(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #441 -- 6/23/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The policy is an example of what is called "harm reduction" -- programs, policies and practices that acknowledge the reality that drug use is here and is not about to go away. Harm reduction seeks to save lives, reduce the spread of diseases and generally improve the lives and health of drug users -- whether they are about to stop using or not.
In the context of the drug war, much of the harm being abated stems not only from the drugs, but also from the policies. This is a less controversial statement than it might seem on the surface. For example, in 1997 a group of "middle-ground" academics, led by UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, published a statement of principles under the auspices of the Federation of American Scientists that explicitly makes this point. Principle three in the statement argues that "[d]amage [from drugs] can be reduced by shrinking the extent of drug abuse as well as by reducing the harm incident to any given level of drug consumption." It's not just all-out legalizers like me who argue this point; it's most if not all thinking observers of drug policy.
The police presence/overdose nexus is a fairly spectacular if quiet example of unintended consequences in the drug war. It's key to note that Vancouver didn't decide to have police go to the scene of overdose calls to help out or just in case, but without making arrests -- that wasn't enough. The police in most cases just don't go. Because their mere presence, even if benign, is enough to scare the people who need to make the phone calls into not making them. Vancouver's police are not showing up in these situations at all -- because they understand that just by showing up, they indirectly cause people to die -- even if all they intend to do when they get there is help.
What an incredible illustration of just how extreme a response to drug use prohibition is -- the mere presence of prohibition's enforcers in certain situations causes death. It's good the officials in Vancouver have taken this thoughtful step. But shouldn't we end prohibition itself, rather than merely do partial fixes that leave the core harms untouched? There's a widespread understanding that legalization would effectively constitute large scale harm reduction, reflexive fears of the opposite held by many notwithstanding.
In the meantime, kudos to Vancouver's police leaders who are dispassionate enough to recognize this and confident enough to act on it and acknowledge doing so in writing. And to the harm reductionists everywhere, laboring every day to rescue the unfortunate ones caught up in the mad jaws of destruction our laws have created.
For the fourth consecutive year, an effort is underway in Congress to stop the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers in the 11 states where it is legal.
The amendment responds to a real need: According to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana defense group pushing for the amendment, at least 20 California dispensaries and collectives have been raided by the feds since the Supreme Court gave the DEA a green light with its decision in the Raich case almost a year ago. In that case, the court held that federal law making marijuana illegal superseded -- but did not invalidate -- any state medical marijuana laws.
"We are talking about at least two very important issues here," Rep. Hinchey told DRCNet Wednesday. "One is the ability to alleviate the conditions of people who are suffering from serious illnesses, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. A study done by the Institute of Medicine under the auspices of the National Academy of Science found that marijuana used under a physician's recommendation can have very significant and salutary benefits for people suffering from those conditions. The idea that we would deprive human beings of relief recommended by a licensed physician is not humanitarian; it's inhumane. It's a really bad thing to do," Hinchey said.
"We have an administration whose Justice Department is interfering with that kind of medical practice, and we have a recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision which to some extent backs them up. That decision and the actions of the Justice Department are frankly inexplicable because what we're dealing with here is a decision by either the legislative bodies or the people themselves through referenda to provide this kind of medical relief and assistance to their citizens," Hinchey continued from his Capitol Hill office.
"Under the Constitution, these kinds of decisions are not in the hands of the federal government; they are in the hands of the states," said Hinchey, who represents a district in New York's Southern Tier. "Eleven states have decided they want to provide this kind of relief to their citizens, and now the federal government is sticking its nose in somebody else's business and trying to impede those decisions. That is just inappropriate, unconstitutional, and shouldn't be allowed. This amendment is designed put a stop to it."
Support for Hinchey-Rohrabacher is trending upward. In 2003, it got 152 votes. In 2004, an election year, support dropped to 148 votes, but rose to 161 last year. It takes 218 votes to ensure passage in the House. Supporters said they expected to make significant gains in next week's vote, although none was bold enough to predict victory this year.
Although the bill is cosponsored by California Republican Rep. Rohrabacher, voting has hardly been bipartisan. Last year, 145 Democrats voted for the amendment, while only 15 Republicans did.
With a floor vote expected next Wednesday or Thursday, the measure's sponsors and a coalition of drug reform groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), ASA, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), DRCNet and others are going into high gear. "This is the final push," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "We've really been trying to connect with members of Congress. I have a good feeling about this year."
"We're trying to lean on all the swing votes right now," said Bill Piper, DPA head of national affairs. "We've been dropping off materials to members, and we'll be sending out an action alert this week," he told DRCNet. "We're definitely going to pick up votes. The real question is how many, and whether we will lose any because it's an election year, but I suspect our numbers will go up significantly."
With Democrats already generally supporting the amendment -- 70% of them voted for it last year -- reformers are also reaching out to Republicans. "We're aiming at both parties, of course, but we emphasized working on the Republicans earlier this year," Piper said. "We've hit a ceiling of sorts with Democrats. We will pick some more Democrats up, but there are so many more Republicans who could vote yes, and I think that's where we'll see out biggest gains."
"We're optimistic," said Piper. "Everyone is expecting to pick up votes and keep the momentum going. If we could get almost all the Democrats to vote for this, we would win, assuming Republican support stayed the same. And there are a lot of conservative House Republicans that are very frustrated with the White House and the drug czar. They might be willing to send a message to the DEA and the Justice Department that the money used to go after medical marijuana patients could be used to go after methamphetamine. If we get a significant vote increase, that would be a strong message that they need to think again."
