, and the Department of Defense finally said it would allow ground troops, but only if an Assistant Secretary of Defense signed off on the deployment. This had the effect of really limiting the use of armed ground troops," Dunn told DRCNet. "The military was still there behind the scenes, offering assistance and training, and still quite militaristic, and of course, the National Guard, which is under the control of the states, never went away."
As for the terrorist threat, that is a canard, Dunn said. "They have never caught anyone terrorist-related coming across the Mexican border," he said. "The Border Patrol says it sees maybe a thousand people a year coming across the border from Muslim countries, and those are largely labor migrants. All of this talk about Al Qaeda learning Spanish or linking Mara Salvatrucha with Al Qaeda is utter bullshit. To call a street gang terrorism is simply absurd." Which for all intents and purposes leaves US border agencies again focused on non-military matters like the drug trade.
Still, the military is back on the border. "JTF North is really busy internationally, and they don't generally have the troops to rotate down to the border," said Dunn. "But the relationship on the ground is still there, and now we are seeing troops on the ground again. Last year in southern New Mexico, they brought in a Stryker brigade with 400 soldiers and 40 light armor vehicles. They're not as heavy as tanks, but they have .50 caliber machine guns and they can hold eight or 12 troops. I never thought I would see things like this on the border," he said.
The situation is increasingly tense, Dunn said. "You have the army, you have the Border Patrol, you have covert surveillance and heavily armed undercover agents, and you have these private militia groups wandering around. This is a recipe for disaster, an incident waiting to happen," he warned.
Confrontations could -- and have -- taken place not only with immigrants and drug traffickers, but with elements of the Mexican military, which is under increasing pressure from the US to step up its fight against cross-border drug trafficking. "There have been shooting incidents between the Mexican Army and US agents, said Dunn, "but those are likely cases of mistaken identity. Still, these incidents add to the mix of tension and instability," he said.
While Mexican President Vicente Fox has aggressively posted soldiers on and near the border, it is largely kabuki theater, said Dunn. "They post those soldiers to placate us, but they send them out in the desert without any support and they're not finding drugs because most of the drugs go through ports of entry. But no one wants to deal with that, because serious enforcement at the ports would interfere with trade."
There are more workable solutions than simply trying to crack down on the border, said Dunn, also drawing an analogy between the issues. "With immigration, you have to legalize the people who are here and let them work toward legal permanent residency, and then you need a reasonable guest worker program." And trying to stop Americans from doing drugs by locking down the border is equally absurd, Dunn said. "If you want to reduce drug use, throw your money into drug education and treatment programs, and look at what other countries are doing in terms of harm reduction. We should also decriminalize marijuana, which would take a lot of pressure off Mexico and give them a real chance to do something about drug flows. Right now, the corruption there has an awful effect, and it is our demand for drugs that is responsible. We can't be any less effective than we are now, but if we take a public health approach, the border issue will become much smaller."
Given the massive amount of free trade between Mexico and the US, trying to stop drugs at the border is a fool's errand, Dunn said. "As long as we have this huge volume of traffic, mixing in illegal commerce with the legal commerce cannot be avoided."
The impulse toward more law enforcement on the border is ever-present and driven by the scary issue of the day. "It used to be justified by the effort to fight drugs," said Nadelmann, "then it was terrorists and national security, and now it's immigration. Cracking down on the border will make it tougher and tougher on people trying to cross, but the impact on drugs coming across will be minimal, and the porousness of the border will continue to feed increasing pressure for more internal surveillance in this country," he predicted.
Nadelmann sketched a frightening Orwellian vision of a future where the totalitarian impulse toward total security moves beyond a line in the desert and into the bodies of American citizens. "As the war on drugs morphs with the war on terror and the war on illegal immigration, we will see a greater and greater push for domestic surveillance of Americans, both internal and external. We are already moving toward a national ID card, and more and more, we are relying on GPS devices, so why not have everybody wear a bracelet or a chip or a card with a biometrics and a GPS tracking device?" Nadelmann asked. "External surveillance is about tracking where you are; internal surveillance is about drug testing -- tracking what you ingest."
The process is already underway, Nadelmann said. "We are already drug testing people in the criminal justice system and people who are seeking jobs. We could very easily move to having tracking devices on people, beginning with the seven million under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. And there would be voluntary participation, for instance, from parents afraid their children will be kidnapped or people whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer's. Then you require it for people who want certain jobs, and eventually everyone essentially has to have an ID device with biometric drug monitoring and GPS tracking."
