Drug War Chronicle #471 - February 5, 2007

1. Feature: The Conviction That Keeps On Hurting -- Drug Offenders and Federal Benefits

For millions of drug offenders, punishment by the criminal justice is only the beginning. Drug offenders also lose access to a number of federal benefits thanks to laws a growing number of organizations are calling inhumane and counterproductive.

2. Second National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis Underway in Salt Lake City

The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis got underway in Salt Lake City Thursday. Here's a report from the first day.

3. Law Enforcement: Jacksonville Narcs Kill Two Men in Separate Incidents Eight Days Apart

Narcotics officers in Jacksonville, Florida, shot and killed two men in separate incidents during undercover drug operations in late January. Both men were black, neither was a drug dealer, and calls for an investigation are increasing.

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

This week, we have a prison guard busted for smuggling drugs OUT of a jail, along with more typical drug-smuggling guard cases, a teenage military policeman in trouble, a retirement age former cop busted, and another Nashville police officer found guilty of drug corruption charges.

5. Sentencing: No Relief for Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

Louisiana's "heroin lifers" got no relief from the state Supreme Court last week when it ruled a 2001 law cutting sentences did not apply retroactively. But they still have one more avenue of redress.

6. Medical Marijuana: Bills Introduced in Minnesota, Moving in New Mexico

A medical marijuana bill has been introduced for the third year in a row in Minnesota, and for the third year in a row, New Mexico advocates hope to get the bill there over the top. They're off to a fast start.

7. Methamphetamine: Epidemic, What Epidemic? Meth Use Down, SAMHSA Says

Despite the meth mania rampant in the media and among law enforcement and politicians, official numbers show meth use levels stagnant in recent years and beginning to decline in 2005.

8. Southwest Asia: British Conservatives Call for Afghan Opium to Be Licensed, Converted to Pharmaceuticals, Not Destroyed

Britain's Conservative Party has joined the call to license Afghan opium. The move comes just days after the British Medical Association called for it to be converted into diamorphine (heroin) for use by the National Health Service.

9. Weekly: This Week in History

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

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1. Feature: The Conviction That Keeps On Hurting -- Drug Offenders and Federal Benefits

Some 15 to 20 million people have been arrested on drug charges and subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system in the past two decades. But, thanks to congressional drug warriors, the punishments drug offenders face often extend far beyond the prison walls or the parole officer's office. A number of federal laws ostensibly aimed at reducing drug use block people with drug convictions from gaining access to federal benefits and services. These laws have a disproportionate impact on society's most vulnerable or marginalized members -- the poor, people of color, and women with children -- and in some cases, do not even require that a person actually be convicted of a drug offense to be punished.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/publichousing.jpg
No conviction is needed to be evicted from public housing for drugs -- even someone else's.
A growing number of groups and individuals ranging from the American Bar Association to welfare rights organizations, public health and addiction groups, drug reform organizations, and elected officials have called for changes in these laws or their outright repeal, saying they are cruel, inhumane, counterproductive, and amount to "double jeopardy" for drug offenders trying to become productive members of society.

"We feel that these laws are discriminatory and tend to focus on an illness as opposed to a crime," said Alexa Eggleston of the Legal Action Center, one of the key groups in the movement to adjust those laws. "We also think that if you have a conviction, you should be able to serve your time and come out and resume your life. We say we want people to get sober, get treatment, get a job, get housing, but then we set up all these barriers and roadblocks that seem designed to stop them from moving forward. These lifetime bans are very destructive of people's ability to reintegrate into society and move forward with their lives as productive citizens."

"These discriminatory laws represent incredible barriers in terms of people getting on with their lives, which is why they are part of our platform for change," said Pat Taylor, director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, a national alliance of individuals and organizations committed to securing the rights of people with addictions. "If you can't get housing, can't get a job, it's really hard to get your life back on track."

"One of the problems we constantly face is helping people who have been convicted of a drug crime," said Linda Walker of All of Us or None, a California-based initiative organizers prisoners, ex-prisoners, and felons to fight the discrimination they face because of their criminal convictions. "Why do they ask about that on the student loan applications? Why do they face lifetime bans on public housing? These are people did their time, paid their restitution, they've moved on and matured, and now, because of something they did in their twenties, they can't get into senior housing."