"We had 27 meetings on the Hill," exclaimed ASA executive director Steph Sherer, who recently relocated to Washington. "We had a group of doctors, scientists, and patients and we went to see the toughest congressional targets," she told DRCNet. "This was the first time some of these people had ever met a patient, doctor, or scientist talking about this. I don't know whether they will support it this year, but I think we're opening a dialogue that will lead to long-term solutions for medical marijuana at the federal level."
MPP is also aiming at Republicans, said Houston. "We've got a GOP lobbying team of six people, all Republicans, all but one from groups not focused on drug policy," he told DRCNet. That team includes an Eagle Foundation education lobbyist, a Republican banking committee staffer, and a Republican Connecticut state legislator, Houston said. "These are conservative Republican organizations," he pointed out.
On the West Coast, the group has also enlisted Alex Holstein, a former executive director of the Republican Party of San Diego County, to enlist GOP support. Now head of the California Coalition for Compassionate Access, Holstein is urging Republicans to stand by conservative values in supporting the amendment.
"Local control and reduced federal authority are lynchpin Republican principles," he said. "We're asking our fellow Republicans to stand by those principles and end federal interference with the decisions made by states like California to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution."
"States' rights is something many Republicans agree with on its face," said MPP's Houston, "and it will get some major traction if Republicans are willing to buck their party. States' rights will be the key argument for many Republicans. Protecting medical marijuana patients is entirely consistent with Republican small government states' rights principles. Republicans who vote against this amendment are showing a nanny-state liberal tendency to interfere in the lives of sick people."
Emphasizing states' rights is one way of appealing to Republicans, agreed Rep. Hinchey, who addressed a fundraising gala for MPP in New York City earlier this month. "Interfering with relief for people who are suffering in states that have approved medical marijuana unconstitutionally impedes states' rights. It's very clear," he said. "The practice of medicine is something that has been controlled by the states from the very beginning of the republic. We have picked up a few votes from principled Republicans who seem to understand this, and we hope we can find a few more."
"I have a good feeling about this year," said Houston. "The fact that the administration is in such hot water right now with congressional Republicans will probably hurt party discipline, and with the Hammer gone," a reference to recently departed House Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), "we might see more Republicans actually willing to vote their consciences and stand up for states' rights rather than blindly following the administration's anti-science and cruel and heartless policy of arresting patients."
"You never know what's going to happen," said Hinchey, refusing to make a prediction on the outcome. "There are some people with their fingers in the air testing the wind."
The US Supreme Court's 5-4 decision last week weakening longstanding protections against unannounced police raids has given law enforcement agencies a green light to resort to aggressive, "no-knock"-style raids to execute search warrants, criminologists, former police executives, and police-watchers told DRCNet this week. The result will be an increase in incidents where innocent homeowners or police -- not to mention people targeted for drug use or sales -- are killed or seriously injured, they warned.
In last week's case, Hudson v. Michigan, police with a "knock and announce" warrant burst through Booker Hudson's door within three to five seconds after announcing their presence. After police found cocaine and a weapon, Hudson was convicted on drug charges. On appeal, he argued successfully that the evidence against him should have been suppressed because it was the fruit of an unlawful search -- the traditional remedy for law enforcement violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
But in an opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the high court majority held that even though police had violated the "knock and announce" rule, the traditional remedy -- throwing out the evidence -- is no longer required. Instead, Scalia wrote, people whose rights had been violated by "knock and announce" searches turned "no-knock" searches, could seek justice by filing civil suit or find solace in what he called a rising level of "police professionalism."
Springfield, Arkansas residents Patricia Durr-Pojar and her son, Curtis Pojar, might have a few words to say about police professionalism. Durr-Pojar spent last Thursday and Friday nights at a local hospital emergency room being treated for injuries suffered when the local dope squad, the Combined Ozarks Multi-Jurisdictional Enforcement Team (COMET), raided their home on a warrant for methamphetamine and a meth lab. Curtis Pojar received bruises and a laceration under his left eye. No meth or meth labs were found, but the cops did find a small amount of marijuana and a pot pipe in Curtis Pojar's trailer -- and according to the pair's uncontested account, trashed both properties.
Black-clad police set off a flash-bang grenade, then burst in without identifying themselves, said Durr-Pujar, who fled into the bathroom. "I thought they were going to kill me. All this fire seemed to come through the windows," she told local columnist Sarah Overstreet Monday. "I didn't know if they were gun shots or what, and I thought Curtis had been shot or that the propane tank had blown up. I ran to the bathroom when I saw Curtis' head go down when the officers knocked him down. I closed the door, and they knocked it in and hit me in the head with it, then knocked me to the floor," she said. Her head wound came from her face bouncing off the bathroom floor, she added. "They hit in here with such violence, it was in a militant, terrorist style," said Durr-Pojar, who is on disability.
Anthony Diotaiuto might have a few words to say about police professionalism, too, but he can't because he didn't survive the raid on his home. The 23-year-old bartender was killed last August by a Sunset, Florida, SWAT team executing a dawn no-knock raid over alleged small-time marijuana sales. Police shot him dead when he allegedly reached for his pistol as masked, yelling intruders kicked down his door. They found two ounces of pot.
Without police having to pay with the loss of evidence for violating "knock and announce" rules, they will have little effective incentive to refrain from turning them into "no-knock" searches at will. Despite Scalia's assertion that people can seek civil relief, the state of Michigan and the Justice Department admitted in briefs filed in the case that no case where someone had won such a civil suit could be found.
"This is a pretty ugly decision," said Radley Balko, an analyst for the Cato Institute, which filed a brief in the case urging the court to uphold the appeals court decision. "I don't see how the court can say there is still a right to 'knock and announce,' but take away all realistic ways of enforcing it. This is pretty much a guaranteed ticket to more no-knock searches, more illegal no-knock searches, and inevitably, more innocent people on the end of them," he told DRCNet.
