Drug War Chronicle #462 - November 24, 2006

1. Editorial: Things That Happen Over and Over

People are getting killed in reckless drug raids, and all the president can do is pardon some turkeys.

2. Feature: Students Lobby and Learn in DC as SSDP Comes to Town

Students for Sensible Drug Policy held its annual conference in Washington, DC, last weekend. Here's our report.

3. Canada: BC Business-Academic Panel Tells Government to Consider Legalizing Drugs

A blue ribbon panel says to either legalize drugs or really crack down with the goal of wiping them out.

4. Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

As New Jersey's governor ponders whether to continue a consent decree designed to eliminate racial profiling by State Police, the ACLU says the problem is worse than ever.

5. Drug Raids: Atlanta Police Kill Woman, 92, Who Shot Invading Officers

Three undercover police officers serving a no-knock drug seach warrant in Atlanta were hit by gunfire from the 92-year old homeowner before they shot and killed her.

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

A couple of unusual ones this week -- a coke-dealing former fire chief in Connecticut and a Texas cop whose wife has a bad passport and some very shady connections.

7. Sentencing: Veteran Houston Judge Calls for Shorter Sentences for Drug Possession

Houston (Harris County) accounts for nearly 40% of all Texas prisoners serving state jail time for drug possession offenses. Now, a conservative Houston jurist says enough is enough.

8. Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy

San Francisco became the latest in a growing list of cities taking the lead in reforming marijuana policies.

9. Europe: Italian Government Loosens Marijuana Possession Limits

An administrative measure last week doubled the amount of marijuana people can possess without facing criminal charges.

10. Europe: Give Addicts Prescription Heroin, Says British Police Commander

As Britain's top cops meet to discuss drug policy, one police commander is saying the government should provide prescription heroin to addicts.

11. Harm Reduction: Yet Another Study Finds Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Benefits Users Without Harming Community

Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper doesn't like safe injection sites, but as yet another study shows, science is not on his side.

12. Europe: British Drug Expert Calls for Downgrade on LSD, Ecstasy

The head of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has called for ecstasy and LSD to be reclassified as less serious drugs, but the government has signalled it isn't listening.

13. Video Offer: Waiting to Inhale

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

14. Web Scan

Too many this week to list...

15. Weekly: This Week in History

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

16. 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: Things That Happen Over and Over

One of the feature stories in the news this week was the annual ritual of the Thanksgiving "Turkey Pardon." This year "Flyer" and "Fryer," their names chosen in an online reader poll on the White House web site, got to live out the remainder of their natural lives on a farm in rural Virginia. The Turkey Pardon, a quasi-official act of the sitting US President, has happened reliably every Thanksgiving week for nearly 60 years.

David Borden
Another annual occurrence has been the current President's relative disuse of his power to grant clemencies and pardons. When I first commented on the Turkey Pardons, "Stars" and "Stripes" in 2003, Bush had yet to use the power at all. Now that is no longer completely true, but it is still close to being true. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders, the federal prisoner count rose steeply since 2003 -- from 150,000 to over 190,000 -- while the president has issued a mere two commutations and 97 pardons over his entire term. As a long-time vegetarian, I certainly don't oppose the turkey pardons. But when it comes to another long-time White House holiday tradition, Christmas pardons of people, George Bush has been a veritable Scrooge, if not a Grinch, and that should stop.

Yet another thing that happens over and over -- something no one would dare to call a tradition, yet whose reoccurrence is plainly inevitable -- is the accidental killing in drug raids of innocent or at least nonviolent people by paramilitarized police squadrons. What happens is that SWAT teams, many of which have more or less turned into drug squads, will use incredibly aggressive tactics like battering rams or stun grenades to break into homes of suspected drug offenders. The people inside, not expecting the intrusion and not understanding it to be any different from an attack, react with mere trauma most of the time, but sometimes by dying of heart attacks or by pulling out guns in self-defense and getting shot. Sometimes the people inside get shot whether they pull out guns or not.

Pardoning turkeys isn't enough -- because enough is enough.
A report by the Cato Institute this year examines the problem in detail. It has been growing. Atlanta's Kathryn Johnston was the latest victim. The 92-year old opened fire on three police officers after they forced their way into her home without knocking. The officers were wounded, but returned fire on Johnston, who was killed. People are justifiably angry, many regarding Johnston's use of her weapon as justified in the circumstances, albeit tragic in where it led. Police called the incident "tragic" but said they were executing a legal warrant after an undercover officer had bought drugs at her home. Time will tell if that claim is truthful or otherwise. But even if it is, how does it justify what happened?

