Drug War Chronicle #459 - October 27, 2006

1. Editorial: A Grim Anniversary

Today marks a grim anniversary in US drug policy, the enactment 20 years ago of unjust federal mandatory minimum sentences.

2. Feature: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Marijuana Initiatives Face the Voters in Five Cities

Three California cities and one in Arkansas have lowest law enforcement priority marijuana initiatives on the ballot. We check in to see how they're doing as the final countdown begins.

3. Feature: Nail-Biting Time for South Dakota's Medical Marijuana Initiative

With November 7 drawing near and drug warriors on the campaign trail, prospects for South Dakota's medical marijuana initiative are "iffy."

4. Feature: The Next Prohibition? Poll Finds Nearly Half of Americans Favor Banning Cigarettes

A poll released Thursday finds that nearly half of Americans support making cigarettes illegal.

5. Video Offer: 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

More crooked cops trying to rip-off drug dealers, another one trying to rip-off his own department, and, of course, yet another prison guard trying to earn a few bucks on the side.

7. Law Enforcement: Lawsuit Shines Light on Florida Police Department's Shady Forfeiture Practice

Florida has an asset forfeiture law that provides for legal recourse, but that's too much bother for one Sunshine State police department.

8. Canada: Supreme Court Overturns Conviction of Medical Marijuana Activist

Canada's Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the conviction of medical marijuana activist Grant Krieger because of a judge's overreaching jury instructions.

9. Europe: Belgian MP Joins Growing Cannabis Social Club Movement

Europe's nascent Cannabis Social Club movement gained a prominent new face this week when a Belgian Member of Parliament signed on.

10. Middle East: In Battle Over Criminalizing Bongs, Israeli Justice Department Unit Calls for End to Persecuting Marijuana Users

A battle over a bill to criminalize the possession of bongs, has led part of the Israeli Justice Department to call for an end to the persecution of marijuana and hashish users.

11. Europe: Spanish Medical Marijuana Group Goes Public with "Therapeutic Cannabis Bank"

A medical marijuana activist group in the Spanish Basque country has announced the first aboveground "Cannabis Pharmacy," and the Spanish health ministry is not happy.

12. Web Scan

Mandatory Minimum Reports, Election Guides, More...

13. Weekly: This Week in History

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

14. 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: A Grim Anniversary

Today marks a grim anniversary in US drug policy, the enactment 20 years ago by Congress -- without hearings -- of draconian mandatory minimum sentences that have packed the federal prisons with vast numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders serving for unjustly long periods of time.

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David Borden
Two who actually appear innocent are Lawrence and Lamont Garrison, twins who worked their way up from a poor, crime-ridden, northeast Washington DC neighborhood to ultimately be admitted to -- and almost graduate from -- Howard University School of Law.

Almost -- a month before graduating, they were swept up in a federal anti-drug operation, apparently "turned in" by an actual player in the drug trade, who needed to give the feds some names to get his sentence reduced. At least that's the way it looks to us -- click here to read a summary we published about the case in Drug War Chronicle six years ago.

Six years ago -- a long time, even if they were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused and convicted. Indecently long -- as is the 20 years the sentences have been on the books, during which time criticism has been leveled at them from numerous quarters and myriad angles: unjust, even violative of human rights, corruptive of the justice system, ineffective but VERY expensive, cruel, counterproductive.

Today a staff briefing in the US Senate is addressing this issue. The politics of drug and crime policy are difficult, and reform to federal sentencing laws has been mostly intractable. But not entirely, and every issue has a tipping point that when the time is ripe can send it in a different direction if the opportunity is seized.

Let us hope that this will be the time. No, let's make it the time.

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2. Feature: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Marijuana Initiatives Face the Voters in Five Cities

Inspired by successful local initiatives making marijuana the "lowest law enforcement priority" in Seattle and Oakland, activists in three California cities -- Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica -- are busy working to ensure that similar measures pass there in November. Similar measures are also on the ballot in Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

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"Lowest priority initiatives are relatively cost efficient and for the most part productive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), some of whose local affiliates are involved in the Arkansas effort. "They are a way to tap into the sentiments of local voters, and we have certainly seen the success of similar initiatives, especially in Seattle, where their law has some teeth and has yielded a drastic reduction in local arrests. These are not necessarily just symbolic, and they put law enforcement priorities more in line with what the taxpayers prefer," he told the Chronicle.

Such initiatives typically include language like the following from the web site of Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which notes that the initiative there "makes marijuana offenses, where cannabis is intended for adult personal use, the lowest police priority" and "it frees up police resources to focus on violent and serious crime, instead of arresting and jailing nonviolent cannabis users."

