Drug War Chronicle #484 - May 4, 2007

1. Feature: Blacks, Hispanics More Likely to Be Searched at Traffic Stops -- But That Is Not Proof of Racial Profiling, Justice Department Claims

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a report showing black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be subjected to vehicle searches than whites, but it says it can't conclude racial profiling is to blame. It also lacks some key numbers that could make the case.

2. Feature: US Sentencing Commission Announces Reduction in Crack Cocaine Sentences

The US Sentencing Commission has adjusted sentencing guidelines to allow crack offenders to get a little less time in federal prison. Meanwhile, the pressure mounts for Congress to address the infamous crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

3. Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Two Atlanta narcotics officers have pleaded guilty in the November drug raid death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, but it looks like that's just the beginning of problems for the Atlanta narcotics squad.

4. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a real motley crew this week: a small-town police chief gone bad, cops escorting drug shipments, and, of course, more crooked prison guards.

5. Pain Medicine: Dr. Hurwitz Convicted of 16 Counts in Retrial

In a victory for federal prosecutors waging war on pain doctors they consider little more than drug dealers, Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. Bill Hurwitz was found guilty of 16 counts of drug distribution in his second trial.

6. Resource: New Web Site Provides In-Depth Pro and Con Information on Felon Voting Issue

One of the hot topics in the criminal justice reform arena these days is felony disenfranchisement. An in-depth web site launched this week now provides pro and con arguments on the issue from more than 80 authorities.

7. Alert: Do You Live in AK, CO, CT, GA, IL, IA, KS, MD, MA, NH, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, RI, TN, UT, VT, WA or WY? If So, We Need Your Help

E-mails and phone calls are urgently needed to certain US senators to help repeal a bad law at the juncture of drug policy and education.

8. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

In addition to the weekly reporting you see here in the Chronicle, DRCNet also features daily content in the way of blogging, news links, redistributed press releases and announcements from our allies and more.

9. Book Offer: Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics

An important new book debunks literally years of statistical legerdemain by the nation's central drug policy office -- and is DRCNet's latest premium for our members.

10. Methamphetamine: Senators Feinstein and Grassley Introduce Bill to Heighten Penalties for Meth Dealers Who Flavor Their Product

Reacting to reports of flavored methamphetamine entering the market, two senators have introduced a bill that would increase prison sentences for anyone who flavors a drug to lure children.

11. Medical Marijuana: By a Veto-Proof Margin, Rhode Island Legislature Passes Bill to Keep It

Rhode Island is set to make its medical marijuana law permanent, after a bill to do so passed both houses of the legislature this week by veto-proof margins.

12. Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Passes Senate, House Version Moving Too

The Minnesota medical marijuana bill has passed the state Senate and is moving in the House, but the Republican governor is vowing a veto.

13. Marijuana: It's That Time Again -- Marijuana Marches Set for Saturday in More Than 200 Cities Worldwide

If it's the first Saturday in May, it's time for the annual global marijuana marches. This year, people in 231 cities will take to the streets to free the weed.

14. Weekly: This Week in History

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

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

Support the cause by featuring automatically-updating Drug War Chronicle and other DRCNet content links on your web site!

16. Announcement: DRCNet RSS Feeds Now Available

A new way for you to receive DRCNet articles -- Drug War Chronicle and more -- is now available.

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

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

1. Feature: Blacks, Hispanics More Likely to Be Searched at Traffic Stops -- But That Is Not Proof of Racial Profiling, Justice Department Claims

While police stop white, black, and Hispanic drivers at similar rates, members of the latter two groups are much more likely to be subjected to a roadside search, according to a new report on citizen-police encounters from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). But BJS refused to conclude that the difference in search rates is caused by racial profiling, saying other factors could be at play.

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"While the survey found that black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than whites to be searched, such racial disparities do not necessarily demonstrate that police treat people differently based on race or other demographic characteristics," BJS noted in a press release announcing the report. "This study did not take into account other factors that might explain these disparities."

Civil liberties advocates contend that the report is flawed and that BJS is pulling its shots. They point not only to missing data in the current report, but also to political interference in the Justice Department on earlier reports, including a controversial 2005 report on racial profiling that was buried after then BJS head Lawrence Greenfeld refused to remove information about racial profiling. Greenfeld was shortly after forced from his position.

