Breaking News:We Just Won an Old Fight

Drug War Chronicle #496 - August 3, 2007

1. Feature: Snitching in the Spotlight -- House Committee Holds Hearing on Informant Abuses

When Atlanta narcotics officers shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston last November after falsely telling a magistrate an informant had named her address as a drug hot-spot, they opened a window on a very shady part of the American criminal justice system. Now, Congress has taken a look and some key members are ready to rein in the snitch system.

2. Feature: Colombia Annouces Shift to Manual Eradication of Coca Crops

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has announced that his government will deemphasize aerial spraying of coca crops and emphasize manual eradication. The move comes as Congress ponders ways to cut funding for the drug war in Colombia.

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

This week we have a pair from the US-Mexico border, where temptation is always close at hand, and a pair from Florida, where corruption seems to thrive in the steamy atmosphere.

4. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Reader Blogs picking up, all sorts of marijuana stuff, Clinton & Obama on needle exchange, drug policy softball team scores top spot in league, more...

5. Law Enforcement: FBI Lowers Bar on Past Marijuana Use by Would-Be Agents

Looking to be an FBI agent? The rules on disqualifying applicants based on past drug use, especially marijuana use, just got a little more lax.

6. Search and Seizure: Arizona Supreme Court Limits Vehicle Searches

The Arizona Supreme Court has limited the ability of police to search the vehicles of people they have arrested outside the vehicle.

7. Search and Seizure: California Supreme Court Just Says No to Seizures of Drug Buyers' Cars

For the last decade, some California cities have seized the vehicles of people caught trying to buy drugs. Those days have come to an end, thanks to a California Supreme Court decision.

8. Marijuana: Yesterday Marked 70 Years of Federal Pot Prohibition

This week, we mark the 70th anniversary of federal marijuana prohibition. We would much rather be writing its obituary.

9. Southwest Asia: State Department Says US Afghanistan Drug Policy Will Shift, But Not Much

A high-level State Department official said last week that the US will shift its opium eradication policy in Afghanistan, but there is less there than meets the eye.

10. Weekly: This Week in History

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

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

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1. Feature: Snitching in the Spotlight -- House Committee Holds Hearing on Informant Abuses

The House Judiciary Committee heard police and legal experts say there needs to be more oversight and tighter standards on the use of confidential informants in law enforcement at a July 19 hearing. The hearing was called by committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to look into ways to avoid abuses such as those that led to the shooting death of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston last December.

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Kathryn Johnston
Johnston was killed after opening fire on undercover Atlanta narcotics officers who were breaking down her door to serve a "no-knock" search warrant for cocaine. Those officers had obtained the warrant from an Atlanta magistrate by falsely telling him that a confidential informant had made drug buys at Johnston's location. Later that same day, those officers attempted to get that informant to lie and back them up, but the informant instead went to federal authorities. Two officers involved have since pleaded guilty to manslaughter, while a third awaits trial on false imprisonment charges.

While it was the Johnston killing that led directly to last month's hearing, concern over the widespread use of informants, or snitches, has been mounting for years, especially in regard to drug law enforcement. Hostility toward law enforcement either threatening low-level offenders to intimidate them into informing on others ("Do you want to be gang-raped for 30 years in prison instead?") or cultivating mercenary informers who infiltrate communities and set up drug deals for monetary gain has been simmering in poor and minority communities for years.

The "Stop Snitching" movement, much maligned by law enforcement officials as undermining the rule of law, is, at least in part, a direct consequence of the drug war's reliance on confidential informants. Especially in black communities, which have been hard hit the drug war, anger over drug war tactics, including the use of informants, is palpable.

Now, with Democrats once again in control of Congress, Congress is ready to listen -- and possibly to act. Rep. Conyers said at the hearing and in meetings with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Drug Law Reform Project and Drug Policy Alliance staffers that is he preparing legislation to attempt to rein in the out of control use of informants. The use of informants is "totally out of control," said Conyers. "It's every law enforcement agency for itself. This is corrupting the entire criminal justice process," he warned.