Drug war killings by SWAT teams of people who are innocent or undeserving of it are only one of the many drug war outrages that happen over and over. In my opinion it is time to say "enough is enough."

As a first step, I ask that those of you reading this, who have other drug war outrages they care about, make posts discussing them to the comment section at the bottom of this web page. (If would be great if you could log in first too, so you won't be "anonymous" and people including us at DRCNet will know how to reach you. We're going to be doing some redesign work to make that easier during the next few weeks.)

Next week we will begin to talk about step two...

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2. Feature: Students Lobby and Learn in DC as SSDP Comes to Town

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the nation's leading campus-based drug reform organization, held its annual conference last weekend in the shadow of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. More than 300 students from 70 campuses in the US and Canada heard from movement luminaries, studied the nuts and bolts of campus organizing, took care of organizational business, and put theory into practice with a day of lobbying for drug reform issues on Capitol Hill.

media luminaries Bill Press & Clarence Page, with panel moderator Ryan Grim & SSDP executive director Kris Krane
After a couple of days of well-deserved post-conference decompression, SSDP leaders were ready to declare that the event had achieved its goals. "We think the conference was a fantastic success," said SSDP communications director Tom Angell. "We had about 300 students from across the US and Canada converge on DC to plan strategies for ending the war on drugs and its harmful impact on our generation. And this conference wasn't just about meeting each other and planning for the future -- it was about making change in the nation's capital while we were all here. We had 85 lobby meetings with members of Congress or their staffers Friday," he told Drug War Chronicle.

After being revved-up by a brief visit and pep-talk from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) late Friday morning, students hit Congress to lobby for repeal of the law that spurred SSDP's formation in 1998, the Higher Education Act's drug provision, which so far has barred some 200,000 students from receiving financial aid because of drug convictions, and other issues like student drug testing.

In several instances, while meetings were set with staffers, members of Congress made at least brief appearances. In at least two meetings, with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), students were able to sit down with the members themselves, Angell reported.

In addition to actually influencing members of Congress, SSDP's lobbying day had the added benefit of energizing the students. "A lot of them were really excited about lobby day," Angell explained. "This was the first time many of them had ever talked to legislative staffers about changing laws they care about."

"The whole thing has been very fulfilling -- I'm really learning a lot," said University of Maryland student Stacia Costner, who was one of more than three dozen Maryland students who showed up for the conference.

That made the Terrapin delegation one of the largest. Other states bringing dozens of students to Washington were Florida and Rhode Island.

But if the conference wasn't just about student activists meeting each other, that was still a big part of it. While much was learned on the Hill and in the conference's formal sessions, students took full advantage of their free time during the weekend to meet and greet each other, compare war stories, and share lessons learned.

Another student in attendance, Jimmy Devine of Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, told the Chronicle students there were starting a harm reduction center. "We want to provide factual information beyond 'just say no,'" he said. "We want to help kids, and this conference is going to help us learn how better to do that."

"One of the most exciting things was that students from all across the country were able to come together, meet one another, and realize they are not alone on their campuses, that there are other students just like them working on the same issues on their own campuses," said Angell. "It'll be exciting to see what happens on these 70 campuses when the students go back this semester."

"We are trying to build a real student movement," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane as he opened the conference itself Saturday morning. "We are a force to be reckoned with. We are recognized in Congress as a powerful lobbying force and in the press as a credible voice for change."

Given the national political atmosphere in recent years, SSDP's road has been bumpy after an initial meteoric rise, Krane conceded. "The war on terror made recruitment more difficult, and the number of chapters dipped," he said. "We shied away from the anti-war rhetoric, but this is the true anti-war movement for our generation. The excesses of the war on terror were preceded by the excesses of the war on drugs. Whether you are talking about snitches, asset forfeiture, racial profiling, or mandatory minimum sentences, every violation of individual rights and liberties in the Patriot Act got its start in the drug war."

After Krane opened the session, the students had the opportunity to hear from many of the most prominent leaders of the drug reform movement, including an opening panel consisting of Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Steph Sherer of the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, and representatives of the Marijuana Policy Project. Sadly, MPP executive director Rob Kampia, the man behind the Nevada marijuana tax and regulate initiative, was taken ill and unable to attend. He was replaced by MPP director of governmental relations Aaron Houston.