In at least one California community, however, the initiative language is a bit stronger. In Santa Cruz, in addition to making marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority, the initiative sponsored by Sensible Santa Cruz would "establish a city policy supporting changes in state and federal laws that call for taxation and regulation for adult use of marijuana."

The Missoula initiative is a bit weaker. While it contains the standard lowest law enforcement priority language and calls for the creation of an oversight committee, it only recommends -- not mandates -- such a prioritization.

The Eureka Springs initiative (not available on the web) would modify the town's city ordinances to read: "When any law enforcement officer suspects any adult of possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and/or possession of marijuana paraphernalia, that person shall not be required to post bond, suffer arrest, suffer incarceration, suffer prosecution, be taken into custody for any purpose nor detained for any reason other than the issuance of a citation. There shall be a strong presumption that the proper disposition of any such case is to suspend the imposition of sentence and/or require community service work and/or drug counseling and education." The ballot language continues by pointing out that: "The message of this ordinance is that people should not use marijuana, but should also not lose opportunities for education and employment because of such use. The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss. The enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be the lowest law enforcement priority."

With the November elections now just a matter of days away, Drug War Chronicle decided to check in win initiative organizers to see how things are shaping up. In California, long-time drug reform activist Mikki Norris, a veteran of the successful Measure Z lowest priority campaign in Oakland in 2004, a member of the California Cities Campaign and an advisor to local organizers this year, told the Chronicle the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica initiatives were all in good shape, but that Santa Monica was shaping up as the most difficult challenge.

"We are getting more and more endorsements in all three cities and we've got the Democratic Party clubs in all three cities, and that's important," said Norris. "It's going to really depend on turnout on Election Day, and we still haven't seen what the opposition will do in terms of things like last-minutes mailers."

Santa Monica's changing demographics and complicated local political environment are posing a challenge to success there, said Norris. "Santa Monica has been changing in recent years, and there is now a complex politics there with the luxury hotel lobby very influential and police department that is well-regarded and strongly opposed to the initiative," she said. "Santa Monica is going to be the toughest to win," she predicted.

"We have the most contentious of the three campaigns," agreed Nickie LaRosa, who is heading up the campaign in Santa Monica. "Santa Monica is no longer super-progressive, and people are inclined to look to community leaders and the police for direction. While we have some community leaders with us, we don't have any local elected officials on our side, and the police association is against us," she told the Chronicle.

Still, LaRosa said she was "optimistic" about the initiative's chances. "We're working to do something that will have a very positive effect on the city, and we have a strong grassroots effort. We'll be doing direct mailings when it gets close to Election Day, but for many people, this issue isn't even on the radar yet. We've been laying low -- trying not to create a platform for the police to attack us. We're flying under the radar and trusting that the direct mail campaign will motivate voters who want to see a better city with fewer unsolved crimes."

Things are a bit more relaxed in Santa Cruz, where there is no organized opposition to the local initiative, said campaign coordinator Kate Horner. "We have the support of several council members and county supervisors, and we're doing quite well in terms of community support," she said. "We are very confident the voters will turn out and support this; I think it's just a question of by how much."

Victories in all three cities will send a strong message across the state, said Norris. "That will set us up in a position to go to the state legislature and say that cities across the state are voting to decriminalize and it's time to look at reducing penalties," she said. "Possession is still a misdemeanor here, and we could bring it down to an infraction. Victories in these cities should also encourage elected representatives from those areas to vote for marijuana law reform. It is time to try an alternative to current policy, and winning in November only strengthens our hand," she said.

Meanwhile, up in Montana, Missoula initiative organizers are gearing up for a final push to victory in the face of opposition from local law enforcement and youth substance abuse prevention groups. "We're dealing with the Reefer Madness mentality," said campaign spokesperson Angela Goodhope. "The cops and the substance abuse people make these outrageous claims that everybody is going to start smoking pot, but they don't have any evidence to back them up. We know that liberalizing drug laws in other places has not led to an increase in drug use."

Although initiative backers can easily rebut such claims, it is difficult to match the media access available to police, said Goodhope. "It's tough to combat them if the media just prints this stuff uncritically," she said. "They are also claiming -- falsely -- that if the initiative passes, they will lose federal funding."

But while there is organized opposition in Missoula, it is also the Montana county most likely to be friendly to a lowest priority initiative. Home to the University of Montana, the city has a reputation in the Big Sky state as a mecca of free-thinkers. According to Goodhope, activists across the state met last year after the successful statewide medical marijuana vote, analyzed the results, and found the strongest support in Missoula County.

