Drug War Chronicle #526 - March 7, 2008

1. Not So Fast -- Funny Numbers in the Same Old 2008 US National Drug Strategy Report

President Bush and ONDCP head John Walters released the 2008 National Drug Control Strategy over the weekend. They are claiming some important victories, but some critics say not so fast.

2. The New British National Drug Strategy -- A Little Tougher, Maybe a Little Smarter, But Essentially More of the Same

The British government unveiled its new 10-year national drug strategy last week. For critics, it looks like more of the same old failed policies, with a step forward on treatment and prevention and a few steps back on policing.

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

A former Cleveland cop heads to the slammer for protecting cocaine shipments, and a former Georgia narc pleads guilty to stealing $80,000.

4. Medical Marijuana: Kansas Bill Dies as Legislative Deadline Passes

The effort to pass a medical marijuana bill is dead for this year in Kansas -- killed by an obstructionist committee chair -- but organizers vow it will be back.

5. Medical Marijuana: Michigan Petition Signatures Approved, Measure Headed for November Ballot Unless Legislature Approves It First

The Michigan medical marijuana initiative has been approved by the state Board of Canvassers. Now, it heads to the voters in November -- unless the legislature approves it in the next six weeks.

6. Hemp: Licensing Bill Passes Minnesota House, Would Require Federal Approval

Maybe the third time is the charm. After going nowhere in 1999 and 2002, hemp legislation is moving at the Minnesota state capitol. A licensing bill has passed two committee votes despite law enforcement objections.

7. Appeal: Three Exciting New Book Offers for Our Donating Supporters

We are pleased to offer the works "Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide for Managing Drugs and Alcohol," "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," and "Cannabis: Yields and Dosage," as our latest membership premium gifts.

8. Europe: Czech Supreme Court Throws Out Medical Marijuana Grow Conviction

The Czech Supreme Court has overturned the marijuana cultivation convictions of a retiree who claimed she was growing to treat her ulcers and foot pain. It doesn't mean it's legal to grow pot now, but it appears the lower courts will have to take medical necessity defenses under consideration.

9. Pain Treatment: INCB Calls for Greater Access to Opioid Medicines in Developing World

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board has called for greater access to and use of opioid pain relievers in the developing world. In a slap at proposals to license and "medicalize" the Afghan opium crop, the INCB argues that global supply isn't the problem.

10. Latin America: INCB Calls on Peru, Bolivia to Ban Coca Chewing

The International Narcotics Control Board wants the governments of Bolivia and Peru to ban coca chewing. Not happening.

11. Jamaica: Government Considering Marijuana Legalization, Official Says

A Jamaican government official said last Friday that the island nation is considering legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana as part of a drug law reform proposal. But don't hold your breath, the government said this was coming "soon" back in 2003.

12. Weekly: This Week in History

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

13. Students: Intern at DRCNet and Help Stop the Drug War!

Apply for an internship at DRCNet for this fall (or spring), and you could spend the semester fighting the good fight!

1. Not So Fast -- Funny Numbers in the Same Old 2008 US National Drug Strategy Report

President Bush and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head John Walters rolled out the 2008 US National Drug Control Strategy over the weekend. While the administration used the strategy to defend its policies and make some claims of victories in the war on drugs, critics called the strategy misguided, dishonest, and an exercise in propaganda.

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George Bush with drug czar Walters, December 2007
"Today, my administration is releasing our 2008 National Drug Control Strategy," President Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address. "This report lays out the methods we are using to combat drug abuse in America. And it highlights the hopeful progress we're making in the fight against addiction. Overall, an estimated 860,000 fewer young people in America are using drugs today than when we began these efforts."

The administration drug strategy has three key elements, Bush said: disrupting supplies, reducing demand, and providing treatment. "Our drug control strategy will continue all three elements of this successful approach," he said. "It will also target a growing problem -- the abuse of prescription drugs by youth."

The administration's drug strategy is working, claimed Bush and ONDCP, citing declines in youth marijuana, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy use. The strategy also pointed to short-term declines in cocaine and methamphetamine purity and availability, but acknowledged an increase in the misuse of prescription drugs.

