Drug War Chronicle #485 - May 11, 2007

1. Criminal Justice: Snapshots of the Drug War

In courthouses across the country, enforcing the drug laws is big business. We look at courthouse action in three separate locations to get a snapshot of the drug war.

2. Feature: Turning Up the Heat on New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws (and the Politicians Who Fail to Fix Them)

New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws turned 34 this week, and the reform movement is doing all it can to see that they don't make it to 35.

3. Feature: Global Marijuana Marches Take Place in More Than 200 Cities Worldwide

Supporters of marijuana legalization took to the streets around the world in this year's Global Marijuana March. Here's a report.

4. Book Offer: The Trebach Trilogy (updated since last e-mail)

Two re-released classics and one new volume by drug reform pioneer Arnold Trebach make up DRCNet's latest premium offer for our members.

5. 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.

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

A Boston cop gets busted, a Tacoma probation officer peddles meth, two former Memphis cops cop pleas, so does a former NYPD officer, and a small-town Texas lawman heads for federal prison.

7. Public Health: DEA Puts Fentanyl OD Death Toll at More Than a Thousand

The death toll from a deadly combination of heroin and fentanyl rose all through last year. Now, the DEA says more than a thousand people died.

8. Medical Marijuana: Illinois Bill Killed in Senate

A medical marijuana bill has gone down in defeat in Illinois despite broad support from the medical community.

9. Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Headed For Final Vote in House, Facing Veto

The Minnesota legislature is one House floor vote from passing a medical marijuana bill, but the Republican governor is vowing a veto.

10. Marijuana: Wisconsin Towns Join Decriminalization Trend

The far north Wisconsin resort town of Washburn has decriminalized marijuana possession, and the town of Two Rivers is right behind it. They're only the latest Cheesehead State locales to go in that direction.

11. Latin America: Colombia Bans Coca Products -- Except Coca-Cola

For years, the Colombian government has allowed indigenous traditional coca growers to market coca products nationwide, but now it has changed course, and some are pointing the finger at Coca-Cola.

12. Europe: Vatican Registers First Drug Conviction

For the first time, someone has been convicted of a drug charge in the Vatican.

13. Web Scan

Turning up the heat on Albany, media painkillers hype, drug researcher barred from US, random drug testing, vaporization research, Houston City Council candidates, Marc Emery, "Shocking Pot Video," Cannabinoid Chronicles, Suboxone Assisted Treatment web site, more.

14. Weekly: This Week in History

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

15. Announcement: Drug Policy Alliance Grants Program Deadline Coming Up Next Month

The Drug Policy Alliance seeks applicants to apply for $1.2 million in grants for drug policy reform efforts.

16. Job Opportunity at the Harm Reduction Coalition, Oakland

The Harm Reduction Coalition is hiring a Project Manager for its Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) Project in Oakland, California.

17. 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!

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

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1. Criminal Justice: Snapshots of the Drug War

Day after day, week after week, year after year, the war on drugs in the US is filling court dockets across the land. This week, we visit three different jurisdictions to get a snapshot of the role of the drug war down at the local courthouse.

In April, district court judges in Grayson County, Texas, about an hour north of Dallas, sentenced 95 people on felony charges. Of the 95 cases, the most serious charges in 16 were for simple methamphetamine possession, making that charge by far the most common of any before the court. Most people convicted of meth possession were given probation. One person was charged with enhanced meth possession and sentenced to 14 years, while two were charged with possession with intent to distribute. One got 20 years, the other got 10 years probation.

Seven people were sentenced for simple cocaine possession, with sentences ranging from probation to a month in jail to 10 years in prison. One person was sentenced for enhanced cocaine possession and got 6 years, while one other was sentenced for possession with intent to distribute and got 15 years. Four people were sentenced for possession of more than four ounces but less than five pounds of marijuana; two got probation, one got one year, and one got two years. One person was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of more than 50 pounds of marijuana.

Probation violators made up a sizeable contingent, with 13 being sentenced in April. Drug offenders accounted for nine of the violators, with meth, cocaine, and marijuana each accounting for three violators. Every drug-related probation violator was sent to prison, as were all other probation violators.

The rest of the cases where sentences were handed out were your typical array of assaults, aggravated and otherwise, burglaries, DWIs, frauds, robberies, and sexual assaults. In only two cases, aggravated sexual assaults on a child, were the sentences as long as the 20-year meth distribution sentence mentioned above.

All in all, persons charged under the drug laws accounted for 41 of the 95 cases adjudicated in Grayson County last month. That's more than 43% of the court's business being taken up with the drug war.

Meanwhile, down in the Pensacola, Florida, area, Tuesday was a typical day for felony arrests in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. In Escambia County, there were five arrests for probation violation (original offense unspecified), four arrests for narcotics violations, three for aggravated assault, two for aggravated child abuse, and one for introducing contraband into a jail. All in all, 29 people were arrested on felony charges Tuesday, with only six directly linked to drug prohibition.

In neighboring Santa Rosa County, there were a total of nine felony arrests Tuesday. One was for drug possession, one for possession with intent to distribute. Three were for unspecified probation violations. Throw in an aggravated assault, a failure to appear, a DWI, and "throwing/shooting deadly missiles," and there's your daily docket.