All it would take is another dramatic attack, Nadelmann suggested. "What happens after the next major terrorist episode and the majority decides it can no longer afford to have anonymous individuals walking around free on our soil? We'll slide into this slowly, and future generations will regard constant surveillance as normal. The only obstacle to this happening is Americans' collective sense of civil liberties and freedom, but as we've seen with drug testing and now in the post-911 world, we are becoming more and more accustomed to the loss of these basic rights. The border issues will get bigger and bigger, and we will create more bureaucracies, but they will have no impact on drugs or terrorism, and the result will be intensive domestic surveillance."
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a presence for the last several years in local politics in the Washington, DC, area. For most of that time, the group has worked on advancing drug policy reform in Maryland, but now, as part of the group's nascent "city strategy," the DC local office will broaden its focus to the city of Washington and improving the nation's capital's drug policy reform profile. Two weeks ago, DPA's DC Metro Area (DCMA) office had its official opening, but the work is already underway.
DC is an apt target for a concentrated drug reform effort. With its open air drug markets and its prohibition-related "crack war" criminal violence that raged murderously through the 1980s and 1990s, with its high levels of heroin and crack use, with its large numbers of young black men behind bars on drug charges, the city and its residents have suffered terribly under current drug policies. And as the nation's capital, its national media presence acts as a megaphone for getting the word out to the rest of the country.
For years, DPA has worked at the state and federal level to push the drug reform agenda, but now is the time to take it to the local level, thus the "city strategy," Nadelmann explained. "The drug laws are basically at the state and federal level, but most policy is done at the local level. If you want to push the envelope, if you want to do research trials with heroin maintenance or do harm reduction with police, many times you don't need to change state and federal law," he said.
DPA is now working at the municipal level in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, and trying to get something started in New York City, Nadelmann said. The group is also eyeing a possible fifth city.
"We want to focus on communities," said DCMA head Naomi Long, who brings with her previous drug reform experience in Alabama and Maryland, and whom Nadelmann calls "a rising star." "Much of our work here will be bringing people together and building coalitions," she told DRCNet. "We've already formed a coalition called Prevention Works Community Partners with two goals. The first is expanding treatment and getting more money and a better treatment delivery system. We have about 60,000 people in DC who need drug treatment, but only about 6,000 are getting it," she said.
"Our second goal is around harm reduction. There are no broad harm reduction projects in DC and not a lot of consistent education about what harm reduction is," said Long. "Some people think it's just needle exchanges, others think it's just methadone, and some just don't have a clue what it means. This is part of the reason we need a large component of community organizing here. We have not had a strong, strategic voice from the community asking that these issues be addressed, just small pockets of people who work on the issues or are service providers," she said.
"We are also working with the Robert Woods Johnson Institute to put together a group of people in recovery or who are recovered," said Long. "These people can talk about recovery and how treatment works and advocate for related issues, like insurance coverage for drug addiction and parity of coverage for substance abuse and mental health issues."
But for Long and DCMA, 2006 is a year of laying the groundwork. "At this point, we are talking about a 2007 Recovery Act, and we are in the process of putting that together. But we want a multifaceted, comprehensive agenda to take to the city council. Members could then either embrace it completely or take pieces of it. The important thing is to build the base. Sometimes you can get things done without a strong community base, but you then lack a sustainable foundation to preserve and expand your gains."
Building a base is exactly what DPA and other groups involved in the next-door Maryland Campaign for Treatment Not Incarceration have been up to for the past few years. With a massive heroin problem centered in Baltimore, Maryland is paying millions to imprison drug offenders and has some 5,000 in prison whose most serious crime is a drug offense. According to the state, 70% of those drug prisoners could use drug treatment.
"We're just finishing up the third legislative session since we've been around," said Tara Andrews, Baltimore-based co-director of the grassroots criminal justice and drug reform group Justice Maryland, which works with the Justice Policy Institute and DCMA, among other organizations. "While none of our big bills got through this year, we advocated for more money for drug treatment -- and got some! -- a return to judicial discretion in sentencing, and the restoration of voting rights for felons, as well as our broader sentencing reform agenda," she told DRCNet.
"We've been involved with DPA in Maryland for the last three years and we are having an impact," said Justice Policy Institute executive director Jason Zeidenberg. "We think we have laid the groundwork for continued work in Maryland to knock down the barriers to treatment instead of incarceration. That is now the policy presumption in the state, and now it is a matter of getting past complacency and getting bills through the legislature."
While ultimately unsuccessful at the statehouse this year, the effort leaves reformers well placed to make progress next year, Andrews said. "We were able to make many more friends at the statehouse and we gained many more community-based allies. We are making it hard for legislators not to pass these bills, and we'll come back next year and push hard again for judicial discretion and the restoration of voting rights, as well as a much more coordinated and aggressive push for more treatment dollars," she said.