"Teen drug abuse is down sharply, and this will provide lasting benefits to our nation, since we know that most adults who get caught in addiction begin with use as teens," said Walters. "But there are still too many of our friends, our family members, our coworkers and our neighbors who are becoming lost in the maze of addiction. We need to find whatever ways we can to create a turning point in their lives -- a turning point that leads to recovery."

"Prescription drugs provide tremendous benefits to our nation," said Walters, "but when misused or abused they can lead to addiction, and worse. We are working with leaders in Congress to modernize our laws to address the problem of 'rogue online pharmacies' which skirt around the safeguards of legitimate medical practice and prescriptions. Prescription drug abuse is an area of serious concern, and we are now focusing our nation's supply, demand, and prevention policies with the goal of seeing the same reductions that we have achieved for illegal 'street' drugs."

But despite new emphases like that on prescription drugs, the 2008 strategy is largely more of the same old drug policies. It touts programs like the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, random drug testing of students and workers, drug courts, and continued interdiction, eradication, and domestic law enforcement.

And critics call even its claims of success into question. "This isn't a strategy, it's a grab bag," said Doug McVay, research analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "Anything they can spin as positive, they do. All in all, it's mainly a cute little propaganda piece. And what it obscures is the sad fact that they have gone back to that same old two-to-one spending ratio that favors law enforcement over prevention and treatment."

In an analysis by Appalachian State University criminal justice professor Matthew Robinson, coauthor of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy," Robinson dissects the strategy and finds it wanting on many grounds.

Although teen marijuana and other illicit drug is indeed down during the Bush administration, prescription drug abuse is up, as the strategy acknowledges. That makes it difficult for the administration to honestly claim that teen drug use is down, Robinson suggested.

"Since this is the same time during which youth use of various drugs fell, is it possible youth began using more non-medical pain relievers as a form of drug substitution? ONDCP provides no evidence to assess this possibility," Robinson noted. "In the 2008 Strategy, ONDCP still does not consider the possibility that young drug users have not really stopped using illicit drugs like LSD, Ecstasy or meth, but instead have merely switched to more readily available prescription drugs. If true, this would suggest drug replacement rather than successful prevention."

Similarly, ONDCP's claim that drug use is down is the result of cherry-picking statistics, Robinson argued. While claiming success in reducing overall drug use, ONDCP only provides numbers on teen drug use -- not adult drug use.

"It is dishonest of ONDCP to claim success in meeting its goals of reducing drug use by 10% and 25% over two and five years, respectively, when ONDCP is only assessing drug use trends for young people and not adults," Robinson pointed out. "How can we know if ONDCP's efforts work when we are only shown data on youth drug trends and not adult drug trends?"

"ONDCP likes to play goofy with the math," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "NORML has been looking at these things for 30 years now, and they never achieve their stated goals. These guys have a $23 billion a year budget. If they were in corporate America, they would have been fired for incompetence."

The strategy's claim that it is balancing treatment, prevention, and law enforcement is also belied by the hard numbers, Robinson wrote. Despite budgetary sleight of hand beginning in 2003 that makes the proportion of drug war spending devoted to treatment and prevention appear larger than it really is, the treatment and prevention share of the budget continues to decline, with law enforcement -- the drug war -- garnering 65.2% of the overall budget next year, up from 56% in 2003.

"Unfortunately for ONDCP and our nation, research shows that the most effective and cost-effective drug reduction approaches are demand side approaches such as prevention and treatment," Robinson noted, adding that research has shown both treatment and prevention provide more bang for the buck than spending on law enforcement. "Most of the money in ONDCP's FY 2009 drug war budget is truly intended for 'fighting' the drug war, not for those efforts that are more cost-effective and efficacious -- preventing drug use and drug abuse and for healing drug abusers through treatment."

For NORML's St. Pierre, the strategy's section on medical marijuana was especially offensive. Titled "The Medical Marijuana Movement: Manipulation Not Medicine," the boxed section had little to do with policy but much to do with politics. It attacked medical marijuana, suggesting that each California patient was receiving 41 joints a day, and cited San Diego police complaining about nuisances around dispensaries.