If the drug war seems mellow in the Florida Panhandle, that's definitely not the case in Licking County, Ohio. Last Thursday, five people had bond hearings in Licking County Municipal Court in Newark. All five were on drug charges, and every case seems to be an example of over-charging. Three people were charged with drug trafficking offenses for buying drugs. As the local paper noted in the case of a woman charged with crack cocaine trafficking: " On April 11, she allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying less than one gram of crack cocaine, according to court reports."

One woman was charged with aggravated drug possession for having a methadone tablet without a prescription. But most bizarre was the charge facing a Newark woman. She was charged with "permitting drug abuse, a fifth-degree felony." As the local paper noted: "Between March 29 and 30, [she] allegedly allowed an associate to buy about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions. Both alleged purchases were made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports."

In Licking County, Ohio, the drug war accounted for all the court's business one day last week. In Grayson County, Texas, the drug war accounted for nearly half of the court's business last month. In the Florida Panhandle, the proportion was much lower. But all across the country, drug prohibition is taking up the time of police, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards. But then again, that's their choice because policing and prosecuting drug offenses is a matter of deliberate policy.

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2. Feature: Turning Up the Heat on New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws (and the Politicians Who Fail to Fix Them)

On Tuesday, New York marked an ugly anniversary -- 34 years since the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws were enacted. Now, three years after the legislature enacted the first, timid reforms of those harsh drug laws and one month after the State Assembly voted to broaden them, drug reform activists are seeking to heighten the pressure on Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D), Lt. Gov. David Paterson (D), Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D), and the Republican-led state Senate to act.

June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
Prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimum Rockefeller drug laws now number more than 13,000, and an astonishing 91% of them are black or brown. The reforms enacted in 2004 have resulted in the release of only 300, leaving thousands of prisoners serving mid-level mandatory minimum sentences still in purgatory.

Spitzer, Paterson, and Cuomo campaigned on Rockefeller law reform, but since they took office the silence has been deafening. In 2003, the hip-hop community, led by empresario Russell Simmons, put tens of thousands people on the street to rally for reform. Now, once again, the hip-hop community is calling out the politicians.

Working with Real Reform New York, a coalition coordinated by the Drug Policy Alliance, hip-hop superstar Jim Jones Tuesday released a new rap single, "Lockdown, USA," a powerful call to reform the Rockefeller laws which has so far run on dozens of radio stations around the country.

A Harlem native, Jones has seen the impact of the Rockefeller drug laws firsthand. Conversely, the politicians in Albany have seen the impact of a mobilized hip-hop nation first hand, too, and reformers report that the prospect of a new call to arms from the hip-hop community has them nervous.

"We're kicking up the pressure now, trying to revive the Russell Simmons coalition approach to Albany, and I'm hearing that they're starting to sweat," said Anthony Papa, a former Rockefeller law prisoner turned author and painter who now works to undo those laws. "They're getting flashbacks of 100,000 people on the street [for the 2003 Russell Simmons Countdown to Fairness], and it's good if that makes them nervous," Papa told the Chronicle.

He isn't just speculating. After publishing an op-ed in the widely-read Huffington Post blog last weekend, titled "Spitzer, Cuomo and Paterson: Where Did You Go?," Papa received a personal call from Paterson's office. "Not too happy," Papa characterized their feelings about it in an e-mail to DRCNet yesterday. And word is that the chatter in Albany about it all is far more extensive than that.

"These guys campaigned on Rockefeller law reform, and now Spitzer has been in office for more than 100 days, and it is nowhere in sight," Papa complained. "Hip-hop is now calling you out, Spitzer!"

It's time for change, said one prisoner's mother. "Small changes to the Rockefeller Drug Laws were clearly not enough. My son Ashley is a prime example of this, because he is serving a 7- to 21-year sentence for a first-time, nonviolent offense," said Cheri O'Donoghue, an advocate for Real Reform New York. "These inhumane, racist laws have been around for nearly 34 years. Enough is enough."

New York's Drug Law Reform Act of 2004 (DLRA) lowered some drug sentences but it fell far short of allowing most people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and it did nothing to increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. While advocates and family members are encouraged by these modest reforms, it is clear that the recent reforms have had a negligible impact on the majority of people behind bars. Most people behind bars on Rockefeller charges are charged with nonviolent lower-level or class-B felonies.

"Given the extraordinary racism associated with these laws, it's unbelievable they've been around for 34 years," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director at Drug Policy Alliance. "We hope that this powerful song will inspire the thousands who attended the 2003 Lockdown, USA rally -- and all outraged New Yorkers -- to pick up the phone and step into the streets to put heat on Governor Spitzer and State Senator Joe Bruno -- to make them keep their word and reform these inhumane laws."

But even if the Democratic administration starts moving on real reform, a huge political obstacle remains in the Republican-dominated Senate, with its strongholds in the prison country of upstate New York. Seven upstate Senate districts held by Republicans depend on prisoner numbers to reach their required population size and would have to be redrawn if large numbers of prisoners were released or the US Census Bureau counted them as residents of their home towns.

