Drug War Chronicle #470 - January 26, 2007

1. Editorial: Their Security Demands You Vote Repeal

Alcohol prohibition tempted young people into lives of crime back then. Drug prohibition is tempting them again the same way now.

2. Feature: In Mexico, Now It's Calderon's Drug War

Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, has unleashed a vigorous attack on that country's powerful and violent drug cartels. Washington is happy, but Mexico analysts wonder if it's just another bit of poltical theater.

3. Feature: Drug Policy Reform Group to Partner with State of New Mexico in Federally-Funded Meth Prevention Education Program

In a first for a drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office has been selected to administer a $500,000 federal grant to develop comprehensive methamphetamine education and prevention strategies aimed at youth in the state.

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

Prison and jail guards gone bad! Evidence gone missing! Narcs gone to prison! Busy, busy, busy.

5. Law Enforcement: SWAT Team Flash-Burn Grenade Assault Injures Drug Suspect

More SWAT team madness -- this time, Indiana cops doing a small-time drug raid manage to inflict serious burns on their man when they fired a flash-bang grenade into his home -- business as usual, according to their leader.

6. Medical Marijuana: Vermont Bill to Expand Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advances

A compromise version of a bill that would expand Vermont's two-year-old medical marijuana law has passed its first legislative hurdle.

7. HEA: UC Berkeley Student Senate Approves Bill to Provide Scholarships for Students Denied Aid Because of Drug Convictions

The UC Berkeley student senate Wednesday night passed a measure that will provide $400 scholarships for students denied federal aid under the Higher Education Act's drug provision because they were convicted on drug charges.

8. Europe: British Cannabis Confusion Continues as Policing Policies Evolve

Amidst confusion and uncertainty among police, politicians, and citizens alike, British police announced new arrest policies for marijuana possession this week. But a study just released says police are a big part of the problem.

9. Europe: Moscow Mayor Calls for Harsh Drug Laws Including Death Penalty

Moscow's mayor called for Russia to adopt harsh, Singapore-style drug policies in a speech to Russian narcs this week.

10. Canada: Vancouver Mayor Calls for Large-Scale Methamphetamine, Cocaine Maintenance Trials

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has called for stimulant maintenance trials for more than 700 hard-core methamphetamine and cocaine users as part of a broad plan to improve the quality of life in the city before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

11. Latin America: Mexican Narco-Saint On the Move

A Mexican folk saint who supposedly protects outlaws and drug traffickers as well as the poor and defenseless has a new shrine in Mexico City.

12. This Week in History

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

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1. Editorial: Their Security Demands You Vote Repeal

This week a headline came out of Birmingham, Great Britain, of a type that particularly frustrates me. It's the type of headline that moved me to sign up with the fledgling drug legalization movement 13 years ago. "Criminal gangs are infiltrating Birmingham schools and children as young as nine are being used as drugs mules," as well as schools in Manchester and London, the Birmingham Post reports Education Minister Jim Knight as having told a House of Commons panel. "It is an emerging issue we want to nip in the bud before it becomes something genuinely worrying for parents and pupils," Knight said after the hearing.

David Borden
How much does he want to nip it in the bud? Enough to brave politics and defy ideology? There's one sure way to end the problem -- legalization. But while they do talk about legalization a bit more in Britain than our politicians do here in the US -- the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, has raised the issue before -- they still don't talk about it enough. At least not enough yet to actually do it, despite how obvious a good move it would be.

Make no mistake, it is obvious. If the primary fear in the drug issue is that drugs put kids in danger, what about the very real danger kids are placed in once drawn into illegal drug gangs, or even as bystanders? But that problem exists only because of prohibition. For all the downsides of alcohol and cigarettes, for example, drugs as surely as any other, how often does one hear about kids selling them on the street, or in the schools to other kids?

It is an endemic problem, and "tough" enforcement is no solution. Back in the early 1990s, police in Boston, Massachusetts, did a major "sweep" of Mission Hill, a primarily African American neighborhood plagued by violence and disorder, much of it from the drug trade. A friend of mine spent a summer there as a teacher and mentor to a group of schoolchildren -- the summer after the sweep took place, as it so happened. There was a difference in the neighborhood, he told me, it was a lot cleaner than before, at least for awhile. But even then, the kids in his group would still get accosted on their way to and from school by drug gang members wanting them to do work for them, a troubling and disheartening phenomenon.

WONPR poster (courtesy Hagley Museum and Library)
The legalization question came up in conversation when he and kids and parents were hanging out together one night as they often did. He expected almost everyone to be against it, but interestingly it was split about half and half. Also interestingly, the split was not generational -- there were kids who wanted the government to get tougher on the drug trade, and parents who wanted to legalize it all, and vice versa. His report made me wonder if we might have more support than we realize we have in certain communities.