"We've got a serious problem here that goes beyond coughing up cases where snitches were helpful," Conyers continued. "The whole criminal justice system is being intimidated by the way this thing is being run and in many cases, especially at the local level, mishandled... A lot of people have died because of misinformation, starting with Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta. Getting the wrong house, they cost the 92-year old woman her life. But then law enforcement tried to intimidate the confidential informant to clean the mess up. Then you get law enforcement involved in perpetrating the cover up of what is clearly criminal activity. So this is not a small deal that brings us here today and we are going to do something about it."

There will be more hearings to come, Conyers promised. "This is the first time that we have gotten into this matter in more than a dozen years... But this is only the tip of the iceberg. We've got to hold the most thorough hearings in recent American history on the whole question of the criminal justice system, which goes way beyond informants. It's been picked up and articulated by many of the witnesses, that we are talking about the culture of the law enforcement system and how it's got to be changed. One hearing starts us off, and I'm very proud of what we have accomplished here today."

At the hearing, law enforcement personnel and legal scholars alike acknowledged that the informant system is loosely supervised and can lead to corner-cutting and abuses by police. "The government's use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated and unaccountable," Alexandra Natapoff, a Loyola Law School professor who studies the issue, told the panel.

The massive reliance on informants makes communities not safer but more dangerous, said Natapoff. "What does this mean for law abiding residents like Mrs. Johnston?" she asked. "It means they must live in close proximity to criminal offenders looking for a way to work off their liability. Indeed, it made Kathryn Johnston's home a target for a drug dealer.It also means that police in these neighborhoods tolerate petty drug offenses in exchange for information, and so addicts and low level dealers can often remain on the street. It also makes law enforcement less rigorous: police who rely heavily on informants are more likely to act on an uncorroborated tip from a suspected drug dealer. In other words, a neighborhood with many criminal informants in it is a more dangerous and insecure place to live."

The massive reliance on informants also corrodes police-community relations, Natapoff said. "This question about the use of confidential informants goes to the heart of the problem of police-community relations," she told the panel. "It's an historical problem in this country, it's not reducible to the problem of informing or snitching or stop snitching, but I would submit that the 20-year policy on the part of state, local and federal government of using confidential informants and sending criminals back into the community with some form of impunity and lenience, and turning a blind eye to their bad behavior, has increased the distrust between police and community."

The Rev. Markel Hutchins, pastor of the Philadelphia Baptist Church in Atlanta and a spokesman for the Johnston family, also addressed the hearing. "There is a problem with the culture of policing in America," Hutchins said. "And because of that culture, far too often police officers feel that they can do what they want to under the cover of law. This committee has a unique opportunity to help protect even the officers themselves that engage in this kind of behavior by insolating them from the capacity or the potential they have to engage in this kind of corrupt behavior."

There must be more accountability in the courts, said Hutchins. "I will submit to this committee that if the fabricated confidential informant that was mentioned and feloniously used in the Kathryn Johnston case had been required to appear before a judge, Ms. Johnston would still be alive today... It was just too easy for these police officers to go in front of a judge and to lie. They've engaged in this kind of practice for years and it's been happening all over the country... If police had done due diligence, they would have known that a 92-year old woman lived there in the home by herself. There was no corroboration. There was not any appropriate investigative work done. But I think that probably the most poignant thing that happened to Ms. Johnston is had she not been 92-years old, and had she been my age, 29-30 year old, and a young black man, we might not be having this hearing right now," Hutchins said.

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John Conyers, addressing DRCNet's March 2005 Perry Fund scholarship fundraiser
Even National Narcotic Officers' Association Coalition President Ronald Brooks agreed that reforms are necessary. "We need to take an absolute hard line posture when law enforcement breaks the rules, like in any other profession," he told the committee. "The conduct at first blush committed in Atlanta, and in Tulia, and in Dallas, and in a host of other places was criminal conduct by law enforcement officers and that conduct should be punished vigorously... We need to instill an ethical culture that says that the ends never justify the means... We only have one opportunity to have credibility in our courts and in our communities," Brooks said.