But Goodhope is nervous as the days tick down. "I stay awake at night thinking about what we can do, what new tactic we can use, what it's going to take for us to win this," she said.

And down in Arkansas, activists affiliated with local NORML chapters have focused on the eccentric small town of Eureka Springs, another bastion of free-thinkers in a conservative state. "Eureka Springs is a special place," said Kelly Maddy of Joplin NORML just across the state line in Missouri. "We originally were aiming at Fayetteville, but when we saw we were coming up short, Eureka Springs was the natural fallback," he said.

Again, law enforcement is proving the biggest obstacle, with local police in Eureka Springs saying they will not enforce the local ordinance if it passes, but will continue to arrest people under state law. "They may not want to enforce the lowest priority law, but if it passes, it will be clear signal to police what the voters want," he said.

In about 10 days, we shall see how the political landscape has shifted and whether we will have five more communities that have essentially rejected marijuana prohibition.

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3. Feature: Nail-Biting Time for South Dakota's Medical Marijuana Initiative

With election day little more than a week away, proponents of South Dakota's medical marijuana initiative are increasingly nervous about the measure's prospects in the face of a coordinated onslaught by the state's Republican political establishment, state and local law enforcement, and even the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Given South Dakota's social conservatism and a number of hot-button other issues on the ballot, including abortion and gay marriage, the assault by law enforcement only makes voter approval of the measure more difficult. But with no polling on the issue in the state since 2002 (when it got 64% approval), it is hard to gauge exactly where the vote is likely to go.

Known on the ballot as Initiated Measure 4, the medical marijuana measure would allow patients who suffer from specified medical conditions, have the okay of their doctor, and register with the state to use marijuana to alleviate their conditions. The measure also allows registered patients or their caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants. If the measure passes, South Dakota would become the 12th state to legalize marijuana. If the measure fails, South Dakota would become the first state where voters explicitly rejected medical marijuana.

Beginning late last week, the organized opposition began fighting in earnest with a series of press conferences featuring Attorney General Larry Long (whom organizers were forced to successfully sue over biased ballot language), local law enforcement officials, and deputy drug czar Scott Burns. Burns called medical marijuana "a con" and accused initiative supporters of playing on the sympathies of voters to advance a dangerous agenda.

"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Burns at a Sioux Falls press conference last Friday. "Do not fall for the con."

"The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County (Sioux Falls) Sheriff Mike Milstead at the same widely televised and reported press conference. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."

Some South Dakota law enforcement officials have gone further in their arguments against the measure. In a conversation with Drug War Chronicle Thursday, Hughes County (Pierre) Sheriff Mike Leidholt complained that initiative language barring registered patients from being prosecuted as drugged drivers because of residual metabolites in their systems would result in them being able to get away with driving while intoxicated. "If we can't test for the metabolite, how are we to enforce the law, or is that a free pass?" he asked.

Leidholt also expressed concern that marijuana grown for registered patients would escape into the larger market. "This measure allows any patient or caregiver to have up to six marijuana plants," he said. "One marijuana plant can produce up to 13,000 joints. If you have that much, what happens to the rest of it?"

[Editor's Note: We report, you decide. Assuming a joint weighs between one-half gram and one gram, that comes to somewhere between 15 and 30 pounds of smokeable bud. By our calculations, it would take a marijuana plant the size of a full-grown oak tree to produce that many joints.]

Leidholt conceded that marijuana may help a small number of seriously ill people in the state, but argued that that does not outweigh the need to keep marijuana off the streets. "I feel bad for those people, but the dangers are too great," he said.

That argument wasn't flying with Valerie Hannah of Deerfield, a combat medic in the Gulf War who know suffers chronic pain from nerve damage and who is serving as the primary spokesperson for South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative. "We really need this for patients who are truly ill so they can have another means of release," she told the Chronicle.

Hannah and former Denver police officer Tony Ryan, who now lives in Sioux Falls, are the group's public face. Both are appearing in TV commercials airing around the state -- when they can squeeze in among all the abortion, gay marriage, tobacco tax, elected office, and other campaign commercials that are cluttering the airwaves.

"What law enforcement is doing is a real disappointment, but my biggest disappointment is Larry Long bringing in the national deputy drug czar to propagandize at press conferences," she said. "They're really starting to pull out the drug war money and going to town with it."

Hannah is in a lonely fight. No other medical marijuana patient in the state has yet stood up to be counted alongside her. But that is not surprising in a state where anyone who admits to marijuana use could be served with a search warrant and ordered to submit to a drug test, then prosecuted for "unlawful ingestion" of marijuana.