Walker knows a bit about the plight of the ex-con. She was convicted not a drug offense, but for a crime committed in an effort to get money to buy drugs. While Walker's status as a non-drug offender means she is not barred from receiving food stamps or public housing, she still wears the scarlet letter of the ex-con. "I currently work for a county office, and each time I go up for a position or promotion, this becomes a problem," she explained. "I've been out of the criminal justice system for 14 years now, but I'm still being told that because of my criminal history I can't be considered for this job or that."

These "double jeopardy" laws have been formulated in the last 20 years as part of the ratcheting-up of the war on drugs and include:

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, under which local housing agencies and others who supervise federally assisted housing have the discretion to deny housing when any household member uses alcohol in a way that interferes with the "health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment" of the premises by other tenants, illegally uses drugs, or is convicted of drug-related criminal activity. People who are evicted or denied housing under the law are cut off from federal housing assistance for three years.

According to a GAO report on the working of laws designed to deny benefits to drug offenders, some 500 individuals or families were evicted under the act in 13 large public housing agencies GAO surveyed in 2003 and about 1,500 were denied admission by 15 agencies in the same year. The agency reported that public housing agencies nationwide evicted about 9,000 people and denied admission to another 49,000 because of criminal convictions in 2003, with drug convictions consisting of some unknown but significant subset of those. While concrete numbers are hard to come by, it seems clear that tens of thousands of people are adversely affected by laws barring drug offenders from receiving public housing or Section 8 assistance.

Subsequent changes in federal laws and accompanying regulations have enshrined housing authorities' discretion and it was further solidified in a 2002 Supreme Court decision. In that case, the high court upheld an Oakland public housing authorities right to use its discretion to evict 64-year-old long-time tenant Pearlie Rucker, her mentally disabled teenage daughter, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild after the daughter was caught with cocaine three blocks from the building.

Only one class of drug offender is specifically prohibited from obtaining public housing -- persons who have been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamines. They, along with society's other favorite demonized group, registered sex offenders, are the only groups of offenders singled out for prohibitions.

The 1990 Denial of Federal Benefits Program, which allows state and federal judges to deny drug offenders federal benefits such as grants, contracts, and licenses. According to the GAO, some 600 people a year are affected by this program in the federal courts.

Section 115 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (more familiarly known as the welfare reform act), under which persons convicted of a state or federal felony offense for selling or using drugs are subject to a lifetime ban on receiving cash assistance and food stamps. Convictions for other crimes, including murder, do not result in the loss of benefits. Section 115 affects an estimated 92,000 women and 135,000 children.

The welfare reform act contains a provision allowing states to opt out, although if they fail to act, the lifetime bans remain in effect. In 14 states where legislators have not acted, drug felons still face the federal ban, even though their sentences may be long-finished and their offenses decades old. But in 36 states, legislators have acted to limit the ban in some fashion, allowing drug offenders to get public assistance if they meet certain conditions, such as participating in drug or alcohol treatment, meeting a waiting period, if their conviction was for possession only, or other conditions.

Public Law 104-121, which blocks access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for people whose primary disability was alcohol or drug dependence. This 1996 law replaced a 1972 SSI "Drug Abuse and Alcoholism" program that allowed people in drug treatment, which was mandatory, to designate a payee to manage benefits to ensure they would not be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. The Social Security Administration estimates that more than 123,000 people lost benefits when this law went into effect, while another 86,000 managed to retain them by virtue of age or by being reclassified into a different primary care disability category.

The 1998 Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision (also known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty"), which states that people with drug convictions cannot receive federal financial aid for a period of time determined by the type and number of convictions. This law does not apply to others with convictions, including drunk-driving offenses, violent crimes, or other criminal offenses. Last year, the provision was reformed to limit its applicability to offenses committed while a student is enrolled in college and receiving federal aid. Since the law went into effect in 2000, some 200,000 have been denied student financial aid.

The Hope Scholarship Credit, which allows for income tax deductions for people paying college tuition and fees. The credit allows taxpayers to take up to a $1,000 credit for tuition and additional credits for related expenses. It specifically excludes the credit for students who were convicted of a drug offense during the tax year in question, or their parents paying the bills.