The current report studied police-citizen interactions in 2005 and found that 43 million Americans, or 19% of the population, had some form of interaction with a police officer that year. Some 18 million of them were for traffic stops.

In those traffic stops, only 3.6% of white drivers pulled over were searched, compared to 8.8% of Hispanics and 9.5% of blacks. Blacks were also more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop and nearly four times as likely to report being subjected to force, while Hispanics faced a 50% higher chance than whites of being arrested and were nearly twice as likely to be subjected to force.

Even when police searched motorists' vehicles, they were unlikely to find anything. Fully 88% of all vehicle searches resulted in no contraband found. In previous reports, BJS published figures on "hit rates," or successful searches, by motorists' race, but it did not include that critical information in this year's report.

"The omission of data on hit rate by race is a glaring omission," said Scott Morgan, associate director of the Fourth Amendment education group Flex Your Rights. "Racial profiling apologists will first argue that there is no such thing as racial profiling, and when you refute that, they revert to the argument that profiling is justified by higher levels of criminal activity," he told Drug War Chronicle. "Hit rate data is crucial to refuting the argument that this discriminatory treatment of minorities is justified by their behavior."

Previous versions of the BJS report have found that police were less -- not more -- likely to find drugs or other contraband in vehicles driven by minority drivers than by white drivers. The lack of such data in the current report is a serious problem, said Reginald Shuford, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.

"Many studies have concluded that despite being more likely to be searched by police, African American and Hispanic drivers are actually less likely to be carrying contraband," Shuford told the Chronicle. "This report is silent on that issue, but this is data that absolutely must be recorded and analyzed."

Shuford also scoffed at BJS's refusal to qualify its findings as evidence of racial profiling. "The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "Most people would look at these numbers and conclude that racial bias and profiling are alive and well. BJS's contention that they are unable to conclude that this is racial profiling is not particularly compelling," he said.

But BJS statistican Matthew Durose, one of the report's authors, defended the report's lack of hit rate data and limited conclusions. "The study was based on a sample size that is too small to form reliable estimates," he told the Chronicle. "In our sample of 64,000 respondents, 189 were stopped and searched by police, and only 30 cases involved African American drivers stopped and searched. We don't really have the numbers to form reliable estimates," he said.

As for calling it racial profiling, Durose said there was insufficient information. "There are countless circumstances that could explain these searches, and we don't have the officers' reasons for conducting them, so we are not going to say we have proven racial profiling. We don't take that leap. What we have done is to alert the public that this is the survey data."

But the critics were not mollified. "We think that the report demonstrates clear and significant racial disparities in what happens to motorists after they are stopped by law enforcement," said the ACLU's Shuford. "If BJS doesn't have a big enough sample size, they need to get one. This is really critical information, and it is likely it would be consistent with earlier studies, which found that African Americans and Hispanics are no more likely to be carrying contraband than whites."

"BJS released a report that shows that racial profiling exists, and then they deny it," said Flex Your Rights' Morgan. "And then they omit the hit rates. And they released this on a Sunday. The absence of critical data, the decision to go for a Sunday release, the burying of the last report on racial profiling -- all this paints a picture of a Justice Department not any more interested in talking about racial profiling than Congress forces it to be. These reports are congressionally mandated, and I get the sense that we wouldn't have them at all -- even in flawed form -- if Congress didn't make them do it."

BJS says it cannot produce evidence of racial profiling. The critics say it's because it doesn't want to. Meanwhile, another black guy is probably getting pulled over and searched on the New Jersey Turnpike right now.

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2. Feature: US Sentencing Commission Announces Reduction in Crack Cocaine Sentences

In an annual report sent to Congress Monday, the US Sentencing Commission announced it had amended federal sentencing guidelines to lower the sentences imposed on people convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses. Unless Congress takes affirmative action to block the move, it will go into effect on November 1. The report also urged Congress to address the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

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The tragic death of basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s prompted passage of the harsh crack sentencing law. But Bias actually overdosed on powder cocaine. (photo from ONDCP's ''Pushing Back'' web site)
Under the controversial crack laws, people convicted of distribution offenses involving five grams of the drug face five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalty. Similarly, someone convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to get the 10 years.