DPA will continue to work on Maryland, but now the nation's capital is on its agenda, too. Washington, DC, brings its own set of obstacles and opportunities. For one thing, as a federal district, its budgets and laws are ultimately at the mercy of Congress. While Congress can -- and has -- acted to block reform measures, such as the yes vote on medical marijuana, the congressional bogeyman can be played to local advantage, said Long.
"This is a great way to bring in groups that are not necessarily interested in drug policy, but care very much about home rule," said Long. "When you talk about DC not being able to fund its own needle exchange, about how people here in the city are dying because Congress wants to keep us subservient, that's a home rule issue, and people will make the connections. Also, home rule is very dear to lots of people here, and if we're building a community-based movement, we have to frame the issues in a way that appeals to the people we're working with."
"Yes, it's true, we are talking about the disenfranchisement of 600,000 people in the District," said Nadelmann, admitting Congress could be an obstacle. "But the upside is that it is the nation's capital, there is national media attention, and it is the most national of our cities, with people from all 50 states working and living there. If and when Congress rejects some reform in DC, that rejection and the conflict that results will provide extensive opportunities to engage the media and do public education nationwide."
The annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) ended in San Francisco Saturday afternoon, wrapping up three days of intensive panel discussions, vendor hawking, and hallway networking among the more than 500 people who showed up for the annual confab. As the smoke settled, some participants headed for the airport, some for the High Times comedy show that benefited NORML, and some just for one last night out in Babylon-by-the-Bay.
If the conference began Thursday fully focused on how to reform the marijuana laws through basic organizing, by Friday it was being buffeted by current events. Seattle activist Dominic Holden started the day by reading a Drug War Chronicle article about how the Alaska House had rejected a move to recriminalize marijuana there, an announcement that brought loud cheers from the crowd. But that same day, news of the FDA's denial that marijuana has any medical benefits was met with dismay and disbelief, and reform group honchos in attendance spent the afternoon cycling between reporters and TV crews seeking comment on the controversy.
The FDA decision was also on the minds of presenters. "What do the letters FDA stand for?" asked Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Fraudulent Data Association? Fools and Dopes Alliance? We used to think there would be an element of independence at FDA," he said, "but this is a craven last effort against medical marijuana." Nadelmann likened the FDA move to similar efforts elsewhere in the Bush administration to make science serve political ends. "Government scientists are resigning because they can't stand the politicization," he said.
But the breaking FDA news didn't put a damper on everything. In a Friday session on this year's batch of marijuana-related state and local initiatives, panelists like Mikki Norris of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign and Richard Lee of Oakland's Bulldog Coffee Shop, both of whom are key members of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance that passed the city's "lowest law enforcement priority" initiative in 2004, announced their plans to take the Oakland model to cities around the state.
"We found that at the city level, we can make marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority," said Norris. "Now we want to spread this around the state, and this year, we're looking for low-hanging fruit. We looked at voting records -- who voted for Kerry in 2004 and who voted for Prop. 215 in 1996 -- to find progressive locations, and we avoided anyplace that went higher than 25% Republican. We are now working on initiatives in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood," she said.
At least one of those places has already gathered sufficient signatures to make the November ballot, Norris said. "I have an announcement," she said. "Santa Cruz this morning submitted signatures to qualify for the ballot." The others cities have until late May.
The panel also included Steve Fox, the executive director of Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), the group that shot out of nowhere by loudly declaiming that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should not be treated more severely. SAFER won two non-binding college referenda at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, then shocked the nation by winning a legalization initiative last November in Denver. Since then, the group has continued on a roll, piling up more wins at the University of Texas, Florida State University, and the University of Maryland. It is also fully engaged in attempting to put a statewide legalization initiative on the ballot in Colorado this year.
"We're trying to change the rhetoric around marijuana and marijuana policy," Fox told the crowd. "We are educating the public about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and it has really caught on. One thing we learned is to stay focused. Every sentence out of our mouths has the words 'alcohol' and 'marijuana' in it. And we get incredible media coverage."
Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Bruce Mirken updated the crowd on the group's effort to win a regulation and legalization initiative in Nevada, where the group has been working for four years. "We have offered a fully formed system of regulation and taxation there. Adults over 21 can possess up to an ounce, but they will buy it legally from licensed, regulated merchants who have to adhere to rules, such as being no closer than 500 feet to a school or church or not selling it at convenience stores," he explained. "We have the other side nervous, and they're already starting to fight dirty. This is going to be a hell of a fight," Mirken predicted.
