Drug War Chronicle #456 - October 6, 2006

1. Editorial: Do We Really Want to Help Kids Find the Drug Dealers?

Drug offender registries are a hare-brained idea that is more likely to help young people find drug dealers than prevent them.

2. Feature: More California Medical Marijuana Raids: The New Status Quo?

DEA and local police agents have raided five California medical marijuana dispensaries in the past 10 days, but that leaves over 200 still in operation.

3. Feature: Cases of Immigrants Deported for Minor Drug Offenses Heard at US Supreme Court This Week

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a pair of cases involving the deportation of immigrants for minor drug offenses.

4. Book Review: "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" by Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2006, 290 pp. PB)

Two veteran Mexican journalists take us on a tour of the murky world of the Mexican drug trade.

5. Documentary: Waiting to Inhale

This important new documentary about the medical marijuana movement is DRCNet's latest membership premium.

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

We've got cops getting arrested, cops copping pleas, cops getting sentenced this week. It's like a tour of the criminal justice process. Let's get to it.

7. Sentencing: Federal Bill to Create Criminal Drug Dealer Registry Introduced

With sex offender and meth cook registries becoming all the rage in the states, it was only a matter of time before some congressman tried it at the national level for more people.

8. Sentencing: California Governor Signs Bill To Shorten Parole for Offenders Who Take Drug Treatment

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has quietly signed legislation that will allow nonviolent offenders to get off parole if they undergo five months of residential treatment upon their release.

9. Hemp: California Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have allowed California farmers to grow industrial hemp.

10. Sentencing: Arizona Legislative Initiative Would Roll Back Reforms When It Comes to Methamphetamine Offenders

Ten years ago, Arizona voters enacted a sentencing reform initiative that stopped judges from sending first- and second-time drug possession offenders to jail or prison. Now, the state legislature has crafted an initiative that would make an exception for methamphetamine offenders.

11. Marijuana: Idaho High Court Rules Officials Can't Block Legalization Initiative Just Because They Don't Like It

When Ryan Davidson wanted to start a marijuana legalization initiative in Sun Valley, Idaho, local officials said no. Now, the Idaho Supreme Court says they were wrong.

12. Weekly: This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

13. Announcement: New Format for the Reformer's Calendar

Visit our new web site each day to see a running countdown to the events coming up the soonest, and more.

1. Editorial: Do We Really Want to Help Kids Find the Drug Dealers?

We repeat David Borden's July editorial on this topic due to its timeliness this week.

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David Borden's usual Thursday evening editing session
One of this week's drug war news items is a legislative effort in the state of Maine to create a committee to study the possibility of a registry, accessible to the general public, of people who have been convicted repeatedly of drug offenses. Supporters have portrayed the idea as a way to help families protect their children from people in Maine who may want to provide drugs to them.

Even using drug war logic (generally a bad idea), this idea fails pretty decisively. Most kids don't start using drugs because they are offered them by professional dealers. Most kids start using drugs because they are offered them by other kids -- kids who are providing either for social reasons or because they have gotten involved in the criminal enterprise, but in either case not the repeatedly convicted adults who would pop up on the state's web site. It's also important to remember that most drug dealers never get caught, hence will never appear in the registry for that reason.

So while a registry would enable parents to be aware of some fraction of the serious drug dealers out there, it will miss (and perhaps divert attention from) the more common pathways through which drugs might get into the hands of their children. Furthermore, the same unstoppable economic process that turns any bust of a dealer into a job opportunity for new dealers, must also apply, at least partly, to any repeat dealers who lose business because some parents were able to keep their children clear of any given dealer -- if the kids are determined or even just willing, they'll wind up getting their drugs from someone else.

Most glaring, however, is an argument that was pointed out in a blog post by a member of our staff, Scott Morgan, last July. Scott used a similar registry in Tennessee, limited to methamphetamine offenders, to show how usable it would be (perhaps is) to any young people, in any given county in the state, wishing to find leads on people in their county who might be able to sell them meth or other drugs -- an outcome exactly the opposite of what the registry purports to want to prevent.

The main difference (no pun intended) between Tennessee's registry and Maine's proposed registry, other than Maine's including all illegal drugs, is that Maine's is to be limited to "habitual" drug offenders, people who have been convicted of drug dealing multiple times. But repeat offenders are exactly the people who are the most likely to offend yet again -- the most usable listings for kids or others wanting to locate drug sellers conveniently narrowed down. But widening the registry to include all drug offenders won't help either -- because increasing the number of listings would also increase the registry's usability to kids wanting to find dealers. Either way you can't get around the idea that a drug offender registry is effectively a taxpayer-subsidized advertising campaign supporting drug dealing.

In the end, we must return to the issue that the primary way young people start to get involved in drug use is through the influence of other kids -- in many instances buying the drugs from other kids, in the schools. This is one of the factors that has led to an increased prevalence of handguns in schools -- where the underground market goes, so also tend to go weapons.

But it need not be that way. While use of alcohol by minors is a big issue (alcohol is just as much of a drug as any of the others, and a rather destructive one), at least kids are not buying it from other kids, in the school, from people who carry guns. That situation exists with the illegal drugs precisely because we have banned them. With drug legalization, the criminal problems associated with the trade in drugs would largely vanish -- no more armed drug trade in the schools, no more turf wars or open air markets.