But while the congressionally mandated sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is extreme, federal sentencing guidelines make it even worse for the low-level offenders caught under the federal crack laws. The guidelines currently call for a sentencing range of 63 to 78 months for five grams and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams. In both cases, the bottom of the guideline range falls above the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress.

In an April 27 meeting, the Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the guideline ranges to 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively. Under this scheme, what is currently the low end of the guideline range will become the top end. According to the commission, 78% of federal crack defendants will benefit from the change, with sentence reductions averaging 16 months. With some 5,000 people being convicted under the federal crack laws each year, the move will have an impact.

That is, unless Congress moves to block it. On four previous occasions, the Sentencing Commission has recommended changes to lessen the gap between powder and crack cocaine offenses, but Congress blocked each of those initiatives. It also punished the commission for its temerity in suggesting that the crack-powder disparity be eliminated in 1995 by allowing the commission to dwindle to one member.

"The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue," said Carmen Hernandez, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) in a speech responding to the sentencing changes. "Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that 83% of inmates serving time in the federal system for crack cocaine are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50% longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder, even though crack defendants tend to be low-level street dealers. In fact, the average sentence for possession of crack cocaine is far longer than the average sentences for violent crimes such as robbery and sexual abuse," she noted.

"NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission's decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress' direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect," the group said in a press release. "We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group whose name is self-explanatory, greeted the amendment by noting that is "has been a long time coming." FAMM noted that the commission considered the sentencing change as "a modest step toward alleviating some of the disparity in sentencing of crack defendants but it is not a solution to the problem because Congress needs to address the mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, over which the Commission has no control." The group will urge Congress to take action to further reform crack mandatory minimums, it said.

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federal prison dorm
"This is a pretend reform; it isn't enough," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on freeing drug war prisoners. "This is dramatically less than what the commission asked for in 1994, and it is just heartbreaking that we haven't come any further than this. They think they can throw us a bone and we'll calm down for another 10 years, but we're not going to calm down," she told Drug War Chronicle.

The Sentencing Commission has been cowed by Congress and should be revamped, Callahan said. "We need a brand new, independent commission that can't be intimidated," she argued. "When this commission recommended dramatic reform a few years ago, Congress not only didn't do it, but it spanked them hard and ended up politicizing the commission, and the commission learned its lesson: Just ask for a little bit and tell Congress 'you fix it,'" she said.

A new commission should be modeled on police oversight boards and state sentencing commissions, Callahan suggested. It should include former prisoners and family members, too. "These people need to be on the commission, as do the people who are dealing with all the offenders coming back into the community," she said.

While Congress has for the past two decades given little heed to concerns about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and its disproportionate impact on minority communities, there could be some movement this year, said Bill Piper, head of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Rep. Rangel introduced a bill months ago that would eliminate the disparity," he told the Chronicle. "And Sen. Sessions has told the press he will introduce some sort of reform bill at some point. I suspect that now that the full report has come out, there will probably be some hearings. Rep. Conyers has suggested that might happen, but no hearing dates have been set yet," he explained.

"My sense is that the stars are starting to align themselves in a very good way," Piper prophesied. "There is interest in this in both the House and Senate judiciary committees, including among some Republicans. Now, the Sentencing Commission report is in. It is just a matter of when the process will start and finish," he said. "Still, I don't think anyone believes we will see it actually pass this year, and if it did, Bush would veto it."

While it appears unlikely Congress will act to redress the inequities of the federal crack laws this year, it seems equally unlikely to move affirmatively to block the Sentencing Commission's minor sentencing reform. Now, after two decades that have seen thousands of young black and brown people sent up the river for years for picayune crack offenses, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn.

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3. Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.

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Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

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4. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a real motley crew this week: a small-town police chief gone bad, cops escorting drug shipments, and, of course, more crooked prison guards.