"It was a really good hearing," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Conyers said he wants to introduce omnibus legislation overhauling the use of confidential informants. Right now, we and the ACLU Drug Policy Law Project are working with his office to come up with specific language," Piper said. "The question now is what the bill is going to look like. If anyone has suggestions, contact us or Conyers' office," he said.

"The hearing was amazing!" said Ana del Llano, informant campaign coordinator for the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "We are hoping that when Congress comes back from recess in September, we will be able to have a bill filed."

Advocates are focusing on a number of reforms surrounding the use of informants:

  • guidelines on the use and regulation of informants' corroboration;
  • reliability hearings, pre-warrant and pre-sentencing;
  • performance measures;
  • data collection;
  • requiring federal agents to notify state and local law enforcement when they have evidence that their informant committed a violent felony, or evidence that an accused person is innocent;
  • placing conditions on federal funding that will require state and local police to follow the provisions of this legislation.

It's about time -- both for hearings and for the passage of legislation to rein in the snitches, said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on federal drug war prisoners. "The informant system is a secret, hidden policing system," she said. "When queried, most police departments, federal, state and local, don't have any written policy or procedures with regard to their use of informants. How dependent is law enforcement on a system of snitches? Police departments can't give us data on snitches. Researchers have discovered that about 90% of search warrants are granted by judges who see nothing more than an officer's statement from a confidential informant. They bust down doors on words of people trading information for police favors."

The system is truly pernicious, Callahan argued. "Some psychologists teach police departments how to turn people into cooperators, also called informers or snitches. It's time, the threat of long years in prison, that reduces people to rolling over on their mothers, or their best friends," she said.

Now, at long last, Congress may intervene. But last month's hearing was only the beginning.

Watch the entire hearing online and read official written testimony here.

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2. Feature: Colombia Annouces Shift to Manual Eradication of Coca Crops

Six years and $5 billion in US assistance after the Colombian and US governments embarked on a program of mass aerial fumigation of Colombian coca fields in a bid to dry up the supply of cocaine, the Colombian government announced late last month that it will now accentuate manual eradication of the country's biggest cash crop.

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coca seedlings
While aerial fumigation was touted by drug warriors as a "silver bullet" that could put an end to the Colombian cocaine business, it hasn't worked out that way. According to official US figures, the amount of land devoted to coca production in Colombia has decreased only slightly since 2001, when major spraying began. That year, some 420,000 acres were planted with coca; in 2006, the number was 375,000 acres.

In addition to not reducing coca cultivation, aerial eradication has led to friction with neighbors, particularly Ecuador, which is concerned about drift-over. It has also excited intense opposition from Colombian peasants and their supporters, who charge that glyphosate, the pesticide used in the spraying, has harmed the environment, livestock, and people.

Now, with the Republican grip on power in Washington slipping and Democrats in control of the House and Senate, the Congress is showing signs it wants to back away from aerial eradication. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is not waiting.

''Instead of uniting Colombians around the idea of eradicating drugs, [aerial spraying] causes complaints and provokes reactions against eradication,'' Uribe said in a July 20 speech in which he announced the shift. Spraying would remain only a ''marginal'' part of the counter-drug strategy, he said.

''It's an evolution of the policy... We are going to give more importance to the manual eradication than to aerial fumigation,'' Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos confirmed last week to reporters in Washington, where he was discussing the new plans with US policymakers and lobbying Congress to allow more flexibility in the use of US counter-drug aid. ''Manual eradication can be more effective and, at times, cheaper,'' Santos added.

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aerial eradication operation
The policy shift was cheered by Colombia's most important newspaper, El Tiempo, in an editorial last week. "Announcing a reduction in aerial spraying and reinforcing manual eradication is the first step for Colombia to formulate an anti-narcotics strategy that answers to more than just 'recommendations' from Washington,'' the editorial said.