"The section in there about medical marijuana is utterly gratuitous," said St. Pierre. "It doesn't have anything to do with the drug strategy; it is essentially just bullet talking points. And it is just downright silly. They try to say there are only 13,000 medical marijuana patients in California when we know the real number is probably ten times that. There are almost 19,000 patients in Oregon. It is utterly disingenuous of ONDCP to base its California numbers on a patient registry there, when there is no statewide registry."

ONDCP might have talked to other police departments in California that are not hostile to medical marijuana, unlike the San Diego police, who cooperated with federal agents to raid dispensaries there, said St. Pierre. "Did they talk to police in San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Modesto?" he asked. "Again, it looks like they are cherry-picking."

The drug strategy is 79 pages packed with figures, charts, and assertions. This article has only skimmed the surface of the claims and counterclaims around it. Readers who want to dig deeper are invited to read both the strategy and Robinson's analysis for more detail.

In the meantime, Robinson donned his professor's cap and tried to come up with a letter grade for the drug czar's effort. "I might give them a D for effort because the report is well-documented and has lots of pretty graphs in it," said Robinson, "but overall, it's just dishonest, so I would have to give them an F," he concluded.

To earn a passing grade, the drug strategy would have to be revamped, Robinson said. "It would need to clearly state the goals and budget of the drug war, and then it would report data on each of the goals, all the relevant data on drug use trends for every drug and age group, and data on availability, price, and purity for drug seizures. It would also present information on the cost of the drug war, including law enforcement and incarceration costs; deaths and illnesses associated with drugs, and data on crime and violence. It would have to be much more comprehensive, with all available data reported and long-term trend analyses," Robinson said.

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2. The New British National Drug Strategy -- A Little Tougher, Maybe a Little Smarter, But Essentially More of the Same

The British Home Office last week released its new 10-year national drug strategy, and all the signals are that Britain will essentially maintain the same policies it has had for the last 10 years. Like its American counterpart (see story in this issue here), the British strategy emphasizes law enforcement, with secondary roles for drug treatment and education.

According to the Home Office, there are some 332,000 "problem drug users" in the country fueling an illegal drug market estimated to be worth between $8 billion and $13 billion. Those people account for between one-half and one-third of theft and burglary in the country, and Class A drug use costs the country about $30 billion a year in crime and health costs, the Home Office said.

The new 10-year strategy will provide law enforcement with enhanced tools to go after drug dealers and users:

  • Police will be able to seize assets belonging to suspected dealers on arrest, rather than waiting for a conviction, as they currently must do. Police will also be able to seize a wider range of goods, and the current 12-year statute of limitations on asset forfeitures will be abandoned.
  • Courts will be able to impose "antisocial behavior" orders on convicted drug dealers, which could ban them from entering certain areas or engaging in certain behaviors associated with drug dealing.
  • There will be heightened drug screen at airports.
  • Police will be more aggressive in closing "crack houses."
  • The government will create an informing campaign called "Rat on a Rat."

The British government will also go after drug users, by threatening to cut their benefits if they refuse to participate in drug treatment programs. "We do not think it is right for the taxpayer to help sustain drug habits when individuals could be getting treatment to overcome barriers to employment," the strategy said.

On the other hand, the new strategy will also increase support to drug users to help them find housing and work and will create pilot projects to "explore the potential of a more flexible use of funding to address individual needs." It will also roll out heroin and methadone maintenance programs for users who do not respond to other treatment options, as well as search for innovative, effective treatment regimes.

While the Home Office was patting itself on the back for a job well done, critics were quick to accuse it of promoting the same old failed policies, engaging in a crooked consultation process, and manipulating data to paint a brighter picture of its successes and obscure its failures.