While GAO notes that "thousands of persons were denied postsecondary education benefits, federally assisted housing, or selected licenses and contracts as a result of federal laws that provide for denying benefits to drug offenders," it is low-balling the real figure, which, according to its own numbers, is in the hundreds of thousands. Additionally, the GAO report does not factor in the number of people who simply did not apply for housing, welfare benefits, or student loans because they knew or believed they were ineligible.

"The focus of all of those provisions is punishing people who've made a mistake as opposed to helping people find treatment," said Donovan Kuehn, a spokesman for NAADAC, the Association of Addiction Professionals, the nation's largest grouping of counselors, educators, and health care professionals dealing with addiction issues. "As addiction treatment professionals, we're very hopeful that with a change in leadership in the Congress, we could move toward helping people find personal solutions to their problems as opposed to criminalizing them."

Kraig Selken, a senior studying history at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, would like to see that happen. He knows first-hand the sting of the HEA drug provision. After being arrested with a small amount of marijuana, Selken paid his fine and sat through court-ordered drug treatment. He thought he had paid his debt to society. It was not until Selken began reading up on the HEA drug provision after his conviction that he realized his punishment wasn't over. Because of his misdemeanor marijuana conviction, he became ineligible for student financial assistance for two years.

"Ironically, today was fee payment day at school. I had to write my own check instead of paying for it with student loans," Selken told the Chronicle last week. "The lack of access to student loans hit me hard," he said. "Last semester, the only reason I could afford to go to school without loans was because my great-grandmother died and left me a little bit of money. Otherwise, I would not have been able to attend."

Selken said he plans to go on to law school, but even though he will be eligible for financial assistance again, he will still have to pay a price. "I'm still going to have to answer 'yes' on the federal financial aid form and I will have to go through the whole rigamorale of providing documentation to show that I am again eligible."

The HEA drug provision, authored by leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-I), may be the first barrier to drug offenders' reintegration to fall. The provision took effect in 2000, but in the face of rising opposition led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), Souder retreated, and the act was amended last year to count only offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving financial aid. But that move failed to quiet the calls for outright repeal, and with a Democratic majority in the Congress, advocates hope to finally get their way.

"We are very optimistic that this harmful and discriminatory penalty will finally be repealed by this Congress," said Tom Angell, communications director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, one of the most active groups in the CHEAR coalition.

"There is so much wrong with the HEA drug provision, I hardly know where to begin," said Drug Reform Coordination Network associate director David Guard, CHEAR's coordinator. "The drug provision disproportionately hurts the children of low- and middle-income families -- the very people the HEA is designed to assist -- and it disproportionately affects minorities, who, even though they use drugs at the same rate as whites, are much more likely to be arrested. Students who are forced out of college by losing their financial aid are less likely to come back to school," Guard said. "Let's hope Congress moves to repeal it this year," he said.

The HEA drug provision also hurts students seeking state financial aid. While states are under no obligation to blindly follow the federal financial aid guidelines when it comes to drug offenders, many do so, often merely because it is convenient. In at least one state, Maryland, legislative efforts are under way end the state's reflexive echo of the federal penalty.

There is also a chance of progress this year on the food stamp program, which, as part of the passage of the food bill, will be up for consideration early this year. According to the Food Research and Action Center, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will soon begin hearings on Title IV of the food bill, which includes food stamps, and the center is preparing the way for renewed discussions on relief for states which have not opted out of the ban.

While it was politically expedient to attempt to further punish some of society's most despised individuals -- drug users and offenders -- serious studies of the impact of these measures have led to calls for their reform or repeal. In 2003, the Join Together coalition, which supports community-based efforts to advance effective alcohol and drug policy, prevention, and treatment, put together a prestigious policy panel, headed by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke to examine ways of ending discrimination against drug users.

In its final report, that panel made a number of recommendations. Those included:

  • People with drug convictions but no current drug use should face no obstacles getting student loans, other grants, scholarships, or access to government training programs.
  • Persons with nonviolent drug convictions but no current drug use should not be subject to bans on receiving cash assistance and food stamps.
  • Public housing agencies and providers of Section 8 and other federally assisted housing should use the discretion given to them in the public housing law to help people get treatment, rather than permanently barring them and their families from housing.
  • People who are disabled as a result of their alcohol or other drug disease should be eligible for Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income.