Much is at stake here. If prohibition draws children -- as young as nine -- into the drug trade, at some point it also acquaints them with the guns that underground sellers use to protect themselves. Youth and guns don't always mix well, to say the least. A young person has more probability (on average) of actually using such a weapon in the fear or passion of the moment, or through a misjudgment, than an adult does (again, on average), even an adult criminal. Blumstein tentatively attributed the mid-1980s spike in violence, and the significant rise in youth gun ownership, to the combination of the crack trade -- which increased the number of sellers needed in the drug trade because the drug is short acting and addicts make more separate purchases of it -- and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which increased the risk to adults in the drug trade and thereby the price they required to participate in it, and the incentive therefore to use minors who are not subject to the mandatory minimums and so would work more cheaply. Osmosing from that base, guns became more common in the youthful population at large. Unintended consequences, but not so unpredictable.

A famous poster from alcohol prohibition days depicts a motherly figure with children, reading, "their security demands you vote repeal." So it did then -- so it does now.

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2. Feature: In Mexico, Now It's Calderon's Drug War

Newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December after a razor-thin victory over his leftist rival, Andres Lopez Obrador, last summer, and in the few weeks since he has been in power, Calderon has moved quickly and aggressively against the country's powerful, wealthy, and ruthless drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels. But while Calderon's bold moves have won him kudos from Mexicans hungry for law and order and from the Bush administration, Mexico analysts are skeptical they will mean anything in the long run, especially without fundamental reforms of the country's police, military, and judicial systems.

Mexican anti-drug patrol
With cartel violence reaching record levels, Calderon moved quickly and dramatically, sending 6,000 soldiers and police into his home state of Michoacan, where disputes among the cartels have led to horrendous violence. A week later, he sent 3,000 more into the border city of Tijuana and disarmed the city police, who are widely believed to be thoroughly infiltrated by the cartels. At the same time, Calderon sent even more soldiers and police into Acapulco, the Pacific resort city that up until last year had been far removed from cartel violence. That changed when heavy gun-battles featuring submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers broke out in the tourist destination last summer.

Late last Friday night, Calderon made another dramatic move, when he agreed to extradite 10 top drug traffickers to the United States, most prominent among them Osiel Cardenas, who ran the Gulf cartel from a prison cell since his arrest in 2003. Also extradited was Hector Palma, reputed to be Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's right hand man. Guzman would have made the list himself, but he escaped from prison in 2001. Calderon also extradited brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, top henchmen in the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel.

"We are determined not to tolerate any defiance to the authority of the state," Calderon said last Friday.

Calderon's deeds and words won quick praise from the Bush administration. "The actions overnight by the Mexican government are unprecedented in their scope and importance," US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement Saturday. "Never before has the United States received from Mexico such a large number of major drug defendants and other criminals for prosecution in this country."

But despite thousands of searches, hundreds of arrests, and the seizure or eradication of large quantities of marijuana, there may be less to Calderon's offensive than meets the eye. "Calderon has achieved in creating a public image that he is going to be serious about organized crime from the beginning," said Maureen Meyer, the Washington Office on Latin America associate for Mexico and Central America. "The high level of operations is a clear signal, as was the extradition of cartel members to the United States," she told Drug War Chronicle. "But in terms of long-term results, that remains to be seen. We haven't seen many reports about eradication totals that are greater than normal," she noted.

"This campaign is really aimed at Washington as much as it is at Mexico City," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC. "It's a kind of shock and awe breakaway by Calderon to announce his presidency," Birns told the Chronicle. "Calderon has been worried that his defeated rival, Lopez Obrador, has outshone him with his political shenanigans, and he can use this anti-drug campaign as a piece of drama to overshadow his rival. The only problem is that the idea that Mexico will ever solve its drug problem is largely an illusion."

If Mexico wants to come to grips with the cartels, it's going to take more than high-profile raids and military operations, the analysts said. "The steps Mexico should be taking are more structural reforms of the judicial system so there is more transparency in the process, better investigations, and more mechanisms for accountability and oversight within the military and the police," said WOLA's Meyer. "If you don't accompany these big anti-drug operations with reforms in the judiciary, law enforcement, and the military, you will probably see the same results you saw in the past."

Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, led a similar aggressive campaign against the cartels early in his administration, but without the reforms Meyer mentioned, his war on the cartels led not to a decrease but an increase in violence. As Fox managed to disrupt or decapitate various drug trafficking organizations, the remaining cartels and cartel leaders fought with each other in order to secure the lucrative "plaza" or "franchise" from corrupt law enforcement officials in various cities, leading to steadily increasing death tolls among the traffickers and the police who either fought them or were allied with them.

By last year, the violence had reached record levels, with more than 2,000 killed in the cartel wars. That's more than the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq during the same period. The violence also reached new levels of horror, or, more precisely, exemplary terror, with policemen decapitated in Acapulco and the heads of murdered traffickers thrown onto the middle of a night club dance floor in Michoacan, among other atrocities.

It is likely that instead of reducing the violence of the cartels, Calderon's offensive will, like Fox's before it, only lead to more violence as the traffickers try to reestablish themselves after the hits they've taken. "The tendency has been for the government to target the higher levels of the cartels, then there is a struggle for power among them, as well as within the cartels as mid-level leaders struggle for supremacy. We will most likely see more inter-cartel and intra-cartel power struggles now," said Meyer.