"This means forget it -- they're not going to knock and announce. Why would they do that if there are no teeth in the law anymore?" said Jack Cole, a former New Jersey narcotics commander who now leads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group whose mission is evident from its name. "It was already hard enough to get police to knock and announce, because if they just went through the door without the announcement, the person charged had to convince the judge, while all the cop had to do was say 'I announced,'" Cole told DRCNet.
"This is going to lead to more injured and dead people," Cole predicted bluntly, "and they're not all going to be the people we're targeting because we so often hit the wrong house. There are a lot of innocent people who are going to be hurt as a result of this, as well as police. If somebody broke down my door in the middle of the night, I wouldn't assume these are good people. I'd be reaching to protect myself and my family."
A lot of innocent people are already being hurt and killed in errant police raids, according to a report Balko will release for the Cato Institute early next month. The report, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America," contains an appendix containing at least 220 cases of botched, wrong-address raids in recent years, Balko said. The report will document about 40 cases where completely innocent people were killed, 15 to 20 cases where police officers were killed, and another 30 cases where small-time violators -- like Diotaiuto -- were killed.
"The police are now clearly authorized to engage in this kind of behavior," said University of Omaha-Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker, an authority on police accountability and author of a text on police professionalism cited by Scalia. "But it will be a very mixed response. Bursting in on people can get you shot; it's a very risky tactic. There is a tremendous variation in police professionalism, and some departments may have heard a news story and say 'Yes, now we can do that.' In the better departments, they will study the decision and have some discussion of whether it is proper and what the dangers are," he told DRCNet. "But some police captains are smarter than Scalia."
[Walker has a bone to pick with Scalia, he told DRCNet. On page 12 of the opinion, Scalia refers to Walker's "Taming the System," which discusses wide-ranging reforms in the training and supervision of police officers, to support his claim that increased police professionalism diminishes the need for the court to resort to sanctions such as excluding the evidence. "My point in the book was that it had always been the intervention of the Supreme Court that stimulated these reforms, but he is essentially turning that on its head," Walker complained. "He is saying we have had these reforms, so the Supreme Court doesn't have to play that watchdog role, but he is removing the main force that led to those reforms in the first place."]
Not everyone was displeased with the decision. The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a group advocating reduced rights for accused and convicted criminals, filed a brief urging the court to adopt the decision it did. "The decision not to expand the exclusionary rule is very important to law enforcement," said Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger. "Justice is best served when juries are allowed to consider all relevant evidence."
But Scheidegger downplayed the real world impact of the ruling. The most important outcome was not a probable increase in no-knock raids, he told DRCNet, but that "there is no one less grounds to exclude evidence from criminal cases."
"The no-knocks are a problem, but they aren't the fundamental problem," said LEAP's Cole. "The problem is that we've trained our police officers to go to war. When you go to war, you have an enemy, and the enemy in this war is the citizens of this country. In a war, anything goes, and that's what cops are taught. A war on drugs is a terrible way to talk when you are talking about policing a democratic society."
But police do not have to let bad practice drive out good ones, said Walker. "State courts could set higher standards," he suggested. "State attorneys general could and should issue advisory opinions on this. It is still possible for police departments to say they don't think this is a good idea, it's not safe, not practical, not good for community relations. They can get the job done and adhere to a higher standard," he said.
Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, [email protected]
"Demons, Discrimination, and Dollars: A Brief History of the Origins of American Drug Policy," by David Bearman (2005, Prosperity Press, $18.95 PB)
"The Definitive Answer to the War on Drugs," by Micah Charles (2005, Author House, $12.95 PB)
"The Beginning of Today: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937," by Kenneth White (2004, Publish America, $9.00 PB)
"The Naked Truth About Drugs," by Daniel Williams (2004, Cronin House, $24.95 HB)
On the eve of American independence, the colonies were awash with wild-eyed radicals taking pen to hand to denounce the latest iniquities of the British crown. Tom Paine is perhaps the best known of those colonial rabble-rousers; his pamphlet "Common Sense" was a clarion call to rebellion against the injustices of colonial rule. But he was by no means alone; Paine, in fact, was representative of a hands-on, egalitarian impulse that appeared early in American society, an impulse that cried out "I have something to say and every right to be heard!"
More than two centuries later, that impulse is alive and well -- at least when it comes to the war on drugs. There is something about the issue that excites people to have their say. Other public policy issues seem to attract less outrage and fewer grassroots efforts to articulate a critique. Where, for example, are the hordes of self-published authors jumping into print with autodidactic tomes on the politics of waste water management or the epidemiology of mumps?
Perhaps it is because the drug war and drug prohibition feels so fundamentally wrong to so many American idealists. You know them: The people who actually believe all that stuff they told us when we were kids. The people who believe America is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The people who believe America is -- or should be -- a shining beacon of freedom. The people whose attitudes toward government in general and drug prohibition in particular could be summed up by the famous coiled snake flag of the Revolutionary War: "Don't tread on me."
These days, would-be pamphleteers have other options. They can take to the Internet and blog away, as do folks like Peter Guither at Drug War Rant), Radley Balko at The Agitator, or Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast. (The latter two sites are broader than drug policy). Or they can become part of the new breed of movement journalists, like rebel radioman Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, Richard Cowan of Marijuana News, Preston Peet of Drug War.com, or yours truly with Drug War Chronicle. But there is something both extremely satisfying and quintessentially American in wanting to see one's impassioned ideas between the covers of a book. Here is what four of these contemporary Tom Paines are up to:
In "The Naked Truth About Drugs," author Daniel Williams provides an engaging, well-written account of various popular illicit substances and their prohibition histories. One part drug-taking memoir, one part pharmacological treatise, one part concise historical and cultural study, "The Naked Truth" provides an accessible point of entry to the debates over illegal drugs as well as solid suggestions for where we go from here. And Williams asks the key question: "Who benefits from the war on drugs?" "The Naked Truth" is an interesting, opinionated, and passionate effort, so much so that the author can be forgiven for using a nude photo of himself on the front cover.