"We are the people who want to smoke pot and get high," said Nadelmann to the surprised laughter and cheers of the crowd. "It's meaningful in our lives, and we don't want to be treated as criminals. But that's not all we are. We are also the people who hate drugs. We wish there could be a drug-free society, but we realize the war on drugs is not the way to do it," Nadelmann continued. "And we are the people who don't really give a damn about drugs, but who care about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, racial justice, and living in a society that ranks first in per capita incarceration. All of us believe the war on drugs is not the way."

Nadelmann delivered a chilling warning about the future of the drug war. "In the next five or ten years," he predicted, "incarceration rates may be leveling off, but more and more people will be controlled outside of prison cells. Drug testing is becoming ever more omnipresent, the use of electronic bracelets and GPS devices is growing, we are heading toward a total surveillance society," he prophesied. "Internal surveillance of your body and external surveillance of your behavior. Little by little, we become more accustomed to depriving more and more people of little bits of freedom. We are approaching a totalitarian society."

That prospect makes the struggle to end the drug war all the more critical, Nadelmann told the rapt crowd. "We are fighting for what is best for this country and for the values of the enlightenment," he said. "We are fighting for a society where nobody gets punished for what they put in their body absent harm to others."

One of the most well-attended Saturday sessions -- and one of SSDP's conference booking coups -- was the joint appearance by media mavens Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page and MSNBC pundit Bill Press, both of whom addressed the problematic nature of media coverage of the drug war. For Press, the run-of-the-mill, uncritical daily drug war reporting can largely be explained by reportorial fear and ignorance.

"Reporters don't know the issue and they believe the bullshit they're fed by the politicians and the drug czar," he said. "We've spent billions of dollars and it has gotten us nothing except a waste of money and full prisons. But reporters are also afraid if they start reporting seriously, they might hurt their careers."

For Page, it was less fear and ignorance than complacency and unawareness. "Most editors aren't against fairness in reporting in drug policy," said the nationally known commentator. "Our generation broke things open in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was so much movement toward decriminalization then that there is something of a false impression that we do a lot less marijuana law enforcement than we really do. The last three drug czars all told me 'we don't arrest anyone for marijuana anymore,'" Page laughed.

It wasn't just the old media addressing the conference. Some of the drug war blogosphere's brightest stars also made appearances. The Cato Institute's Radley Balko, author of the blog The Agitator, stunned students with his exposition on the growth of law enforcement SWAT teams and their permutation into essentially little more than drug squads.

"SWAT teams are expensive, and there aren't enough hostage takings and barricade situations to justify them, so we see a sort of mission creep where they are being used in less and less violent situations and are now primarily used for drug raids," Balko explained, citing his review of raids gone bad, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America." "There were about 3,000 SWAT raids a year in the early 1980s," Balko noted. "Today, there are 40,000 a year."

intellectual capital at the conference -- leading drug reform bloggers Scott Morgan, Radley Balko, Nick Gillespie & Peter Guither
Another leading drug war blogger, Peter Guither of Drug War Rant, joined DRCNet associate director David Guard and Common Sense for Drug Policy's Doug McVay in one of the Sunday nuts and bolts workshops. Guither, Guard and McVay interacted with motivated students in the session on how to articulate concise, effective arguments for drug reform.

This reporter spoke about Afghanistan's opium trade at another well-attended panel, this one on international dimensions of US drug policy. I was joined by Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies Drug Policy Project, who illuminated the adverse results of coca crop eradication in Colombia. Also on the panel were prominent academic drug policy specialists Mark Kleiman of UCLA and Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland. Somewhat surprisingly, the panel saw little controversy, as Reuter and Kleiman both agreed with the other panelists that US efforts to address its domestic drug problem by attacking drug crops overseas produce at best marginal results.

For reasons of length, no single report can cover everything that went on in three days of lobbying, listening, and learning. Suffice it to say that SSDP crafted a comprehensive set of sessions and activities designed to inform and energize its student base.

And the organization is looking to the future. "What are we going to do about race and diversity?" SSDP's Krane asked a sea of mainly white faces at the farewell session. "What are our goals?" SSDP knows very well what its immediate goals are, but it has also shown it realizes that a successful movement needs constant introspection, not just constant action.