With illicit drug revenues estimated at $142 billion in US and Canada each year, and Mexican traffickers pocketing a significant fraction of them, the cartels have every reason to battle each other for supremacy. And while they have traditionally refrained from open warfare on the national government, there are fears that Calderon's pressure and especially his okaying of the extradition of leading traffickers will lead Mexican cartels to follow the lead of the Colombian confreres, who in the early 1980s unleashed a war on the Colombian state when threatened with extradition to the US.

There are also fears that the corruption that has enveloped various Mexican police forces will engulf the military as it is pulled into Calderon's drug war. "Members of the military aren't immune to corruption," WOLA's Meyer noted, pointing to the rise of the Zetas, a group of US-trained former military anti-drug personnel who switched sides to join forces with the Gulf Cartel and who are blamed for some of the most horrendous violence.

"When you have a police officer or a military officer paid one-fiftieth of what he could make working for the narcos, the odds are really against you," said Birns. "That's why you see the subversion of the security forces and the periodic firing of all the police."

As long as the underlying reality of America's insatiable appetite for illegal drugs remains, Birns said, the latest Mexican anti-drug crusade is little more than theater. "This is more decorative than anything," he said. "It's the semblance of doing something. With all that money involved, how are you ever going to turn off the spigot? One is going to have to think the unthinkable and investigate the politics and economics of drug legalization."

In an as yet unpublished editorial written as Calderon was about to assume power, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann was eerily prescient about events in Mexico. "The new president will vow to crack down on the drug traffickers and do whatever he can to reassure Washington on that score," Nadelmann wrote. "He'll appoint new people to key military and criminal justice positions and tell them to do whatever they can to reduce the drug violence. Some of the most notorious traffickers will land up in prison or dead. The violence will quiet. Media on both sides of the border will cheer the new resolve. And then… It will all start up again. The drug trafficking gangs will re-group with new leaders and new connections. Previously incorruptible officials will be corrupted. Police of all ranks, and all shades of probity, will tremble in fear of assassins' bullets. And Mexicans will once again wonder why the cycle never really stops."

And so it goes in the Mexican front of our drug war.

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3. Feature: Drug Policy Reform Group to Partner with State of New Mexico in Federally-Funded Meth Prevention Education Program

In a first for drug reform organizations, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New Mexico office has been designated to create a statewide methamphetamine education and prevention program directed at high school students, thanks to a $500,000 grant obtained by US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) as part of a Justice Department appropriations bill. The grant is the result of years of close collaboration between DPA and New Mexico state and local officials dating back to the administration of former Gov. Gary Johnson (R), a prominent voice for drug law reform.

Building on ties with state government developed during the Johnson years, DPA New Mexico, currently headed by Reena Szczepanski, a former state health department employee, was named co-chair of the state's methamphetamine task force in 2005, along with then state drug czar Herman Silva. (Silva left office this week; his replacement has not yet been named.) The task force has worked for the past two years at developing comprehensive strategies for addressing the impact of methamphetamine on local communities. It was that work that caught the attention of Sen. Bingaman and resulted this week in the announcement of the grant.

"Meth is not only the No. 1 crime problem in many communities throughout our state, it is also devastating families and ruining lives," Bingaman said in a statement announcing the grant. "The funding I was able to secure will be used in an aggressive anti-meth marketing campaign aimed at preventing young people from ever using this terrible drug. I know it will be put to good use."

The state Health department is happy to get additional funding. "The more money we have to address the problem of methamphetamine in our state and communities, the better," Health Department spokeswoman Kay Bird told Drug War Chronicle.

DPA will use the grant to craft a meth prevention campaign designed by and for youth, which will be broadcast on television and radio stations throughout New Mexico. "We know from experience that young people ignore overly simplistic messages about the risks of drug use," said Szczepanski. "The strength of this campaign will be its focus on credible, science-based information rather than ineffective scare tactics."

Now, it's time for the DPA New Mexico office to get down to business. "We will be hiring a project coordinator, but we want to ensure that most of the resources are actually going for educational activities within the state," Szczepanski said. "We are going to focus our resources on social marketing and the education of people working with youth. Rather than a one-shot deal, we want to build awareness among youth by engaging them in a campaign that is relevant to them and designed by them. And we are going to focus on capacity. We don't want to create a program that will disappear in two years when the money runs out. That's why we will hold a statewide conference for educators and other people working with youth and concerned about meth -- so they can take what they've learned and plug it back into their schools and local communities." In addition to the statewide conference, DPA New Mexico will host a serious of regional training sessions designed to bring the meth prevention message where it is most needed.

"This is the first time DPA has ever received any federal funds, or any state money, for that matter," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann in New York. "We had never applied for any funds; we always assumed we would be effectively blacklisted, and also, we're not a service provision organization. But then, back in 2005, Sen. Bingaman wanted to put DPA New Mexico in for an earmark. The reason was largely because Reena was co-chairing Gov. Richardson's task force on meth abuse. She came out of the state health department, and has been really spectacular," Nadelmann told the Chronicle.