Prisons are also a growth industry in Republican-dominated upstate, which has seen dozens of new prisons in the past two decades. It is no surprise that two of the most vocal reform opponents, Sens. Dale Volker (R) of suburban Buffalo and Michael Nozzolio (R) of Finger Lakes have 17% of the state's prison population in their districts.

Spitzer ran on his record as a crusader against waste and corruption. Now, he has the opportunity to undo the Rockefeller drug laws. But will he, or will he bow to political pressure from powerful special interests who benefit directly from the mass incarceration of their nonviolent fellow citizens? The reform community is now turning up the heat to help him do the right thing.

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3. Feature: Global Marijuana Marches Take Place in More Than 200 Cities Worldwide

From Albuquerque to Antwerp to Auckland, from Bakersfield to Berlin to Buenos Aires, in some 232 towns and cities across the globe, tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of members of the international cannabis culture took to the streets in the annual Global Marijuana March to demand an end to marijuana prohibition. Demonstrations ranged from handfuls or dozens of people in small American towns to more than 20,000 in Toronto.

musicians at Antwerp GMM demo, with ENCOD ''Freedom to Farm'' t-shirt
Now into their fourth decade, the Global Marijuana Marches (formerly known as the Million Marijuana Marches) have become a worldwide phenomenon, a chance for the herb's aficionados to come out and be counted. Long coordinated by veteran marijuana and ibogaine activist Dana Beale and his group Cures Not Wars, the Global Marijuana March is now receiving assistance from Vancouver-based Cannabis Culture magazine and its publisher, Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery.

Marches now take place on every inhabited continent and in small towns and large cities across the United States, which accounted for 118 of the 232 cities listed by organizers. Marchers hit the streets in 66 European cities, a surprising 21 Latin American cities, and 11 Canadian cities, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Japan.

The vast majority of Global Marijuana March actions came off peacefully and non-controversially, but there were dozens of arrests at the Nimbin Mardi Grass celebration in Australia, more arrests in Buenos Aires, and in Eastern Europe, both the Russian and Bulgarian authorities cracked down on marchers, although in Prague, thousands marched and smoked without significant hassle from the police.

The ugliest scene was in Moscow, where police waded into the crowd, beating demonstrators and arresting around 30 people, with four organizers being immediately tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 or 15 days in jail for holding an illegal rally -- Moscow authorities refused to issue a permit at the behest of the Federal Service for Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances -- and "promoting drug use," a crime in Russia.

Official attitudes in Russia, where the federal drug warriors called for a "tough response" to the rallies, was reflected in press coverage. "Marijuana Addicts Willing to Rally in Moscow" read one newspaper headline the day before the rally.

Similarly, if less brutally, police in Sofia, Bulgaria broke up a crowd of 400 marijuana marchers gathered in the city center in support of marijuana legalization. The marchers lacked a permit, police said. But in Prague, some 1,500 people held a march and pot party without police harassment.

Hungarian march poster (from kendermag.hu)
But it was the march in Toronto that drew the largest reported crowds. Some 20,000 people, many openly smoking pot, marched and rallied in Canada's largest city. That's about 8,000 more than marched in Toronto last year. Led by Emery, Canada's "Prince of Pot," speaker after speaker denounced marijuana prohibition to the cheers and applause of the good-natured crowd.

"So far Canada has the gold medal for attendance," laughed Emery. "Toronto was the world's largest Global Marijuana March, and a couple of weeks ago I spoke at the 4/20 rally in Vancouver, which was also the largest in the world. I'm a real magnet for large crowds," he crowed.

For Emery, the marches send an empowering message to people around the world. "The Toronto march got huge coverage, probably more than any other single event," he told the Chronicle. Emery was especially thrilled that the official Chinese news agency Xinhua picked up the story and quoted him saying: "It's incredible that 20,000 people are meeting only 100 yards from the legislature to demand that marijuana be legalized, to celebrate our culture and to defy the law with almost open sanction of the entire City of Toronto."

"If you're reading this in China and thinking, hmmm, Tiananmen Square was a mass action defying the government -- to me, that's the biggest accomplishment of all," he said. "Hundreds of millions of Chinese can read about us, and that's really inspiring. I'm happy that message got all around the world. People are seeing that they can defy the government and get away with it. I really don't understand how the press in a censored nation like China ended up printing that line, but I'll take it."

In Australia, the Nimbin Mardi Grass festival, a three-day event, drew 10,000 people, with police "arresting" 109 people, although 60 of those were busted for marijuana, which results in a ticket, not an arrest. Police also set up roadside drug tests and irritated festival goers by riding their horses among the crowd. But while police complained of the festival's "sinister side," festival organizers reacted with ridicule. In a Tuesday press release, festival organizers noted "Police miss opportunity to arrest thousands!" While dire police press releases dominated weekend news coverage, organizers noted that the festival had "one assault, 10,000 people -- no wonder so many police prefer the mellowing affect of cannabis at festivals."