And while the harm from the use of the drugs themselves will not simply disappear when prohibition is ended, the sheer level of destructiveness currently associated with addiction in particular would also drop substantially, as users would no longer be subject to the random impurities, and fluctuations in purity, that currently lead to poisonings and overdoses; and the high street prices drugs currently have would also drop, enabling many if not most addicts who are now driven to extreme behaviors like theft and prostitution to get the money to buy drugs to at least afford the habit through legal means of earning. Escalating the failed policy of prohibition won't accomplish this.

In the meanwhile let's at least cool it with these hare-brained ideas like drug offender registries. The continued stigmatization of people who have already been punished ought to be enough reason. But if it's not, the incredibly poor logic behind this idea ought to be. Do we really want to help kids find the drug dealers? I don't.

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2. Feature: More California Medical Marijuana Raids: The New Status Quo?

At least five California different medical marijuana dispensaries have been raided in the last ten days, bringing the total so far this year to more than 30, according to medical marijuana supporters. But that means nearly 200 existing dispensaries have not been raided, suggesting that what is occurring is more like a low-level battle of attrition than an all-out assault by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its allies among recalcitrant state and local law enforcement and elected officials.

Here is the latest casualty list:

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photo courtesy ASA
Last Wednesday in Modesto, one day after the city of Modesto voted to repeal a municipal provision exempting nonprofits from its ordinance banning dispensaries, DEA agents raided the nonprofit California Healthcare Collective, one of only two remaining dispensaries in the area. A DEA spokesperson told Drug War Chronicle this week the Modesto Police Department began investigating the dispensary, then handed the case over to the feds. Four people were arrested on federal marijuana distribution charges.

The following day, DEA and local law enforcement agents raided the North Valley Discount Caregivers dispensary in Grenada Hills and seized all the medicinal cannabis at the site. The two operators were arrested on state marijuana charges.

That same day, Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputies raided the 2816 Collective in a rural area near Modesto using a state search warrant. Police seized about two pounds of dried marijuana and patient files. The collective had closed the day before because of the Modesto raid. With both California Healthcare in Modesto and the 2816 Collective gone, the entire region is now destitute of dispensaries, leaving hundreds of patients in the lurch.

On Tuesday, the DEA raided at least eight locations in the San Francisco Bay area, seizing more than 12,000 plants, $125,000 cash, and a fancy sports car. Despite somewhat hysterical initial reports in the local media, all the raids were connected with the New Remedies dispensary in San Francisco, which involved the same people involved in Compassionate Caregivers, which was raided by the DEA in Los Angeles in May 2005, when the feds found more than $300,000 in cash, sparking the investigation that culminated in the Monday raids.

On Wednesday, DEA and local law enforcement officers raided the Palm Springs Caregivers dispensary in Riverside County, seizing medicinal cannabis, but not making any arrests at the time. The raid came one day after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to ban dispensaries in unincorporated county areas, which does not include Palm Springs, and one month after Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask issued a white paper arguing that dispensaries are illegal under both state and federal law.

The raids triggered the Emergency Response Project of the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, which brought out protestors last Friday at DEA headquarters in Los Angeles, as well as Modesto, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Ana. Demonstrators also greeted the Tuesday raids in San Francisco, and more actions are set for today.

"With our emergency response program, every time there is a federal raid -- and we can usually find that out in a matter of hours -- we activate our local response, as we did in San Francisco this week," said ASA's Caren Woodson. "But now, we're activating the national emergency response for Friday. It's a call-in day. We are urging everyone to call in to DEA administrator Karen Tandy and let her know how they feel about these raids. Karen Tandy has a lot of discretion, and she needs to exercise it."

While ASA is leading the immediate battle, it is not alone among movement groups in trying to figure out just what is going on. According to the DEA, it's nothing special, just enforcing the federal marijuana laws. "The two cases in which our office was involved, Modesto last week and here in the Bay area this week, were both the culmination of long-term investigations," said San Francisco DEA public information officer Casey McEnry. "In Modesto, the Modesto police began investigating and then passed it on to us, and with New Remedies, we had served warrants on them as Compassionate Caregivers in LA in May 2005, and we learned in December 2005 that they had changed their name and set up shop in Oakland," she told Drug War Chronicle.

"We can't read the DEA's mind, but there is no sign of an all-out offensive," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "These guys in San Francisco were already in the crosshairs -- they were victims of their own success -- but there are certainly plenty of other places operating openly. If the DEA wanted to, it could go after them with little effort, but it seems like a decision has been made not to do that."

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photo courtesy ASA
The DEA's McEnry did not respond directly to questions about whether the agency had taken a political decision to not aggressively crack down on the state's roughly 200 dispensaries, but she did issue a warning. "The magic plant count number is zero, the distribution number is zero if you want to be safe from us possibly knocking at your door," she said. "Anyone who cultivates or distributes marijuana is at risk."

While that may be bluster given the agency's limited resources, it is worrisome for dispensaries and their supporters. "These state-certified legal cannabis dispensaries look to the DEA like drug distribution havens," said Woodson. "If a dispensary is serving 150 people a day, the operator looks like a drug kingpin to them. They're like sitting ducks, they're listed in the phone book. And now some of these people are facing very severe sentences, some of up to life in prison.