The offer of federal funding prompted considerable discussion within DPA, said Nadelmann. "When Bingaman wanted to put us in for an earmark, we had to ask ourselves if we really felt comfortable with that, and last year, we had a conference call with virtually the entire board to decide whether or not we should accept this money. We did substantial research on this, we talked to folks at the Harm Reduction Coalition about how they handle taking federal funds. We looked at the Drug Free Workplace Act and concluded it had no prohibition on hiring active drug users," he explained.

"We had to ask ourselves whether we would somehow be corrupted by taking federal money," Nadelmann continued, "and the answer was no. Our sense was that because our whole mission and vision is so fundamentally about changing the government's drug policies, and also because this money is a one-shot deal that it was unlikely to have that effect in any case. And there are good reasons to take the money, not just because we can do good things with it, but also because we're taxpayers. Billions go to the drug war every year, why not take some money to do good things instead? Finally, getting a federal grant also legitimizes us in some people's eyes. After serious discussions, our staff was overwhelmingly in favor of this, and in the final analysis, the board was, too."

"This is a real opportunity to take what we've done with Safety First and Beyond Zero Tolerance and do it in a very big way," said Nadelmann, referring to the alternative drug education programs pioneered by DPA's Marsha Rosenbaum. "It is also an opportunity to provide an alternative to criminal justice approaches and scare campaign approaches like the one in Montana."

Ironically, despite widespread public concern about methamphetamine, the popular stimulant is not the most widely used hard drug among New Mexico teens -- and, according to state Health Department surveys, its use is already declining. When measuring how many teens had used which drug in the past month, the surveys found that 4.6% of New Mexico students admitted using meth in 2005, down from 7.3% in 2003. Both figures are lower than those reported for cocaine, with 8.9% of students admitting use of cocaine in the past month in 2003 and 7.9% in 2005.

Even though teen meth use appears to be declining and even though it is not the most frequently cited hard drug among New Mexico youth, as the demon drug du jour, methamphetamine is the drug that can shake loose dollars from the federal anti-drug bureaucracies, and it is a real problem in the Land of Enchantment, said Szczepanski.

"If you look at the numbers, meth is not the number one drug of choice in New Mexico, but there is a lot of political interest in it," Szczepanski conceded. "Still, we've traveled around the state and worked with various local coalitions, and these communities are grappling with these issues like they've never done before. You cannot deny that meth is having an incredible impact."

And concern over meth has now catapulted the DPA into a whole new realm -- taking its enlightened drug education and prevention messages directly to the people who will be working at the state, community, and school level.

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

Jail and prison guards gone bad! Evidence gone missing! Narcs gone to prison! Just another week on the corrupt cop front. Let's get to it:

In Laurel, Mississippi, three former members of the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task Force have been sentenced following guilty pleas in a drug corruption scandal. The task force commander, Roger Williams, and agents Randall Parker and Chris Smith pleaded guilty in August to a variety of crimes including conspiracy to falsely and maliciously arrest another, simple assault, obstruction of justice, and embezzlement. Those charges emerged from a 2006 investigation that led to drug charges being dropped in at least 34 cases. Williams got 15 months, Smith got 12 months, and Parker got house arrest because he was the first to come forward and cooperated with authorities.

In Schenectady, New York, 85 rocks of crack have gone missing from the police department evidence room. Police believe the crack was taken and not mislabeled. The missing rocks came to light after a state judge dismissed felony charges against a Schenectady man when the crack couldn't be produced for his trial. Police are now trying to determine if the drugs were stolen or mistakenly thrown away. While they're at it, they're checking to see if anything else is missing. The investigation could take a week or more, police said.

In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, an investigation is underway into drugs missing from the police department evidence room. The opioid pain reliever hydrocodone and methamphetamine seized in a June 2006 raid in Bartlesville turned up missing in January, when prosecutors prepared to prosecute the case (although police officials maintain they told prosecutors about the missing drugs in September). Prosecutors brought in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look around, but the bureau says the investigation could take months. The department is also undertaking an investigation. The Bartlesville Fraternal Order of Police said bravely in a statement last week it welcomed the investigations.

In Texarkana, Texas, a guard at the Bowie County Correctional Center was arrested Sunday after being caught trying to smuggle marijuana, tobacco, and cigars into the jail. James Porter, 18, was a four-month employee of Civigenics, a private company that operates the jail. His supervisor saw him acting nervously as he entered the jail, searched him, and found the contraband items wrapped in three bundles. He faces state charges of bringing prohibited substances into a correctional facility. He was also fired.

In DeKalb, Georgia, a county sheriff's office jail guard was arrested on January 19 for allegedly sneaking drugs and tobacco into the jail for an inmate. Raymond Green is charged with violation of oath by a public officer and drug trafficking by bringing contraband into a correctional facility. He faces up to five years in prison. He was arrested and fired after a three week investigation by the Sheriff's Office of Professional Standards.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade Correction and Rehabilitation officer was arrested on bribery charges for accepting gifts from an accused drug dealer and allowing him to escape. Shynita Townsend, 43, is accused of accepting diamond earrings, video games, and more than $5,000 cash from an accused dealer who was supposed to be wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet. As a result, the feds say, the dealer was able to continue dealing and, ultimately, able to flee. He remains a fugitive. Townsend is looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

In Clovis, New Mexico, a former Curry County jail guard was convicted January 18 of smuggling drugs into the jail. Damian Pardue, 30, got into trouble after an inmate told Clovis Police detectives Pardue was delivering drugs to inmates. The drugs would be left in a crumpled bag near Pardue's vehicle, and Pardue would pick them up, take them into the jail, and then deliver them to inmates. Pardue was convicted of conspiracy to commit trafficking by distribution and bringing contraband into the jail. He will be sentenced in March, when he could get up to 18 months on the other side of the bars.