In his address to the crowd, DPA's Nadelmann urged the cannabis nation to broaden its vision. "It's not just about marijuana or medical marijuana or industrial hemp or our right to consume this wonderful substance," he said. "We are building a political movement, and ultimately, the marijuana movement and the broader cause of justice will be empowered by working together."
But to a large extent, it is all about pot, Nadelmann admitted. "Our opponents say drug reformers are potheads," he said. "Well, yeah, it's true, we are among the tens of millions of Americans who enjoy pot. We like it at the movies, or listening to music or making love. We find this a wonderful substance that adds joy. Thank you, God, for putting it on the planet. We are involved because we benefit from it, but we are also politically conscious human beings who understand what freedom is. The laws are not right. Nobody should be punished for taking a substance into his own body. That's who we are."
The panels were good and informative, the speakers sometimes inspiring, but the one person with real star power at the NORML conference was Tommy Chong, already a legend among stoners for his comedy work with Cheech Marin in the team of Cheech and Chong. Chong's exalted status was only increased by his martyrdom at the hands of the feds; he served nine months in federal prison for selling bongs emblazoned with his image.
Chong was in fine form as he entertained lunch diners Friday. "All that stuff about bubba in prison isn't true," he said. "It doesn't hurt. [laughter] But it does hurt when the government is doing it to you. The government is totally retarded, man. Watching Bush speak is like watching the kid from the special class rule the country."
Bush was a favorite target for Chong. "He's a good example of what happens when you take the most dangerous drug: methamphetamine," Chong joked. "Meth makes people do weird things like walk around the house looking for something to take apart. Bikers on meth take their motorcycles apart, but then they can't put them back together. Much like Bush has done to this country."
Bush's vice-president came in for some gibes, too. "I sold bongs to Cheney's secret service team," Chong said. "They said, 'We're Cheney's secret service team, heh heh.'"
Chong also had some pointed comments about the pot laws and prison. "What's the worst thing that happens if you get too high?" he asked. "You're gonna eat too much. There's no such thing as pot-fueled rage, is there? When I was in prison, they made me take a drug education course. I signed up, man, I wanted to learn. Trouble is, I ended up teaching it."
Finally, Chong has some words about the problem with potheads. "The problem with potheads is we're not doing anything, so we don't get paranoid. I woke up in jail five months later and said, 'Fuck, I shouldn't have put my picture on that bong."
Following the standing ovation Chong got from the crowd, a documentary on his bizarre experience with the criminal justice system began -- and so did the flaring of lighters in the darkened room as crowd members decided to supplement the movie with their favorite herb. But that was too much for the smoke-conscious Holiday Inn, which abruptly stopped the movie and cleared the room because of the violation of California's smoking laws.
And so it goes in California, leading the nation both in marijuana law reform and in the crusade against cigarette smoking.
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An Oregon city pays -- again -- for the actions of a criminal cop, a border crime family's ties reach into law enforcement, another border drug cop goes bad, and a crooked deputy in a crooked Tennessee county heads for the federal slammer. Let's get to it:
In Greenville, Tennessee, a former Cocke County sheriff's deputy was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Monday after earlier pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking and carrying a weapon in the commission of a drug trafficking offense. Deputy Larry Dodgin, a 27-year sheriff's office veteran, was arrested in June 2005 after trying to buy $60,000 worth of cocaine from an undercover FBI agent. Dodgin came to the attention of federal investigators rooting through corruption charges in Cocke county in 2004, when he was introduced to the undercover fed, who supposedly worked for a drug trafficking organization. He agreed to work with the supposed gang, and went on to deliver crack cocaine, guard a drug deal in a grocery store parking lot, repeatedly smuggle drug money for the gang, help a cocaine dealing friend stay out of legal trouble, and use drugs himself. Although Dodgin could have been hit with numerous felonies, he was only charged with two, primarily because he agreed to cooperate in the federal corruption investigation. Dodgin helped bring down his boss, Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor, and Taylor's brother Jarrod by brokering a deal with the supposed gangsters and Taylor where the Taylor brothers agreed to buy stolen merchandise Dodgin was being paid to protect. They've pled guilty to theft charges and will be sentenced in July.
In Eugene, Oregon, the city has agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to a woman who was forced to perform sex acts by a Eugene police officer after being caught with a small amount of marijuana, the Associated Press reported. The settlement is the latest and the largest so far in a series of lawsuits filed by victims of sexual assaults by former officer Roger Magana, who is serving a 94-year prison sentence on charges he raped, harassed, or sexually assaulted 13 women during his eight years on the force. In this case, the victim said Magana and other police officers sought sexual favors from her after finding a small bag of weed, and Magana threatened to arrest her and take her child away if she did not perform sex acts with him. Sex occurred on numerous occasions over a year-long period, with Magana arriving at her house in uniform in his patrol car. Another woman said Magana assaulted her about 25 times during the same period, and the lawsuit alleged he preyed on women with drug or alcohol problems. The city has paid out $1.75 million so far in four lawsuits. Six more are set for trial beginning July 5.