First, a brief note about this weekly feature and what we are and are not trying to accomplish with it. Our purpose in publishing the corrupt cops stories is to make the points about how vast the problem of police corruption really is, how drug prohibition is a major cause of police corruption, and how much hypocrisy there is in the system.

What we're not doing is "gloating" over cops getting a taste of their own medicine or calling for harsh punishments for them. Some of the police officers mentioned here undoubtedly were unethical people when they took the job. Others either bent to temptations or pressures existing in their individual situations or gradually strayed down the wrong path. How harshly they deserve to be punished is an individual matter. Most of all want to end the drug war so that none of this happens at all.

Now, let's get to it:

In Cabot, Arkansas, the former Lonoke police chief and his wife were sentenced Tuesday for running a criminal organization dealing in drugs and jewelry. Former Chief Jay Campbell had been convicted on 23 counts, including conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and running a continuing criminal enterprise. His wife, Kelly Campbell, was convicted of 26 counts, including residential burglary and obtaining a controlled substance through theft or fraud. The ex-chief is going down for 40 years, while his wife got a 20-year sentence. Trials are pending for the former mayor and two others in this tale of small-town corruption writ large.

In Hollywood, Florida, two Hollywood police officers pleaded guilty April 25 on heroin trafficking charges. Detective Kevin Companion and Officer Stephen Harrison admitted running a protection racket and using police vehicles to escort heroin shipments for people they thought were traffickers, but who were really undercover FBI agents. According to court documents, they also transported stolen diamonds from New Jersey, protected an illegal card game on a yacht, and trafficked in stolen bearer bonds. The pair face 10 years in federal prison when they are sentenced on July 20. Two other Hollywood police officers involved in the racket, Sgt. Jeffrey Courtney and Detective Thomas Simcox, are expected to plead guilty as well, but no hearing dates have been set in their cases.

In Hartford, Connecticut, the New Haven Police Department's recently-fired head narc was formally indicted on corruption charges on April 25. William White, 63, chief of the New Haven drug squad, narcotics detective Justen Kasperzyk, 34, and three bail bondsmen were arrested a month ago after an eight-month investigation by state and federal authorities. Now, White is charged in the indictment with two counts of theft of government funds and bribery conspiracy after he was videotaped stealing money planted by the FBI in what he thought was a drug dealer's car. Kasperzyk was not mentioned in the indictments. The bail bondsmen were indicted for paying White and other officers bribes of up to $15,000 to track down clients who had become fugitives. They face up to 20 years in prison.

In Clovis, New Mexico, a Curry County jail guard was arrested April 24 for smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the jail. Curry County Adult Center Officer Raul Lopez, 23, told investigators he needed cash when an inmate offered to pay him to bring in the goodies. He now faces three counts of bringing contraband into a place of imprisonment and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance. All the charges are felonies. He has now been fired and is being held on $30,000 bond in neighboring Pecos County. Lopez is the fifth Curry County jail guard to be arrested in the past year, on charges ranging from contraband to assaulting prisoners.

In Rutland, Vermont, a state prison community corrections officer was arrested April 27 for selling cocaine. Sheri Fitzgerald, 43, went down after selling coke to a confidential informant that same day and is accused of selling it to offenders she oversaw in the community corrections program. She faces felony charges of cocaine possession, cocaine distribution, distribution of narcotics, and a misdemeanor count of illegal possession of a narcotic. That could get her up to 19 years in prison. The 18-year veteran of the Vermont Department of Corrections employee is now jailed on a $250,000 bond.

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5. Pain Medicine: Dr. Hurwitz Convicted of 16 Counts in Retrial

Prominent Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was convicted last Friday on 16 counts of drug trafficking after a jury for the second time decided that he had overstepped the bounds of legitimate medical practice in prescribing large doses of opioid pain relievers to patients. Hurwitz' original conviction was overturned on appeal, and supporters hoped he would walk free after his second trial.

But the 12-member jury instead found him guilty on the 16 counts, not guilty on 17 others, and presiding Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed the remaining 12 counts, saying she did not want jurors to have to come back and deliberate further. Brinkema had earlier dismissed the most serious charges against Hurwitz -- that his prescribing had caused the death of a patient and injury to two others.