The police should just stay away, organizers argued. "There is no evidence from cannabis users that the presence of the police or the Winnebago is going to make anyone stop smoking pot. And, ten thousand at MardiGrass being so peaceful is surely the best possible example of how cannabis does not create psychosis or pose the health risk [Australian politicians] John Howard, Pyne and Abbott keep trying to say it does. While they have been blaming cannabis for mental health problems, they should have been watching the ice age coming. Still their own revenue raising drugs, alcohol and tobacco, remain the most damaging physically, mentally and socially," they concluded.

Toronto march (courtesy Cannabis Culture)
In the US, crowds were not so large. Up to several thousand people attended the San Francisco Cannabis Awareness Day rally at City Hall Plaza over the course of a sunny afternoon, while a rally in Bakersfield drew 250 people, and one in Eureka drew a few dozen. Similar numbers were reported from across the country.

If the American Global Marijuana Marches were relatively quiet this year, so was the controversy that sometimes dogged them in the past. Some drug reformers have been critical of the marches, arguing they perpetuate negative stereotypes of marijuana users and don't advance a carefully-crafted political agenda, but this year, while there is some doubt about the marches' utility, there is little effort to discourage them.

"We've been all over the map on this issue," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML) founder Keith Stroup. Although officially retired, Stroup can still be found most days at NORML's downtown Washington, DC, office. "There have been years in which we have ignored the marches. The thinking was if they're not well-promoted and you don't get large numbers of people, you can leave the impression that only a handful of hippies care about this issue. We didn't want to reinforce negative stereotypes," he told the Chronicle.

"On the other hand, there is something impressive about this kind of grassroots activism," Stroup continued. "We certainly are no longer discouraging our folks from participating. In fact, part of the reason we changed our annual conference from the spring to the fall was to avoid conflict with state and local activists, many of whom wanted to celebrate 4/20 or the global march. Having our conference in the spring forced them to choose between the conference or the local events. This year, with the changed schedule, we probably had more state and local affiliates participating than ever before."

NORML associate director Paul Armentano told the Chronicle a dozen or so NORML chapters organized and coordinated local marches. "Our Bakersfield chapter had a big march, and we've also heard from Indianapolis and Boston and six or eight other chapters," he said.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the student drug reform group with chapters on more than 100 campuses, does not take a position on the marches, but its field director, Micah Daigle, is not particularly enthused by them. "The Global Marijuana March was not even on my radar screen," he told the Chronicle. "I'm working with the chapters to try to change campus policies, and I've never found these marches to be too helpful," he said.

But SSDP won't get in the way of chapters that do want to participate, Daigle said. "Our chapters are autonomous, and we like them to take the initiative. If they want to organize around a march like that, then great. But I've always thought rallies and protests should be part of a larger campaign, and these loosely organized marches I've never found very helpful. We're also not a purely marijuana-focused organization, but if our chapters want to do something with this I encourage them to do so."

Joep Oomen heads ENCOD, the European drug reform umbrella group, and helped organize the Global Marijuana March in Antwerp. For Oomen, such events are part of a toolkit of tactics for activists. "Nobody can claim to have the single best way to make reform work," he told the Chronicle. "It is a combination of things, and the Global Marijuana Marches are an important factor because they can show people there is more to be afraid of from prohibition than from a tolerant alternative."

See you on the streets next year.

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4. Book Offer: The Trebach Trilogy (updated since last e-mail)

Update to original offer: Trebach has agreed to sign all copies of his books that you get from DRCNet! Also, add just $22 or more to your donation to get a copy of Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics too! (Make a note in the comment box to let us know you're requesting this.)

Arnold Trebach at 2003 press conference on which DRCNet collaborated
We are pleased to announce that our latest premium book offer for members is the "Trebach Trilogy" -- two re-released classics by Arnold Trebach -- a long-time friend of DRCNet, founder of the Drug Policy Foundation and known to reform cognoscenti as the father of the modern drug policy reform movement -- and one newly-minted volume:

  • The Heroin Solution: "A blockbuster," says Publishers Weekly. "Eloquent and persuasive," according to The New York Times.
  • The Great Drug War, and Rational Proposals to Turn the Tide: Two decades ago, in what was a heartfelt indictment of the Reagan-era war on drugs, Trebach identified and brought to vivid life all sorts of abuses derived from the effort to enforce drug prohibition and began to elaborate a strategy for escaping from drug war and achieving "drug peace." (Drug War Chronicle)
  • Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror: [T]he distillation of a life's work in the trenches of drug law reform... a book grizzled reformers and bright-eyed newcomers to the cause alike will want to read and absorb. (Drug War Chronicle)

Please help DRCNet's work with a generous donation. If your donation is $35 or more, we'll send you a complimentary copy of any one of the Trebach books -- or donate $65 or more and choose two, or $90 or more for all three.

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 gift items 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.

Read Chronicle editor Phil Smith's review of The Great Drug War here, and Phil's review of Fatal Distraction here. (A review of The Heroin Solution will be forthcoming later this month.)

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5. 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!