It isn't just the DEA. "We have sporadic local police involvement in raids, mostly in counties where local government is not supportive, like Modesto or Riverside County, which is where Palm Springs is," said Mirken. "That tells us it is really important that local governments understand Proposition 215 and hear from their constituents that access to medicinal cannabis is important."

"They're picking locations where local decision-makers don't have a friendly attitude," said ASA's Woodson.

"These raids are really a drop in the bucket when you have 200 dispensaries out there," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, "but we don't want to see them spread. I fear this is going to be a battlefield for awhile here until we come up with a regime that allows for better systems of dispensaries and production. The lack of a legal production system causes a lot of problems, and everybody in the dispensary business is operating in the black or grey market and vulnerable to legal uncertainties."

While medical marijuana dispensaries remain numerous in Los Angeles and the Bay area, the raids are having a very real impact on availability in some areas of the state. "In San Diego, a few months ago there were a dozen dispensaries in operation, but after the raids, they're gone and access to medical cannabis is largely gone," said Woodson. "There are only a handful of delivery services now, and they can't handle the demand. It's a similar situation in Modesto -- there aren't any dispensaries in the area now."

"I think it's going to continue for the short term, until something happens politically to change the dynamic," said Mirken. "That might not be until there is regime change in Washington, and maybe not even then, depending on how smart the Democrats are. It doesn't seem like anything is going to change drastically in California in the near term. Most people in the state government some local governments at least pay lip service to supporting Proposition 215, but we haven't seen much strong action from state officials with the clout to try to stop the raids. I really don't see anything moving on the state level," he said.

ASA's Woodson wasn't quite ready to give up on state government. "Here in California, we need to see more state officials standing up and denouncing these raids," she said. "The state legislature as a whole needs to take this issue on and create guidelines or craft prohibitions directing state and local law enforcement not to participate in these medical marijuana raids. The legislature is not doing its job if it is not properly protecting patients."

Another thing the legislature could do is restate and expand on its support for Proposition 215. "They should re-codify it and take a stand against the federal raids," said Woodson. "And they should demand our federal delegation pay more attention to this issue. All Diane Feinstein can talk about is meth; she and Barbara Boxer haven't raised a finger to help on medical marijuana. We would also like to see more law enforcement officers trained on the medical cannabis issue."

"California will do nothing statewide until federal law changes," predicted Gieringer. "I see this pattern of sporadic raids continuing until there is a change in the federal law. Two or three years ago, I would have said we were in mortal danger, but in fact, we've had nothing but an increase in the number of dispensaries even after we lost two Supreme Court decisions. Somehow I have a hard time believing that this is going to be reversed, especially given what happened in LA. Two years ago, there weren't any clubs in LA, now there are a hundred. It looks to me like the nation's second largest city is firmly infected with dispensaries. When it was just the Bay area, I was concerned the feds could shut it down, but they blew their chance. Now all they can do is bust someone every once in awhile and try to tarnish the image of the dispensaries, but they are here to stay."

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3. Feature: Cases of Immigrants Deported for Minor Drug Offenses Heard at US Supreme Court This Week

The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases that question whether immigrants who are legal US residents should face mandatory deportation for small-time offenses such as drug possession. Thousands of immigrants face such wrenching punishment, and according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, more than a million and a half people have been deported since the introduction of mandatory deportation for "aggravated felonies" under the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act that is being challenged in these cases.

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US Supreme Court
That law expanded the definition of "aggravated felonies" -- crimes for which deportation is mandatory -- beyond serious violent crimes, which had been the previous standard. The cases before the Supreme Court this week revolve around whether offenses that are considered misdemeanors under the federal Controlled Substances Act but are considered felonies under state law in the states where people were convicted can qualify as "aggravated felonies" under the immigration law.

Many of those deported under the immigration law were in fact found guilty of serious crimes, but many others were not. In one case covered by the Drug War Chronicle, Joao Herbert, who was adopted by American parents from a Brazilian orphanage as a young child but who never applied for US citizenship, was arrested as a teenager for selling a small bag of marijuana. He was sentenced to probation, but federal authorities sought successfully to deport him under the 1996 law. Sent to a land he never knew, he scraped by for a few years as an English teacher before being gunned down by Brazilian police in 2004.

In the cases before the court Tuesday, Lopez v. Gonzales and Toledo-Flores v. US, the offenses for which the US seeks to deport immigrants are even more trivial than in Herbert's case. Jose Antonio Lopez was a Sioux Falls, SD, grocery store and taco stand owner who legally emigrated from Mexico in 1985. The married father of two children, who are US citizens, pleaded guilty to telling someone how to obtain cocaine. Such an offense is a misdemeanor under federal law, but was a felony under South Dakota law. Federal immigration officials classified his offense as an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law and deported him to Mexico.

Reymundo Toledo-Flores was arrested for cocaine possession in Texas, where it is a misdemeanor, but when he was caught trying to reenter the country he was hit with a two-year prison sentence because immigration authorities considered his Texas bust an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law. He is appealing the sentence.

"The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense," Justice David Souter said during oral arguments Tuesday. "Isn't that very strange that Congress would have wanted a reading of the statute that would turn its definition of a misdemeanor crime into an aggravated felony for purposes of the immigration laws?" he asked.