Brinkema's dismissal of the remaining counts irked prosecutor Arthur Rossi, who behaved like a sore winner after managing to run up enough convictions against Hurwitz to send him to prison for centuries. Although he could be sentenced to time served,
he could also get up to 20 years in prison on each count. He has been jailed since he was originally found guilty in November 2004.

Still, although Hurwitz and his defense team would be hard-pressed to claim victory, he is in a substantially better position than after his first conviction. In his first trial, Hurwitz was found guilty of 50 of 62 felony counts, including causing the death of one patient and injury to two others. He was sentenced to 25 years by Judge Leonard Wexler, five more than the mandatory minimum he faced for the patient death. In the current case, the number of convictions against him has shrunk dramatically, the counts of patient death and injury were dismissed, and while he theoretically faces up to 320 years in prison, none of the counts carry a mandatory minimum sentence.

He may also fare better before Judge Brinkema, who has demonstrated fairness from the bench. That's in contrast to the judge in his original trial, the irascible Leonard Wexler, whose performance during the first Hurwitz trial raised serious questions about his fairness and objectivity.

While prosecutors portrayed Hurwitz as little more than a drug dealer, pain patients and their advocates saw him as a brave and heroic figure who prescribed necessary drugs for patients with nowhere else to turn.

The case "is not about the lawful practice of medicine... but rather about the unlawful drug trafficking of pain medication," said US Attorney Chris Rosenberg. "Drug traffickers come in all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to wear a white coat and be a doctor."

But Richard Sauber, a lawyer for Hurwitz, said defense attorneys are "disappointed in the verdict. We think that Dr. Hurwitz was a doctor first and foremost and not a drug dealer." He added that Hurwitz "saved a number of lives."

New York Times science reporter John Tierney, who has covered the trial in great detail on his TierneyLab blog, spoke with several jurors after the verdict was announced and reported that "they said that the jury considered Dr. William Hurwitz to be a doctor dedicated to treating pain who didn't intentionally prescribe drugs to be resold or abused. They said he didn't appear to benefit financially from his patients' drug dealing and that he wasn't what they considered a conventional drug trafficker."

Then why did they find him guilty of "knowingly and intentionally" distributing drugs "outside the bounds of medical practice" and engaging in drug trafficking "as conventionally understood"? Tierney asked. "After attending the trial and talking to the jurors, I can suggest two possible answers: 1. The jurors were confused by the law. 2. The law is an ass (to quote Mr. Bumble from 'Oliver Twist')."

The law may be an ass, but it's enough to send Dr. Hurwitz to prison for the rest of his life. The verdict is a victory for federal prosecutors in their war on what they regard as excessive prescribing of pain medication. Chronic pain patients are unlikely to be as pleased.

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6. Resource: New Web Site Provides In-Depth Pro and Con Information on Felon Voting Issue

Many DRCNet readers are familiar with the web site MedicalMarijuanaProCon.org, an in-depth examination of the medical marijuana issue that features authorities from both sides of the issue addressing a myriad of relevant questions about it. This week the parent organization, ProCon.org, launched FelonVotingProCon.org, exploring the issue of felony disenfranchisement featuring comprehensive comments from over 80 pro and con politicians, scholars, judges, activists and other experts.

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1965 Voting Rights Act with Pres. Lyndon Johnson's signature (National Archives, archives.gov)
FelonVotingProCon.org is launched on the heels of Florida and Maryland making historic changes to their felon voting laws. Disenfranchised felon populations (an estimated 5.26 million people in 2004 who may not vote due to criminal convictions) may be large enough to sway close elections, if those individuals had the legal ability to vote. With the 2008 national election only twenty months away, felon voting laws, which vary from state to state (from lifetime voting bans to no restrictions at all, not even while in prison in Maine and Vermont), are under scrutiny.

Among FelonVotingProCon.org's diverse sources are former US Senator George Allen and MSNBC newsman Tucker Carlson on the CON felon voting side to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the American Civil Liberties Union on the PRO felon voting side.