In Cape Coral, Florida, a guard at the Charlotte Correctional Institution was arrested January 19 for allegedly trying to sell two ounces of marijuana to an undercover sheriff's deputy. Sabrina Rose Brownlee, 24, and her roommate arranged to meet the Lee County Sheriff's Department narc at BA Hustler's Bar and sold him 58 grams of weed in the parking lot for $245. The two were arrested shortly afterward. Brownlee is charged with possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana and selling marijuana within a thousand feet of a school. She posted a $13,000 bond last Friday morning.

In Des Moines, Iowa, a former state prison guard was sentenced last week to nearly six years in federal prison for cooking and selling methamphetamine. Milton Ringgenberg, 50, pleaded guilty to charges of manufacturing five grams or more of meth and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute five grams or more of meth in October. He admitted that he and his wife, Brenda, cooked and sold meth in the Webster County area. Brenda was sentenced earlier to five years in prison. There is no indication the Ringgenbergs sold their speed inside the prison at Fort Dodge, where he had been employed.

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5. Law Enforcement: SWAT Team Flash-Burn Grenade Assault Injures Drug Suspect

In yet another example of over-the-top, drug war-related SWAT-style policing,
the Gary, Indiana, SWAT team fired a flash-burn grenade into the home of a drug suspect, leaving him hospitalized with serious burns
. It was just business as usual, according to the SWAT unit commander.

Detectives from the department's Narcotics-Vice Unit had obtained a search warrant for the home of Darrell Newburn after making a number of drug buys there. Police surrounded the house, and a member of the SWAT team, led by Commander Anthony Stanley, threw a flash-bang grenade into the house. The devices are designed to explode with a loud bang and a burst of bright light, distracting police targets.

Newburn was hit in the back and received a burn about 12 inches in diameter. He is hospitalized under police guard at a local hospital.

"How it happened, I'm not certain," Sgt. John Jelks, drug unit commander said a day later. "It's normal practice for them to throw the distraction device in first."

Police recovered a relatively small haul: $400 in cash, an ounce of marijuana, and a little more than a half ounce of crack cocaine, along with a pistol.

"We knew he was in there and he was armed," Jelks said.

Rather than investigating whether the use of SWAT teams and the firing of flash-bang grenades is appropriate police behavior in low-level drug raids, the local newspaper limited itself to making smart remarks about the injured man's name. "With a little help from the Gary police SWAT team, Darrell Newburn had a most appropriate name Monday," is how Post-Tribune reporter Lori Caldwell opened her story on the incident.

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6. Medical Marijuana: Vermont Bill to Expand Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advances

A bill that would significantly expand Vermont's two-year-old medical marijuana program passed its first legislative hurdle last Friday as members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to advance it. The bill, S. 7, has now been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

springtime in Vermont for patients?
Under Vermont's current law, legal access to medical marijuana is limited to people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. The new bill would expand that list to include any "life threatening, progressive, and debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms such as: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; or seizures."

But committee members heeded the fears of law enforcement officials, who testified earlier this month that broadening the law could lead to more drug crimes or more patients being targeted for theft. As introduced, the bill would have increased the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow from one mature plant to six and from two immature plants to 18. The amount of usable marijuana they could legally possess would have increased from one ounce to four. After pondering law enforcement concerns, the committee compromised. Under the language approved by the committee, patients would be allowed up to four mature plants and 10 immature ones. The amount of usable marijuana they could possess will be two ounces.

The bill will also allow patients to use recommendations from doctors outside the state. Current law restricts patients to in-state doctors. Finally, the bill would cut registration fees in half, from $100 to $50.

"We aren't legalizing marijuana," said Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), one of the bill's sponsors. "You have to look at this from a compassionate perspective," he explained. "Someone suffering from such devastating illnesses as we address in this, they should be able to use a substance that will alleviate their symptoms."

The Marijuana Policy Project is working the corridors in Montpelier. MPP lobbyist Adam Necrason told the Vermont Press Bureau that even with the modifications, the bill was a step in the right direction. "This bill marks a major step forward in Vermont's medical marijuana program," he said. "While not perfect, S. 7 will extend protection to many patients who suffer terribly but have no protection under our current law. The legislature and governor should pass this measure without delay."

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7. HEA: UC Berkeley Student Senate Approves Bill to Provide Scholarships for Students Denied Aid Because of Drug Convictions

The student senate at the University of California at Berkeley is not waiting for Congress to get around to repealing the Higher Education Act's drug provision. Under that provision, students who are convicted of drug offenses lose access to federal financial aid for specified periods of time. While the measure has been amended by its author, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), to only count offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving financial aid, hopes are high that the new Democratic Congress will repeal the measure in its entirety.