Bush administration attorneys argued that immigration officials correctly classified both cases. "The statutory definition of 'aggravated felony' encompasses large categories of criminal conduct under state law, without requiring a federal-law parallel," the US solicitor general wrote in a brief to the court.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the court Tuesday that the immigration law "looks to state law." If a drug offense is a felony under state law, it is a deportable felony under the federal law, he argued.

But three former Immigration and Naturalization Service general counsel disagreed in a friend of the court brief they submitted. "There is no clear indication that Congress intended the definition of aggravated felony to apply to drug offenses that are... misdemeanors under the federal law," they wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts was thinking along similar lines. "It must give you pause," he told Kneedler, "that your analysis of a term 'drug-trafficking' offense... leads to the conclusion that simple possession equates with drug trafficking."

"Immigrants shouldn't be kicked out of the country for doing what the president of the United States did," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is clear that the type of drug offenses we are talking about here are not the type of offenses Congress intended when it passed that law," he told Drug War Chronicle. "It also seems like this raises equal protection issues because it looks like whether you get deported or not depends on which state you were convicted in. In those states where drug possession is a felony, you get kicked out; in those where it isn't, you don't."

Immigrant rights and civil liberties groups joined in calling on the court to reject the federal government's broad interpretation of the law, and even the Center for Immigration Studies, which generally hews to a hard line on immigration enforcement, was not overly enthusiastic about deporting small-time drug offenders. "If the state legislature has decided this is a serious crime and someone who commits it will get deported, it's not like that person didn't know it was illegal," said Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research for the group. "I don't see a problem with making those people go. In some cases, however, people plead guilty to a crime not realizing they would be subject to deportation, and that raises a fairness issue," he told Drug War Chronicle. "The whole criminal justice system is supposed to temper justice with mercy, but with immigration we've created so many exceptions and waivers that sometimes it's good to come down hard."

For Camarota, the whole debate over deporting immigrants for small-time drug offenses is "small potatoes" compared to the real immigration issues facing the country. "We are talking about a few thousand people when there are 37 million immigrants in the country," he pointed out. "There is nothing wrong with the way in which the government is approaching this, but it does seem like an awful lot of debate over something so small. We should be putting resources into general enforcement of immigration laws."

"The 1996 law is really destructive," said Arnaldo Garcia of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "On any given week, you have 20,000 or so legal permanent residents who committed small offenses sitting in jail under deportation proceedings. That includes things like a 20-year-old who had sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, and it includes things like people getting arrested with small amounts of marijuana on them," he told the Chronicle. "The federal government is trying to institutionalize a double standard. Legal residents have equal rights under our court system, but after they have completed their sentences, they are then subjected to an unfair punishment -- banishment for life. This is a big crack in the foundation of equal treatment under the law."

There is little legal permanent residents can do, said Garcia. "What you can do is make sure you know the law," he said. "If you get arrested, you need to get the advice of an immigration attorney to know the consequences of the charge and whether it's a deportable offense. Some judges will work with you -- doing things like sentencing you to 364 days instead of 366, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony -- but the INS just wants to deport your ass. I've seen people going in for their citizenship tests and immigration is waiting for them because they got busted as a teenager."

The ultimate protection from deportation under the immigration law is to become a US citizen. "That's easier said than done," said Garcia. "There is a huge backlog. I'm working with one family that submitted a reunification petition in 1994. Their case is just coming up now."

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4. Book Review: "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" by Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2006, 290 pp. PB)

If one wishes an object lesson in the unintended consequences of drug prohibition, one need look no further than the other side of the Rio Grande. Like all borders, the US-Mexican border has always been the scene of a lively trade in contraband. Although the authors of "From the Maras to the Zetas: The Secrets of the Drug Trade, From Colombia to Chicago" don't get into the prehistory of Mexico's powerful drug trafficking organizations, way back in those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of marijuana moved across that border, but it was a largely peaceful trade, often a family affair.

In 1982, when President Ronald Reagan, having declared a new war on drugs, sent Vice-President George H.W. Bush to Miami to head up a new effort to block the flood of Colombian cocaine flowing across the Caribbean to Florida, the Colombians adjusted by shifting smuggling routes through Mexico. The Colombian used existing smuggling networks, which since then have grown into a Frankenstein monster, not only in the eyes of the Mexican state, but also in the eyes of their Colombian counterparts, who have found themselves squeezed out of end-stage distribution to the US and the massive profits that followed.

Fueled by Colombian cocaine, American dollars, and American weaponry, in the past 20 years, Mexico's so-called "cartels" -- a misnomer for these brutally competitive trafficking organizations -- have corrupted legions of Mexican police, soldiers, and politicians, and murdered as many more. Every time the Mexican state, hounded by its partner to the north, tries to crack down on the cartels, the result is not social tranquility or the end of the drug trade, but bloody gang wars as the different organizations fight for position -- and the flow of drugs never seems to be affected.

In the past couple of years, the cartels have become so brazen and the death toll from the constant "ajuste de cuentas" ("adjusting of accounts" or "settling scores") so horrendous -- more than 1,500 last year and a like number so far this year -- that they appear to be working with impunity.

Enter Mexico City journalists Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo. With the drug trafficking groups beheading police and engaging in street battles with RPGs in Acapulco and wreaking mortal havoc along the US border, their timing couldn't be better because they aim to explain the murky workings of the Mexican drug trade. They study and report on Mara Salvatrucha, the much screamed about gang that grew out from the children of Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles and other American cities (another lesson in unintended consequences) who learned all too well the ways of the thug life, then re-exported it back home to Central America. According to Fernandez and Ronquillo, Mara Salvatrucha controls much of the traffic in illegal immigrants and drugs -- on Mexico's southern border. But like the truly Mexican criminal organizations, its tentacles extend far to the north as well.