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3. Canada: BC Business-Academic Panel Tells Government to Consider Legalizing Drugs

A very establishment advisory group to British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has advised the Liberal leader that if he wants to deal with crime and illegal drugs in the province, he has two starkly contrasting choices: Legalize it, or unleash an all-out drug war. The panel from the BC Progress Board made the recommendations in a research report released November 15, "Reducing Crime and Improving Criminal Justice in British Columbia: Recommendations for Change."

The BC Progress Board is a group of 18 businessmen and academics selected by the provincial government to provide advice on economic and social issues. Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon, a board member, was the report's primary author.

The report comes as BC grapples with crime rates higher than the Canadian average. The board identified illegal drug use and the drug trade as one of four motors driving crime in the province. The others were deficient child rearing and services, mental illness, and the "impoverished and unstable lifestyles" of many people living in inner urban areas.

In its second recommendation to Premier Campbell, the board said that "the provincial government must address the problem of the illegal trade in drugs in a clear and consistent manner." The first option it listed was to "lobby the federal government to legalize the trade, perhaps limiting access to products to adults in the same way that access to alcohol and tobacco is limited."

That would allow the government to treat drug use and abuse as public health -- not criminal justice -- problems and would allow the government to obtain revenue from taxing the sales of drugs.

But the BC Progress Board was careful to note that it was not endorsing drug legalization, merely providing options for the provincial government. The board's second recommendation on drug policy made that perfectly clear. In the event legalization proves impossible to implement, the board suggested, "the provincial government should provide the resources to eliminate the drug trade entirely in the province." Alternately, the board suggested a combination of recommendations one and two. The province should first spend 10 years trying to wipe out the drug trade, then move to legalization.

While the board's recommendations are not exactly a clarion call for legalization, the panel put the idea squarely on the table.

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4. Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

Despite seven years of reforms aimed at eradicating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, the practice continues unabated and has even gotten worse. That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union study that found 30% of drivers stopped on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were black while African-Americans comprised only 18% of the population.

New Jersey Turnpike entrance
The ACLU of New Jersey used a Tuesday hearing of the Advisory Committee on Police Standards to submit its findings as it urged continued monitoring of state troopers to prevent racial profiling. The Tuesday meeting was the last of four set to study the problem. The panel was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to decide whether court-ordered monitoring of the state police should continue.

The state agreed to a consent decree aimed at reforming State Police practices following the shooting of three unarmed young people of color on the Turnpike in 1998. In recent years, court-appointed monitors have found the agency is complying with the decree, and the federal government has offered to lift it.

But State Police continue to stop black drivers at "greatly disproportionate" rates on the southern part of the turnpike, ACLU legal director Edward Barocas told the committee. "Profiling continues unabated," Barocas testified. "African-Americans now make up a higher percentage of stops than they did before the consent decree began."

State Police spokesmen said they were aware that black drivers were being stopped disproportionately, but claimed it did not result from racial profiling. "We've been assured by the independent monitoring team that they have seen no indication of troopers performing unconstitutional actions or any sign of disparate treatment," said Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert.

While Gilbert played defense, State Troopers Fraternal Association president David Jones went on the attack. The ACLU study, in which an outside consultant measured the number of black, brown, and white drivers on the southern Turnpike and compared it with the number of traffic stops, was "junk science" designed to protect the "cottage industry" of defense lawyers who sue the State Police, he claimed. "Everybody there (at the Moorestown Station) from the very top on down has been changed a multitude of times," Jones said, explaining about transfers. "The anomaly exists because sometimes a violator is a violator."

State Police head Rick Fuentes wants to replace the court-appointed monitors with an academic panel, but racial profiling expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha said stronger monitoring was needed. "External, independent oversight -- a different set of eyes and ears -- is extremely important for maintaining professional standards," said Walker. "You've got reforms in place. The real important issue is maintaining them... and it requires continuous attention."

The committee will decide on a recommendation to the governor, but there is no word yet on when that will happen.

Click here to view large portions of the historic 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive, released by the state attorney general's office in November 2000 and made available on the Internet by DRCNet.

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5. Drug Raids: Atlanta Police Kill Woman, 92, Who Shot Invading Officers

Three undercover Atlanta police officers who kicked in the door of an elderly Atlanta woman to serve a no-knock search warrant for drugs were shot and wounded when the woman opened fire on the intruders. They returned fire, killing 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston inside her home.