The American Bar Association has also weighed in against doubly penalizing drug offenders and drug users. In a 2004 resolution, the group adopted recommendations based on those of the Join Together policy panel. Like Join Together, the ABA called for alcoholism and drug addiction to be considered as a chronic treatable disease and public health matter. It also urged that "people seeking treatment or recovery from alcohol or other drug diseases should not be subject to legally imposed bans or other barriers based solely on their addiction. Such bans should be identified and removed."

While a movement to undo federal laws and programs that doubly penalize drug offenders or users is growing and has significant support among some Democratic members of Congress, with the exception of the HEA, little progress has been made in cutting them back, although that could change now that Democrats are in control of the Congress.

For a sense of how previous Republican-led congresses have felt about rethinking these punitive laws and programs, one need only look at the fate of the bill filed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and cosponsored by 10 other legislators, including sole Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That bill, which would have temporarily waived provisions denying federal benefits to drug users or offenders in areas affected by the storm, went nowhere.

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2. Second National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis Underway in Salt Lake City

Around a thousand people, including some of the nation's foremost experts in treating, researching and developing responses to methamphetamine use, gathered at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City as Science and Response: The 2nd Annual Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis got underway Thursday. Sponsored by the Salt Lake City-based Harm Reduction Project, the conference aimed at developing evidence-based "best practices" for responding to meth and emphasized prevention and treatment instead of prison for
meth offenders.

This year's conference was uncontroversial -- a marked change from the first one, also held in Salt Lake City, which was attacked by congressional arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) because presenters openly discussed the impact of meth on the gay community. Souder was also incensed that the US Department of Health and Human Services provided limited financial support for the conference, and authored a successful amendment to the appropriations bill funding the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy calling for an investigation of the conference and HHS policy.

"The fact that there is absolutely no controversy this year indicates more than just a leadership change in Congress. It shows that our approach -- bringing together all the stakeholders and families affected by meth -- is the right one," said Harm Reduction Project executive director Luciano Colonna in a statement on the eve of the conference.

While Colonna sounded sanguine in the statement above, he was less so as he opened the conference Thursday morning. Visibly choking up at times as he sounded the theme of this year's conference, "500 Days Later," he noted that since the first conference in August 2005, "thousands have died or been incarcerated." And Colonna could not resist a reference to Souder and ideological allies in Congress. "There's no need to mention the names of cheap mudslingers because their party lost," he said to loud applause.

"I'm tired of seeing meth users incarcerated because of failed theories and practices followed by many treatment providers, faith-based groups and other organizations," Colonna said. "We look to the criminal justice system to solve our problems, and its participation has been a result of our failure. Just as with the homeless, veterans, and the mentally ill, we have failed as a system of care and as a country. We have the audacity to attack the criminal justice system as if the strands of this mess can be separated out, but we are all culpable."

If Colonna wasn't going to name names, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson had no such compunctions. As he welcomed attendees to his city, Anderson hit back. "I will say Souder's name," Anderson proclaimed. "We shouldn't ever forget the people who caused so much damage. They don't care that needle exchange programs help injection drug users avoid HIV; they have the attitude that if people use drugs, they deserve what they get. People like Mark Souder would rather make political hay out of tragedy rather than having the integrity to deal with issues based on facts and research."

Citing drug use surveys that put the number of people who used meth within the last year at 1.3 million and the number who used within the last month at 500,000, Anderson pointed out that, "If it were up to Souder, they would all be in prison."

Mayor Anderson, a strong drug reform proponent, had a better idea. "Those numbers are the purest case for harm reduction," he argued. "We know there are people who will use drugs and we can reduce the harm, not only for them and their families, but for all of us. The current approach is so wasteful and cost ineffective. And thanks to you, treatment programs are much more available, but in too many areas, you have to get busted to get affordable treatment. It is time to make treatment on demand available for everybody," he said to sustained cheering and applause.

Given the topic of the conference, it is not surprising that attendees are a different mix than what one would expect at a strictly drug reform conference. While drug reformers were present in respectable numbers -- the Drug Policy Alliance in particular had a large contingent -- they are outnumbered by harm reductionists, treatment providers and social service agency workers. Similarly, with the event's emphasis on "Science and Reason," the panels were heavy with research results and presentations bearing names like "Adapting Gay-Affirmative, Evidence-Based Interventions for Use in a Community-Based Drug Treatment Clinic," "Stimulant Injectors From Three Ukraine Cities," and "The Impact of Meth Use on Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities for Youth in Canada."