"The new drug strategy arrives after ten years of disastrous policy failure, yet during last year's sham consultation and review process the Home Office utterly failed to acknowledge failure or meaningfully engage in a debate on policy alternatives. Instead, success has been claimed with a shameful parade of cherry picked statistics and Home Office spin," said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. "In stark contrast, documents the government attempted to suppress clearly demonstrate that they have known about the counterproductive nature of supply side drug enforcement for many years, yet continued to pour money into it -- something in the region of $6 billion a year -- despite the knowledge it was contributing to a further $32 billion year in crime costs."

With its new drug strategy, the government "is playing politics with people's lives," Rolles continued. "We now have a drug strategy shaped by political needs rather than any evidence of what actually works," he said. "Tragically, the new strategy is nothing more than a miserable regurgitation of past mistakes with a bit of cosmetic spin and window dressing. Its prospects of having a meaningful impact on drug related harms to individuals and communities are zero."

"Drug policies serve the gratification of politicians," said Labor MP Paul Flynn, a longtime advocate of drug law reform in a commentary in The Guardian. "The canard is that 'tough' policies are popular and reap a full harvest of votes. Snatching benefits from addicts is 'tough.' What is needed is 'intelligent policies.' They require courage -- a commodity in short supply in parliament."

The British "drugs charity" Drugscope was a little kinder in its response to the strategy. "The investment by government in the past 10 years should be acknowledged but there is still a lot to do in reducing the harms drugs cause," said Drugscope head Martin Barnes.
"The emphasis on supporting families and improving outcomes for people in drug treatment is welcome. However, while the strategy is strong on aspiration it is unclear how change and improvement will be delivered, particularly at a time of reduced funding for adult treatment and young people's drug services."

Barnes also applauded the government's commitment to improve access to job training for problem users, but criticized the proposal to strip benefits from users. "It would be nonsensical to remove benefits particularly as one of the aims of the strategy is to break the link between drugs and crime. The stick of coercion and threats to remove benefits will be counterproductive without positive support, well-trained advisers and tackling the reluctance of employers to recruit former drug users," Barnes predicted.

Nor was Barnes especially enthusiastic about tougher law enforcement. "The announcement on asset seizures is not unexpected but local police need to work in partnership with drug treatment and prevention services if there is to be a real impact on reducing drug harms in communities," he said.

Minor changes and shifts in emphasis in drug strategies are not enough -- a radical policy change is necessary, said Transform's Rolles. "The first step, if there is any hope of drug related harm being reduced in the long term, is for the government to start telling the truth. This means acknowledging the failure of a predominantly enforcement led approach and beginning to shift the emphasis of policy towards proven public health led initiatives. This will involve investing money in education, prevention, treatment, and addressing the social deprivation that underlies most problematic drug use -- instead of yet more heavy handed police and military enforcement that only serves to make drug problems worse, fill our prisons, and maximize drug harms."

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

A former Cleveland cop heads to the slammer for protecting cocaine shipments, and a former Georgia narc pleads guilty to stealing $80,000. Let's get to it:

In Akron, Ohio, a Cleveland police officer was sentenced February 26 to 10 years in federal prison for using his official position to protect drug runners for a cocaine distribution ring. Officer Zyonko Sarlog, 37, was arrested in August and pleaded guilty in November to money laundering and cocaine conspiracy charges. Prosecutors had asked for a longer sentence, citing among other things, the allegation that he used his mother to transport drug money.

In Rome, Georgia, the former head of the Bartow County Narcotics Task Force pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing more than $80,000 from the sheriff's office. That money was seized from criminal suspects. As a captain in the Bartow County Sheriff's Office from 2004 through January 2007, Brenton Garmon, 36, oversaw money seized by the drug and canine units. But instead of depositing all funds in the appropriate accounts, he embezzled $80,493 for his own use. He pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling and faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced in May.

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4. Medical Marijuana: Kansas Bill Dies as Legislative Deadline Passes

A bill that would have legalized medical marijuana in Kansas is officially dead for this session. It was stalled three weeks ago in the Senate Committee on Health Care Strategies after members chose not to advance it, and under the rules of the legislature, it had to leave the Senate by last Friday.

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Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
The Senate committee held a hearing on February 11, but did not vote on it and took no further action. Committee chair Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), an opponent of the bill, blocked any votes.