Kathryn Johnston
Friends, neighbors, and relatives of the woman described her as a long-term neighborhood resident who was feeble and frightened, rarely letting even friends and neighbors enter her home, which she kept locked. She apparently opened fire as the police raiders broke through burglar bars on her front door. Johnson fired five shots from a revolver, wounding the three officers before she was killed by two shots to the chest.

As anger and concern grew in the community, Atlanta police worked urgently to explain and justify the killing. During a Wednesday press conference, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said police had purchased drugs from an unknown man earlier in the day at the Johnston residence and returned the same evening with a no-knock search warrant. That man was not found, but police said they found an unspecified amount of an unspecified controlled substance inside the home. Police originally said they knocked and announced their presence before entering the home, but that is now in doubt.

"It was a very tragic and unfortunate incident," said Assistant Chief Dreher, who added that Johnston was not suspected of selling drugs and that police knew nothing about her.

He got no argument from local activist the Rev. Markell Hutchins on that point. "This is one of the most tragic cases of police-involved use of force, not only in Atlanta, but in the nation," said Hutchins, who had counseled the family, and set up a meeting with a law firm. "It appears Mrs. Johnston was a model citizen. A good citizen and a matriarch of the community," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"A confrontation with police and a 92-year-old woman don't go together," echoed State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta).

Although Assistant Chief Dreher promised "a complete, thorough investigation" of the killing, neighbors and community activists did not wait to take to the streets. On Wednesday evening, more than a hundred people gathered in front of the Johnston home for a candlelight vigil to demand justice in the case.

Johnson is only the latest victim of overzealous law enforcement in police raids gone bad, the vast majority of them related to drug law enforcement. See "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" by Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko for an overview of the subject.

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

A couple of unusual ones this week. We've got a coke-dealing former fire chief in Connecticut and a Texas cop whose wife has a bad passport and some very shady connections. Let's get to it:

In Dallas, a Dallas police officer is out on a personal recognizance bond after being arrested last week for conspiring to commit passport fraud with his wife, who is allegedly tied to Mexican drug traffickers. Senior Corporal Jose Luis Cabrera was indicted by a federal grand jury that accused him of helping his Mexican-born wife, Moraima Cabrera, commit passport fraud so she could she could stay in the US. According to FBI testimony at a Monday hearing, Mrs. Cabrera had "cooperated" with North Texas prosecutors in at least one drug case, and in April 2005, Cabrera offered her services to the DEA in a bid to help her remain in the country. He told the DEA his wife had worked for drug traffickers and could share information about them. But testimony also showed that another informant had warned the DEA there was "drug trafficking activity" at the Cabrera house months earlier. Although prosecutors say more charges and arrests are pending, neither Cabrera currently faces a drug charge. The two were charged for an incident when Mrs. Cabrera used a fake passport to carry more than $50,000 cash across the border to Mexico. She told agents at the time the money belonged to someone else and she was merely delivering it.

In Easton, Connecticut, a former fire chief was busted November 16 for running a drug-dealing operation out of his home. Former Chief Ernest Ross, 60, was allegedly packaging cocaine for sale at his home and, with the help of a 24-year-old housemate, peddling it in bars in Bridgeport and Fairfield. He was charged with operating a drug factory, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1,500 of a school, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell. After a two-month investigation by state authorities, Ross went down when police stopped him driving away from his home and found four bags of cocaine and $240 in cash. They then searched his home, found his young roommate's multi-container stash of weed and mushrooms, and then found a scale and "cocaine-processing material" in an office. Ross admitted having cocaine, but said it was for his personal use. He liked to do it when he went out to bars, he said.

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7. Sentencing: Veteran Houston Judge Calls for Shorter Sentences for Drug Possession

Harris County (Houston), Texas, currently has some 1,869 inmates serving state jail time for possessing less than a gram of illegal drugs -- more than double the number in Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, and Tarrant (Ft. Worth) counties combined -- and now a veteran Houston jurist is saying enough is enough. The city's premier newspaper agrees with him.

State District Judge Michael McSpadden, a pro-police, pro-prosecutor Republican with more than two decades on the Houston bench, told the Houston Chronicle that small-time drug cases were clogging court dockets and swelling jail populations without addressing the underlying causes of drug abuse. Police and prosecutors brought possession charges against people possessing no more than crack residue to pad their statistics, he added. Drug addicts should be offered treatment and drug court, not state jail time, he said.