The announced shift is the result of both Colombian unhappiness with the results of spraying and the new balance of power in Washington, where congressional Democrats are much more reluctant to provide a blank check to the Bush administration on Colombia, American analysts told Drug War Chronicle.

In Congress, Democrats are proposing deep cuts in military assistance to Colombia and attempting to shift priorities from security to economic development. One House bill would do just that. Meanwhile, the Senate version of the Foreign Appropriations bill earmarks $10 million of the military aid for providing security for manual eradication and it would restrict aerial fumigation to specific areas where the State Department has certified that manual eradication cannot be done.

"One reason for drawing it down is there will be less money for it coming out of Congress, but even the hard-line Colombians were never that thrilled with fumigation," said Adam Isaacson of the Center for International Policy, which monitors Plan Colombia spending. "The Colombian military doesn't like it because it doesn't help them win hearts and minds. Uribe is saying that they are trying to increase the government presence in those areas, and fumigation makes that harder to do, so they will try doing more manual eradication," he said.

While Colombian disappointment with the results of spraying is a factor, it is the new era in Washington that is making the difference, Isaacson suggested. "The change in Congress has been the deciding factor," he said. "Year after year, we've seen these disastrously disappointing numbers for eradication, and the Colombians had to swallow it because every voice in power in Washington said they had to do it. Now, the Colombians have a chance to say what they really think about that policy."

"The Colombians are doing this in part because aerial fumigation simply has not worked," said Annalise Romoser of the US Office on Colombia, a Washington, DC, nonprofit that consults for the State Department on Colombia issues. "Since 2000, when we first started the massive aerial fumigation campaign, there has been a massive increase in production," she said.

"The Colombians are also responding to the message they are hearing from the US Congress," Romoser noted. "It is clear that both the House and the Senate are prepared to drastically slash funding, and the Colombian government is neither interested in nor capable of assuming the cost of aerial eradication without the US support they've been receiving."

But simply shifting from aerial eradication to manual eradication is not enough, said Romoser. "Manual eradication will only be successful when carried out in consultation with affected communities. We need consultation, not forced eradication. The communities I work with in the south are opposed to forced eradication. If they do that without social and economic development programs in place before it begins, it can end up being very divisive."

Eradication without development is a recipe for instability, agreed Isaacson. He pointed the experience of Bolivia a decade ago, when the government of Hugo Banzer unveiled Plan Dignidad and embarked on a campaign of forced eradication without consultation. The resulting chaos in the coca fields led to years of political instability.

"When Plan Dignidad hit, the coca growers went crazy," he recalled. "Road blockades, demonstrations, and the next thing you know, the head of the Chapare coca growers union is the president of Bolivia."

That's an unlikely outcome in Colombia, where coca growers have neither the relative numbers nor the institutional strength of their counterparts in Bolivia. But with the Colombian government ready to switch from aerial spraying to the "kinder, gentler" manual eradication of crops, the potential for more social conflict remains high, especially if eradication is not part of an integrated, holistic economic and social development program. So far, neither the US nor the Colombian governments have shown much appetite for that.

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

This week we have a pair from the US-Mexico border, where temptation is always close at hand, and a pair from Florida, where corruption seems to thrive in the steamy atmosphere. Let's get to it:

In El Paso, a Customs and Border Patrol agent was arrested July 27 for allegedly letting more than a ton of marijuana into the country. CBP Officer Margarita Crispin is charged with one count of conspiracy to import a controlled substance. According to the indictment, she conspired with others from 2003 to this year to let truck loads get by border checkpoints. She was jailed awaiting a bond hearing at last report.

In Miami Beach, a city parking enforcement officer was arrested last weekend on drug sales charges. Enforcement Officer Elio Espinosa allegedly sold three bags of drugs to an informant. He is charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school.

In Tucson, three former National Guardsmen were sentenced to prison last week for conspiring to run drugs for traffickers. They are only the latest of the more than three dozen current and former police and military personnel ensnared in Operation Lively Green, an FBI sting where agents posed as traffickers and enlisted the help of law enforcement and military personnel to move drug shipments. Demian Castillo, a former recruiter for the Tucson Army National Guard, got two years for accepting $14,000 to run two drug loads in 2002. Former Guard member Sheldon Anderson got 10 months for helping out on a single drug run. Former Guardsman Mario Quintana got two years for helping out on two loads. All three pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official.