Speakeasy photo, with flappers (courtesy arbizu.org)

This week:

David Borden opines on "Is it Bad Cop vs. Cop, or Bad Cop vs. Good Cop?"; "We Made Brownies and I Think We're Dead," the police officer told the 9-1-1 operator; "Drugs to Vaccinate You -- Against Drugs!"; and "Coordinated Drug War Raids as Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying; reports that "One of the Worst Drug Warriors is Back, Under Mysterious Circumstances"; "Marijuana Activists Brutalized by Moscow Police During Annual Demonstration"; and "Atlanta Police Nearly Killed 80-Year-Old Woman Two Months Before Killing Kathryn Johnston; and links to stories on pain, soap and drug field tests, Joe Califano, overdose prevention and the Rockefeller drug laws, plus a Maryland action alert.

Scott Morgan brings us "This is Not Your Parents' Cocaine"; "The Boy Who Cried Meth"; and a thorough debunking of a racial profiling skeptic's editorial.

Phil Smith contributes "Initial Reports on the Global Marijuana Marches" -- with pictures from the San Francisco march -- and asks "What the Heck is Going On in Licking County, Ohio?"

David Guard has been busy too, posting a plethora of press releases, action alerts, job listings and other interesting items reposted from many allied organizations around the world in our "In the Trenches" activist feed. DRCNet's Reader Blogs have been going too -- we invite you to join them and become an author in the DRCNet community too. And we urge you to comment on any or all of the above.

Thanks for reading, and writing...

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

A Boston cop gets busted, a Tacoma probation officer peddles meth, two former Memphis cops cop pleas, so does a former NYPD officer, and a small-town Texas lawman heads for federal prison. Let's get to it:

In Boston, a Boston police officer was arrested May 2 for acting as a debt collector for major drug dealers. Jose Ortiz, a 21-year veteran of the force, faces federal attempted extortion and cocaine conspiracy charges for allegedly showing up in uniform at the workplace of his target and threatening to kill him and his family if he did not pay a pair of drug dealers $260,000 for a deal gone bad. Ortiz accepted partial payments and agreed to take cocaine in payment, although he did not want to touch it himself. Ortiz was arrested in Revere as he met with his target, who was cooperating with authorities. He was fired last week.

In Tacoma, Washington, a Washington Department of Corrections probation officer was arrested May 5 for selling meth. Cheri Lynn Cantrell, 38, went down after a former neighbor reported to Tacoma police that the pair used to do meth together and she bought meth from Cantrell. The former neighbor and speed sharer turned informant then set up a recorded buy from Cantrell. After the drugs tested positive for meth, Cantrell was arrested at the Department of Corrections office where she worked.

In Memphis, two former Memphis police officers pleaded guilty May 3 to conspiring with other officers to shake down drug dealers. Former officers Harold McCall, 35, and Trennis Swims, 34, acknowledged targeting drivers of older cars with expensive hubcaps and taking money from them during traffic stops. McCall pleaded to violating civil rights and faces up to 10 years in prison. Swims pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts and faces up to two years behind bars. At least four other Memphis police officers have been charged or convicted in the conspiracy, which continues to be investigated by the FBI and the Memphis Police Department Security Squad.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal cocaine from drug houses. Former officer Kirsix De La Cruz admitted introducing two co-conspirators in a scheme to hit stash houses while she was an active NYPD officer in April 2005. De La Cruz pleaded to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit robbery. She was set to take the NYPD sergeant's exam when arrested, but now she is looking at a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Elsa police officer was sentenced to eight years in federal prison May 2 for taking bribes to protect drug shipments. Ismael Gomez, 27, pleaded guilty in December to pocketing $2,500 in return for protecting a vehicle he believed contained 22 kilograms of cocaine. It was actually an FBI sting. Gomez is the second Elsa police officer to go down for taking bribes to protect drug traffickers. Last August, Herman Carr pleaded guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe to protect a vehicle. He will be sentenced May 31. Gomez, meanwhile, is already in prison and serving his sentence.

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7. Public Health: DEA Puts Fentanyl OD Death Toll at More Than a Thousand

Last year's wave of overdose deaths from heroin cut with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever, killed more than a thousand people, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The deaths began early in the year in the Mid-Atlantic states before spreading to the Midwest, with significant clusters in Chicago and Detroit.

fentanyl packet
Early official responses to the wave of deaths was slow and spotty, but concern spread as the death toll mounted. By December, more than 120 public health experts signed an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt calling for a more aggressive response. The deaths have continued, but not at the torrid pace of last fall and summer.

The DEA estimate of the death toll came in an interim rule regulating a fentanyl precursor chemical, N-phenethyl-4-piperidone (NPP), published in
Monday's federal register. "The recent distribution of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has caused an unprecedented outbreak of hundreds of suspected fentanyl-related overdoses, at least 972 confirmed fentanyl-related deaths, and 162 suspected fentanyl-related deaths occurring mostly in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania," the agency reported.