Committee vice chairman Pete Brungardt (R-Salina) told the Kansas State Collegian the consensus among committee members was that more effective and legal drugs exist. "The impression you get with casual talk from members is that it was not supported," Brungardt said.

The bill, the Medical Marijuana Defense Act, would have allowed people with "debilitating medical conditions," including but not limited to cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, to grow, possess, and use small amounts of marijuana upon written certification by a doctor.

The bill was pushed by the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which enlisted former Kansas Attorney General Robert Stephan as a legal consultant and prominent supporter. Stephan joined coalition head Laura Green in testifying before the committee.

"I hope these people who oppose medicinal marijuana never have to suffer like the people I have seen and talked with and the people who use it as a last resort," Stephan told the Collegian this week. "If I was a researcher, I'd probably say, 'May God have mercy on their souls.'"

Green said coalition members plan to reintroduce the bill during the 2009 Kansas legislative session. "That's very disappointing for us that they wouldn't take the vote in the committee to advance the bill," she said. "We'll hope that whatever committee it goes through next year that they'll have the political willpower to at least hold a vote in the committee."

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5. Medical Marijuana: Michigan Petition Signatures Approved, Measure Headed for November Ballot Unless Legislature Approves It First

The Michigan Board of Canvassers Monday officially certified that the Michigan Compassionate Care Coalition had handed in enough valid signatures for its medical marijuana initiative to be transmitted to the state legislature. Under Michigan law, the legislature has 45 days to approve the measure. If it fails to act, the measure goes to the voters in November.

Organizers handed in 496,000 signatures, nearly two hundred thousand more than needed for the initiative to qualify. The Board of Canvassers found that 80% of the signatures were valid, leaving the measure qualified by a comfortable margin.

The initiative is almost certain to be on the November ballot, given the Michigan legislature's history of inaction on the issue. The legislature has considered several medical marijuana bills in recent years, but none of them have gained traction despite broad approval for medical marijuana in the state.

The initiative would:

  • Allow terminally and seriously ill patients who find relief from marijuana to use it with their doctors' approval.
  • Protect these seriously ill patients from arrest and prosecution for the simple act of taking their doctor-recommended medicine.
  • Permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana for their medical use, with limits on the amount they could possess.
  • Create registry identification cards, so that law enforcement officials could easily tell who was a registered patient, and establish penalties for false statements and fraudulent ID cards.
  • Allow patients and their caregivers who are arrested to discuss their medical use in court.

Twelve states currently have working medical marijuana laws, but they are clustered in the Northeast, Intermountain West, and Pacific Coast. If there are no victories in neighboring state legislatures this year, Michigan could become the first Midwest state to approve medical marijuana.

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6. Hemp: Licensing Bill Passes Minnesota House, Would Require Federal Approval

A bill that would take Minnesota a step down the path toward the legalization of industrial hemp farming has now passed two House committee votes in two weeks. The hemp bill, HF 2168, would establish a process for licensing producers and distinguishes hemp from marijuana under state law, but any actual hemp planting would have to wait until approval by the DEA. There is no sign of that happening any time soon.

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hemp plants (Luke Zigovitz for votehemp.com)
The bill was introduced last year and carried over into this year's session. On February 25, it passed the House Agriculture, Rural Economies, and Veterans Affairs Committee. On Tuesday, the bill passed the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee on a narrow 7-6 vote.

It was opposed by organizations representing Minnesota law enforcement. The Minnesota Peace/Police Officers Association's Bob Bushman told lawmakers he feared allowing industrial hemp farming would open the door to drug legalization in the state. He also complained that it would be burdensome on the state's crime labs, although it was unclear how.

It has been nearly a decade since the first hemp bill came to St. Paul. Several were introduced in 1999, only to fail in committee. The same thing happened in 2002. It looks like this year the bill will at least make it to the House floor.

If the bill were to become law, Minnesota would join seven other states -- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia -- that have passed legislation removing barriers to its research or production.