In Hollywood, Florida, a fifth Hollywood police officer has now pleaded guilty in an FBI sting operation. Former Hollywood Police Lt. Charles Roberts pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement when he told investigators he knew nothing about an undercover FBI sting. The sting, known as Operation Tarnished Badge, targeted Hollywood police officers who were agreeable to transporting heroin for people they believed to be drug dealers but who were actually FBI agents. It was shut down early after word of its existence leaked out. Three officers have been sentenced to prison for their roles in drug transportation conspiracies, and a fourth awaits sentencing this month. Roberts faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in October.

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4. 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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prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

The Reader blogs have really picked up this week, with posts by medical marijuana patients, people who are facing prosecution or have friends who are, readers on what their Reps who voted against medical marijuana last week told them, observations on Congressional hearings via C-Span, more.

From the staff this week:

Scott Morgan brings us: "DC Drug Policy Softball Team Ranked #1," "New Study: Marijuana Does Not Cause Psychosis, Lung Damage, or Skin Cancer" "Opposition to Medical Marijuana is a Conspiracy to Prevent Broader Legalization," "Six Months Since Police Shot an Innocent 80-Year-Old Man, and Still No Explanation," "San Francisco Orders Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Fatter Bags" and "The People Support Medical Marijuana, Even If Congress Does Not."

David Borden contributes: "Important Exchange Re: Clinton & Obama on Needle Exchange," "Why did alcohol prohibition end?," "Republican and Democratic Senators Query Gonzales on Crack Sentencing Views," "Five Architects of the Drug War -- and the Result of Their Work," "New Resource on Judges' Views on Federal Sentencing -- Basically, They Hate It," "Some Good Forfeiture News," "Another Pain Doctor on the Ropes," "Another Letter from a Medical Marijuana Patient ...and Another Letter from a Medical Marijuana Patient," "I'm as angry as I've been in a long time over this one..."

Rabble-rouser Phil Smith pushes the envelope with "Taking it to the Drug Warriors -- Is It Time for Direct Action?" and reports "My Representative Explains Why She Voted Against Hinchey-Rohrabacher."

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.

Join our Reader Blogs here.

Thanks for reading, and writing...

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5. Law Enforcement: FBI Lowers Bar on Past Marijuana Use by Would-Be Agents

In the midst of a campaign to hire hundreds of new agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has loosened its policies on past drug use by potential applicants. The old policy, in effect since 1994, disqualified applicants who had smoked marijuana more than 15 times or ever used any illegal drug.

Under the new policy, unannounced but in effect since January, applicants who have not used marijuana for the past three years or for more than just "experimentation" will not be barred. Applicants who have not used any other illegal drug for at least 10 years will not be disqualified, either.

FBI Deputy Director Jeff Berkin told USA Today that the previous system had become "arbitrary" and it was difficult for applicants to pass polygraph tests about drug use because they could not remember how many times they had smoked pot.

"It encourages honesty and allows us to look at the whole person," Berkin said as his agency sought to increase the number of applicants for the 221 agent positions and 121 intelligence analyst positions it has open.

The FBI is only the latest law enforcement agency to amend its policies on past marijuana use. Increasing numbers of departments are reporting problems with applicants being excluded over past pot-smoking, and increasingly, departments are loosening their standards. Even the drug czar's office understands.

"Increasingly, the goal for the screening of security clearance applicants is whether you are a current drug user, rather than whether you used in the past," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It's not whether you have smoked pot four times or 16 times 20 years ago. It's about whether you smoked last week and lied about it."

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6. Search and Seizure: Arizona Supreme Court Limits Vehicle Searches

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled late last month that police cannot routinely search the vehicles of people they arrest. In a 3-2 decision in State v. Gant, the court held that the warrantless search of Rodney Gant's vehicle after he was arrested, handcuffed, and sitting in the back seat of a police car went beyond an allowable search incident to arrest and was "not justifiable."