The 150 pro, con, and general reference statements focus around the core question: Should felons be allowed to vote? Some featured content areas include:

  • One-Minute Overview (including why this topic was selected)
  • Top 10 Pros and Cons on Felon Voting
  • State-by-State Laws on Felon Voting
  • Breakdown of Disenfranchised Populations by Type of Crime Committed
  • Comparison of US Felon Voting Laws to 44 Other Countries

ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation whose purpose is to inform the public about controversial issues using facts, news, and hundreds of diverse opinions in a pro-con format. Prior pro-con topics include medical marijuana, the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, electronic voting machines, euthanasia, and others. Upcoming pro-con topics in 2007 (and their launch dates) include prostitution (5/15), milk (9/17), 2008 presidential candidates (10/22), and immigration (11/1).

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7. Alert: Do You Live in AK, CO, CT, GA, IL, IA, KS, MD, MA, NH, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, RI, TN, UT, VT, WA or WY? If So, We Need Your Help

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Last month, DRCNet issued action alerts to our subscribers from 21 different states that are represented on the US Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, asking for phone calls to be made and e-mails sent in support of including full repeal of the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision in the pending Senate HEA reauthorization bill. Special thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to this call to action -- we have reason to believe it has made a difference!

If you are from one of the applicable states, and have not yet e-mailed your senator who is a member of HELP, please visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/senate to speak up (or http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to learn more about the issue). Those states are: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

Also, please call your senator's office to register your opinion that way too -- a phone call usually makes more of an impact than an e-mail -- and drop us an e-mail at [email protected] to let us know. Visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/senate for talking points and further information to help with your call. The senator's phone numbers are as follows:

Alaska: Senator Lisa Murkowki, (202) 224-4654
Colorado: Senator Wayne Allard, (202) 224-5941
Connecticut: Senator Christopher Dodd, (202) 224-2823
Georgia: Senator Johnny Isakson, (202) 224-3643
Illinois: Senator Barack Obama, (202) 224-2854
Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin, (202) 224-3254
Kansas: Senator Pat Roberts, (202) 224-4774
Maryland: Senator Barbara Mikulski, (202) 224-4654
Massachusetts: Senator Ted Kennedy, (202) 224-4543
New Hampshire: Senator Judd Gregg, (202) 224-3324
New Mexico: Senator Jeff Bingaman, (202) 224-5521
New York: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, (202) 224-4451
North Carolina: Senator Richard Burr, (202) 224-3154
Ohio: Senator Sherrod Brown, (202) 224-2315
Oklahoma: Senator Tom Coburn, (202) 224-5754
Rhode Island: Senator Jack Reed, (202) 224-4642
Tennessee: Senator Lamar Alexander, (202) 224-4944
Utah: Senator Orrin Hatch, (202) 224-5251
Vermont: Senator Bernard Sanders, (202) 224-5141
Washington: Senator Patty Murray, (202) 224-2621
Wyoming: Senator Michael Enzi, (202) 224-3424

Thank you for taking action. DRCNet has been fighting against this law since it was passed in 1998, and with your help we could actually win it now!

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Ten members of Congress spoke at the press conference we organized for the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform in 2002.

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8. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet has since late summer also been providing daily content in the way of blogging in the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy, as well as Latest News links (upper right-hand corner of most web pages), event listings (lower right-hand corner) and other info. Check out DRCNet every day to stay on top of the drug reform game!

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Speakeasy photo (courtesy arbizu.org)

This week:

Scott Morgan blogs about "Reuters Admits Flawed Marijuana Reporting," "What Do Cops Think About the Atlanta Indictments?," "Racial Profiling: Another DOJ Cover-up?," "Meth Makes You Do Stupid Things" (he's talking about the government) and "Narcing for Fun and Profit."

Phil Smith ponders "Sonoma County and the Future of Marijuana."

David Borden links to background info (some of it going years back) on the Hurwitz case and the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

Check them out at http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy -- we encourage you to post comments.

Also check out our "In the Trenches" activist feed for a plethora of press releases, action alerts, job listings and other interesting items reposted from many allied organizations around the world. And please join our Reader Blogs where you can become an author in the DRCNet community too.

Thanks for reading, and writing...