They also provide the skinny on the Zetas, the US-trained former anti-drug elite force that switched sides and now acts as the armed forces of Osiel Cardenas and the Gulf Cartel -- one more lesson in unintended consequences. Thanks to the paramilitary skills of the Zetas, Cardenas has been able to directly confront the Mexican state, as when his men killed six prison employees in Matamoros in early 2005 in retaliation for a federal government crackdown on imprisoned cartel leaders.

There is much, much more in between. Fernandez and Ronquillo warn that imprisoned cartel leaders spent part of their time behind bars buddying up with imprisoned leftist guerrillas and could be either learning tactical lessons or forging unholy alliances with them. Despite the apparent ideological differences between Marxist rebels and drug traffickers, the Mexican cartels have shown that when it comes to business they are nonpartisan. They will corrupt politicians of any party, make deals with whoever can benefit them, and kill those who get in their way.

The cartels circle around power. When the old-time PRI ran the government, the cartels corrupted the PRI. When the PAN government of President Vicente Fox came to power, they attempted to corrupt it, and as Fernandez and Ronquillo demonstrate, they have arguably succeeded. PANista politicians have been caught attending the funerals of leading narcos, PANista local administrations have been bought off, and the narcos even managed to place an associate in President Fox's inner circle before the taint of scandal drove him off.

But while Fernandez and Ronquillo are quite good in unraveling the mysteries of the cartels and explicating the results of decades of prohibitionist drug policy, they fail to make the leap to the next level. For them, "From the Maras to the Zetas" is a desperate wake-up call for the Mexican public and political class, a warning that the power of the cartels threatens the integrity of the Mexican state. They do not take the next step and ask if there is not a better way. But then again, they really don't have to -- the book itself is eloquent testimony to the corrupt and bloody legacy of prohibition in Mexico.

Yes, the book is only available in Spanish. It won't be much use to many of our North American readers, but Drug War Chronicle also goes out in Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps if we can drum up a little interest here in Gringolandia, an American or Canadian publisher will print a translation. Goodness knows we get very little serious reporting up here about the Mexican drug war.

In the meantime, for you English-only speakers out there with an interest in this topic, I recommend the recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America, "State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico."

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5. Documentary: Waiting to Inhale

Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

Many drug reform enthusiasts read two weeks ago on our new blog about a new video documentary, Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law, and an exciting debate here in Washington between two of my colleagues and a representative of the US drug czar's office that followed the movie's screening. I am pleased to announce that DRCNet is making this film available to you as our latest membership premium -- donate $30 or more to DRCNet and you can receive a copy of Waiting to Inhale as our thanks for your support.

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I've known about Waiting to Inhale for a few years, and I am pretty psyched to see it out now and making waves. People featured in the movie -- medical marijuana providers Mike & Valerie Corral and Jeff Jones, patient spokesperson Yvonne Westbrook, scientist Don Abrams -- are heroes whose stories deserved to be told and whose interviews in this movie should be shown far and wide. You can help by ordering a copy and hosting a private screening in your home! Or you and your activist friends can simply watch it at home for inspiration. (Click here for more information including an online trailer.)

Your donation will help DRCNet as we pull together what we think will be an incredible two-year plan to substantially advance drug policy reform and the cause of ending prohibition globally and in the US. Please make a generous donation today to help the cause! I know you will feel the money was well spent after you see what DRCNet has in store. Our online donation form lets you donate by credit card, by PayPal, or to print out a form to send with your check or money order by mail. Please note that contributions to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, our lobbying entity, are not tax-deductible. Tax-deductible donations can be made to DRCNet Foundation, our educational wing. (Choosing a gift like Waiting to Inhale will reduce the portion of your donation that you can deduct by the retail cost of the item.) Both groups receive member mail at: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036.

Thank you for your support. If you haven't already checked out our new web site, I hope you'll take a moment to do so -- it really is looking pretty good, if I may say so myself. :) Take care, and hope to hear from you.

Sincerely,


David Borden
Executive Director

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

We have them at every stage of the criminal justice process this week, from arrest to guilty plea to sentencing. For a pair of greedy, wheeling-dealing cops in St. Louis and Miami, the ride through the criminal justice funhouse is just getting started. A former St. Paul cop has just copped a plea, and now former cops in Connecticut and Hawaii are heading to prison. Let's get to it:

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Miami-Dade Police Department patch (or item # 180033018469 on ebay)
In Miami, a Miami-Dade County police officer was arrested last Friday on cocaine trafficking charges, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida announced in a press release the same day. Officer Errol Benjamin is accused of selling 13 pounds of coke while in uniform. He is charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and faces up to life in prison and a $4 million fine, the feds noted.