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police searching accused drug traffickers' car
Gant, from Tucson, was convicted on drug charges after police waiting for him as part of a drug investigation arrested him on a warrant for driving on a suspended license when he drove up to a targeted address. Police knew he had the pre-existing warrant because they had checked up on him during an earlier encounter at the same address. When Gant drove up and got out of his car, police called him over and arrested and handcuffed him. They then searched the vehicle and found the drugs that led to his conviction. The court overturned the conviction, calling the search a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The legal argument centered around whether the facts in this case were consistent with a search incident to arrest. US courts have recognized searches incident to arrest as one of the few areas where the Fourth Amendment requirement of probable cause or a search warrant not does apply, citing officer safety and the need to preserve evidence.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that the search of Gant's vehicle after he was already under arrest and handcuffed for a traffic warrant was not a search incident to arrest. "When the justifications [for a search incident to arrest] no longer exist because the scene is secure and the arrestee is handcuffed, secured in the back of a patrol car, and under the supervision of an officer, the warrantless search of the arrestee's car cannot be justified as necessary to protect the officers at the scene or prevent the destruction of evidence," wrote Justice Rebecca Berch for the majority.

Arizona law enforcement was not happy about the ruling, and some agencies suggested they would find ways to skirt it. Police departments across the state, working with the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the Arizona Law Enforcement Legal Advisors' Association, filed briefs urging the court to uphold the conviction and hinting they would adopt different arrest procedures -- perhaps not handcuffing suspects until after a vehicle search -- to be able to continue the practice.

Justice Berch addressed that implied threat in her opinion. "We presume that police officers will exercise proper judgment in their contacts with arrestees and will not engage in conduct which creates unnecessary risks to their safety or public safety in order to circumvent the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirements," she wrote.

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7. Search and Seizure: California Supreme Court Just Says No to Seizures of Drug Buyers' Cars

In a closely divided 4-3 opinion, the California Supreme Court has ruled that local governments cannot seize the vehicles of people arrested on suspicion of buying drugs or using prostitutes, the two most common offenses targeted by local crime-fighting forfeiture ordinances in a number of California cities. The ordinances aim to reduce drug selling and street prostitution by seizing the cars of customers and thus deterring future customers.

The ruling came in O'Connell v. City of Stockton, where a local woman, Kelly O'Connell, challenged the city's "Seizure and Forfeiture of Nuisance Vehicles" ordinance. In a legal argument that was more about state versus municipal power than drug offenses or selling sex, the court held that only the state can set punishments for offenses under the state criminal code -- not municipalities.

Nor, the court held, can cities mete out punishments for state law violations that are harsher than the state laws themselves. In some California cases, drivers seeking to buy marijuana -- small-time pot possession is a $100 ticket in California -- have had their vehicles seized.

The punishment of drug and prostitution offenses "are matters of statewide concern that our Legislature has comprehensively addressed... leaving no room for further regulations at the local level," the court ruled.

While it was Stockton's ordinance that was challenged, the court's decision invalidates similar ordinances that began with Oakland, the first California city to adopt forfeiture laws in 1998. Since then, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Riverside, Inglewood and Ontario, among others, have enacted similar ordinances.

After the decision was announced, attorney Mark Clausen, who represented O'Connell, told the Los Angeles Times that "several thousand" vehicles had been seized throughout the state, with most drivers getting their cars back after paying "impound fees" of up to $2,000.

"These ordinances were just a public relations stunt," Clausen said.

But prosecutors and law enforcement officials told the Times seizing vehicles was a valuable law enforcement tactic. "Obviously, this is a very valuable tool for us," said Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Harlan Ward. "It allows us to take care of community issues. It's a tool we use to work on the quality-of-life issues that affect neighborhoods."

The effect of the decision will be far-reaching, said John Lovell, counsel for the California Police Chiefs Association. "Forfeiture no longer appears to be an option," he said.