"People are scared here," Hannah said. "Not only are they scared to come out, some people who use medical marijuana have even told me they voted against it because they were afraid law enforcement would look at their ballots and somehow persecute them. It is past time for people to get over their fears and realize this is really all about sick and dying people."

While Hannah other initiative supporters are working frantically to secure victory on November 7, the outcome is "kind of iffy," she said. "Faced with all these false claims from law enforcement and the fear in the air in this state, I don't know how this will come out."

Hannah held out some hope though, citing surprising support among farmers and ranchers in the sparsely-populated, libertarian-leaning northwest part of the state. "That is good, but most of the votes are in the East, especially in Sioux Falls," she noted. With some 177,000 residents in the metro area, Sioux Falls accounts for about one-quarter of the state's population.

"Western South Dakota is a place where outlaws went to hide from the law -- and they stayed -- so it may be fertile ground for medical marijuana even if just for the tax money. But if they lose in Sioux Falls, they lose the entire state," said University of South Dakota political science Professor David Vick. "The city has been growing rapidly, and the small towns around there have become suburbs, and they vote like suburbs," he told the Chronicle.

Vick had a hard time imagining that the measure would succeed. "My opinion is that it will probably not pass," he said. "On the East side of the state, you tend to have values voters who vote along religious lines and conservative political lines. The only way I see this passing is if people vote for it in a backlash against government intrusion or fiscal conservatism. Of course, there are people who have found assistance from medical marijuana or know someone who has, and they could vote for it."

It now looks like an uphill battle in South Dakota, but we will not really know until the votes are counted.

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4. Feature: The Next Prohibition? Poll Finds Nearly Half of Americans Favor Banning Cigarettes

A Zogby survey of likely voters has found that 45% would support making cigarettes illegal within the next five to 10 years. Currently, cigarettes are not illegal anywhere in the United States (except some jails and prisons, where they are considered contraband), although moves to restrict smoking and tax tobacco products are winning broad acceptance.

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tobacco field
According to the survey, which was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and conducted in July, banning cigarettes is supported by senior citizens (51%), conservatives (51%), born-again Christians (52%), and adults with less than high-school education (55%). But strikingly -- and a sign of looming trouble for anti-prohibitionists -- the age group that most strongly supports making cigarettes illegal is young people. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, support for cigarette prohibition stood at 57%.

Still, a slim majority (52%) opposes prohibiting cigarettes. Opposition to a ban is strongest among 50-to-64-year-olds, independent voters, liberals, moderates, college graduates, people with some college education, men, and residents of rural areas and the South. Among these subgroups, roughly 60% oppose a ban.

At a Thursday news conference in New York, DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann warned that criminalizing cigarettes would have disastrous consequences. "If cigarettes were illegal, we would risk the prohibition-style shootouts and violence that characterized the Al Capone era," Nadelmann said. "Millions of our fellow Americans -- our friends and families -- would be considered criminals. We already have too many people with addiction problems serving long prison sentences. The last thing we need is to ruin many more lives with another ineffective prohibition strategy."

Nadelmann was joined by Allen Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who called for a public health approach to tobacco. "I am surprised by the numbers of people supportive of making cigarettes illegal and am totally supportive of the statements of the Drug Policy Alliance," he said. "From a public health perspective the focus should be on prevention through expanded public education campaigns, such as the very effective campaigns run by the American Legacy Foundation, taxes on cigarettes, banning sales to teenagers and bans on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars. But making cigarettes illegal would be a huge mistake."

Also addressing the press conference -- via cell phone from the snowbound Denver airport -- was former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, now a prominent member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Outlaw cigarettes? Tobacco smokers run huge health risks, and the costs to taxpayers are substantial. But, as a non-smoker, and a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, I can't imagine a more dangerous, short-sighted law," said Stamper. "We've cut cigarette smoking in half, the result of education, taxation, and regulation -- without putting a single cigarette smoker in jail. We're on the right track, let's not get derailed."

Stamper warned that cigarette prohibition could lead to a repeat of the crime and violence associated with alcohol Prohibition and current drug prohibition. "We would see the creation of a criminal underclass with unprecedented levels of violence and innocent people caught in the crossfire, the same as we are experiencing with the drug war," he said. "We believe cigarette prohibition would escalate tensions in our society to almost unimaginable levels. Cigarette prohibition would lead to an increase in death, disease, crime, and addiction, just as with other prohibited drugs."