Wednesday night, the UC Berkeley student senate approved a measure that will grant $400 scholarships to students who cannot receive financial aid because of the drug provision. The ASUC Removing Impediments to Students' Education scholarship bill passed without objection and could come into effect this semester. To receive the scholarships, students must have a 2.5 Grade Point Average and commit to doing 20 hours of community service.

Berkeley's student government joins a number who have taken such "direct action" to reduce the consequences of the drug provision. In 2000, the year the drug provision first took effect, Hampshire College students voted in a referendum organized by one of the first Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapters to make up federal aid lost because of drug convictions out of the student activities fund. Yale University's administration adopted a similar policy in 2002 after being lobbied by student activists, as did the Western Washington University student government. Swarthmore College followed suit shortly thereafter. Also, since 2002 the John W. Perry Fund, sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (the publisher of this newsletter), has provided scholarships to students losing aid because of drug convictions nationally.

Students seeking Berkeley's scholarship must write a personal statement to be evaluated by a selection committee consisting of four student senators and the university's vice-president for student affairs. Scholarship recipients must pledge to donate back to the scholarship program when financially able. The bill also mandates that the student senate will write a letter to the university chancellor, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and President Bush, urging them to repeal the HEA drug provision.

The measure was introduced by student Sen. David Wasserman. According to the student newspaper The Daily Californian, Wasserman argued successfully that the HEA drug provision is counterproductive. "It is a poor way to fight the war on drugs. It's not right for the federal government to find the means to deprive students with a drug conviction of an education," Wasserman said.

Even the campus Republicans were on board. "Education is a means to success, it's a means to a future, it's a means to a goal in life. Denying that is truly not fair," said Berkeley College Republicans Sen. Victoria Mitchell.

"There was concern (among some senators) that the bill might encourage drug use," said Sen. Taylor Allbright. "But it encourages education. It encourages people who may have had difficulties to pick a better future through education."

UC Berkeley has long been in the vanguard of progressive change, and with this move, the student senate helps keep that reputation intact. "UC Berkeley is a beacon in the education community," Mitchell said. "Legislators pay attention to what happens. We're spearheading a movement."

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8. Europe: British Cannabis Confusion Continues as Policing Policies Evolve

Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) last week issued new guidelines for arresting or issuing warnings to marijuana possessors that would create a "three-strikes" rule for repeat offenders, but give officers discretion on whether or not to arrest teenage offenders. The move comes nearly four years after Britain reclassified marijuana as a less-serious Class C drug, giving officers the discretion to either arrest or issue warnings.

Members of European Parliament Chris Davies (UK) and Marco Cappato (Italy) after cannabis civil disobedience arrest, Manchester police station, December 2001 (radicalparty.org/antiprohibition/brief.htm)
According to ACPO, "These guidelines do not encourage the same offender being repeatedly warned for possession of cannabis. Where it can be verified that an offender has received two previous cannabis warnings then a further warning should not be considered."

But for people who have not had two previous cannabis warnings, ACPO said, "A police officer finding a person aged 18 or over in possession of a substance that they can identify as cannabis and who is satisfied that the drug is intended for that person's own use should not normally need to arrest the person."

At the same time, the ACPO guidelines said police could find "less intrusive ways" of dealing with teens caught with marijuana than arresting them. The group suggested that officers take the kid home to his parents and keep a record of the incident.

A similar "three-strikes" policy was considered by ACPO in 2002, but scrapped before the warning system was put in place. This latest guidance from ACPO responds to widespread concerns that the current situation leads to uncertainties among police and the public alike. Police have complained that many people they encounter believe marijuana has been legalized, while marijuana users complain that they are still being arrested.

So, when is someone likely to be arrested instead of warned for marijuana possession? According to the ACPO, an arrest may be warranted when:

  • The name and/or address of the suspect are not known or there are reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given is a real name.
  • It is necessary to prevent the offender suffering physical injury or causing injury to someone else.
  • If a locality has been identified through the National Intelligence Model as one where there is fear of public disorder associated with the use of cannabis which cannot be effectively dealt with by other means, such as where an open drugs (cannabis) market causes harm to communities.
  • It is necessary to protect a child or vulnerable person from the offender.
  • It is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offense.

A report issued this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Institute for Criminal Justice Policy Research, "Policing Cannabis as a Class C Drug" , suggests that much of the uncertainty and inconsistency lies with the police themselves. According to that report, in four police areas studied, police arrested marijuana possessors or smokers between 78% and 58% of the time. The decision to arrest or not depended on a variety of factors, including the attitude of the officer, the attitude of the offender, local policies, and the amount of marijuana seized.

"When cannabis was reclassified as a Class C drug, guidelines were issued advising officers to give street warnings for most possession offences, arresting only in aggravating circumstances," the report noted. "We found that street warnings were issued for under half of possession offences. Over half of officers were against the downgrading and many said that cannabis arrests often led to the detection of more serious crimes. In fact, we found that this occurred in less than one percent of cases."