"In the Beginning of Today," California attorney and law professor Kenneth White undertakes a detailed examination of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the founding act of federal pot prohibition in the US, and uses it as a lead-in to a discussion of ending the war on marijuana. With chapters on the run-up to the Tax Act, the politics surrounding the Act, and current US marijuana policy and its alternatives, White covers a lot of ground in this concise volume. While his discussion of the Tax Act is likely to prove slow reading for all but historians and legal scholars, White's discussion of where we go from here is succinct and well thought-out.
In "The Definitive Answer to the War on Drugs," Micah Charles lays out a legalization scheme that would doubtless win the approval of Bolivian President Evo Morales and countless Afghan opium farmers, as well as all those "marijuana as sacrament" people. Charles summarizes his argument in one sentence printed on the book's cover: "Give back to mankind their right to all plants and the drug war will dissolve itself." Charles' naturalistic approach, however, would leave synthetic drugs like amphetamines or plant alkaloids like cocaine and heroin illegal, leading one to ask whether he has indeed come up with "the definitive answer," but he at least takes the discussion to a new level.
In "Demons, Discrimination, and Dollars," long-time drug treatment specialist Dr. David Bearman examines the tangled cultural and historical roots of drug prohibition in the US and the Western world. This is a familiar story, but Bearman has a deft touch and makes the material feel new and refreshing as he takes us through witch hysteria, tales of crazed Negroes on cocaine, Reefer Madness, and scary "hippies on acid" propaganda. Bearman finds the roots of prohibition in racism and religious fears and addresses how those causes have been joined by the economic benefits prohibition brings for important social actors.
At the very end of his book, Bearman resorts to a tellingly All-American appeal to authority. He quotes Thomas Jefferson: "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government," the founding father wrote. It is fitting indeed that this modern day pamphleteer bring the American story in all its glory and tragedy back to its beginnings.
Drug War Facts -- an important resource used widely in "the movement" -- is an extensive compilation of quotes, stats, charts and other info dealing with more than 50 drug policy topics ranging from economics to needle exchange programs to the marijuana gateway theory to environmental damage in the drug war, drug policy in other countries, race as it plays into drug war issues, even a "Drug Prohibition Timeline." Whether your goal is to improve your understanding, add force to your letters to the editor or prepare for a debate or interview, Drug War Facts, a publication of Common Sense for Drug Policy, is a valuable if not essential tool.
The 5th edition of the convenient print version of Drug War Facts is now available. Donate $17 or more to DRCNet, and we will send you -- or your specified gift recipient -- a copy of Drug War Facts. Or, donate $25 or more for Drug War Facts AND the essential DVD video Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to make your donation and order Drug War Facts 5th Edition today -- consider signing up to donate monthly!
Testimonials for Drug War Facts:
We continue to offer the new DVD from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). As Walter Cronkite wrote in a testimonial for the video, "Anyone concerned about the failure of our $69 billion-a-year War on Drugs should watch this 12-minute program. You will meet front line, ranking police officers who give us a devastating report on why it cannot work. It is a must-see for any journalist or public official dealing with this issue."
DRCNet's ability to get the word out about important tools like Drug War Facts and the LEAP DVD depends on the health and reach of our network, and that depends on your donations.Please consider donating more than the minimum -- $50, $100, $250 -- whatever you are able to spare to the cause.The cause is important -- as former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper expressed it in the LEAP video, "The Drug War has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional social policy since slavery."
Again, our web site for credit card donations is http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ -- or send a check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock.
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Many DRCNet readers remember the heartbreaking tragedy of Rainbow Farm, the alternative campground and concert site outside Vandalia, Michigan, where marijuana activists Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm, driven to desperation by a relentless prosecutor, were killed by FBI and state police in fall 2001. Killed for no good reason -- as a local sympathizer expressed it to Drug War Chronicle's Phil Smith at the funeral, "[Prosecutor] Scott Teter said this was their choice, but it was his choice to hound them and try to take their land and their son. He's the one who chose to shoot and kill." Rohm and Crosslin before the end burned down their beloved buildings to keep the government from getting them.
Publishers Weekly writes of Kuipers' book, "Drawing on extensive interviews, government documents and news coverage, the author [who grew up 20 miles from the shootings] verges on portraying the prosecutor as evil incarnate. But Kuipers doesn't cross the line from sound journalism into advocacy, while letting the story unfold through superbly detailed characterizations and skillful pacing."
We also continue to offer the DVD video Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the 5th edition of Drug War Facts. Add $5 to the minimum donation to add either of these to your request, or $10 to add both of them. Again, you can make your donation and place your order online, or send a check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock. (Also note that copies of Rainbow Farm will be mailed out from DRCNet during the third week of June.)
Thank you for your support. If you want to read more about Rainbow Farm in the meanwhile, please see Phil's articles in the Drug War Chronicle archive: Michigan Drug Warriors Drive Marijuana Activists to the Brink, Then Gun Them Down on 9/7/01; Rainbow Farm Marijuana Activists Laid to Rest, Friends Not Resting on 9/21; and Phil's book review last week.
Since medical marijuana initiatives were first passed ten years ago, the DEA has conducted raids against medical marijuana clinics in California, recently with increasing frequency, forcing hundreds if not thousands of patients to procure marijuana in the black market instead. In a ruling issued on June 6, 2005, the US Supreme Court upheld the government's power to do this.