As a result of decades-long public education campaigns, cigarette smoking has been declining steadily in the United States and is now concentrated among the poorer, least educated, and minority populations, which, Rosenfield warned, may make it easier to impose a prohibition on smoking. "As with illicit drugs, it would be primarily low-income minority people in jail," he said. "We should forbid companies from marketing tobacco, the outlawing of sales to minors should continue, but the focus should be on education and regulation, not making smoking illegal."

When asked by Drug War Chronicle if trumpeting the fact that there is strong support for cigarette prohibition wasn't playing into the hands of prohibitionists, Nadelmann acknowledged such concerns, but said they were outweighed by the need to take preemptive action to nip any such moves in the bud. "We debated this question inside DPA before we went public," he said. "If we surface this, would it aid those who favor criminalization? We decided we are on a real slippery slope, and if we didn't do this now, in two or three years the numbers could be even higher, so we thought it was important to raise the alarm now, while the majority still oppose prohibiting cigarettes. We need to start making the case that the logical end of a public health campaign is not prohibition."

DPA is preparing to launch an educational campaign for politicians and the public about the unintended consequences that could result from a new prohibition on cigarettes, Nadelmann added. "Public health officials, law enforcement and treatment providers should speak out loudly and clearly against cigarette prohibition," he said. "We can't allow hysteria to overwhelm rational responses to the legitimate concerns about the harms of cigarettes. We can't afford to repeat the same mistakes we have made with other harmful substances."

Well, smokers, smoke 'em if you've got 'em, because if this poll is any indication, you may not have 'em for long -- unless you're willing to resort to the black market.

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5. Video Offer: Waiting to Inhale

Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

Many drug reform enthusiasts read on our blog last month 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

Ho-hum, the banality of drug war-related law enforcement corruption. More crooked cops trying to rip-off drug dealers, another one trying to rip-off his own department, and, of course, yet another prison guard trying to earn a few bucks on the side. Also notable this week is an overview of corruption along the US-Mexico border in the Los Angeles Times. It's well worth checking out, too.

In Chicago, two Chicago police officers trying to rip off what they thought was a drug dealer's cash stash went down in a sting operation Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. Officers Richard Doroniuk, 30, and Mahmoud "Mike" Shamah, 27, used information from a co-defendant to obtain search warrants to search self-storage lockers. In two raids, they stole $31,100 in what they thought was drug money, reporting no cash seizure in the first raid and only reporting part of the cash in the second, but the money had actually been placed in the lockers by the FBI and Chicago police internal affairs investigators. Doroniuk, Shamah, and their co-conspirator have now been charged with conspiring to steal government funds.

In Columbia, South Carolina, the Associated Press reported October 19 that a former York County deputy has been busted for ripping-off $1,200 in cash that was supposed to be used in undercover drug deals. William Graham, 37, worked in the county's special drug unit and was in charge of keeping track of those funds. Instead he pocketed them. Now, he has confessed and repaid the money, but still faces charges of embezzlement of public funds and misconduct in office.

In Inez, Kentucky, a federal prison guard was indicted for taking $3,000 for smuggling drugs to a prison inmate, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Guard Alice Marie Stapleton, 30, now faces seven counts of drug possession and conspiracy to smuggle contraband into the prison. According to the indictment, a prisoner's mother delivered heroin and marijuana to Stapleton at a local motel and Stapleton smuggled them into the prison. The prisoner in question has already pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy, and his mother and her driver are preparing to do the same, so it looks like the state will have the witnesses it needs to convict Stapleton.

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7. Law Enforcement: Lawsuit Shines Light on Florida Police Department's Shady Forfeiture Practice

A lawsuit filed by a young Bradenton, Florida, man to win the return of $10,000 in cash seized from him by the Bradenton Police Department has shined a light on a longstanding -- and possibly illegal -- asset forfeiture policy by the department. Under the Florida Contraband Act, persons whose money and property were seized by police have the right to have a judge rule on the legality of the seizure. But the Bradenton police have for years been using their own "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement," which people arrested are told to sign to agree to give up their property and waive any legal recourse.

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Florida's finest...
The practice came to light last week, when the Sarasota Herald Tribune began reporting on the case of Delane Johnson, 20, who was stopped outside an apartment house in July. When police spotted a wad of cash in his pants pocket, he told them he was using the money for a party. They arrested him on the rarely-used charge of failing to report a business transaction in excess of $10,000 (he had $10,020). Police claim Johnson signed the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement" -- a claim he disputes -- and they deposited the money in a police bank account.

County prosecutors dropped the charges, saying it was not a crime to carry cash, but police refused to return the money. Now Johnson is in court fighting to get his money back.