Under Texas law, possession of less than a gram of illegal drugs is a felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail. Harris County inmates account for more than one-third of all 4,846 state jail inmates statewide doing time for possession of less than a gram. Most of those crack residue cases could instead be charged as possession of paraphernalia, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail, McSpadden said.

Now, McSpadden is asking Gov. Rick Perry (R) and the Texas legislature to make possession or delivery of less than a gram a misdemeanor. In a letter he recently sent to Perry, he wrote: "These minor offenses are now overwhelming every felony docket, and the courts necessarily spend less time on the more important, violent crimes."

It also costs money to imprison thousands of low-level drug offenders. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state paid more than $59 million to imprison less-than-a-gram offenders last year. And Harris County taxpayers may be about to pay up for the jailing binge, too. The County Commissioner Court is currently pondering building two new jails at a projected cost of $267 million to address overcrowding.

Jailing small-fries doesn't even work, McFadden wrote to Perry. "Unfortunately, it is obvious that the demand for drugs will not diminish, no matter what the consequences are," he wrote. "I changed my mind a few years ago when it was obvious the 'war on drugs' was a complete failure and should be considered as symbolic at best."

A Perry spokeswoman told the Houston Chronicle the governor will wait and see on any sentencing reform bills. "He is willing to look at anything that the Legislature presents him, and he wants to hear the debate in the Legislature about the pros and cons of the issue," said Kathy Walt. The governor supports creating drug courts, but believes those who violate the drug laws should be prosecuted, she added.

The Houston Chronicle was more positive about McSpadden's ideas in a Monday editorial. "When a respected felony criminal judge known for his lock-'em-up philosophy concludes that slamming minor drug offenders with long sentences is counterproductive to sensible prison management and public safety, perhaps it's time for Harris County to listen," the paper opined. "And when that judge's advice -- to provide drug abusers with treatment options while focusing policing efforts on major offenders -- squares with best practices in other counties, perhaps it's time for Harris County to change its crime-fighting ways."

The current approach is ineffective, expensive, and short-sighted, the Chronicle complained. "After all, the ill effects on a community of committing huge numbers of prospectless drug addicts to lengthy jail sentences and felony records without dealing with their underlying drug dependence are well-documented and long-term. And those ill effects are suffered by everyone in this county."

Well, now, there's news from Houston. It's up to the legislature and the governor to listen.

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8. Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday for an ordinance making marijuana offenses the police department's lowest priority. The San Francisco district attorney is also directed to make prosecuting marijuana offenses her office's lowest priority. Public marijuana sales, possession by minors, and use by motorists will continue to be prosecuted.

The ordinance also creates an oversight committee through which people who feel they were wrongly targeted can seek a review of their cases. And it requires the Board of Supervisors to annually notify the state and federal governments that "the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same."

The ordinance introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed 8-3.

"San Francisco should determine its marijuana policy locally, not hand it over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration," the ordinance read. "Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crimes."

San Francisco now joins Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood on the list of California cities that have embraced lowest priority ordinances. Only West Hollywood and San Francisco have adopted such an ordinance through action by elected officials; in the other cities, action came through voter initiatives. Seattle, Columbia, Missouri, Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, have also passed such initiatives.

A panoply of state and national drug reform organizations supported the move. Among them were Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, and a number of local drug reform groups and political clubs.

"By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs," said Camilla Field, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco office. "This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer."

And one more small step toward undoing the marijuana laws.

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9. Europe: Italian Government Loosens Marijuana Possession Limits

Acting on one of its springtime campaign pledges, the Italian government last week acted administratively to double the amount of marijuana one can possess without penalty. The change in the official interpretation of the law is expected to come into effect in a matter of weeks, and when it does, Italians will be able to possess roughly an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The law actually specifies quantities of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Until now, one could possess only one-half gram of THC, or about a half-ounce of mediocre potency marijuana. Now, Italian tokers will be able to possess up to one gram of THC. (How this will work in practice is something of a mystery. Will people be able to possess more schwag than kind bud because the schwag contains less THC? What about hash, which is widely used in Italy? Will police officers carry portable chemical assay kits to assess potency?)

"I intervened so thousands of young people will not have to go to jail or suffer a criminal proceeding for smoking a joint," said Health Minister Livia Turco in remarks reported by Reuters. "This will not liberalize drugs but prevent and deal with those who use drugs. You can only fight drugs effectively by taking on the dealers and the traffickers and making an example of them."