In Edinburg, Texas, an Edinburg police officer was arrested while on duty April 19 on charges he is a member of a Lower Rio Grande Valley drug trafficking family led by his brother, a former McAllen, Texas, police officer. Edinburg Police Officer Jesus Lorenzo Meza, 32, was one of nine people, five of them Meza brothers, arrested in joint raids by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Mission, McAllen, and Edinburg police departments. Police identified Francisco Meza-Rojas, 41, as the ringleader of the "Meza Drug Trafficking Organization." He was a McAllen police officer until he quit in 1992. In a statement issued April 23, law enforcement said the Meza family smuggled and shipped cocaine and marijuana to other trafficking groups in the Valley. The bust was the result of a 10-year-old DEA investigation into corruption in the Valley. The nine arrested face conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana charges and are looking at up to life in prison.
In Laredo, Texas, the deputy commander of a local drug task force was indicted April 20 on charges he extorted payments from drug smugglers and traffickers in exchange for protection from arrest. FBI agents arrested Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force deputy commander Julio Alfonso Lopez, 45, of Zapata, along with another man. A statement from US Attorney Don DeGabrielle said the pair were indicted on 10 counts for accepting at least $44,500 from traffickers seeking safe passage through the town. The indictment also alleges they leaked law enforcement information to traffickers and provided storage for cocaine shipments. The arrest comes as the task force, like other scandal-ridden Texas drug task forces, is losing state-controlled federal funds. The Laredo task force is attempting to refashion itself as a border anti-terrorism task force now, because that's where the official money is. It looks like deputy commander Lopez knew where the unofficial money was.
A week after the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) issued a one-page opinion claiming marijuana has no proven medical uses -- a position that ignores the much more comprehensive analysis done by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine in 1999 -- a bipartisan group of 24 House members led by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has called on the agency to explain its reasoning and offer scientific proof for its position.
Last week, the FDA issued a one-page press release declaring that "no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use." The press release did not point to any studies that supported its contention, and it has become an object of controversy among medical marijuana proponents and scientists who have actually done research on marijuana.
Hinchey accused the agency of playing politics with people's lives. "We saw it with the agency's decision on the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, and we're seeing it again with medical marijuana: the FDA is making decisions based on politics instead of science," Hinchey said. "The FDA should not be a political entity. Rather, the agency should be in the business of ensuring all Americans have access to safe and effective drugs, including medical marijuana."
Rep. Hinchey is one of the most ardent defenders of medical marijuana in the House. He has sponsored an amendment that would bar the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana patients in three consecutive sessions, and he has vowed to offer it again later this year.
In comments that continue to reverberate through upstate New York, Erie County (Buffalo) Chief Executive Joel Giambra called last week for a serious discussion of legalizing drugs. The local law enforcement establishment has been biting back ever since, but Giambra has gained the support of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), one of whose founding members joined him at a press event this week.
On April 19, in remarks he said were sparked by a spate of killings in Buffalo, including the murder earlier this month of a nun by a man high on crack cocaine, Giambra said it was time to quit "pretending" that the war on drugs is working. "Until we get real about it, this problem is going to continue to build on the streets of urban America. We have to talk about legalization," he said in an interview with the Buffalo News.
"It's easy to sit back and pretend you can fix the problem, but based on the number of homicides and deaths we're seeing, the criminals are winning," Giambra said. "We need to look at what other countries are doing and see what might be more effective than doing what we're doing. I don't believe anyone looking at this nationally believes that current methods to eliminate the problem are working," Giambra added. "They have failed miserably."
Giambra's suggestion went over like a lead balloon with local drug fighters. "Allowing for narcotic intoxicants to get further entangled in our society is not a positive and is not going to bode well for anybody," said Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gibson. "It just has catastrophic potentialities," he told the News.
"He ought to take a ride around the streets," said Lt. Joseph Leo, a member of the Lackawanna Police drug squad, adding that drugs "alter the mind" of the user. The problem, Leo said, is soft sentencing and lack of funding for drug enforcement.
Lt. Thomas Lyon, a Buffalo narcotics officer, said drugs cause tragedies and it wouldn't be any different if they were legal. "We're in the trenches every day. We see the damage the drug culture has done to neighborhoods and people," Lyon said. "Doctors, lawyers, kids, people from all walks of life who you'd never expect to see huddled up in the corner of a crack house having lost everything they ever had. Legalizing it is not the answer."