Noting that fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, the DEA went on to warn of its dangers. "The legitimate medical use of fentanyl is for anesthesia and analgesia, but fentanyl's euphoric effects are highly sought after by narcotic addicts," the agency explained. "Fentanyl can serve as a direct pharmacological substitute for heroin in opioid dependent individuals. However, fentanyl is a very dangerous substitute for heroin because the amount that produces a euphoric effect also induces respiratory depression. Furthermore, due to fentanyl's increased potency over heroin, illicit drug dealers have trouble adjusting ("cutting") pure fentanyl into proper dosage concentrations. As a result, unsuspecting heroin users or heroin users who know the substance contains fentanyl have difficulty determining how much to take to get their "high" and mistakenly take a lethal quantity of the fentanyl. Unfortunately, only a slight excess in the amount of fentanyl taken can be, and is often, lethal because the resulting level of respiratory depression is sufficient to cause the user to stop breathing."

The death toll suggests the DEA is not exaggerating in this instance. Let's be careful out there, kids.

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8. Medical Marijuana: Illinois Bill Killed in Senate

A bill that would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana in Illinois died Thursday, failing by a vote of 22-29 in the state Senate, with four senators voting "present." The vote came despite support from the Illinois Nurses Association, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, nearly a thousand Illinois doctors, 300 nurses, and 50 clergy members.

Sponsored by Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the bill, SB 650, would have allowed people diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating physical condition to register with the Department of Public Health to be permitted to use marijuana. Patients or caregivers could possess up to 12 plants and 2 ½ ounces of smokeable marijuana.

"I am saddened to hear that the bill did not make it out of the Senate," said Gretchen Steele of Coulterville. "As a registered nurse, I know that research and science support this legislation. As a multiple sclerosis patient, I feel slighted and have to wonder where our legislators' hearts are on this day."

"There is no logical reason to not have an implementable medical marijuana law in this state," said Dr. David Ostrow, Chicago physician, HIV/AIDS researcher and founder/director of the Medical Marijuana Advocacy Project. "The medical community strongly supported this bill, but our lawmakers unfortunately did not listen to the scientific evidence for medical marijuana's safety and efficacy this time around. I hope that someday soon, medicine, not politics, will prevail in Illinois and at the national level as well."

"We are not going to abandon the patients, doctors and nurses who have worked so hard to protect the sick and suffering," said Ray Warren, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which had backed the Illinois effort. "Science, compassion and simple common sense say this is the right thing to do. We'll be back."

Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have all passed medical marijuana laws. Now, the best shot this year looks like Minnesota, but even there, the governor is threatening a veto. The heartland remains resistant.

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9. Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Headed For Final Vote in House, Facing Veto

The Minnesota medical marijuana bill is one floor vote away from passing the legislature, as the House Ways & Means Committee approved it on a 14-9 vote Monday. The bill, HF 655 is a companion measure to SF 345, which passed the state Senate last week.

"I hope the House follows the Senate's lead and, for the sake of Minnesota's seriously ill patients, passes this compassionate bill quickly," said Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth).

Under the proposed law, patients with specified chronic debilitating conditions would be able to possess up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients can designate caregivers to grow for them. Patients must register with the state after obtaining a written recommendation from a physician, registered nurse, or physician's assistant.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is vowing to veto the measure if it passes, a position that has drawn the scorn of the Minneapolis alternative weekly, the City Pages. In an article referring to Pawlenty as Governor Buzzkill, the weekly called on him to "puff, puff, pass" the bill and chided him for "protecting cancer patients from 'the munchies.'"

The City Pages' scorn notwithstanding, the bill passed the Senate by a narrow margin, and it appears unlikely proponents can muster the numbers to overcome a veto. Still, there remains a chance that Minnesota will this year become the 13th state to embrace medical marijuana, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

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10. Marijuana: Wisconsin Towns Join Decriminalization Trend

Small town Washburn, Wisconsin, may cling to the shores of Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of the state, but it's not clinging to tough marijuana law enforcement. Last week, the Washburn City Council passed an ordinance allowing city police to issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and booking them.

That made Washburn only the latest Cheesehead State locality to pass a decrim ordinance -- and that distinction was short-lived. On Monday, the Two Rivers City Council passed an ordinance making possession of less than eight grams of marijuana a municipal offense.

The move to municipal decrim began in the 1970s, when 15 cities, mostly college towns, adopted ordinances, according to veteran Wisconsin marijuana and civil liberties activist Ben Masel. Milwaukee moved to the scheme in the early 1990s. Also in the early 1990s, counties were given similar authority, and Walworth County, home of the Alpine Valley Music Theater, which hosted Grateful Dead tours, notoriously turned a nice profit on $454 marijuana possession citations.

This year, Dane County (Madison) and Eau County prosecutors announced they would charge offenders exclusively under county ordinances rather than state law. But in other locales, that decision is left to local prosecutors. Being prosecuted under local ordinances has the benefit of leaving no criminal conviction and no loss of student aid or other benefits. But there can still be hefty penalties, and, Masel noted, a lower burden of proof for a civil infraction and no right to a jury trial.

It's all good with Washburn Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Clapero, who told a local radio station the ordinance would give police flexibility in dealing with pot users. Under Wisconsin law, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Previously lacking a municipal ordinance, police had to put marijuana possessors in jail.

"They were arrested on the spot and brought to jail -- they were booked into the jail and then they would be at some point released and appear in court on that charge," said Clapero. "Now there's a situation where they can get a ticket with the fine amount and released. It's not on their criminal record at that point."