In St. Louis, a suburban Hillsdale, Missouri, police officer was indicted in an elaborate cocaine distribution conspiracy, the office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri announced in a press release last Friday. Hillsdale Police Sgt. Christopher Cornell conspired with a tow truck company operator to rip off drug dealers and resell their cocaine, the feds charged. The tow operator would set up drug runners to deliver cocaine in Hillsdale and notify Cornell, who would stop and jail them for minor violations, leaving their cars at the roadside. The towing company would then tow the cars, steal the drugs, and resell them. US Attorney Catherine Hanaway estimated that the scheme had brought in $2.4 million in profits. The indictment seeks the forfeiture of Cornell's property, including a Mercedes Benz and other cars.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, a retired St. Paul police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Clemmie Howard Tucker, a 23-year veteran who retired in 1998, was busted trying to pick up 22 pounds of cocaine and 12 pounds of meth at the Greyhound Bus Depot in neighboring Minneapolis. Police put the value of the seized drugs at $4 million. Although Tucker was tearful and contrite during his plea, it doesn't matter: He faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence. Pending cocaine charges will probably be dropped at sentencing, Tucker's lawyer said.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a former Bridgeport police officer was sentenced to 45 months in prison for peddling oxycodone, the active ingredient in the popular pain reliever OxyContin. Former Officer Jeffrey Streck, 40, a 10-year veteran, pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to possess oxydone with the intent to distribute after being arrested by the FBI in 2005. According to the Associated Press, Streck was arrested as part of a three-month investigation into large-scale cocaine and marijuana trafficking and had arranged an Oxycontin buy.

In Honolulu, a Honolulu police officer who pleaded guilty to selling more than $5,000 worth of methamphetamine to an undercover informant was sentenced to five years and five months in prison on September 28, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported. Robert Henry Sylva, 50, had faced three counts of distributing meth during 2004, but copped to one count in a December plea agreement. Although Sylva faced an federal advisory guideline sentencing range of 7 to 12 years, US District Judge David Ezra cut him some slack at federal prosecutors' request after they said he had cooperated with investigators after being busted.

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7. Sentencing: Federal Bill to Create Criminal Drug Dealer Registry Introduced

It was just a matter of time. First came the laws mandating that society's favorite demonized criminals, sex offenders, must register their whereabouts with the state even after they have completed serving their sentences. Next, various states began passing legislation requiring convicted methamphetamine cooks to do the same. Now, a Republican congressman from New Mexico, Rep. Steve Pearce, has filed federal legislation that would create a national online "criminal drug dealer" registry and require the states to do the same or risk losing federal aid.

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Do we really want to help kids find the drug dealers?
Last month, Pearce introduced yet another cutesy acronym of a bill, HR 6155, the "Communities Leading Everyone Away From Narcotics through Online Warning Notification Act," or the "CLEAN TOWN Act." Under the proposed bill, anyone convicted of a drug distribution, conspiracy, or possession with intent to distribute offense would be required to register with authorities annually and provide them with their name, address, employer and/or school information, social security number, criminal history, physical description, copy of official identification, and other personal information. Length of registration would vary from five years from the end of sentence for a first offender to 10 years for a second offender to life for a three-time offender.

The bill would require both the US attorney general and the various states to establish such registries. States that failed to comply would be penalized by withholding a percentage of the federal crime control funds they receive through the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Convicted drug dealers could be exempted from registration if they become snitches, or in the anodyne language of the bill, if they provide "substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense."

The bill mandates that states pass laws criminalizing failure to register. Such laws must carry sentences of greater than one year. In other words, they must be felonies.

In a press release touting his new legislative baby, Pearce coached his sponsorship of the bill in terms of protecting the children and gave his constituents credit for the idea. "During our methamphetamine awareness tour across the 2nd District in August, I heard repeatedly that we should treat convicted drug dealers like we do convicted sex offenders," Rep. Pearce said. "Both have the capacity to violate our children and destroy their lives. Our communities need more tools to protect our children. In particular, parents and teachers have a right to know when someone who could poison their son or daughter lives in their neighborhood."

No other legislators have so far stepped forward to cosponsor the bill. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

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8. Sentencing: California Governor Signs Bill To Shorten Parole for Offenders Who Take Drug Treatment

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) quietly signed a bill Saturday that will allow nonviolent offenders to get off parole early if they complete an intensive drug treatment program. Under the new law, parolees who wish to participate will be sent directly to a five-month residential treatment program. Upon graduation, they will get off parole.

The new law will take effect in January. Only nonviolent offenders will be eligible, and they must have completed at least six months of drug treatment while in prison.

Post-release parole has proven onerous for many offenders. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 47% of parolees are returned to prison as parole violators. These are people who committed administrative infractions -- failing to notify the parole officer of a new address or new job, coming up positive on a drug test -- not new criminal offenses. An additional 15% of parolees are returned to prison on new criminal charges. There are currently more than 116,000 people on parole in California.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), the bill won the support of a variety of groups, including the powerful prison guards union. "Parolees who demonstrate that level of commitment to treatment deserve recognition for their effort, union spokesman Lance Corcoran told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday. "It's a concept worth supporting," he said. "The only question is how they are going to come up with enough drug treatment beds for everybody who qualifies.

Sen. Speier told the Times she sponsored the measure because about three-quarters of the state's 172,000 inmates have drug or alcohol issues. "If we can help them conquer their addictions and get them off this treadmill of returning to prison, we'll save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars," Speier said.

Now the question is where the money is going to come from. The state will save $4,340 per year for each ex-convict it doesn't have to supervise. The bill signed this week does not earmark any funds for expanded treatment, but Speier suggested the savings on parole costs could pay for new beds.