While this doesn't change anything -- state laws protecting medical marijuana patients and their providers still are binding upon state and local law enforcement authorities -- it is a missed opportunity for the Court to rein in federal overreaching and help some of our society's most vulnerable members.
Next week (as soon as Monday, June 26), the US House of Representatives will vote again on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment, which if passed will forbid the US Dept. of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. Your help is needed -- it is crucial that more members of Congress vote for medical marijuana this year than did last year. Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/medicalmarijuana/ to e-mail your member of Congress today!
When you're done, please call him or her on the phone to make additional impact -- use the talking points appearing below to prepare for your phone call. You can reach your Rep.'s office through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or you can find the direct number using our lookup tool online.
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A federal prison contraband-for-sex scandal exploded into lethal violence Wednesday. And then there's the run of the mill: A one-time Wisconsin deputy goes down in a major marijuana bust, a former Mississippi deputy goes down for meth, a San Francisco prosecutor goes to prison for taking Ecstasy bribes, and a former Alabama deputy gets ready to go to prison for providing a gun and some crack rocks to an ex-con. Let's get to it:
In Tallahassee, Florida, a federal prison guard and a Department of Justice officer are dead, a second officer was wounded, and five more prison guards were arrested Wednesday when federal agents showed up to arrest the six guards on charges they smuggled contraband -- alcohol, marijuana, cash, and messages -- into the prison in exchange for sexual favors from inmates at the 1,400-woman facility. Federal Bureau of Prisons guard Ralph Hill opened fire when the feds arrived inside the prison, killing Justice Department Office of the Inspector General agent William Sentner and wounding an unnamed, uninvolved prison guard before being killed by other federal agents. Guards Alfred Barnes, Gregory Dixon, Ralph Hill, Vincent Johnson, Alan Moore and E. Lavon Spence face charges of engaging in a conspiracy to commit acts of bribery, witness tampering, and mail fraud; and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. They could face up to 20 years in prison.
In Dunn, Wisconsin, a former Dane County sheriff's deputy was arrested June 14 on federal marijuana distribution conspiracy charges. Robert Lowery, 57, is accused in federal affidavits of employing a young Genesee, Wisconsin, couple to bring hundreds of pounds of pot to Wisconsin from Arizona. During a raid on his home by state Department of Criminal Investigation and Dane County deputies, the cops seized 15 pounds of pot, 25 ounces of cocaine, five guns, and $47,000 cash. They also seized 52 dogs, including 50 pit bulls, and arrested Lowery's wife on weapons and cocaine possession charges. Lowery was fired as Dane County deputy in 1981 after being accused of seeking information to provide to drug dealing associates, and charging documents allege he has been in the business ever since. The young couple has also been charged.
In Hancock County, Mississippi, a former constable and Hancock County deputy sheriff was arrested June 14 on methamphetamine possession and sales charges. Danny Hamby, 38, was one of three men arrested in a drug raid that netted a half-ounce of speed following an eight-month investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team, the DEA, and the Hancock County Sheriff's Department. Hamby was elected constable in 1999, but resigned two years later as part of a plea agreement in a domestic violence case. He then went to work briefly as a Hancock County deputy. He is being held without bond in a neighboring county jail.
In San Francisco, a former city assistant district attorney is going to prison for six months after pleading guilty to accepting drugs in exchange for leniency for two defendants he was prosecuting. Robert Roland, 35 was sentenced June 14 after a pleading guilty in February to three counts of Ecstasy possession and one count of using a telephone in a felony drug transaction. In one case, Roland dropped a felony drug count to a misdemeanor for a high school buddy, who repaid him with Ecstasy the next day. In a second case, another acquaintance supplied him with Ecstasy after he discussed diverting that case into treatment. Both of those cases occurred in 2002. Roland reports to prison August 1.
In Montgomery, Alabama, a former Houston County deputy pleaded guilty Monday to selling a gun to a convicted felon and supplying him with cocaine to sell. Michael Shawn Campbell, 27, who was working for the Houston County narcotics unit at the time, admitted selling the gun to Joshua Whigan, who he knew to be a felon, and to supplying him with crack. Whigan ratted him out. Both men await sentencing, and Campbell faces up to 40 years on the drug charge and another 10 for the gun charge.
The West Hollywood, CA, City Council voted Monday night to approve a resolution calling on Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to not "target adult marijuana users who consume this drug in private and pose no danger to the community." Although it is nonbinding, the resolution sends a strong message to LA County Sheriff Joe Baca about how the city of 35,000 wants its laws enforced.
The resolution was introduced by Councilman John Duran, and passed on a 4-0 vote. Duran and the council acted after local activists organized in the West Hollywood Civil Liberties Alliance filed a petition to put a lowest priority initiative to the popular vote. Given that city officials viewed LA County Sheriff Joe Baca as already not making marijuana law enforcement a high priority, and fearful of costs and "inflexibilities" associated with a ballot initiative, the council agreed to address the issue via a resolution after consulting with the Alliance.
The resolution says "be it resolved that the City Council of the City of West Hollywood hereby declares that it is not the policy of the City or its law enforcement agency to target possession of small amounts of marijuana and the consumption of marijuana in private by adults."
"Marijuana, you know, a joint or two is just so far down on the scale it doesn't seem worthwhile to allocate any sources to the enforcement of the marijuana laws," said Duran. "We've seen that marijuana use is certainly no more dangerous and destructive than alcohol use," Duran said. "The whole 'reefer madness' hysteria has worn thin."