The mix of interests and orientations led to some fireworks at the first conference, especially around the issue of stimulant maintenance therapy, or providing meth users with a substitute stimulant, such as dextroamphetamine, much as heroin users are prescribed methadone. Such issues may excite controversy again this year, but an opening day panel on the topic caused only a few raised eyebrows -- not any outbursts of indignation. The controversy is likely to come in Vancouver, where Mayor Sam Sullivan recently announced he wanted to implement an amphetamine maintenance pilot program with some 700 subjects.

With three full days of plenaries, panels, breakout session, and workshops, last weekend's conference not only provided information on best practices for educators, prevention workers, and treatment providers, but also helped broaden the rising chorus of voices calling for more enlightened methamphetamine policies. In addition, the conference pointed the Chronicle to a number of meth-related issues that bear further reporting, from the spread of repressive legislation in the states to the effort to expand drug maintenance therapies to stimulant drugs like meth and the resort of some states to criminalizing pregnant drug-using mothers. Look for reports on these topics in the Chronicle in coming weeks.

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3. Law Enforcement: Jacksonville Narcs Kill Two Men in Separate Incidents Eight Days Apart

Undercover narcotics officers in Jacksonville, Florida, killed two people in separate incidents in late January. Both men were black, and neither is alleged to be a drug dealer. Now, local black leaders are calling for a federal investigation, and the local prosecutor is questioning the value of such operations.

On January 20, undercover officers posing as drug dealers during a drug sting shot and killed 18-year-old Douglas Woods on January 20. Police claimed that Woods was armed with a pistol and attempted to rob what he thought were drug dealers. But family members and witnesses said Woods had no weapon and was holding only a cell phone.

"He was standing in the parking lot, like they always do, and the police pulled up on them. Everybody ran away except my child, and he threw his hands up. They said they shot him about eight times," Woods' mother, Machealle Woods said. "Why? I want to know why."

Witness Tyronnie Dennis, who was sitting on her steps smoking a cigarette when Woods was shot in her apartment complex courtyard, said Woods was holding a cell phone, not a gun. "I heard the shots ring out, and the boy hit the ground. There was only one gun fired. He didn't shoot back. He had a cell phone. He did not have a gun," said Dennis.

"We want a thorough investigation on this from the federal side to make sure that this is done fair and justly. We do not condone criminals. We do not condone drugs dealers and we never will," said Rev. RL Gundy of the Jacksonville Leadership Coalition. "We just want to make sure. Too many stories have been told too many different ways, and we want to make sure that the mother and the father get a thorough investigation about this."

Jacksonville County Sheriff John Rutherford was defending the shooting early last week. "At this point in the investigation, I am confident that the officer fired in self-defense after being approached by someone who was trying to rob him with a gun," Rutherford said. "I can tell you that we have statements from witnesses who were at the scene and are telling us one thing -- that told us one thing the night it occurred -- and the next afternoon were telling the electronic media something else." Rutherford said his office wouldn't put out a statement unless it was confident it was true. "We are not going to put that out there until we know -- it was gun, and I can tell you that it was a gun that was lying beside that individual not a cell phone," Rutherford said.

Then, on the day that Woods was buried, undercover narcotics officers shot and killed 81-year-old Isaac Singletary in his yard after the neighborhood fixture apparently mistook them for drug dealers and confronted them. "An individual approached from between two houses brandishing a handgun. The officers gave several commands to drop the gun, he did not, so they exchanged gunfire," said Chief Dwain Senterfitt.

"The man came out three times and said move out of my yard. So after the third time he came out with a 357 and started shooting at the individuals," one witness who did not want to be identified told local media.

Singletary's nephew, Gary Evans, said his uncle was a respected man in the neighborhood. "He got his enjoyment from sitting under a tree and watching his collard greens and cabbages grow," said Evans. "The only time anybody would hear anything out of my uncle is if they stopped in front of his house and tried to do whatever deals they wanted to do," Evans added.

"I never would have thought he would have gotten shot by a police officer," said niece Sheree Bea. "I thought if he ever got shot it would have been in a confrontation with a drug dealer."