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9. Hemp: California Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed California farmers to grow industrial hemp. Sponsored by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 1147 would have defined industrial hemp as an agricultural crop, limited its THC content to less than 0.3%, and mandated annual testing of fields to ensure content limits are met.

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(courtesy Independent Media Center)
In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the measure conflicted with federal law and would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor illicit marijuana crops. While he acknowledged recent successful court battles waged by the hemp industry, Schwarzenegger said "no court has specifically ruled that a live cannabis plant is a non-controlled substance or that farming these plants is not a regulated activity. As a result, it would be improper to approve a measure that directly conflicts with current federal statutes and court decisions. This only serves to cause confusion and reduce public confidence in our government system."

Schwarzenegger fell for the standard US police excuse that allowing hemp production would make it more difficult to stop outdoor marijuana grows: "Finally," he said, "California law enforcement has expressed concerns that implementation of this measure could place a drain on their resources and cause significant problems with drug enforcement activities. This is troubling given the needs in this state for the eradication and prevention of drug production."

Oddly enough, police in countries where hemp farming is a legal and productive part of the economy don't seem to have any problem distinguishing between industrial hemp and marijuana.

The hemp industry was not pleased. "Gov. Schwarzenegger's veto is a letdown for thousands of farmers, business people, and consumers that want to bring back industrial hemp to California to create jobs, new tax income and to benefit the environment," said Eric Steenstra, founder and President of Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp farming advocacy group, in a Monday press release denouncing the veto. "The veto was not based on facts but instead an irrational fear he would look soft on drugs in an election year. His veto message shows he knew industrial hemp is an economic development and agriculture issue, but he instead allowed himself to be cowed by confused drug war lobbyists. AB 1147 would have reigned in the overreach by federal authorities that has prevented non-drug industrial hemp varieties of cannabis from be being grown on US soil for fiber and seed. It is disingenuous to cite federal restrictions when drug war lobbyists refuse to sit down with the large coalition of farmers, business people and environmentalists who crafted the industrial hemp legislation. Industrial hemp will continue to be the only crop that is legal to import, sell and consume, but illegal to grow, in California."

"It's unfortunate that Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1147. We had looked forward to the hemp oil and seed in our products being grown and produced right here in California," said David Bronner, chair of the Hemp Industries Association Food and Oil Committee and president of Alpsnack/Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "Farmers in California, like farmers all across the United States, are always looking for profitable crops like hemp to add to their rotation. This veto clearly points out why HR 3037, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005, needs to be passed on the federal level."

Seven states (Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia) have now changed their laws to give farmers an affirmative right to grow industrial hemp commercially or for research purposes. But the bill Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed differs from those laws. In those seven states, the laws require a DEA license to grow the crop, one the agency is historically reluctant to provide. The California bill would have explicitly provided that the federal government has no basis or right to interfere with industrial hemp in California.

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10. Sentencing: Arizona Legislative Initiative Would Roll Back Reforms When It Comes to Methamphetamine Offenders

A decade ago, voters in Arizona approved a groundbreaking initiative, Proposition 200, "The Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act of 1996", which barred judges from sending first- or second-time drug possession offenders to prison. Instead, drug possessors are placed on probation and sometimes sent to drug court. But now, the Arizona legislature, concerned with the demon drug du jour, wants to treat those convicted of methamphetamine possession differently -- to be sent to jail or prison instead of getting probation and drug court.

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Arizona State Prison Complex - Safford
On the November ballot is Proposition 301, an initiative sponsored not by the voters but by the state legislature. If Arizona legislators wanted to go on the record as partially undoing Prop. 200, they could have voted to amend it. Instead, they crafted this proposition and dropped it in the laps of the voters.

"Meth is highly addictive and destructive," wrote Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Andrew Thomas in a ballot argument for the measure. "There is a strong connection between meth abuse and identity theft. Phoenix has the second highest rate of methamphetamine abuse of all the nation's cities, as evidenced by drug tests done on arrestees... This proposition will change the law so that people arrested for possession of meth can be sentenced to jail or prison after their first conviction for drug possession. Currently, meth users can be incarcerated only after their second or third conviction for drug possession, or if they refuse to participate in treatment. Time in jail is often the only thing that offers meth addicts a secure, drug-free environment and an opportunity to reflect on their situation."

Proposition 301 singles out meth offenders for special treatment, and it does so on the basis of inaccurate ballot language -- language that survived a court challenge not on the merits, but because the challenge came too late. In the Arizona Legislative Council's analysis of the initiative, which is part of the ballot, the council informs voters that: "This change in the law will allow judges to use a jail term as a condition of probation to force methamphetamine users to comply with court mandated drug treatment and rehabilitation."

That language is misleading at best. While under current law, judges may not sentence people to jail or prison for first- or second-time drug possession offenses, they can put them on probation and send them to jail for violating it, as in, for instance, not complying with court-ordered drug treatment programs.

"Their spin is that this thing is simply a tool to force people to stay in treatment," said Caroline Isaacs of Meth Free Arizona -- "No" on 303. "That is completely contradictory to the bill's actual language," she told the Tucson Weekly last week. "Everybody is rightfully concerned about the extent of meth use in our community. But Proposition 301 would take us in exactly the wrong direction, in terms of dealing with our meth problem. To say the solution is to not provide treatment to people is absolutely backwards."