Turco is a member of the largest party in the government, the Left Democrats. The previous, right-leaning government of Silvio Berlusconi had moved late in its tenure to stiffen Italy's drug laws, and the new government's move to loosen the marijuana law is part of what it has announced will be a major overhaul of the drug laws.

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10. Europe: Give Addicts Prescription Heroin, Says British Police Commander

Heroin addicts should be prescribed the drug through the National Health Service (NHS) to reduce crime, a senior British police officer told a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) this week. The forthright advice came from Nottinghamshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Howard Roberts, who is vice-chairman of the ACPO drugs committee.

The remarks came as ACPO considers whether to seek changes in British drug policy and amidst news reports that some 150 heroin addicts are already receiving prescription diamorphine (heroin) from NHS. Roberts made clear he was expressing his personal opinion, not speaking for ACPO.

"We should actively consider prescribing diamorphine, pharmaceutical heroin, to those seriously addicted to heroin as part of a treatment program for addiction," he said in comments reported by ITV News. "My motives for making such a statement are frankly this: there is an undeniable link between addicted offenders and appalling levels of criminality, as heroin and crack cocaine addicts commit crime from burglary to robbery, to sometimes murder, to get the money to buy drugs to satisfy their addiction. The resulting misery to society is huge."

According to the Home Office, heroin addicts commit 432 crimes a year, Roberts noted. "Therefore the logic is clear, I suggest, that we take highly addicted offenders out of committing crime to feed their addiction, into closely supervised treatment programs that, as part of the program, can prescribe diamorphine," said Roberts.

Roberts' comments won the immediate support of the think tank DrugScope, whose chief executive, Martin Barnes, said: "We support calls for the extension of heroin prescribing, which for some problem drug users can be an extremely effective form of drug treatment. It can have immediate health benefits for the drug user and can for some be the best route to becoming drug-free. There is compelling evidence that heroin prescribing, although more expensive than some forms of drug treatment, is cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime and other costs to communities."

But there is no word yet on whether the British government or the ACPO will be as enthusiastic.

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11. Harm Reduction: Yet Another Study Finds Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Benefits Users Without Harming Community

Canada's only safe injection site, Insite, located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, has not led to increased crime or drug use despite the fears of detractors, but has reduced the risk of overdoses and encouraged more users to seek drug treatment, according to the latest study of the publicly-funded harm reduction program. The study, published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is only the latest to find that the experimental program is benefiting hard drug users while not harming the community.

Insite brochure
In a one-year period in 2004 and 2005, some 320 clients were referred for drug treatment, the report found. Some 600 clients use the site every day to inject drugs under medical supervision. According to the report, 197 drug overdoses occurred at the site, but none of them were fatal.

Despite a raft of studies demonstrating that Insite is doing what is was supposed to do (and not doing what it wasn't), the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper remains opposed to further funding the site or allowing the project to expand to other cities. Last summer, in the face of a strong, community-based campaign to support Insite, Health Canada grudgingly agreed to extend funding through the end of 2007. But supporters had sought a three-year extension.

"By all criteria, the Vancouver facility has both saved lives and contributed toward the decreased use of illicit drugs and the reduced spread of HIV infection and other blood-borne infections," Mark Wainberg, the director of the McGill University AIDS Centre in Montreal, wrote in a commentary published alongside the study.

"We've demonstrated numerous benefits associated with the site and we've also ruled out negative impacts," said Dr. Thomas Kerr of the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, a lead researcher on the safe injection site. "Drug use patterns didn't get worse. Crime didn't go up. People thought it would encourage drug use and enable drug use when in fact, we found there has been a large entry of people into detox programs."

The Harper government has been wrongheaded in opposing the safe injection site, moving to cut funding when it should be expanding the program, the report said. "The federal governments should draft legislation to allow other such facilities to operate elsewhere in Canada," the researchers concluded.

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12. Europe: British Drug Expert Calls for Downgrade on LSD, Ecstasy

Britain's drug classification scheme is out of whack and should be adjusted, said Dr. David Nutt, head of the British parliament's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in remarks reported by the BBC. Nutt called for ecstasy and LSD to be downgraded from Class A to Class B, while suggesting that barbiturates should be upgraded to Class A.

Grouping ecstasy and LSD with other Class A drugs like heroin is "an anomaly," Nutt said, adding that barbiturates could be "worth moving up to Class A." Nutt was responding to a query from the House of Commons' all-party Science and Technology Committee. "I think 4MTA [a little used relative of Ecstasy], LSD and ecstasy probably shouldn't be Class A," he told the committee.