Now, it isn't only community organizations raising questions about police practices. Jacksonville County States Attorney Harry Shorstein said in the wake of the two killings he questioned the value of undercover narcotics stings. "If we're just selling drugs to addicts, I don't know what we're accomplishing," Shorstein said. "This could wind up being the tragic death of one kid -- arguably a bad kid -- and a gentleman who had the right to protect his property."

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

Here's a new twist for you: This week, we have a prison guard charged with smuggling drugs OUT of a prison. Of course, there are several more charged with smuggling drugs in, as well as a teenage military policeman gone bad, a retirement age former cop gone bad, and yet another Nashville officer found guilty of drug corruption. Let's get to it:

In White Plains, New York, a Yonkers Police Department jail guard was arrested January 25 for helping an inmate smuggle drugs out of the Alexander Street Jail. Patricia Streams-Correa, 39, is charged with sale and possession of drugs and promoting prison contraband in the first degree. When a new prisoner was brought to the jail for possessing eight bags of heroin, she allegedly had another 36 bags hidden on her. A friend brought a change of clothes to the jail, and Streams-Correa is accused of helping hide the 36 bags of smack in the prisoner's dirty clothing and letting the friend take the clothes and heroin from the jail. Streams-Correa was popped after the department's Narcotics Unit and Internal Affairs Division "developed information" about the incident. The heroin was recovered. Streams-Correa now faces nine years in prison.

In Phoenix, a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detention officer is accused of smuggling drugs to two prisoners with whom she had a personal relationship. Officer Michele Samaniego, 27, faces charges of promoting prison contraband and possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia after Sheriff's officers found her with suspected marijuana, methamphetamine, and a needle and syringe. Detectives also searched Samaniego's home and arrested her roommate on related drug conspiracy charges.

In Darlington, South Carolina, a state Department of Corrections employee was arrested Saturday on drugs, contraband, and misconduct charges. Adrian Concepcion, 20, allegedly told an undercover agent he would bring marijuana to an inmate at the Lee Correctional Institution, where he worked. He is now being held at a different jail.

In Stateline, Nevada, a 17-year-old military police officer was arrested in a casino parking lot January 25 on charges he sold cocaine. Nevada National Guardsman Elliot Paul Liebowitz had his military uniform in his car at the time of his arrest. The Douglas County Sheriff Street Enforcement Team says Liebowitz sold at least 83 grams of cocaine during its month-long investigation of him. Authorities say they will seek to try him as an adult, and if convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison. Meanwhile, he has been booked into a juvenile detention facility.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former Long Beach (now Oak Island) police officer was arrested last Friday on drug sales charges after police executed a search warrant at his home. William Sisk Sr., 71, is charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver cocaine and other controlled substances as well as maintaining a dwelling to keep a controlled substance. He was raided after a year-long investigation, and police found crack cocaine, 109 hydrocodone tablets, 57 alprazolam tablets, 28 diazepam tablets, a .410-gauge shotgun and $6,277 in cash, as well as drug paraphernalia. Sisk, who retired in 1996, is a former candidate for sheriff and registrar of deeds in Brunswick County. He was out on bail as of last Saturday and denied any wrongdoing.

In Nashville, a Nashville Metropolitan Police officer who failed to report a fellow officer's involvement in a cocaine heist was found guilty in federal court January 29. Officer Charles Williams III, a 16-year veteran of the force, was convicted of misprision of a felony for conspiring with fellow officer Ernest Cecil and Cecil's nephew Corey to arrest a man carrying three kilograms of cocaine and allow Corey Cecil to get away with the stash. Officer Cecil is currently awaiting trial on drug trafficking and false arrest charges. Williams, who resigned from the force Wednesday, faces up to three years in prison.

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5. Sentencing: No Relief for Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

In a blow to prisoners sentenced under a tough 1970s drug law, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a 2001 law cutting sentences for heroin distribution is not retroactive. That means an estimated 90 remaining "heroin lifers" sentenced under the old law will stay in prison -- and, in at least one case -- go back to prison after being released by a judge.

The court ruled last week in the case of Wesley Dick, who had been released by a judge in July after serving years of a life sentence for selling heroin to an undercover officer. Dick got a job, began paying child support for his two children, and saved enough money to buy a pick-up truck, but now he will be returned to prison to finish serving his sentence, perhaps as early as March 20, when a hearing has been set.