"The whole arrest was bogus. It's awful," attorney Varinia Van Ness, who represented Johnson, told the Herald Tribune. She wants the courts to order the department to follow state law instead of continuing its end run around the law.

"Hopefully, we'll put a stop to it when we get in front of a judge," said attorney Louis Daniel Lazaro, who also represents Johnson. "There are possible corruption charges on a criminal level."

This wouldn't be the first time people have gone to court to get their money back. Last year, a Manatee county judge ordered Bradenton police to return $7,000 seized from a woman who was arrested for a driver's license violation after a traffic stop. Judge Douglas Henderson ruled that the woman did not knowingly and willingly agree to have her money confiscated even though her named appeared on the forfeiture agreement.

The Bradenton Police Department's unusual practice was viewed with concern by attorneys and constitutional scholars contacted by the Herald Tribune. They said police may be pressuring people to sign away their rights, a charge some local residents said was true.

"Who knows what they are telling people to get them to sign it," said Sarasota-based defense attorney Henry E. Lee, who represented a woman last year in a police forfeiture case in Bradenton. "This is a source of revenue for the police, and it's just rife for abuse."

"It sounds like robbery to me," said Joseph Little, a law school professor at the University of Florida.

Bradenton police have seized more than $12,000 from 15 people arrested since August. Janie Brooks, 56, was one of them. She was in her front yard in a poor neighborhood when police swooped in, said they found drugs, and seized her car and $1,200 cash. As she sat in the back of a patrol car, police pressured her into signing the forfeiture form, she said. "He kept rushing me, like, 'Go ahead, things will be better if you did,'" Brooks said. "It was like, there's gonna be some big time stuff that happens to me if I don't sign it."

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski was unrepentant. "If you're selling drugs, I'm going to take your money, your car, your house -- if I can get it," he said. "That's my goal here. Eventually we're going to seize someone's house." He also accused Delane Johnson of being a drug dealer, though he was never charged with a drug-related offense. "Does he really think a judge will give him back his drug money? God bless him if a judge goes along with that."

It's little wonder Radzilowski defends the practice. The county's asset forfeiture fund, which the department uses to buy new equipment and pay for drug education and other programs, has gone as high as $150,000.

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8. Canada: Supreme Court Overturns Conviction of Medical Marijuana Activist

In a decision handed down Thursday, the Canadian Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of Alberta medical marijuana activist Grant Krieger, who had been convicted of marijuana possession with the intent to distribute. The high court held that the trial judge had erred by directing the jury to find Krieger guilty.

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Grant Krieger (courtesy cannabiscoalition.ca)
Krieger, who claims the right to distribute marijuana to seriously ill people to alleviate their symptoms, did not kowtow to judicial power during his trial (or before or after), and the trial judge repaid him by instructing the jury at his 2003 trial to "retire to the jury room to consider what I have said, appoint one of yourselves to be your foreperson, and then to return to the court with a verdict of guilty."

Two jurors objected at the time, one citing religious reasons and one citing reasons of conscience, and asked to be excused from the case, but the judge refused.

The judge's jury instructions were clearly unconstitutional, the high court ruled. "The trial judge's direction was not a 'slip of the tongue' to be evaluated in the context of the charge as a whole," the court wrote in its decision. "His purpose and words were clear. In effect, the trial judge reduced the jury's role to a ceremonial one: he ordered the conviction and left to the jury, as a matter of form but not of substance, its delivery in open court."

Krieger, who has legal permission from Health Canada to smoke marijuana for multiple sclerosis, is begging for a retrial. He wants to continue to use the courts as a forum for challenging the legitimacy of Canada's marijuana laws.

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9. Europe: Belgian MP Joins Growing Cannabis Social Club Movement

Belgian Representative Stijn Bex of the left liberal party Spirit has become the first Belgian elected official to publicly join the growing Cannabis Social Club movement. The movement is designed to create associations of marijuana users who come together to grow limited amounts of marijuana to satisfy their needs without resorting to the black market. A project of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), cannabis social clubs currently operate in Spain and Belgium.

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Stijn Bex
The cannabis social clubs are a concrete manifestation of ENCOD's Freedom to Farm campaign, which, according to the cannabis social club web site, is "aimed at the right of every adult citizen in the world to grow and possess natural plants for personal use and non-commercial purposes."

In an open letter to the newspaper De Morgen, Bex announced he would become a member of Draw Up Your Plant, a cannabis social club in the Antwerp area. Draw Up Your Plant is working to establish a marijuana collective farm on the principle of one plant per member. Under current Belgian drug policy, possession of one female marijuana plant by an adult is given the lowest law enforcement priority.