British Parliament
In theory, Britain's drug classification scheme reflects the relative dangers of various controlled substances. But the scheme has been under increasing attack from critics -- including a parliamentary committee -- who say it does not accurately reflect the comparative social and personal harms of using various drugs.

Under Britain's classification scheme, possession of Class A drugs carries a maximum sentence of seven years, compared to five for Class B drugs. Sales of Class A drugs can bring a maximum of life in prison, compared to 14 years for Class B drugs.

While other committee members confirmed that ecstasy's status is under review, British drugs minister Vernon Croaker told the BBC he would listen to the ACMD's recommendations, but would not be bound by them. "If the ACMD look at a drug and come to us with a recommendation of course we will look at it," he said. "Whether we then act on it will be a matter of political judgment."

This isn't the first time a move to downgrade ecstasy -- which is used by an estimated half-million Britons each weekend -- has been bruited. In 2002, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended lowering the penalties for ecstasy, but that suggestion was dismissed by then Home Secretary David Blunkett. Last month, current Home Secretary John Reid said he would not revise the classification system despite rising criticism.

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13. Video Offer: Waiting to Inhale

Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

Many drug reform enthusiasts read on our blog this fall 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.

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.


David Borden
Executive Director

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14. Web Scan

Take Another Crack at That Cocaine Law," Eric Sterling in the LA Times

NPR on crack cocaine sentencing

Pardon More Than the Turkeys, Debra Saunders for the San Francisco Chronicle

Judge Walton slams crack cocaine law, Washington Times

Stunning Revelations, Silja Talvi on Tasers, for In These Times

Guarded Hope for Dope Reform, Wired

UN World Drug Report 2006

New York Campaign for Telephone Justice, coverage by the New York Nonprofit News

Talking Over Turkey, drug war talking points for family, from DPA

And Tony Newman on a roll this week with two Huffington Post blog items:

More Mexicans Have Died This Year From the Drug War Than Americans in Iraq and 92-Year-Old Woman Latest Drug War Casualty

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15. Weekly: This Week in History

November 24, 1976: Federal Judge James Washington rules that Robert Randall's use of marijuana constitutes a "medical necessity."

November 25, 1992: Benson B. Roe, physician and professor emeritus of surgery at the University of California at San Francisco, states:

"The propaganda that illegal drugs are 'deadly poisons' is a hoax. There is little or no medical evidence of long-term ill effects from moderate consumption of uncontaminated marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. If these substances, which have been consumed in enormous quantities for decades, were responsible for any chronic, progressive or disabling diseases, they certainly would have shown up in clinical practice and/or on the autopsy table. But they simply have not!"

November 28, 1993: Reuters reports that Colombia's prosecutor general Gustavo de Greiff said the war on drugs has failed and Colombia should legalize cocaine and marijuana trafficking because the United States and Europe are decriminalizing consumption.

November 30, 2000: The DEA announces that it intends to prohibit hemp products, including shampoo, soap, and food made from non-psychoactive hemp seeds.

November 27, 2001: Dr. Francisco Moreno of the University of Arizona at Tucson begins dosing subjects who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder with psilocybin, the active ingredient in mushrooms. The government-approved research is funded by MAPS and another psychedelic think tank, the Heffter Research Institute. "For a quarter century, [psychedelic] researchers have been locked out of the laboratory, but we're starting to get back in now," Doblin says. "Not in massive ways, but in important, small steps."

November 30, 2001: The Austin Chronicle calls John Walters, the new US drug czar, "the Dr. Strangelove of our country's absurd drug war -- he dismisses anyone who says our nation's prisons are too full, he favors longer jail sentences for marijuana users, he has declared that there's too much 'treatment capacity' in the US, he opposes efforts to address the racial discrepancies in drug enforcement, he wants more militarization of the drug war at home and abroad, he'd like to see an expansion of our government's war in Colombia, and he's been a noisy opponent of state initiatives to allow the medical use of marijuana."

November 26, 2002: The Winston-Salem Journal (NC) reports that more than 30 drug defendants in Davidson County have had charges dismissed or convictions overturned since the officers investigating their cases were charged with distributing drugs and planting evidence.

November 29, 2004: In the US Supreme Court, oral arguments are heard in the Gonzales v. Raich medical marijuana case.

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

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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