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7. Appeal: Three Exciting New Book Offers for Our Donating Supporters

We are pleased to announce our first membership premiums of 2008, three very different and important books:


Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System. This work by Silja Talvi, one of the most active writers on criminal justice issues, draws on interviews with inmates, correctional officers and administrators, providing readers with a look at the devastating impact incarceration is having on our society.


Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide for Managing Drugs and Alcohol. Dr. Patt Denning offers a much needed guide to options for dealing with substance use issues that go beyond the conventional "all or nothing" approaches.


Cannabis Yields and Dosage, by court-certified cannabis expert Chris Conrad, is the authoritative study of the science and legalities of calculating medical marijuana.


Copies of Women Behind Bars or Over the Influence can be requested with donations of $30 or more -- donate $55 or more to receive both. Copies of Cannabis Yields and Dosage can be requested with donations of $20 or more -- donate $45 or more for Cannabis Yields and Dosages plus one of the others. Donate $70 and receive all three books as our thanks. We also continue all our other recent offers -- visit our donation page online to view all the offerings in the righthand column.


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8. Europe: Czech Supreme Court Throws Out Medical Marijuana Grow Conviction

The Czech Supreme Court has reversed a pair of marijuana cultivation convictions against a 57-year-old retiree who grew the plants to treat her ulcers and foot pains, Czech Radio reported Monday. The high court has ordered the Prague Municipal Court to reexamine the case.

The unnamed woman from a village in Central Bohemia grow some 70 marijuana plants in her vegetable garden. A regional court in the town of Nymburk twice found her guilty of illegal possession and production of marijuana. She was given a suspended two-year sentence, but appealed to the high court.

The ruling was hailed by drug reformers, who said it could set an important precedent. The ruling could mean courts would have to examine cultivation cases on an individual basis to see if there was a medical defense.

"I think this is a very important decision and I hope everybody, I mean the police and lower courts, will accept it," said Ivan Douda, a founder of a Prague drug clinic. "We were waiting for this ruling for a long time. As it is now, many Czechs are using cannabis for medicinal purposes and they have to grow it illegally. It is a very bad thing if law doesn't respect this reality and if people can't use something that is good for their health."

The Supreme Court ruling does not make marijuana cultivation legal, but does appear to offer a sort of medical necessity defense. Under current law, pot growers face up to five years in prison. But Czechs are among the most prolific marijuana smokers in Europe, and pressure has been mounting for marijuana law reforms there. Last summer, deputies introduced a bill that would dramatically lower penalties for possession and small-scale cultivation, but it has not been acted on yet.

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9. Pain Treatment: INCB Calls for Greater Access to Opioid Medicines in Developing World

As part of its 2007 Annual Report, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) issued a press release saying that "ensuring access to pain treatment medicines is vital and possible." Millions of people around the world are suffering chronic and acute pain because narcotic pain medications are not being sufficiently used, the group said.

The INCB is a 23-member independent commission that works with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and other international organizations to monitor implementation of the series of international treaties that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. While its remit includes ensuring adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses, it spends most of its resources trying to prevent any deviations from the global prohibitionist drug policy status quo. (See related story here.)

According to the INCB, while global consumption of opioid pain relievers has more than doubled in the past decade, the vast majority of that growth has occurred in Europe and North America, which together accounted for 89% of global morphine consumption in 2006. By contrast, the 80% of the global population that lives in developing countries consumed only 6% of the morphine supply. In some countries, access to morphine is "extremely low and almost non-existent for most of the population," the group said.

The situation is similar for some other opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone. In 2006, Europe and North America accounted for 96% of global fentanyl consumption and 97% of oxycodone, the group reported.

The lack of sufficient access to these powerful pain medications is "due to diverse interrelated factors such as inadequate medical education of health professionals and lack of knowledge and skills in pain treatment, public attitude, regulatory impediments or economic constraints," the INCB said. In a slap at proposals to deal with Afghan opium production by licensing it and diverting it into the legal medicinal market, as the Senlis Council has suggested, the INCB said global supply was at high levels and not the problem.