"I'm not going to dignify the efficacy of his remarks by putting it to a debate," harrumphed Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark. "It's a mindless idea to start with."
But Giambra was unbowed, telling the News he was just trying to get some innovative thinking going on drug policy. "I'm just trying to stimulate a different kind of discussion to get people away from pretending," he said.
By Monday, Giambra was pressing ahead, holding a news conference with LEAP founding member Peter Christ, a former police captain in Tonawanda. Christ, an experienced speaker on the topic, supported Giambra's call for a legalization discussion and hammered on the damage done by drug prohibition. "Al Capone wasn't created by alcohol," he said. "Al Capone was created by the prohibition of alcohol." There are problems related to drug abuse, Christ argued, and problems related to the illegality of the drug trade. "We believe that a regulated and controlled marketplace, regulated by the government, is totally preferable to an uncontrolled marketplace run by gangsters on the street," Christ said.
Christ also challenged reporters, scoffing at the way they uncritically repeat police boasts that such and such a drug bust would put "a huge dent" in the drug trade. "You've written that story over and over again," he said.
Giambra clarified that he thought that drug use was immoral, but that current drug policy wasn't working. He shrugged off attacks from law enforcement and in the media and vowed to continue to look for a better way. "I will continue to question the status quo," he vowed. "I think it's irresponsible to continue to believe we can solve this problem with the same solutions."
One of the perils of prohibition is playing out among heroin users in Chicago and on the East Coast, especially around Philadelphia, and it is the users who are paying the price. At least a dozen Chicago-area heroin users have died of overdoses in the past few weeks, while in the Delaware-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area, at least 11 more have died in the last two weeks, according to local press reports, while dozens more have suffered non-fatal overdoses in both areas.
The New Jersey State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Health both issued warnings about the wave of overdoses apparently emanating from Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. In Chicago and its suburbs, police and health authorities are also on high alert. They are linking the wave of overdoses to batches of heroin cut with Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic 80 times more powerful than morphine. The drug is usually prescribed in a skin patch to treat chronic pain in cancer patients, but is known on the street as "China White."
In a drug control system where the sale of substances like heroin is prohibited and thus unregulated, there are no mechanisms to prevent the adulteration of drugs by distributors too careless or too unscrupulous to protect the health of their clientele. In a drug control system where substances like heroin are available through a regulated market, quality-control provisions would prevent such occurrences. The people who stuck needles full of what they thought was heroin in the arms and died are victims of their own choices, but they are also victims of drug prohibition.
A federal appeals court has thrown out the January 2003 conviction of "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal on federal marijuana cultivation charges. A three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the verdict was tainted by a juror's phone call to an attorney friend, who told her she could get in trouble if she failed to follow the judge's instructions not to consider the crop's medical purpose.
After the trial, seven of the 12 jurors publicly disavowed their verdicts, saying they would have acquitted if they had known if was a medical marijuana grow. At sentencing, even though Rosenthal faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, however, Breyer sentenced him to one day. Rosenthal had reasonably -- if mistakenly -- believed his appointment as an agent of the City of Oakland shielded him from federal drug law, Breyer said.
Rosenthal appealed on numerous grounds, including the judge's disallowal of medical marijuana testimony, but the 9th Circuit found no error except with the advice-seeking juror. In a sworn declaration, that juror said the lack of testimony about medical marijuana during the trial and the judge's instructions that jurors must follow federal law troubled her. She called a lawyer friend, who advised her to follow the instructions of she could "get in trouble."
For the 9th Circuit, the question was whether the advice was an "improper influence" that raised the "reasonable possibility" of prejudicing the juror. In a word, yes: "Jurors cannot fairly determine the outcome of a case if they believe they will face 'trouble' for a conclusion they reach as jurors," the panel held. "The threat of punishment works a coercive influence on the jury's independence, and a juror who genuinely fears retribution might change his or her determination of the issue for fear of being punished."
The case was remanded for retrial, and the government's motion challenging Rosenthal's sentence and seeking 6 ½ years was held moot pending any new conviction. But whether the feds will seek to prosecute Rosenthal again is questionable. And the 9th Circuit signaled strongly in a final footnote in its opinion it thought the one-day sentence was just fine. "We would not be inclined to disturb the [trial] court's reasoned analysis underlying its sentencing determination," it said.
The Malaysian government has banned the publication and distribution of three magazines that celebrate the marijuana culture effective April 13, the Bernama Malaysian News Agency reported. The venerable "High Times" and its competitors "Cannabis Culture" (Canada) and "Weed World" (England) are now verboten in Kuala Lumpur.