The state high court also ruled against release for heroin lifer Melvin Smith, who was sentenced to life in 1977 for possession with intent to distribute heroin. Smith never made it outside the prison walls.

The rulings were hailed by prosecutors, who had opposed granting relief to the aging heroin lifers. "Our interpretation of the law has again been upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court," Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.

"The original life sentence for this crime was a strong deterrent, and I am pleased that the Louisiana Supreme Court has maintained the conviction and the penalties imposed under the law at the time of conviction," St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed said.

The law mandating a life sentence for heroin distribution was amended in 2001, when the legislature set new a new sentence of from five to 50 years for the offense, but it was unclear whether it could be applied retroactively. Dick and Smith each went to court arguing that the law should apply to them. Each won in district court, but state appellate courts split on the issue. The state Supreme Court has now settled the question.

"We find the legislature did not intend, nor did it legislate, that these offenders may seek resentencing in the courts after a sentence has become final," Justice Jeannette Knoll wrote in the 6-1 majority opinion. The court has long held that the law in effect at the time of the crime sets the penalty, Knoll wrote, adding that only the governor has the power to commute sentences.

But all is not lost for the heroin lifers. The same 2001 law that cut sentences also created the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which can recommend eligible defendants be released from prison if it determines they are not a threat to society. Defendants seeking relief should go through that process, not the courts, the Supreme Court held.

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6. Medical Marijuana: Bills Introduced in Minnesota, Moving in New Mexico

Minnesota senators introduced a bill last Monday to allow terminal and chronically ill patients to use marijuana without fear of state prosecution. Meanwhile, a New Mexico bill that has made it to the brink of passage in the last two years is moving again.

In Minnesota, SF345 is sponsored by state Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), who told reporters he warmed to the idea after his father died of cancer two years ago after suffering months of intense pain. "We're talking about quality of life issues," said Murphy. "This isn't for everybody. This is another tool in the doctor's toolbox, if the patient feels it's appropriate and they're willing to give it a try."

Under the bill, anyone suffering from a "chronic or debilitating disease" would be able to qualify for a registration card. Registered patients or caregivers could possess up to 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Similar bills have been introduced the past two years in Minnesota, but have gone nowhere.

It's a slightly different picture in New Mexico, where in the past two years, a medical marijuana bill has made it to the very brink of passage only to be derailed largely for reasons having much to do with legislative politics and little to do with medical marijuana. This year, SB523, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, is again rolling.

The bill passed its first legislative hurdle last week when it sailed through the Senate Public Affairs Committee despite the objections of law enforcement. But while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) last year publicly supported the bill, this year, as he embarks on a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has been silent. Health Department spokespersons at a hearing on the bill declined to take a position either for or against.

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7. Methamphetamine: Epidemic, What Epidemic? Meth Use Down, SAMHSA Says

Despite the methamphetamine mania rampant among the media and law enforcement officials, annual national drug use surveys show that meth use levels were stagnant between 2002 and 2004, and declined dramatically in 2005. According to an analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), first-time meth users declined from 318,000 in 2004 to 192,000 in 2005.

The number of people who admitted using methamphetamine within the last year was also on the decline during the years between 2002 and 2005. In 2002, 0.7% of the population above age 12 admitted past year use; in 2005, that figure had declined to 0.5%. Past year use was highest in the West (1.2%), followed by the South and Midwest (0.5%), with the Northeast trailing with 0.1%.

According to the study, about 1.3 million people used meth during 2005. Some 500,000 used it at least once a month. Despite all the hoopla about meth addiction, methamphetamine users accounted for only 8% of all drug treatment admissions.

"Methamphetamine is a very destructive drug that can do serious harm to families and entire communities," said SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D. "We are pleased to see these decreases in use, and SAMHSA is continuing to provide funding opportunities so that communities can fight the use of this insidious drug and provide treatment to those who need it."