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8. Marijuana: Yesterday Marked 70 Years of Federal Pot Prohibition

It was 70 years ago yesterday that Congress passed the first federal law outlawing marijuana. The law, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, effectively banned the weed by establishing onerous taxes on buyers, sellers, producers, and prescribers and creating draconian penalties for noncompliance.

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1930's ''Reefer Madness''-style film poster
The subsequent seven-decades of marijuana prohibition have seen a vast increase in the drug's popularity and acceptance, even as it remains a lightning rod for conservative culture warriors determined to smite the hippies. Around 100 million or more adult Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, and some 16 to 20 million are regular consumers today.

According to researcher Jon Gettman, marijuana is now the nation's largest cash crop, accounting for more agricultural income than wheat, corn, and soybeans combined. It is also grist for the law enforcement mill, with some 800,000 marijuana arrests in 2005, nearly 90% of them for simple possession.

While about a dozen states have decriminalized marijuana possession, only one of them, Nevada, has done so in recent years. The others came in a wave of reform in the 1970s. Similarly, a dozen states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, but those measures are ignored by federal drug enforcers.

"It's hard to think of a more spectacularly bad, long-term policy failure than our government's 70-year war on marijuana users," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Since the federal government banned marijuana in 1937, it's gone from being an obscure plant that few Americans had even heard of to the number-one cash crop in the United States. It's time to steer a new course and regulate marijuana like we do alcohol."

This week, we commemorate the beginning of federal marijuana prohibition. We would much rather be writing its obituary.

For a good laugh -- or cry -- read Prof. Charles Whitebread's recounting of the history of the marijuana laws, describing the incredibly shoddy way the debate on the issue was handled.

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9. Southwest Asia: State Department Says US Afghanistan Drug Policy Will Shift, But Not Much

In a meeting last week with "a select group of Washington analysts," Thomas Schweich, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, conceded that US efforts to destroy the Afghan opium industry had achieved only "mixed results" and said that the Bush administration would adjust its policies to be more effective. But Schweich's remarks suggested that any changes would be at the margins.

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Chronicle editor Phil Smith interviewed former opium-growing Afghan farmers outside Jalalabad in fall 2005
Afghanistan last year produced more than 90% of the world's opium, and increased production by 49% to more than 6,700 metric tons. This year's crop is expected to be even larger. Profits from the opium trade are widely believed to fund the resurgent Taliban insurgency, as well as line the pockets of warlords, governors, and government officials. But the crop is also a mainstay of the nation's economy and a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan's farmers struggling to feed their families.

In remarks reported by EurasiaNet, a news and information service for Central Asia and the Caucausus operated by the Open Society Institute, Schweich said that it would take at least five years to bring Afghan opium production "under control," but that completely eliminating it would be "impossible." Alternative crops for opium farmers had not been found and proposals to legalize production for the medicinal market were "impractical," he said.

Eradication had been a disappointment, Schweich said, a not surprising admission given large annual increases in the poppy crop in recent years. Schweich implicitly criticized the Afghan government for its limited success in eradication, saying manual and mechanical eradication techniques can at best eliminate 10% of the crop, while Washington wants to see that figure climb to 25%. Washington is itching to use aerial eradication against the poppy crop, but the Karzai government has so far demurred.

Still, he said, the administration's five-point Afghan anti-drug plan was fundamentally correct:

  1. waging an effective public information campaign;
  2. providing opium farmers with alternative and legal opportunities for earning their livelihood;
  3. enhancing the capacity of Afghan law enforcement agencies to prosecute major narco-traffickers through their imprisonment or extradition;
  4. eradicating opium crops; and
  5. interdicting the flow of narcotics within and beyond Afghanistan.

The program is heavy on law enforcement and eradication, an approach that has so far yielded meager results. Since Schweich has already admitted that there are no good alternative crops, it appears US opium policy in Afghanistan will continue to rely on propaganda, some big sticks, and very few carrots.