"Suggestions to further increase the supply of raw materials by using opium from the illicit production in Afghanistan do not address the cause of the problem. Governments should focus on measures to increase demand for pain-relief medication in line with the recommendations of INCB and WHO," said INCB President Philip Emafo.

The INCB said it urged governments to identify obstacles to adequate access to narcotic pain medications and to take steps to improve their availability. It also announced that, in consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO), it had created the Access to Controlled Medications Program to address identified impediments. The group urged all governmental and concerned international organizations to cooperate with the WHO, and called on governments to pony up some cash to pay for it.

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10. Latin America: INCB Calls on Peru, Bolivia to Ban Coca Chewing

In its 2007 Annual Report, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board called on the governments of Bolivia and Peru to ban coca chewing, as well as its sale or export. The indigenous people of the Andes have chewed coca for thousands of years, and the call is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Andes.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia
The INCB is a 23-member independent commission that works with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and other international organizations to monitor implementation of the series of international treaties that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. While its remit includes ensuring adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses (see related story here), it spends much of its resources trying to prevent any deviations from the global prohibitionist drug policy status quo. For instance, this year, the INCB once again criticized Canada for allowing harm reduction measures such as the Vancouver safe injection site and the distribution of "safe crack use kits."

In its review of coca and cocaine production in South America, the board noted that despite multi-billion dollar eradication efforts in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- responsible for 50%, 33%, and 17% of coca production, respectively -- cocaine production had remained stable at between 800 and 1,000 tons a year for the past decade. The way to get at cocaine production is to eliminate coca production, the board suggested.

"The Board requests the Government of Bolivia and Peru to take measures to prohibit the sale, use and attempts to export coca leaf for purposes which are not in line with the international drug control treaties," the group said. "The Board is concerned by the negative impact of increased coca leaf production and cocaine manufacture in the region."

It urged governments "to establish as a criminal offense" using coca leaf to make tea, flour, or other products. That would undercut efforts in all three countries to develop and expand markets for coca products.

Reaction from Bolivia, where former coca leader President Evo Morales has called for the removal of the coca plant from the list of substances banned by the international drug treaties, was swift and negative. "In Bolivia, there will never be a policy of zero coca,'' said Hilder Sejas, spokesman for the vice ministry of social defense. "To do so would walk over the rights of millions of Bolivians for whom coca is a symbol of our cultural identity," he told Bloomberg News Service Wednesday.

Treating coca as if it were a dangerous drug was "absurd," said Wade Davis, an author and botanist who studied coca in Colombia. "Coca is as vital to the Andes as the Eucharist is to Catholics," he told the news service. "There is no evidence of toxicity or addiction in 4,000 years of use."

The INCB call to ban coca use was also met by a sharp attack from the Transnational Institute, whose Drugs and Democracy Project seeks to develop and implement pragmatic, harm reduction approaches to global drug issues. "The Board is displaying both arrogance and blindness by demanding that countries impose criminal sanctions on distribution and possession for traditional uses of the coca leaf, which is a key feature of Andean-Amazon indigenous cultures," said Pien Metaal, a TNI researcher specializing in coca issues. "Isn't it time for this UN treaty body to get in touch with reality and show some more cultural sensitivity?"

Not only does the INCB proposal violate the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it "would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region," TNI said. "It targets not just consumers, but also peasants who grow coca."

"The Board's position makes no sense," said Metaal. "It would criminalize entire peoples for a popular tradition and custom that has no harm and is even beneficial."

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11. Jamaica: Government Considering Marijuana Legalization, Official Says

The Jamaican government is considering whether to legalize or decriminalize marijuana as part of possible changes to the island nation's drug laws, an official told the Associated Press last Friday. The herb is revered by Jamaica's Rastafarians and widely consumed, grown, and trafficked in the Caribbean nation.

A seven-member government commission has been researching drug law reforms. Some Jamaican law enforcement officials have complained that marijuana cases clog the courts and jails.

"We have discussed it, and we are preparing a report to present to the prime minister," said Deputy Prime Minister Kenneth Baugh.