While Sheriff Baca and his deputies may not be prowling West Hollywood for pot smokers, the agency is unsurprisingly not happy to be told how to do its job. Some Sheriff's Office officials were among the few public opponents of the resolution, and City Councilman Joe Prang, who is a high Baca advisor, abstained on the vote.
But Baca was being politic Monday afternoon. "We certainly in my office understand what pressure is," he told the Los Angeles Times, suggesting city officials were besieged by pot legalizers. "My belief is that the city needs to have its voice heard on the matter, and the question will remain to what extent is this resolution binding. We will look at it for all of our pluses and minuses and advise the City Council as to our position."
If the department decides it will not comply with the resolution, the city could terminate its $10 million annual contract to provide law enforcement services and seek another department to replace the Sheriff's Department. But that is unlikely, Duran told the Times. "That would put us in an awkward situation," he said."
If you smoke a joint Friday night and drive to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Monday morning in Michigan, you can be arrested, charged, and convicted as a drugged driver because inactive chemical traces of THC, or metabolites, remain in your bloodstream. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that motorists can be convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) even if they are not under the influence of drugs. According to the Supreme Court opinion in the consolidated cases Derror v. Michigan and Kurts v. Michigan authored by Justice Maura Corrigan, actual innocence of driving while impaired is "irrelevant."
Both a majority on the Supreme Court disagreed. Neither the DUID nor the controlled substances law "requires that a substance have pharmacological properties to constitute a schedule I controlled substance," the majority held. Neither does the DUID law "require that a defendant be impaired while driving. Rather, it punishes for the operation of a motor vehicle with any amount of schedule I controlled substance in the body."
Then, breathtakingly, Justice Corrigan wrote, "It is irrelevant that a person who is no longer 'under the influence' of marijuana could be prosecuted under the statute. If the Legislature had intended to prosecute only people who were under the influence while driving, it could have written the statute accordingly."
Now, any Michigan driver who has smoked marijuana in the last few days or, in the case of heavier smokers, up to three or four weeks, is subject to a DUID arrest based on the presence of inert leftover metabolites that do not actually indicate impairment. In a harsh dissent, Justice Michael Cavanaugh warned the court it would criminalize a huge class of people.
"Today's holding now makes criminals out of numerous Michigan citizens who, before today, were considered law-abiding, productive members of our community," he wrote. "Now, if a person has ever actively or passively ingested marijuana and drives, he is [unknowingly] breaking the law, because if any amount of [cannabis metabolites] can be detected -- no matter when [the marijuana] was previously ingested -- he is committing a crime. The majority's interpretation, which has no rational relationship to the Legislature's genuine concerns about operating a motor vehicle while impaired, violates the United States Constitution and the Michigan Constitution."
The ruling could have an impact beyond Michigan. Twelve other states have enacted laws making it a criminal offense to drive under the influence of drugs. They use standards similar to those upheld this week -- the presence of trace levels of drugs or metabolites -- to assume impairment. Unlike drunk driving laws, which assume a certain blood alcohol level after which one is considered impaired, the DUID laws assume that the presence of any metabolite or trace proves impairment.
In a bid to reduce drug overdose deaths, police in Vancouver will no longer show up along with paramedics at drug overdose calls. That has already been unofficial practice for the past two years, but at a June 14 meeting, the Vancouver Police board voted to make it part of the department's official policy.
Citing Australian research that showed a police presence actually increased the likelihood of overdose deaths, Vancouver police suggested that if drug users do not fear arrest, they will be less reluctant to contact authorities in the event of an overdose, and in December 2003 began staying away from ODs. After a series of consultation with community groups, including the drug user group Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the practice became established, if informal, policy by the end of the following year.
"Research presented at a Heroin Overdose Prevention Conference in Seattle in 2000 revealed that despite the fact that half of overdose cases are witnessed by another person, the greatest barrier in obtaining emergency medical help was the fear that police would attend and lay charges for drug use," wrote Vancouver Police Inspector Ken Frail at the time. "Rather than face police intervention, many witnesses to a drug overdose would respond in an inappropriate way. Sometimes a victim would be dropped in a public place hoping they would be found, sometimes an incomplete phone call would be made and the caller would leave before medical help arrived. Sometimes the overdose victim would be abandoned," he noted.
"Vancouver Police recognize that drug overdose cases are primarily medical emergencies requiring rapid response," Frail explained. "The new policy tends to restrict police attendance at overdose calls except in cases where public safety requires police attendance. The police role at a drug overdose call is clarified as 'assisting with life saving measures and public safety.'"
It worked for Vancouver in 2004 and 2005, and now the Police Board has made it official policy. It is a harm reduction measure American cities would do well to consider emulating.
Scotland's drug czar (or "tsar," as the Scots like it) has unleashed a week of furious debate by declaring that the war on drugs is lost and can never be won. The remarks by Tom Wood, chairman of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, are only the latest in a series of similar declarations coming from Scottish politicians and law enforcement figures as the nation attempts to confront its intractable affair with illicit drugs. Despite decades of drug war, Scotland has some of the highest drug use rates in Europe and more than 50,000 heroin addicts.
"I spent much of my police career fighting the drugs war and there was no one keener than me to fight it," Woods said in an interview with Scotland on Sunday. "But latterly I have become more and more convinced that it was never a war we could win. We can never as a nation be drug-free. No nation can, so we must accept that. So the message has to be more sophisticated than 'just say no,' because that simple message doesn't work," said the man charged with advising the Scottish Executive on future drug policy. "For young people who have already said 'yes,' who live in families and communities where everybody says 'yes,' we have to recognize that the battle is long lost."