Draw Up Your Plant is planning to start its first indoor garden at the end of November, and ENCOD reports that Belgian authorities plan some sort of hostile response. But the group is building support among the media, and now it has its first MP.

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10. Middle East: In Battle Over Criminalizing Bongs, Israeli Justice Department Unit Calls for End to Persecuting Marijuana Users

A bill before the Israeli Knesset that would send people to prison for up to three years for possessing a bong has caused a breach in the Israeli Justice Ministry and provoked the ministry's Office of Public Defense (similar to a public defender's office in the US) to not only reject the bong bill, but also call for an end to the persecution of soft drug users. Instead, the Public Defense said, law enforcement should concentrate on large-scale dealers and traffickers.

It was the Justice Ministry's Legislative Department that drafted the bong bill, which is now before the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. In addition to three-year sentences for bong possession, the bill proposes sentences of up to five years for bong sales.

But in her recommendation to the committee, Deputy Public Defense Attorney Dr. Hagit Lernau not only ripped the bill, but the arrest of pot- and hash-smokers as well. Hagit explained the "enforcement paradox" -- that harassing casual soft drug users can create greater social harm than benefit.

"The 'enforcement paradox' is that much greater when the issue in question is the use of drugs which cause relatively little harm to users and the nature of which is infrequent and, for the most part, ends with the beginning of serious employment and a person's domestication," Lernau wrote. "It is the social effect and not the drug use itself which ends up harming individuals. It harms their ability to evolve professionally and economically and become normally integrated in society."

Lernau also took after Israeli law enforcement: "Instead of ensuring and developing the necessary services needed for education, treatment and welfare, law enforcement chooses to concentrate on expanding criminal law despite the damages this causes," she wrote. "The result of this policy is dozens of criminal indictments on possession of several grams of cannabis drugs, without any practical wisdom to support it."

Israel should follow the example of Europe instead of trying to pass silly bong laws, Lernau added. The Europeans, she wrote, "concentrate efforts on mass importing/exporting and distribution, while taking a tolerant approach of explanation and treatment/rehabilitation towards users and drug cultivators for private use."

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11. Europe: Spanish Medical Marijuana Group Goes Public with "Therapeutic Cannabis Bank"

A Spanish medical marijuana activist group, the Amigos de María, has announced the creation of the first publicly known medical marijuana dispensary in the country. Operating through the Internet, the "Cannabis Pharmacy" will provide information about medical marijuana, encourage patients to grow their own, and put patients in contact with listed growers who are prepared to donate part of their crops for patients.

While the Cannabis Pharmacy is the first public dispensary, it is not the first Spanish dispensary. As the group noted, "We are aware that other groups have been doing this for several years in a more or less clandestine form. The only new thing is that we have gone public in the hope that our politicians take note of the matter and normalize, once and for all, the use of cannabis, and until that time arrives, we can reduce the risks of the therapeutic use of cannabis."

Spain is moving jerkily toward acceptance of medical marijuana, with Catalan authorities having authorized a pilot program for marijuana in pharmacies last year. Earlier this year, authorities in Barcelona announced plans for a trial of the marijuana-based sublingual spray Sativex that will involve up to 600 patients and 60 participating pharmacies.

But the Spanish government does not recognize the informal dispensaries, making the move by the Amigos de María a challenge to the government. The Amigos are ready. "We are not afraid because we are convinced that what we are doing is right and will help the people," a spokesman told the Basque newspaper Noticias de Alava. "The law is only good if it is just, and in this case it isn't."

The group has already aroused the ire of the Ministry of Health, which accused it of encouraging youth marijuana use -- a big issue in Spain these days. The Amigos rejected that charge, noting that "At no time have we attempted, as the health minister insinuated, to promote the use of marijuana among young people, and it seems incredible to us that since our project is directed toward sick adults, that the health ministry mixes the two and says it is worried this will normalize use among the youth."

And so the battle is joined.

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12. Web Scan

Cracks in the System: 20 Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law, report by the ACLU

"We're Supposed to Sentence Individuals, Not Crimes," Survey of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judges on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes

Drug Policy Alliance 2006 Congressional Voter Guide

Cannabis Culture Magazine's "USA 2006 Stoner Voters Guide"

Drug Policy Forum of California Voter's Guide

Loretta Nall on Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Cultural Baggage for 10/20/06:
Ed Rosenthal, Terry Nelson of LEAP, Poppygate, Drug War Facts, Official Govt Truth & Steve Bloom, Editor of High Times: STONY awards

Century of Lies for 10/20/06:
Chuck Thomas of Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine & Philippe Lucas of Vancouver Island Compassion Society

Eleven Ways the War on Drugs is Hurting Your Business, Eric Sterling on the Business Council for Prosperity and Safety web site

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13. Weekly: This Week in History

November 2, 1951: The Boggs Act nearly quadruples penalties for all narcotics offenses and unscientifically lumps marijuana in with narcotic drugs. (Narcotics are by definition a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant, containing opium, or produced synthetically and to have opium-like effects. Opioid drugs relieve pain, dull the senses and induce sleep.)