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9. Book Offer: Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics

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Normally when we publish a book review in our Drug War Chronicle newsletter, it gets readers but is not among the top stories visited on the site. Recently we saw a big exception to that rule when nearly 3,000 of you read our review of the new book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Much of this reading took place during a week that had other very popular articles as well, so clearly the topic of this book, which was authored by respected academics Matthew Robinson and Renee Scherlen, has struck a chord. As well it should.

Please help DRCNet continue our own work of debunking drug war lies with a generous donation. If your donation is $32 or more, we'll send you a complimentary copy of Robinson and Scherlen's book to help you be able to debunk drug war lies too.

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging on our web site about things I've learned reading Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics. Stay tuned!

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

Thank you for your support, and hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,


David Borden
Executive Director

P.S. You can read Chronicle editor Phil Smith's review of the book here.

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10. Methamphetamine: Senators Feinstein and Grassley Introduce Bill to Heighten Penalties for Meth Dealers Who Flavor Their Product

Responding to a handful of reports from across the country about the appearance of "Strawberry Quick" methamphetamine, or meth flavored with sweeteners, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have introduced legislation that would increase penalties for persons convicted of selling flavored meth. Following the lead of law enforcement and drug treatment spokesmen, the senators are portraying the flavored meth as a marketing tool aimed at kids and their bill as a response to the perceived threat.

That is evident from the title of the bill, S 1211, or the "Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act." The bill would (purportedly) save kids from dangerous drugs by applying the current penalty enhancement for selling meth to minors (doubles the sentence, with a one-year mandatory minimum) to anyone who "manufactures, creates, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is flavored, colored, packaged or otherwise altered in a way that is designed to make it more appealing to a person under 21 years of age, or who attempts or conspires to do so."

"This bill will send a strong and clear message to drug dealers -- if you target our children by peddling candy-flavored drugs, there will be a heavy price to pay," Senator Feinstein said in a statement announcing the legislation. "Flavored meth -- with child-friendly names like Strawberry Quick -- is designed to get people to try it a few times. It's all about hooking young people, and we have to stop this practice before it grows any further. So, this legislation will increase the criminal penalties for anyone who markets candy-flavored drugs to our youth -- by imposing on them the same enhanced penalties applied to dealers who distribute drugs to minors."

"New techniques and gimmicks to lure our kids into addiction are around every corner. Candy flavored meth is the latest craze used by drug dealers," Senator Grassley said. "Research has shown time and again that if you can keep a child drug-free until they turn 20, chances are very slim that they will ever try or become addicted. This makes it all the more important that we put an end to the practice of purposely altering illegal drugs to make them more appealing to young people."

But the bill has several problems. While ostensibly aimed at meth makers and sellers, it applies to any controlled substance, including marijuana. There is also little evidence of the threat the bill supposedly addresses. While law enforcement and drug treatment people can claim that flavored meth is aimed at kids, there is no smoking gun in the form of a meth marketing manual or anything like that.

But the most serious problem with the bill is the subjective nature of its language. What exactly is a controlled substance that is "flavored, colored, packaged, or otherwise altered in a way that is designed to make it more appealing" to kids? If it is flavored, does that mean it is aimed at kids? If ecstasy tablets are marked with a smiley face or cartoon character, does that mean they are aimed at kids? What if the dealer is selling flavored drugs to adults? Hopefully this bill will die and these questions will not have to be answered.

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11. Medical Marijuana: By a Veto-Proof Margin, Rhode Island Legislature Passes Bill to Keep It

The Rhode Island House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make the state's marijuana law permanent, and the state Senate followed right behind Thursday. The vote was 50-12 in the House and 28-5 in the Senate.

The votes set the scene for an expected veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R), who has indicated he will do just that. But the margin of victory in both chambers appears sufficient to easily overcome any veto. That would ensure that the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, which was passed last year with a one-year sunset provision, becomes a permanent part of Rhode Island law.

"The medical marijuana law has made life better and safer for me and over 250 other patients," said Rhonda O'Donnell, a registered nurse from Rockville, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. "Patients deserve permanent protection, and I still hope the governor will change his mind and sign it. A veto would be nothing less than an attack on the sick and suffering," she added in a Marijuana Policy Project press release.