In an April 19 statement, the Malaysian Internal Security Ministry said the magazines threatened national security and morality and banned them under the country's Control of Undesirable Publications Act. The ban -- which ironically was passed in the year 1984 -- covers the import, publication, reproduction, sale, or possession of the three magazines.
It's not enough that Malaysian marijuana lovers face arrest and imprisonment for the weed. Now they also face the prospect of being busted for "possession of High Times."
In a wide-ranging interview with the Vancouver Sun last Friday, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said he wants to begin a program to provide drugs for addicts in the city's Downtown Eastside -- and he's willing to risk his political career to do so. Sullivan said he was moved to propose the idea in an effort to protect women drug users who turn to prostitution and to reduce crime and disorder before the city hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside drug scene is one of the continent's most open and busy, with thousands of hard-core drug users concentrated in a few square blocks just blocks from the heart of the city. While a few dozen heroin addicts are receiving maintenance doses as part of the experimental North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative, any broader program would require federal and provincial government approval.
"I'll do whatever I can to get to a situation where we've done something important for these women," Sullivan said. Vancouver also needs to put a fresh face on for the Olympics, he said. "By 2010, I want the public disorder and crime seriously reduced."
Sullivan told the Sun he has been consulting with experts and community groups about ways to begin a drug maintenance program and that a private donor has offered $500,000 for innovative harm reduction programs in Vancouver. The city would not be involved in funding or operating the program, he said.
"I want any project [that does go forward] to be not dreamed up by the mayor or any citizen that doesn't have a lot of expertise," Sullivan said. "The reality is that the city is not going to conduct any program that is health-related."
In remarks that drew a rebuke from former Mayor Larry Campbell, a strong proponent of the city's Four Pillars drug policy strategy (prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and harm reduction), Sullivan said it was time to emphasize the latter. "I believe where we haven't put real energy is in the more interesting harm-reduction efforts that have proven to work," he said.
Sullivan expressed less enthusiasm about the law enforcement and treatment pillars. "I would say I have seen enforcement well funded. At least three times during my time on council, we have sent the police in to clean up for once and for all," he said. As for treatment, Sullivan remained unconvinced of its efficacy. "I've looked at mandatory treatment in the United States and still seen open drug use there." He supported prevention and treatment, "but I think we have to be honest with ourselves that that is not going to solve the problem," Sullivan said.
Campbell, the pro-legalization retired mayor whose Council of Progressive Electors (COPE) electoral coalition lost out to Sullivan and the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) in last year's municipal elections, attacked Sullivan as simplistic and reckless. "The idea that all you need to do is give drugs [to people] and that takes care of the problem doesn't make any sense to me," Campbell told the Sun. "It's very simplistic." Nor was he impressed with Sullivan's comments on the Four Pillars. "His idea that one pillar is tremendously more important than the others flies in the face of everything we've learned," Campbell said.
Sullivan's remarks also got mixed reviews from the city council, where Vision Vancouver councilors, the main opposition to the NPA, called the mayor's views "extreme" and said drug maintenance should be "a last resort" after other forms of treatment failed.
But at least one NPA councilor, Suzanne Anton, and David Cadman, the lone COPE councilor, both told the Sun they supported the mayor. "As a society that is suffering as a result of drug use... we have to look for more creative solutions," said Cadman.
pain pill convict Rush Limbaugh attacks medical marijuana users
April 29, 1996: At a speech at a Miami high school, President Clinton calls for a war on drugs -- for the second time. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on May 1, that "everything the president has announced is already being done. There's nothing new here."
April 30, 1984: Colombian Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who had crusaded against the Medellin cartel, is assassinated by a gang of motorcycle thugs. President Belisario Betancur, who had opposed extradition, announces "We will extradite Colombians." Carlos Lehder is the first to be put on the list. The crackdown forces the Ochoa family, Escobar, and Oscar Rodriguez Gacha to flee to Panama for several months. A few months later, Escobar is indicted for Lara Bonilla's murder and names the Ochoas and Rodriguez Gacha as material witnesses.
May 1, 1972: Nobel Prize winner for economics Milton Friedman is quoted in Newsweek: "Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order?"
May 1, 2003: The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003 (IDAPA) is signed into law, among other things amending a section of the Controlled Substances Act to target rave organizers.
May 2, 2001: The Louisiana Senate, voting 29-5, passes sweeping legislation to bring relief to an overflowing state prison system, including ending mandatory prison time for possession of small quantities of drugs.
May 3, 1994: Dear Abby states publicly in her column that "Just as bootleggers were forced out of business in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed, making the sale of liquor legal (thus eliminating racketeering), the legalization of drugs would put drug dealers out of business. It also would guarantee government approved quality, and the tax on drugs would provide an ongoing source of revenue for drug-education programs."