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8. Southwest Asia: British Conservatives Call for Afghan Opium to Be Licensed, Converted to Pharmaceuticals, Not Destroyed

As they prepare for pending elections, British Conservatives have joined the call for licensing of the Afghan opium crop. The move comes just days after the British Medical Association called for Afghan opium to be processed into heroin and prescribed to addicts.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
The US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan have an official policy of eradicating the country's poppy crop, but given the potential dangers of pushing opium farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban, politicians and officials across Europe are increasingly seeking other options. A 2005 proposal by the European defense and drug policy think tank the Senlis Council to license the crop and divert into the legitimate medicinal market has proved to be a convenient starting off point for those seeking alternatives to eradication.

Conservative leader Lord Howell told parliament last week that the "very dangerous" policy of eradication was "just not working." He said alternatives like licensing the crop needed to be looked at. "The more we try to eradicate, the more poppies seem to get grown," he said. "Trying to stop poor farmers growing poppies to survive and live and feed their families is going to be almost impossible," he said.

Lord Howell's comments came just days after the British Medical Association argued that Afghan opium could be used to help deal with a shortage of prescription heroin, or diamorphine, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, told the BBC. "If we actually were harvesting this drug from Afghanistan rather than destroying it, we'd be benefiting the population of Afghanistan as well as helping patients and not putting people at risk," said Nathanson. "There must be ways of harvesting it and making sure that the harvest safely reaches the drug industry which would then refine it into diamorphine," she suggested. "It should be possible, and really Government and the international groups that are in Afghanistan should be looking at this and saying how can we convert it from being an illicit crop to a legal crop that is medicinally useful."

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9. Weekly: This Week in History

February 8, 1914: In an example of the role of racial prejudice in the genesis of US drug laws, The New York Times publishes an article entitled "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' New Southern Menace."

February 7, 1968: In a move likely spurred on by the Nixon campaign's "law and order" rhetoric, President Lyndon Johnson creates the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) by combining the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control. By 1972, the BNDD is 1,361 agents strong.

February 7, 1985: Enrique Camarena, an aggressive DEA agent stationed in Mexico who discovered that drug traffickers there were operating under the protection of Mexican police officials, is kidnapped outside of his office in Guadalajara. His body is found several weeks later bearing marks of brutal torture.

February 3, 1987: Carlos Lehder is captured by the Colombian National Police at a safe house owned by Pablo Escobar in the mountains outside of Medellin. He is extradited to the US the next day. On May 19, 1988 Lehder is convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus an additional 135 years.

February 5, 1988: A federal grand jury in Miami issues an indictment against Panamanian General Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking. Noriega had allowed the Medellin cartel to launder money and build cocaine laboratories in Panama.

February 4, 1994: An unpublished US Department of Justice report indicates that over one-third of the drug felons in federal prisons are low-level nonviolent offenders.

February 7, 2001: After a contentious confirmation process, new Attorney General John Ashcroft declares, "I want to escalate the war on drugs. I want to renew it. I want to refresh it, re-launch it, if you will." He said this despite the fact that under President Clinton's two terms in office the number of jail sentences nationwide for marijuana offenders was 800% higher than under the Reagan and Bush administrations combined.

February 4, 2003: Jurors who had convicted Ed Rosenthal on federal marijuana cultivation charges hold a press conference, saying they were deceived by the withholding of information about Rosenthal's involvement in medical marijuana, that they would not have convicted him had they known, and calling for a new trial.

February 4, 2003 -- The New York Times publishes an editorial defending Ed Rosenthal and medical marijuana. It says, in part: "The Bush administration's war on medical marijuana is not only misguided but mean-spirited. Doctors have long recognized marijuana's value in reducing pain and aiding in the treatment of cancer and AIDS, among other diseases. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana. The reasons the government gives for objecting to it do not outweigh the good it does. And given the lack of success of the war on drugs in recent years, there must be better places to direct law enforcement resources."

February 2, 2004: A congressional budget rider known as the "Istook Amendment," after its sponsor, US Rep. James Istook (R-OK), takes effect. The law penalizes any transit system that accepts advertising "promot[ing] the legalization or medical use" of illegal drugs such as marijuana by cutting off all federal financial assistance, which often amounts to millions of dollars. Four months later US District Court Judge Paul Friedman rules that Istook's law violates the First Amendment by infringing on free speech rights, and is thus unconstitutional.

February 6, 2004: The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejects the DEA's ban on hemp foods.

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10. 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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11. 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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12. Announcement: New Format for the Reformer's Calendar

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

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

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

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

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

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School