While Clapero said people could still be arrested under the state law, the ordinance will save police time and resources. "A situation where a person has a small or a very small amount of marijuana in their possession or in their car, this may be used instead of bringing that person to criminal court and having a criminal offense on their record for something would he be issued a city ordinance citation which is a forfeiture offense -- similar to like a speeding ticket."

But don't think this means Washburn police have seen the light regarding the war on drugs. "It's not intended to say that we're not tough on drugs. We're still tough on drugs it's just gives us another avenue. We're behind just what every other agency has done, so we just kind of stepped up and did what they did." Clapero said.

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11. Latin America: Colombia Bans Coca Products -- Except Coca-Cola

While Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, along with hundreds of thousands of Andean coca growers, are seeking to expand legal markets for the venerable leaf, the Colombian government is moving in the opposite direction. For years, Bogota has allowed indigenous coca farmers to sell coca products, promoting the enterprise as one of the few successful commercial opportunities available to recognized tribes like the Nasa, who have grown it for years and regard it as sacred. But in February, the Colombian government quietly imposed a ban on the sale of products outside indigenous reserves.

Coca Sek -- better than Coca Cola
The Nasa are pointing the finger at Coca-Cola, which last fall lost a lengthy legal effort against Coca Sek, the Nasa's energy drink popular among the Colombian young. Coca Sek infringed on its copyright, the American soft drink giant argued. With the Colombian food safety agency, Invima, decision restricting coca sales coming scant months after Coca-Cola lost its battle against Coca Sek, the suspicions are natural.

But Invima said it is merely heeding the wishes of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). While Colombia formally adheres to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which considers coca a drug to be eradicated, Colombian indigenous communities grow coca legally under indigenous autonomy provisions of the 1991 constitution, and have been selling coca products throughout Colombia. But last year, the INCB sent the Colombian foreign ministry a letter asking whether the "refreshing drink made from coca and produced by an Indian community" didn't violate the 1961 treaty.

While the treaty considers the coca plant a drug to be suppressed and eradicated, it also contains a provision allowing coca products to be used if the cocaine alkaloid has been extracted. That is Coca-Cola's loophole, and the Nasa call it hypocrisy.

"They lose their fight in October and then in February the government decides to prohibit Coca Sek," said David Curtidor, a Nasa in charge of the company that produces the drink. He is leading a legal challenge to the ban. In the meantime, the community is losing $15,000 a month from lost sales of Coca Sek and other coca products. "Why don't they also ban Coca-Cola? It's also made of coca leaves," he complained to the Associated Press.

Coca-Cola wouldn't confirm or deny to the AP that it even uses a cocaine-free coca extract, as is widely believed. It did deny having anything to do with Invima's decision. Invima told the AP Coca-Cola had no role.

But the Nasa are suspicious, and they're not the only ones who think Coca-Cola gets special treatment. Last year, Bolivia's Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, complained to the UN General Assembly that "the coca leaf is legal for Coca Cola and illegal for medicinal purposes in our country and in the whole world."

And now, whether at the bidding of the INCB or Coca-Cola, Colombia is moving to strangle the legal market for coca, even as it leads the world in coca production despite $4 billion in US aid this decade and the widespread aerial spraying of herbicides. In so doing, it places itself directly against the current in a region where coca is increasingly gaining the respect it deserves and the power of the coca growers is on the increase.

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12. Europe: Vatican Registers First Drug Conviction

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican (courtesy Rome.info)
For the first time ever, a Vatican court has issued a drug conviction and it did so despite not having any drug laws on its books. According to Italian news reports cited by the Associated Press, the court imposed a suspended four-month sentence for cocaine possession on a former employee of the Holy See.

The ex-employee was convicted of cocaine possession after cocaine was found in a drawer in the room where he worked. He had been fired because he had recently been convicted of other criminal offenses in Italian courts.

While the Vatican legal code does not address illegal drug use or possession, the creative minds on the Vatican tribunal relied on the international anti-drug conventions to which it is a signatory. In addition, they cited a 1929 law which allows verdicts in cases not covered specifically by its laws but which involve injury to “health, morality and religion."

Now there is probably no political entity on earth that can stand proudly and say it never persecuted anyone for his choice of substances.

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13. Web Scan

"The Futility of Random Drug Testing," Marsha Rosenbaum in USA Today, via Alternet

"New Studies Destroy the Last Objection to Medical Marijuana," MPP's Bruce Mirken for AlterNet, on vaporization research

"Media Hype About Painkillers Shot Down," Dani McClain for WireTap, via Alternet

"US Border Patrol Bars Canadian Psychotherapist with Drug Research Far in His Past," Linda Solomon in The Tyee, via Alternet

DrugTruth Network:

Cultural Baggage for 05/04/07 -- five Houston City Council candidates discuss the drug laws
Century of Lies for 05/04/07 -- Marc Emery of Cannabis Culture magazine discusses potential life sentence in US prison for selling pot seeds, Black Perspective & Drug War Facts

"Shocking Pot Video," by Jeff Meyers for SAFER

May 2007 issue of Cannabinoid Chronicles

new Suboxone Assisted Treatment web site

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

May 15, 1928: Birth of Arnold Trebach, father of the modern drug policy reform movement.