It wouldn't be the first time. A blue ribbon commission recommended in 2001 that the personal and religious use of marijuana be decriminalized, but lawmakers have failed to act since then, at least in part out of fears that the US would impose economic sanctions if they did. In 2003, the government said a decrim bill was coming soon, but five years later, we're still waiting.

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12. Weekly: This Week in History

March 10, 1839: Lin Tse-hsü, the governor of the Chinese province of Hu-Huang, proclaims that the opium trade will no longer be tolerated in Canton, and he begins arresting known opium dealers in the local schools and naval barracks. Those found guilty of purchasing, possessing or selling opium are sentenced to public execution by strangulation. "Let no one think," Lin proclaimed, "that this is only a temporary effort on behalf of the Emperor. We will persist until the job is finished."

March 11, 1966: Psychedelic guru Timothy Leary receives a 30-year prison sentence in Texas for trying to cross into Mexico with a small amount of marijuana.

March 8, 1973: The US Coast Guard conducts its first Coast Guard-controlled seizure when the USCGC Dauntless boards a 38-foot sports fisherman boat, the Big L, and arrests its master and crew with more than a ton of marijuana on board.

March 9, 1982: The largest US domestic cocaine seizure ever to date raises US awareness of the Medellin cartel. The seizure of 3,906 pounds of cocaine, valued at over $100 million wholesale, from a Miami International Airport hanger tells US law enforcement that Colombian traffickers must be working together because no single trafficker could be behind a shipment that large.

March 10, 1984: By tracking the illegal sale of massive amounts of ether to Colombia, the DEA and Colombian police discover Tranquilandia, a laboratory operation deep in the Colombian jungle. In the subsequent bust, law enforcement officials destroy 14 laboratory complexes, which contain 13.8 metric tons of cocaine, 7 airplanes, and 11,800 drums of chemicals, conservatively estimated at $1.2 billion. The bust confirms the consolidation of the Medellin cartel's manufacturing operation.

March 12, 1998: Canada legalizes hemp production and sets a limit of 0.3% THC content that may be present in the plants and requires that all seeds be certified for THC content.

March 12, 1998: The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and West Hollywood write letters to President Clinton asking him to keep the cannabis buyers clubs open. They tell the president: "If the centers are shut down, many of these individuals will be compelled to search back alleys and street corners for their medicine," and ask him to "implement a moratorium on enforcement of federal drug laws that interfere with the daily operation of the dispensaries."

March 9, 2001: William J. Allegro, 32, of Bradley Beach, New Jersey is sentenced to 50 years in prison for growing marijuana in his home. "The court imposed this sentence because the court felt obligated to do so under the law," says Judge Paul F. Chaiet, a former prosecutor. "Mandatory sentencing provisions can create difficult results. In the court's view, this is one of those times where the ultimate results are difficult to accept."

March 10, 2004: In a Washington Post article, "Obesity Passing Smoking as Top Avoidable Cause of Death," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, when asked about unhealthy foods, says, "I don't want to start banning things... Prohibition has never worked." [NOTE: In 2000, only 0.7% of all deaths were due to illicit drug use while poor diet and physical inactivity was responsible for 16.6% of all deaths.]

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13. Students: Intern at DRCNet and Help Stop the Drug War!

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a DRCNet internship for this fall semester (or spring) and you could come join the team and help us fight the fight!

DRCNet (also known as "Stop the Drug War") has a strong record of providing substantive work experience to our interns -- you won't spend the summer doing filing or running errands, you will play an integral role in one or more of our exciting programs. Options for work you can do with us include coalition outreach as part of the campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, and to expand that effort to encompass other bad drug laws like the similar provisions in welfare and public housing law; blogosphere/web outreach; media research and outreach; web site work (research, writing, technical); possibly other areas. If you are chosen for an internship, we will strive to match your interests and abilities to whichever area is the best fit for you.

While our internships are unpaid, we will reimburse you for metro fare, and DRCNet is a fun and rewarding place to work. To apply, please send your resume to David Guard at [email protected], and feel free to contact us at (202) 293-8340. We hope to hear from you! Check out our web site at http://stopthedrugwar.org to learn more about our organization.

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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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