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10. Weekly: This Week in History

August 8, 1988: The domestic marijuana seizure record is set (still in effect today) -- 389,113 pounds in Miami, Florida.

August 6, 1990: Robert C. Bonner is sworn in as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Bonner had been a federal judge in Los Angeles. Before he became a judge, Bonner served as a US attorney from 1984 to 1989.

August 9, 1990: Two hundred National Guardsmen and Bureau of Land Management rangers conduct a marijuana raid dubbed Operation Green Sweep on a federal conservation area in California known as King Ridge. Local residents file a $100 million lawsuit, claiming that Federal agents illegally invaded their property, wrongfully arrested them, and harassed them with their low-flying helicopters and loaded guns.

August 4, 1996: In the midst of an election season that included California's medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, state narcotics agents, at the direction of California Attorney General Dan Lungren, raid the Cannabis Buyers' Club of San Francisco.

August 7, 1997: The New England Journal of Medicine opines, "Virtually no one thinks it is reasonable to initiate criminal prosecution of patients with cancer or AIDS who use marijuana on the advice of their physicians to help them through conventional medical treatment for their disease."

August 8, 1999: A CNN story entitled "Teen critics pan national anti-drug ads" reports that high school students are remaining skeptical that the government's anti-drug television ads are much of a deterrent as they believe the constant warnings about the dangers of drug use have dulled the message.

August 7, 2000: The Houston Chronicle runs a front page story about the corruption of paid informants in drug cases.

August 3, 2001: The Miami Herald reports that the CIA paid the Peruvian intelligence organization run by fallen spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos $1 million a year for 10 years to fight drug trafficking, despite evidence that Montesinos was also in business with Colombian narcotraffickers.

August 8, 2001: During his third term in Congress, Asa Hutchinson is appointed by President Bush as Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

August 3, 2004: Sixty percent of Detroit's residents vote in favor of Proposition M ("The Detroit Medical Marijuana Act") which amends the Detroit city criminal code so that local criminal penalties no longer apply to any individual "possessing or using marijuana under the direction... of a physician or other licensed health professional."

August 5, 2004: In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed entitled "War on Drugs Escalates to War on Families," Walter Cronkite calls the war on drugs "disastrous" and a "failure," and provides a plethora of reasons why it should end immediately.

August 6, 2004: The Ninth Circuit orders the release, pending appeal, of Bryan Epis, who had been convicted of conspiracy to grow 1,000 marijuana plants in a federal trial in which the jury was not allowed to hear that he was a medical marijuana activist.

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11. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we'd like to hear from you. DRCNet needs two things:

  1. We are in between newsletter grants, and that makes our need for donations more pressing. Drug War Chronicle is free to read but not to produce! Click here to make a donation by credit card or PayPal, or to print out a form to send in by mail.

  2. Please send quotes and reports on how you put our flow of information to work, for use in upcoming grant proposals and letters to funders or potential funders. Do you use DRCNet as a source for public speaking? For letters to the editor? Helping you talk to friends or associates about the issue? Research? For your own edification? Have you changed your mind about any aspects of drug policy since subscribing, or inspired you to get involved in the cause? Do you reprint or repost portions of our bulletins on other lists or in other newsletters? Do you have any criticisms or complaints, or suggestions? We want to hear those too. Please send your response -- one or two sentences would be fine; more is great, too -- email [email protected] or reply to a Chronicle email or use our online comment form. Please let us know if we may reprint your comments, and if so, if we may include your name or if you wish to remain anonymous. IMPORTANT: Even if you have given us this kind of feedback before, we could use your updated feedback now too -- we need to hear from you!

Again, please help us keep Drug War Chronicle alive at this important time! Click here to make a donation online, or send your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. Make your check payable to DRCNet Foundation to make a tax-deductible donation for Drug War Chronicle -- remember if you select one of our member premium gifts that will reduce the portion of your donation that is tax-deductible -- or make a non-deductible donation for our lobbying work -- online or check payable to Drug Reform Coordination Network, same address. We can also accept contributions of stock -- email [email protected] for the necessary info.

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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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