May 14, 1932: "We Want Beer" marches against alcohol prohibition are held in cities across America -- 15,000 union workers demonstrate in Detroit alone.

May 15, 1988: Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke calls for a national debate on decriminalization of illicit drugs. Schmoke is quoted in the Washington Post: "Decriminalization would take the profit out of drugs and greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the drug-related violence that is currently plaguing our streets."

May 14, 1993: The New York Times reports that Judge Whitman Knapp said, "After 20 years on the bench I have concluded that federal drug laws are a disaster. It is time to get the government out of drug enforcement."

May 13, 1996: The Weekly Standard reports: "Coast Guard cocaine and marijuana seizures are down 45 and 90 percent, respectively, since 1991. In 1994, the Customs Service let two million commercial trucks pass through three of the busiest ports-of-entry on the Mexican border without seizing a single kilogram of cocaine. Between 1993 and early 1995, the estimated smuggling 'disruption rate' achieved by federal interdiction agencies fell 53 percent -- the equivalent of 84 more metric tons of cocaine and marijuana arriving unimpeded in the United States each year."

May 15, 1997: Conclusions from a comprehensive, long-term study by Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, CA) show no substantial link between regular marijuana smoking and death, but suggest that marijuana prohibition may itself pose a health hazard to the user.

May 12, 1998: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) places an ad in the New York Times Op-Ed section headlined, "Let me ask you something… If you had a choice, what would it be, Marijuana or Martinis?" Note: The ACLU has opposed marijuana prohibition since 1968, and overall drug prohibition since 1994.

May 11, 2000: The Arellano-Felix brothers are charged with 10 counts of drug trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering and aiding and abetting violent crimes. The US State Department offers a $2 million reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction.

May 15, 2001: Governor of Hawaii Ben Cayetano is quoted by the Associated Press: "I just think that it's a matter of time that Congress finally gets around to understanding that the states should be allowed to provide this kind of relief [medical marijuana] to the people. Congress is way, way behind in their thinking."

May 16, 2001: Regina McKnight is convicted and sentenced to 12 years in South Carolina for using crack during a pregnancy that resulted in a stillbirth. It is the first time in US history that a woman is convicted of homicide for using drugs during a pregnancy.

May 17, 2001: Canada's House of Commons passes a unanimous motion to create a committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada. Members of all five parties say they intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.

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15. Announcement: Drug Policy Alliance Grants Program Deadline Coming Up Next Month

Through its annual Promoting Policy Change grant cycle, the Drug Policy Alliance seeks to broaden public support for drug policy reform. Policy Change grants fund strategic and innovative approaches to increase such support, including public education campaigns and organizing efforts.

If this sounds like your organization, make sure to apply after you've read the guidelines at: http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/050307grants.cfm.

The program provides both general operating support and project specific grants. Virtually all grant making is directed toward organizations working within the United States, with particular emphasis on state-based activity. Strategic, geographic or thematic collaborations are strongly encouraged.

Generally, the cap on grants awarded during the Promoting Policy Change cycle is $50,000 although most awards are closer to $20-25,000. As well, applicants should be aware that the process is very competitive. DPA receives somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million dollars in worthy requests but the fund has only 1.2 million to allocate. As a result, DPA will show some preference toward those groups with whom they have a pre-existing relationship and groups who demonstrate a clear understanding and application of broader drug policy reform.

Grant applications are available now on the website and are due by 8:00pm EDT, Monday, June 18, 2007. Only proposals submitted by e-mail will be considered. If you have any questions, please contact asha bandele at [email protected].

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16. Job Opportunity at the Harm Reduction Coalition, Oakland

The Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), a progressive advocacy and training organization at the forefront of national health and drug policy, is seeking a highly motivated Project Manager to coordinate and supervise all aspects of the DOPE Project in its Oakland, CA office. This includes grant writing; budgeting; hiring, training and supervision of Overdose Educators; coordinating and conducting trainings; establishing and maintaining relationships with community based collaborators; engaging in policy advocacy, strategic planning and evaluation activities; and other duties as needed.

The right candidate will be very comfortable with public speaking, familiar with the issues faced by injection drug using populations and supportive of harm reduction practices. The person must also be organized, self-motivated, able to read and write articulately in college level English, and able to work with little supervision. Willingness to travel within the Bay Area counties and, on a more limited basis, throughout California. Minimum two years working with injection drug users desired.

This is a full-time position (40 hours/week, limited evening and weekend hours as needed) and the salary is $45,000 annually, with health/dental benefits and paid time off.

To apply, send a detailed cover letter describing your interest in the position, resume, and writing sample by e-mail to [email protected]. This position will be hired quickly, please apply as soon as possible.

HRC is an Equal Opportunity Employer. People of color, women, people living with HIV and history of drug use are encouraged to apply.

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17. 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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18. 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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19. Announcement: New Format for the Reformer's Calendar

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

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

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

We look forward to apprising you of more new features 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.

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