November 1, 1968: The UK's Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence releases the Wootton Report, recommending that marijuana possession should not be a criminal offense.

October 27, 1969: Anthropologist Margaret Mead provides testimony to Congress: "It is my considered opinion at present that marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users."

October 27, 1970: Congress passes the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It strengthens law enforcement by allowing police to conduct "no-knock" searches and includes the Controlled Substances Act, which establishes five categories ("schedules") for regulating drugs based on their medicinal value and potential for addiction.

October 28, 1972: In a re-election campaign statement about crime and drug abuse, President Richard Nixon says: "As a result of our total war on drug abuse, the rate of growth in new heroin addiction has declined dramatically since 1969. By next June, we will have created the capacity to treat up to 250,000 heroin addicts annually -- a thirty-fold increase over the amount of federally funded drug treatment which existed when I took office... My goal for the next 4 years is for every American city to begin realizing the kind of victories in the war on crime which we have already achieved in the Nation's Capital -- where the crime rate has been cut in half since my Administration took office, and where heroin overdose deaths have almost disappeared... This kind of progress can and must be made all across America. By winning the war on crime and drugs, we can restore the social climate of order and justice which will assure our society of the freedom it must have to build and grow."

October 27, 1986: President Reagan signs The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, an enormous omnibus drug bill which appropriates $1.7 billion to "fight the drug crisis." The bill's most consequential action is the creation of mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses.

October 29, 1993: The administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Robert C. Bonner, resigns after three years in office to enter private law practice in Los Angeles. He disagreed with the Clinton administration's increased emphasis on drug treatment, saying it amounted to a decrease in emphasis on law enforcement and the pursuit of cooperation from foreign governments. "Drug treatment, particularly in this town, is the real feel good (method) for how you deal with the drug problem. It doesn't deal with any enforcement of the laws. It makes everybody feel all warm and fuzzy... I think treatment is being oversold," says Bonner.

October 30, 1995: President Bill Clinton signs legislation passed by Congress rejecting a US Sentencing Commission move to reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenses to bring them equal with powder cocaine.

October 27, 1997: After a four-year investigation and a five-month trial, a federal jury returns a not guilty verdict on one racketeering charge against two former US prosecutors who became lawyers for a drug cartel, but fails to reach verdicts on drug trafficking and other charges against the two lawyers.

October 27, 2001: The Guardian (UK) reports that a majority of Britons believe cannabis should be legalized and sold under license in a similar way to alcohol. Some 65 percent of those questioned in a poll agree it should be legalized and 91 percent said it should be available on prescription for sufferers of diseases like multiple sclerosis.

October 28, 2002: The New York Post reports that a Time/CNN poll reveals that 72 percent of Americans now feel that people arrested with small amounts of marijuana should not do any jail time, while just 19 percent favored sending pot smokers to jail. Nearly 60 percent of Americans still want marijuana possession to be considered a criminal offense -- but 34 percent now favor complete legalization. The new poll also offers good news to activists and lawmakers who are calling for the legalization of medical marijuana: 80 percent of those surveyed said they favored dispensing pot for medicinal purposes.

October 31, 2002 -- The Washington Post publishes a story about a rare interview with Benjamin Arellano Felix, the man accused of running Mexico's most ruthless drug cartel, from the La Palma maximum security federal prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico. Arellano said the United States has already lost its war on drugs and that violent trafficking gangs will thrive as long as Americans keep buying marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

November 1, 2002: Every prosecutor in the United States is sent a letter from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), urging them to make prosecution of cannabis crimes a high priority and to fight efforts to ease drug laws.

October 27, 2004: In an op-ed piece in the Paris newspaper Le Monde, Raymond Kendall, the chief of the international law enforcement agency Interpol from 1985 to 2000, calls drug prohibition "obsolete and dangerous" and says its continuation represents a missed opportunity for reform. He says prohibition has failed to protect the world from drugs and Europe must take the lead in reforming the drug laws, particularly at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs in Vienna in 2008.

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14. 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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