Wood said he was not advocating decriminalization or legalization of drugs, but a fundamental shift of priorities. "Throughout the last three decades, enforcement has been given top priority, followed by treatment and rehabilitation, with education and deterrence a distant third. In order to make a difference in the long term, education and deterrence have to go to the top of the pile. We have to have the courage and commitment to admit that we have not tackled the problem successfully in the past. It's about our priorities and our thinking," said Wood. "Clearly, at some stage, there could be resource implications, but the first thing we have to do is realize we can't win any battles by continuing to put enforcement first."
Scotland's main drug fighters, the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), unsurprisingly differed with Wood's analysis. "I strongly disagree when he says that the war on drugs in Scotland is lost," said SCDEA head Graeme Pearson. "The Scottish Executive Drug Action Plan acknowledged that tackling drug misuse is a complex problem, demanding many responses. It is explicit within the strategy that to effectively tackle drug misuse, the various pillars of the plan cannot operate in isolation."
While Pearson defended current policies, anti-drug crusader Alistair Ramsey, former director of Scotland Against Drugs, was fulminating against too much emphasis on treatment. "We must never lose sight of the fact that enforcement of drug law is a very powerful prevention for many people and, if anything, drug law should be made more robust," he told the newspaper. "The current fixation with treatment and rehabilitation on behalf of the Executive has really got to stop."
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell joined the attack: "I accept Wood's sincerity, but this is a very dangerous message to go out. I would never say that we have lost the war on drugs. Things are dire, but we should never throw up the white flag," she said.
On Monday, Scottish Health Minister joined the fray, comparing eliminating drug use to providing healthy school lunches. "If you'd said Scotland's kids would be eating more healthily in school, they would have said it couldn't be done, so I'm very positive about these matters. We need to be positive and there's different ways of doing this. We're working hard to make sure we're successful and I do believe we can win that war, but it's going to need a lot of hard effort," he insisted.
Wood's view did gain backing from groups like the Scottish Drugs Forum and the drug prevention and advice group Crew 2000. "I think Tom Wood is right. This is something our organization has been arguing for for a long time and it is good to see this is now coming into the mainstream," said Crew 2000 manager John Arthur.
Wood was unbowed Monday as he took pains to praise Scottish police. "The Scottish drugs enforcement agency is one of the best in Europe" he said. "However, we have to accept that police activity has not reduced supply. It has not made a difference to the price or the purity."
Nigeria's booming marijuana trade is more than the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) can handle, the agency's commander in Edo state, a center of the trade, told a major newspaper last week. An undermanned, under-equipped, and under-budgeted anti-drug agency can't compete with rising domestic and international demand and few other economic options for northern farmers, he said.
But the narc is making the best of it by claiming that Nigerian bud is now "the best in the world." That claim is open to heated debate, but "Indian hemp," as the locals call it, is now showing up in European markets, where it competes with the best the rest of the world has to offer.
In its 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department noted that "marijuana/cannabis is grown all over Nigeria, but mainly in central and northern states. Cultivation is generally on small fields in remote areas. Its market is concentrated in West Africa and Europe; none is known to have found its way to the United States. However, domestic use is becoming more widespread. The NDLEA has destroyed marijuana fields, but has no regular, organized eradication program in place. There are no reliable figures to determine crop size and yields."
"The drug war in this part of the country is higher than any other place because, essentially, Edo state is a home for the cultivation of cannabis," state NDLEA commander Okey Ihebom told the Abuja Daily Trust. "They plant Indian hemp in large quantity in this state. The cannabis being produced in Edo and Ondo states is the best in the world. So, there is a ready market for it anywhere in the world. We also understand that the cannabis from those two states is more expensive. The producers and the peddlers are therefore willing to take any type of risk to produce and export the drugs."
The state only has one vehicle for marijuana law enforcement and no good jail, Ihebom complained, and farmers have been known to fight back. "You cannot get a vehicle that can carry you to such farms. The farms are not accessible by any form of vehicle. You will drive into the forest and stop about 20 kilometers away from the farm and trek to the place," he explained. "At the farms, the farmers are mostly armed. They know the area better than us. After an exchange of fire, when we overpower them, we make arrest and commence the destruction of the farms. It will take us days to destroy a large farm. At times, they will regroup and fight us back with sophisticated weapons. That was how the command lost two of its men recently."
It also lacks an effective prevention campaign. "People smoke cannabis out of ignorance," Ihebom said. "When we enlighten the public on the adverse effecting of smoking the drug, I am sure a good number of people will stop the habit and those that are not in the habit of smoking will report to us those they see smoking."
Smoking pot was a bad idea, Iheobom told the Daily Trust. "The ordinary smoker is also very dangerous to the society," he claimed. "The moment one smokes and starts thinking he is what he is not, you know there is trouble ahead. So we are out for both the smokers, those trading it, the dealers, the exporters, the producers and the distributors as well," he said.
While Ihebom emphasized violence linked to the marijuana trade, he conceded that wasn't always the case, but he worried that the inflow of money to the impoverished region would be harmful. "The perception that cannabis producing or consuming communities are violent, may not be entirely true. Look at Ondo, a leading cannabis producing state in the country and yet it is a peaceful state," he said. "But when you consider the inflow of cash from both within and abroad into cannabis producing communities, you realize that the cash flow encourages crime. That is exactly the case in Edo state. You know because of drug peddling and this international prostitution, there is also a lot of money here and so crime rate is also way high."
Ihebom implicity recognized he was fighting a losing battle, but the tide could surely be turned with some more resources, darn it! "You see, drug war is not a war that should be left for the NDLEA alone to fight," he said. "America, with all its sophistication, cannot be able to stop drug peddling. If you look at the volume of drug that enters America daily, you will be surprised. It is true that with better funding and equipping, we will do more in our struggle with these people."
Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to the town of Irupana in Bolivia's Yungas coca-growing region Saturday to preside over the opening of a factory where coca leaves will be made into legal products. Morales, who rose to power as the leader of a confederation of coca growers' unions has vowed to seek alternative legal uses for the plant as part of his anti-cocaine strategy.
"Manufacturing coca products doesn't do any harm because coca isn't a drug," Morales told hundreds of coca growing peasants in Irupana in an address that was televised around the country. "They're going to make flour, tea, soft drinks and other products in the first two plants," he said.
Earlier this year, Morales traveled the world, in part to seek markets for coca products, and that strategy may be paying off. The Associated Press reported Bolivian government officials saying that China, Cuba, India, and Venezuela have already expressed interest in buying coca products.
Morales has positioned himself alongside Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro as part of a leftist pole in hemispheric affairs. Bolivian Agriculture Minister Hugo Salvatierra told Bolivian state television that Chavez has pledged $1 million to fund two coca-processing factories.
Although current Bolivian law limits coca production to some 29,000 acres in the Yungas, unsanctioned production is occurring there, as well as in the Chapare region. According to US and UN figures, Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer, after Colombia and Peru. US government policy is to eradicate unsanctioned coca, but Morales would rather find legitimate markets for it.
In what could be the first sign of a course reversal by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which has scoffed at medical marijuana in the past, the group announced this week that it will fund a study on the effect of marijuana on spasticity in MS patients. While the Society acknowledges that up to 15% of MS patients use medical marijuana, funding the new study is the first time the group has indicated it is hearing what those patients are saying.
The society currently rejects the use of marijuana to relieve MS symptoms. As it notes on its web site, "Based on the studies to date, it is the opinion of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Medical Advisory Board that there are currently insufficient data to recommend marijuana or its derivatives as a treatment for MS. Long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant serious side effects. In addition, other well-tested, FDA-approved drugs are available, such as baclofen and tizanidine, to reduce spasticity in MS."
The Society said it was moved by inconclusive earlier studies on the effect of marijuana on MS spasticity to fund a one using a new measure. The study is not a new one; the group is taking over funding for ongoing research at the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which lost funding when the investigation was only partially completed.
The study, by Dr. Mark Agius and fellow researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, is scheduled for completion in March 2008.
perspectives on the death of Len Bias 20 years later, from the University of Maryland's Diamondback
UNODC 2005 Andean Coca Survey
summer 2006 issue of Oaksterdam News
June 23, 1999: New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tells an audience at the Cato Institute, "The nation's so-called War on Drugs has been a miserable failure. It hasn't worked. The drug problem is getting worse. I think it is the number one problem facing this country today... We really need to put all the options on the table... and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization."
June 24, 1982: During remarks about Executive Order 12368 made from the White House's Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan says, "We're taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. We're running up a battle flag."
June 25, 1923: During a speech in Denver, Colorado, Senator Morris Shepard of Texas who had helped install prohibition of alcohol says, "There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."
June 25, 1987: Colombia officially annuls their extradition treaty with the US, following a barrage of personal threats from drug traffickers against members of the Supreme Court.
June 25, 2003: The Superior Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, Colombia, orders a stop to the spraying of glyophosphate herbicides until the government complies with the environmental management plan for the eradication program, and mandates a series of studies to protect public health and the environment.
June 26, 1936: The Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs is signed in Geneva.
June 26, 2001: China marks the UN international anti-drugs day by holding rallies where piles of narcotics are burned, and 60 people are executed for drug offenses, among hundreds killed by authorities since April 2001 in a crime crackdown labeled "Strike Hard" that alllowed for speeded up trials and broader use of the death penalty.
June 27, 1991: The US Supreme Court upholds, in a 5-4 decision, a Michigan statute that imposes a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of possession of more than 650 grams (about 1.5 pounds) of cocaine.
June 27, 2002: In Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the US Supreme Court decides 6-3 to uphold the most sweeping drug-testing policy yet to come before the Court -- a testing requirement for any public school student seeking to take part in any extracurricular activity, the near-equivalent of a universal testing policy.
June 28, 1776: The first draft of the Declaration of Independence is written on Dutch hemp paper. A second draft, the version released on July 4, is also written on hemp paper. (The final draft is copied from the second draft onto animal parchment.)
June 29, 1938: The Christian Century reports, "In some districts inhabited by Latino Americans, Filipinos, Spaniards, and Negroes, half the crimes are attributed to the marijuana craze."
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
June 23, 7:30-8:30pm, Lansing, MI, book talk with "Burning Rainbow Farm" author Dean Kuipers. At Schuler Books and Music, 2820 Towne Center Blvd., Eastwood Shopping Center, contact Laura Keefe at (646) 307-5580 or [email protected] for further information.
June 29, 7:00-10:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles CityBeat party in honor of "Burning Rainbow Farm." At Caf�-Club Fais Do-Do, 5257 W Adams Blvd., contact Laura Keefe at (646) 307-5580 or [email protected] for further information.
July 3, 8:00pm-1:00am, Portland, OR, benefit concert for Citizens for a Safer Portland marijuana low-priority initiative, featuring music State of Jefferson and The Buffalo Riders and guest Rob Kampia of MPP. At Lola's Room, 1332 W. Burnside St. (below the Crystal Ballroom), 21 and over, admission $15 at door, visit http://www.makeportlandsafer.org or call (503) 236-0205 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.
July 14, 5:30-8:00pm, Chicago, IL, cocktail reception with Judge James P. Gray, author of "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs." Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, 163 East Walton Place, admission free, contact Nikki Comerford at (312) 377-4000 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 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.
October 7-8, Madison, WI, 36th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival, sponsored by Madison NORML. At the Library Mall, downtown, visit http://www.madisonnorml.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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