"The science supporting medical marijuana is now beyond doubt, and Rhode Island's experience with this law has been completely positive," said Ray Warren, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The only controversy seems to be in the governor's mind, but strong support from the public and the medical community overcame his veto once, and if necessary, will do so again."

Gov. Carcieri vetoed the 2006 bill, but was overridden by the legislature. Look for history to repeat itself soon and for Rhode Island to become a permanent medical marijuana state, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

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12. Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Passes Senate, House Version Moving Too

The Minnesota Senate Tuesday gave final approval to a medical marijuana bill, passing SF 345 on a narrow 33-31 vote. The vote marks the first time a medical marijuana bill has been approved by a full vote in either House in Minnesota.

Also Tuesday, the House version of the medical marijuana bill, HF 655, overcame one more committee hurdle, passing the House Finance Committee on a 20-14 vote. It should soon be on the way to a House floor vote.

While there are differences between the House and Senate bills, both would essentially set up a system where qualified patients could obtain marijuana to ease their pain and symptoms through nonprofit organizations registered with the state.

"I'm happy the Senate has voted to protect some of Minnesota's most vulnerable citizens from the threat of arrest for trying to alleviate their pain, per the advice of their doctor," said Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), the bill's lead sponsor. "I'm hopeful we are only a few weeks away from Minnesota becoming the 13th medical marijuana state."

But Minnesota is not there yet. The House must still approve its version of the bill in a final floor vote. And even if it passes and is reconciled with the Senate version, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), backed by law enforcement organizations, is vowing to veto it.

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13. Marijuana: It's That Time Again -- Marijuana Marches Set for Saturday in More Than 200 Cities Worldwide

On Saturday, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of marijuana aficionados and supporters will take to the streets of more than 200 towns and cities around the globe in the annual Million Marijuana March pro-legalization demonstrations. Long coordinated by veteran New York City marijuana (and ibogaine) activist Dana Beal and his organization Cures Not Wars, and lately joined by Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and Cannabis Culture magazine, the marches are now in their fourth decade.

Marches or other events will take place in most major North American and European cities, as well as numerous smaller towns and cities, especially college towns like Asheville, Boulder, and Chapel Hill. Latin America will also be represented, with rallies set for Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities, Lima, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Sao Paulo. Kingston, Jamaica, will also be on the marijuana map this year. Capetowners will march in South Africa, and marches are scheduled for cities in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Israel as well.

Check out the complete list of cities to find the one nearest to you and then go out and exercise your rights. The Chronicle will be covering the event in San Francisco, and we will have scene reports from around the world next week.

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

May 5, 2001: The United States is voted off the United Nations Narcotics Control Board, the 13-member commission that monitors compliance with UN drug conventions on substance abuse and illegal trafficking.

May 6, 2001: Sydney, Australia, opens its first legal heroin injection room in the Kings Cross Neighborhood, operated by the Uniting Church.

May 9, 2001: The Bush Administration announces its intention to nominate US Representative Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, to the position of Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, replacing Acting Administrator Donnie Marshall.

May 9, 2001: At a hearing, Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies that the Justice Department has no higher priority than preventing terrorism. But a day later the department issues budgetary guidance for FY2003 to make reducing the trafficking of illegal drugs one of the two top priorities.

May 10, 2001: President Bush nominates John P. Walters as America's new Drug Czar.

May 8, 2002: The Black Ministers Council of New Jersey announces a campaign to inform minority drivers that they have a right to refuse to submit to automobile consent searches, which have been the focus of the fight over racial profiling. The ministers said at a State House news conference that they would begin their "Just Say No" campaign the following week, in the form of messages to minority churches and the news media.

May 6, 2004: The Houston Chronicle reports that Montel Williams threw his support behind legalizing medical marijuana in New York, saying pot helps him cope with multiple sclerosis. Williams, who was diagnosed with a neurological disease in 1999, says he uses marijuana every night before bed to relieve the pain in his legs and feet. "I'm breaking the law every day, and I will continue to break the law," said Williams, host of the syndicated Montel Williams Show.

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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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 on our 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, Vaping, 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