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
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, 11:00am-10:00pm, Kingston, RI, 8th Annual Hempfest, sponsored by University of Rhode Island SSDP. At the URI quad, featuring music, food, vendors and activism, admission free. Contact Rebecca Long at [email protected] 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.
April 30, noon-4:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Beyond Criminalization: Healthier Ways to Control Drugs," film festival sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 1, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Regulation: An Alternative to Criminalization," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 2, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Drug Regulation: Impacts on Policing and Prisons," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 4, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Drug Regulation: A Saner Discussion About Crystal Methamphetamine," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 5-6, Seattle, WA, "Bringing Us Together: First National Harm Reduction Therapy Conference," sponsored by the University of Washington Addictive Behaviors Research Center, the Harm Reduction Therapy Center and Harm Reduction Psychotherapy & Associates. At the University of Washington, South Campus Center, registration $200 visit http://www.harmreductiontherapy.com to register or for further information.
May 6-7, worldwide, Million Marijuana march, visit http://www.globalmarijuanamarch.com for further information.
May 8, 9:00am-4:00pm, Montreal, QC, Canada, "Welcome D.E.A., Can We Talk? -- International Drug Enforcement Counter Symposium: A Canadian Response to USA Drug Policy Hegemony," responding to a DEA-funded international drug enforcement officers' conference. At the Marriott Chateau Champlain Ballroom, 1050 de la Gauchetiere Street, admission free, noon rally in Dorchester Square at corner of Peel & René-Lévesque. Visit http://www.idecs.ca for info.
May 8, 4:00-6:00pm, San Diego, CA, "Have Our Drug Laws Failed?", debate between LEAP speaker Judge James P. Gray and Roger Morgan. Sponsored by SDSU SSDP, at the "Backdoor," Aztec Center, San Diego State University, contact Randy Hencken at (619) 865-3000 or [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
May 8, 7:00-9:00pm, West Hollywood, CA, "Crystal: The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly," first of a series of public forums on methamphetamine and harm reduction. Sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles, at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, 647 N. San Vicente Ave., call (213) 201-1662 for information.
May 10, 5:30-7:30pm, New York, NY, "PUMPED: A Truth-Enhancing Seminar on Steroids and the Law," discussion with Rick Collins, national legal authority on steroids. At the Drug Policy Alliance, 70 W. 36th Street, 16th Floor, limited spaces available. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/event.cfm?eventID=611 for further information or RSVP to Stefanie Jones at [email protected] or (212) 613-8047.
May 10, 6:30pm, Washington, DC, "Race to Incarcerate," book talk with The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. At Busboys & Poets, 2021 14th St. NW, Langston Room, visit http://www.busboysandpoets.com for further information.
May 11, 7:00pm, Salt Lake City, UT, "Filling the Leadership Void: Where Are We Going? -- How Local Communities Respond to Substance Abuse," lecture by Deborah Small of Breaking the Chains. At the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive, Dumke Auditorium, call (801) 688-6927 or visit http://www.harmredux.org for further information.
May 12-13, Sturgis, SD, 6th Annual Black Hills Hemp Hoe Down, geaturing music, workshops, hemp food, hemp beer, speeches, camping and more. At the Elk View Campground, five miles outside town, exit 37 off Interstate 90, visit http://www.hemphoedown.com or visit (605) 484-1806 or [email protected] for information.
June 2-4, Marysville, CA, music festival supporting the Dr. Stephen Banister Legal Defense Fund, California NORML and Americans for Safe Access. Tickets $60, visit http://www.camusicthatmatters.org for further information.
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.
June 12, 6:00-9:30pm, New York, NY, MPP Awards Gala. At Capitale, 130 Bowery, featuring Medeski Martin & Wood, tickets $250 if purchased by May 22 or $300, $500 VIP. Visit http://www.mpp.org/nygala/ for further information.
July 4, Washington, DC, Fourth of July Rally, sponsored by the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition. At Lafayette Park, call (202) 251-4492 or visit http://www.smoke-in.org for further information.
June 8-9, Monterey, Fresno & Palo Alto, 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.
July 20-23, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Fourth Biennial International Meaning Conference on Addiction," contact Dr. Paul T.P. Wong at [email protected] or visit http://www.meaning.ca for information.
July 21, 7:00pm, Washington, DC, "Race to Incarcerate," book talk with The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. At Politics & Prose bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, visit http://www.politics-prose.com for further information.
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].
February 1-3, 2007, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science & Response: 2007, The Second National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis," sponsored by the Harm Reduction Project. At the Hilton City Center, visit http://www.methconference.org for info.
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