It is not just activists like Isaacs who oppose the measure. Pima County Superior Court Judge Barbara Sattler, who presides over the county's drug court program, told the Weekly "there is a lot of misconception concerning Proposition 301... It is true that first- and second-time offenders who possess small amounts of drugs (be it meth, cocaine, heroin, etc.) cannot be initially sent to prison or jail. However, if they violate treatment orders or get arrested for other felonies or drug offenses, they can be sent to jail or prison. Second-time offenders can get jail time up front as a condition of probation (although again they can not go to prison up front). Violating a treatment order means failing to drug test, testing positive for drugs or failing to attend treatment, whether that is going to counseling or failing to live in a halfway house catering to drug offenders," Judge Sattler wrote. "You can also go to jail or prison if you reject probation or refuse drug treatment."

A win for Proposition 301 would be a disaster, wrote Judge Sattler. "Incarcerating people keeps them off the streets, but when they come out, if they have not had treatment, they will begin using again. If this prop is passed, it will cost the taxpayers lots of money and clog prison with nonviolent addicts. While there is some drug treatment, in jail or prison, it is minimal and available only to a small percentage of prisoners.

"I think the bill is very short-sighted in targeting meth only," she continued. "While meth is certainly a horrible, highly addictive drug, addicts can be treated. Drug courts and other programs have had success. In the past, other drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine were the 'meth' of their time. The solution is not to target one drug. In a few years, there will be a new drug that takes the place of meth."

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11. Marijuana: Idaho High Court Rules Officials Can't Block Legalization Initiative Just Because They Don't Like It

Two years ago in Sun Valley, Idaho, Ryan Davidson wanted to begin petitioning for a municipal initiative that would have allowed Sun Valley residents to possess, grow, and sell marijuana within the city limits of the mountain resort community. But city officials, instead of merely confirming that Davidson's initial petition with 22 signatures was formatted correctly, as specified in the municipal code, rejected his proposed petition altogether, saying it contravened state and federal law and was thus outside the scope of the city's initiative process.

Davidson filed suit and lost in district court, then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. In a decision rendered September 27, the high court unanimously agreed with Davidson. "The City protests that if the Clerk cannot halt unconstitutional initiatives any group could submit petitions for any number of outlandish causes," wrote Justice Roger Burdick for the court. "While it is true that many such initiatives could be proposed, sorting through the substance of proposed initiatives to separate the wheat from the chaff is not the role of the City Clerk. The proper checks on the power of initiative are the voting public and the courts, and a city council retains the power to repeal or amend ill advised ordinances passed by direct legislation."

In addition to allowing for regulated marijuana use and commerce, Davidson's initiative would have directed local law enforcement to make the pot laws their lowest priority. It would also have directed the city to lobby state officials to change the state's marijuana laws.

The court did not rule on whether such an initiative would be constitutional under Idaho law, saying that decision could await the passage of such an initiative. In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Gerald Shroeder argued that parts of it would violate state law and thus be invalid. "Time, effort and money will have been wasted, except to the extent that lawmakers will have the opinion of a small segment of the state's qualified electors," Schroeder wrote. "Nonetheless, the decision to allow the process to play itself out without judicial intervention is appropriate."

No word yet on whether Davidson will begin a new petition drive now, although it is reasonable to think that someone who has gone to the highest court in the state to win that right is likely to exercise it soon.

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12. Weekly: This Week in History

October 6, 2000: Former US President Bill Clinton is quoted in Rolling Stone: "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be."

October 7, 1989: Former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz tells an alumni gathering at Stanford Business School, "It seems to me we're not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost... We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs... No politician wants to say what I have just said, not for a minute."

October 7, 2003: Comedian Tommy Chong begins a nine-month federal prison sentence for operating a glass blowing shop that sold pipes to marijuana smokers.

October 8, 1932: The Uniform State Narcotics Act is passed, endorsed by the federal Bureau of Narcotics as an alternative to Federal laws. By 1937 every state prohibits marijuana use.

October 9, 2000: PBS begins a special two-day program entitled "Drug Wars." The series examines America's ceaseless efforts over the past three decades to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country, and shows how the drug war wastes hundreds of billions of dollars, alters the criminal justice system, puts millions of people in jail, and allows organized crime to thrive.

October 10, 2002: Drug Czar John Walters travels to Las Vegas, Nevada and begins two days of making appearances around the state illegally lobbying against Question 9, a proposal to amend the state constitution by making the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana legal for adults. The measure is defeated at the polls the following month.

October 12, 1984: The Comprehensive Crime Control Act becomes law, establishing federal "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines allowing judges no discretion in handing down prison terms. Over the next two years drug sentences increase by 71% nationwide.

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13. Announcement: New Format for the Reformer's Calendar

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With the launch of our new web site, The Reformer's Calendar no longer appears as part of the Drug War Chronicle newsletter but is instead maintained as a section of our new web site:

The Reformer's Calendar publishes events large and small of interest to drug policy reformers around the world. Whether it's a major international conference, a demonstration bringing together people from around the region or a forum at the local college, we want to know so we can let others know, too.

But we need your help to keep the calendar current, so please make sure to contact us and don't assume that we already know about the event or that we'll hear about it from someone else, because that doesn't always happen.

We look forward to apprising you of more new features of our new web site as they become available.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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