Almost half of police officers complained of the unfairness of having to arrest teenagers -- a policy that has now changed. One police officer interviewed for the study said: "It just seems a bit unfair for a 16-year-old to get nicked for it and an 18-year-old in the same group to get a slap on the wrist and that's it."

The study also found that police seemed to encounter marijuana offenders more often among members of Britain's ethnic minorities. "People from black and minority ethnic groups were heavily over-represented amongst offenders in three of the sites and somewhat over-represented in the remaining site," the study reported. "Whilst the study cannot disentangle the factors that might explain this over-representation, it clearly highlights the need for police forces to monitor trends closely in the disposal of possession offences."

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9. Europe: Moscow Mayor Calls for Harsh Drug Laws Including Death Penalty

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called Monday for drug dealers to be "destroyed" during a speech to law enforcement and city offficials at the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Drug Control Service, according to an account in the Moscow Times. Luzkhov suggested Russia implement drug laws like those in Singapore, where drug traffickers face execution.

"In Singapore, there is no drug addiction," he said. "Let us do the same." Luzkhov somewhat wistfully noted that "these days, a democratic government does not accept" a draconian drug policy like Singapore's, but added that Russia should "accept something close to it."

But Russia has gone in the other direction in recent years. Since 2004, when a new law decriminalized simple drug possession, official drug policy has been to go after traffickers and sellers, but not users. Apparently, the increased penalties for drug dealers and traffickers under the 2004 law is not enough for Luzkhov, and the decriminalization of drug possession sticks in the craw of Russian narcs. The Federal Drug Control Service has fought bitterly to reinstate penalties against small-time possessors, first attempting to subvert the new law's intent by defining personal use quantities at ridiculously low levels, such as 0.01 grams of heroin. Instead, the personal use quantity was set at one gram, but in a small victory for the drug warriors, that was cut back to half a gram last year.

Drug use has been on the rise in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union since its dissolution. The country registers several hundred thousand "drug addicts" each year, with the real number being likely much greater. An estimated 70,000 Russians die from drug overdoses each year, and injection drug use is involved in many of the country's hundreds of thousands of AIDS cases.

While officials like Mayor Luzkhov see only greater repression as the answer, non-governmental organizations like New Drug Policy seek to balance the hardliners by lobbying for reasonable harm reduction policies. "Using a drug is not a criminal offense," said the group's Lev Levinson in response to the mayor's remarks. "It is punishable only by a fine. The mayor, Levinson said, had cast an envious glance on Singapore's harsh policy for at least a decade.

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10. Canada: Vancouver Mayor Calls for Large-Scale Methamphetamine, Cocaine Maintenance Trials

According to a Monday press release, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan wants the Canadian federal government to grant the city an exemption from the country's drug laws so he can pursue a plan to provide at least 700 hard-core cocaine and methamphetamine users with maintenance doses of stimulant drugs. The idea, commonly known as substitution therapy, is similar to that of providing heroin addicts with maintenance doses of other opiates.

While researchers led by John Grabowski at the University of Texas at Houston have had success with small-scale methamphetamine substitution trials, the proposed Vancouver trials would be the largest ever. Mayor Sullivan is ready to take the plunge.

"Prescribing legally available medications provides people an opportunity to regain stability in their lives and ultimately a path to abstinence," he said. "Recognizing that drug addiction is one of the root causes of property crime and public disorder, I believe that this new approach will also help to reduce harm to the community."

It comes as part of a broader package of initiatives aimed at cleaning up homelessness, panhandling, and drug dealing before the 2010 Winter Olympics. Known as Project Civil City, the initiative sets out goals of a 50% reduction in the three areas by then.

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11. Latin America: Mexican Narco-Saint On the Move

In Culiacan, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, long a hot-bed of drug cultivation and the drug trade, for decades narco-traffickers have joined common Mexicans in worshipping at the shrine of San Malverde (or San Juan Malverde or San Jesus Malverde). Malverde, a 19th century bandit who may or may not have actually existed and who may or may not have been hung in 1909, is a Robin Hood-like figure in Mexican culture, and is the unofficial patron saint of bandits and drug traffickers.

San Malverde image on sale for $6.95, nicoworldbotanica.com
When the shrine to Sal Malverde began is unclear, but evidence of its popularity dates back decades. When Culiacan municipal officials moved to tear it down to make way for new city buildings in the 1970s, protests erupted until officials promised to replace it with a new, improved shrine.

As northwest Mexico's "narcoculture" spread -- if globalization exists in any industry, it is the drug trade -- so has the visage of San Malverde. The image of his mustachioed face, bedecked with a neckerchief, a gold chain with a pistol charm around his neck, and a large belt-buckle with a pistol around his waist can now be found for sale in botanicas in the Carolinas and hanging from rear view mirrors in cars pulled over in Utah.

San Malverde's image also appears in prison cells across Mexico, in private shrines in residences, and tattooed on the backs of more than a few men. A second, smaller shrine to him appeared in Tijuana some years ago. Now, the first known public shrine to San Malverde has popped up in Mexico City.

Maria Alicia Pulido Sanchez, a housewife in the city's gritty Doctores neighborhood, has built a glass-encased shrine on a sidewalk near her home. For Pulido Sanchez, it was not San Malverde's succor for the narcos that inspired her, but because he helps poor people.

"He wasn't a drug trafficker. He was what you might call a thief, but he helped his community," she said. Although San Malverde is not recognized by the Catholic Church, Pulido Sanchez was not concerned. "We make our saints by the power of our belief," she said. "We can believe in anyone who fulfills our petitions."

Pulido Sanchez said she decided to build the shrine after her son recovered from injuries in a 2005 car crash in just days after she prayed to a statue of San Malverde belonging to a friend. While Pulido Sanchez may worship San Malverde for his aid to the poor and defenseless, some of the people coming by to pay homage may have other things on their minds. She said lawyers, policemen, and "men with big bunches of jewelry" frequent the shrine, along with housewives, secretaries, and "people from every walk of life."

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12. This Week in History

February 1, 1909: The International Opium Commission convenes in Shanghai. Heading the US delegation are Dr. Hamilton Wright and Episcopal Bishop Henry Brent, who both try to convince the international delegation of the immoral and evil effects of opium.

January 31, 1945: A New York Times article reports an increase in marijuana trafficking and mentions that an official at the Treasury Department says that traffic in some instances reaches "the proportion of well-financed national and international conspirators." One of the New York gangs which came under investigation was the "107th Street Mob," formerly headed by the notorious mobster "Lucky" Luciano.

January 28, 1972: The Nixon Administration creates the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) to establish joint federal/local task forces to fight the drug trade at the street level. Myles Ambrose is appointed director.

January 28, 1982: President Ronald Reagan creates a cabinet-level task force, the Vice-President's Task Force on South Florida. Headed by George Bush, it combines agents from DEA, Customs, ATF, IRS, Army, and Navy to mobilize against drug traffickers.

January 27, 1995: The international hashish seizure record is set -- 290,400 pounds -- in Khyber Agency, Pakistan.

January 30, 1997: New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Jerome Kassirer opines in favor of doctors being allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes, calling the threat of government sanctions "misguided, heavy-handed and inhumane."

January 29, 1998: Judge Nancy Gertner, a district judge in Boston, criticizes the drug war for spending too much federal funds while depriving Americans of liberty at a forum organized by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.

January 26, 2000: Rockefeller drug law prisoner Elaine Bartlett, subject of the book "Life on the Outside: the Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett," is set free after sixteen years in Bedford Hill prison for a first time, low-level, cocaine selling offense.

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13. Announcement: DRCNet Content Syndication Feeds Now Available for YOUR Web Site!

Are you a fan of DRCNet, and do you have a web site you'd like to use to spread the word more forcefully than a single link to our site can achieve? We are pleased to announce that DRCNet content syndication feeds are now available. Whether your readers' interest is in-depth reporting as in Drug War Chronicle, the ongoing commentary in our blogs, or info on specific drug war subtopics, we are now able to provide customizable code for you to paste into appropriate spots on your blog or web site to run automatically updating links to DRCNet educational content.

For example, if you're a big fan of Drug War Chronicle and you think your readers would benefit from it, you can have the latest issue's headlines, or a portion of them, automatically show up and refresh when each new issue comes out.

If your site is devoted to marijuana policy, you can run our topical archive, featuring links to every item we post to our site about marijuana -- Chronicle articles, blog posts, event listings, outside news links, more. The same for harm reduction, asset forfeiture, drug trade violence, needle exchange programs, Canada, ballot initiatives, roughly a hundred different topics we are now tracking on an ongoing basis. (Visit the Chronicle main page, right-hand column, to see the complete current list.)

If you're especially into our new Speakeasy blog section, new content coming out every day dealing with all the issues, you can run links to those posts or to subsections of the Speakeasy.

Click here to view a sample of what is available -- please note that the length, the look and other details of how it will appear on your site can be customized to match your needs and preferences.

Please also note that we will be happy to make additional permutations of our content available to you upon request (though we cannot promise immediate fulfillment of such requests as the timing will in many cases depend on the availability of our web site designer). Visit our Site Map page to see what is currently available -- any RSS feed made available there is also available as a javascript feed for your web site (along with the Chronicle feed which is not showing up yet but which you can find on the feeds page linked above). Feel free to try out our automatic feed generator, online here.

Contact us for assistance or to let us know what you are running and where. And thank you in advance for your support.

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14. Announcement: DRCNet RSS Feeds Now Available

RSS feeds are the wave of the future -- and DRCNet now offers them! The latest Drug War Chronicle issue is now available using RSS at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/feed online.

We have many other RSS feeds available as well, following about a hundred different drug policy subtopics that we began tracking since the relaunch of our web site this summer -- indexing not only Drug War Chronicle articles but also Speakeasy blog posts, event listings, outside news links and more -- and for our daily blog postings and the different subtracks of them. Visit our Site Map page to peruse the full set.

Thank you for tuning in to DRCNet and drug policy reform!

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15. 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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