Drug War Chronicle #534 - May 2, 2008

1. In Mexico, Opposition to Plan Merida Emerges

High US officials hit the road for Latin America this week in a series of trips to lobby for passage of Plan Mérida, the $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package for Mexico. But at a forum on drug policy in Culiacán, Sinaloa, there was little but objections to the plan, especially its emphasis on using the Mexican military in the drug war.

2. In Mexico's Drug Heartland, A Debate on Alternatives to the Drug War Takes Place

Culiacán, Sinaloa, is the home of one of Mexico's most feared drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel. This week, it was also home to a groundbreaking conference on alternatives to the drug war. As that conference ended Wednesday evening, cops, soldiers, and narcos went at it on the streets of Culiacán, leaving two cops and two narcos dead, and providing poignant punctuation to the conference.

3. Dedication: Seattle Musician Timothy Garon, Victim of the Drug War

Seattle-area musician Timothy Garon passed away late last night after being denied a needed transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center because of his medical marijuana use.

4. Offer: New Clergy Anti-Drug-War Video

Clergy are speaking out against the war on drugs! Donate $16 or more (or whatever you can afford) and we'll send you a copy.

5. Sentencing: Woman Who Fled Michigan Drug Sentence 32 Years Ago Caught in California, Faces 20 Years

Susan LeFevre got busted in Michigan at age 19 for small-time heroin sales. She copped a plea in hopes of leniency, but was instead sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. In 1976, she jumped the wall and fled to California, where she has led an exemplary life every since. Now, thanks to an anonymous tip, she has been tracked down and jailed pending extradition to Michigan. Should she now have to serve her time?

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

New Haven's former top narc heads to prison, a Louisiana DARE officer goes down, a South Carolina jail guard gets caught shooting cocaine, and an Idaho deputy gets caught ripping off cash and drugs.

7. Sentencing: Federal Crack Sentence Reductions Begin to Take Hold

The US Sentencing Commission announced that changes in the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines would be retroactive, allowing current prisoners a chance at a sentence cut. In the month since prisoners began to be able to apply for cuts, some 3,000 have received them.

8. Marijuana: New York City Pot Arrest Capital of the World

New York City decriminalized marijuana possession nearly three decades ago, but cops there still managed to arrest nearly 40,000 people for pot last year and 400,000 in the last decade.

9. Europe: Dutch Ban on Magic Mushrooms Moves Closer

The Dutch are about to ban magic mushrooms. The cabinet passed a proposal and sent it to parliament, where it is expected to be approved.

10. Canada: Supreme Court Nixes Random Use of Drug Dogs

In contrast with the US Supreme Court, which held that a drug dog sniff did not constitute a search, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last week that it does, and that random drug dog searches are unconstitutional.

11. Weekly: This Week in History

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

12. 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!

13. Job Listing: Field Coordinator, Americans for Safe Access, Oakland

Americans for Safe Access is looking to hire a field coordinator for their Oakland, California headquarters.

1. In Mexico, Opposition to Plan Merida Emerges

This week, high-level US and Mexican officials spoke out in favor of Plan Mérida, the three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug package designed to assist the Mexican government in its ongoing battle with violent drug trafficking organizations. But at the same time officials like Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were visiting Latin America to seek support for the plan, at a forum on drug policy in Culiacán, Sinaloa, home of one of the most feared of the drug trafficking groups, the Sinaloa Cartel, there was little but criticism of the proposed aid package.

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Ríodoce cover -- Sinaloa keeps bleeding. Why more (soldiers)?
Since he took office at the beginning of last year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed some 30,000 Mexican army troops in the fight against the so-called cartels, which provide much of the cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana coming into the United States. US officials have praised Mexican President Felipe Calderón for his aggressive efforts against the cartels and seek to reward his government -- and especially the Mexican military -- by providing high-tech equipment, training, and other goods to the Mexican armed forces.

But despite the massive military deployments in border cities from Tijuana in the west to Reynosa and Matamoros in the east, as well as in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, and Sinaloa -- all traditional drug-producing areas -- and the high praise from Washington, Calderon's drug war has not gone well. Roughly 2,000 people were killed in Mexico's drug war last year, and with this year's toll already approaching 1,000, 2008 looks to be even bloodier. Yet the flow of drugs north and guns and cash south continues unimpeded.

Bush administration and Mexican officials met over a period of months last year and early this year to craft a joint response that would see $500 million a year in assistance to Mexico, primarily in the form of helicopters and surveillance aircraft. Known as Plan Mérida, after the Mexican city in which it took final form, the assistance package is now before the US Congress.

Congressional failure to fund the package would be "a real slap at Mexico," Secretary of Defense Gates said in Mexico City Tuesday as he met with General Guillermo Galván, the Mexican defense minister, Government Secretary Juan Mouriño, and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. "It clearly would make it more difficult for us to help Mexican armed forces and their civilian agencies deal with this difficult problem," he told reporters.

The same day, Attorney General Mukasey was in San José, Costa Rica, where in a speech to justice ministers from across the hemisphere, he, too, urged Congress to approve the aid package. Drugs, gangs, and violent crime on the border are "a joint problem -- and we must face it jointly," he said. "By working together, we can strengthen the rule of law and the administration of justice, and we can combat transnational criminal threats," Mukasey said.

That is what the Mexican government wants to hear. It negotiated the aid package, and although President Calderón's ruling National Action Party (PAN) does not hold a majority in the Mexican congress, it can count on the support of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on the aid deal. Of the three major parties in the Mexican congress, only the left-leaning Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) is raising concerns about the package, but the PRD is not strong enough in the congress to block it.

But while official Mexico may want passage of the package, a number of Mexican intellectuals, academics, political figures, and former military officers attacked the plan to beef up the Mexican military for US drug war aims at a forum this week at the International Forum on Illicit Drugs hosted by the Culiacán weekly newsmagazine Ríodoce.

"The US wants to fight drugs, crime, and terrorism. Bush and Calderón have been talking about a new Plan Colombia, but the anti-drug policies pursued so far have been a failure," said Ríodoce managing editor Ismael Bojórquez, as he opened the conference. "The phenomenon of drug trafficking is very complex and reaches deeply into the fabric of our society. The system benefits from the drug trade; the profits from it enter into our economy and have benefited many businesses. Few sectors have been able to resist the easy money. In a country that has not been able to improve conditions for poor Mexicans, the drug trade is an attractive alternative," he explained.

"Our government has authorized the use of federal police and even soldiers to attack the drug trade, but this strategy is mistaken and the government has wasted million of dollars that could have gone to productive ends," Bojórquez added.

"Our foreign policy has been subordinated to that of the Americans, the policemen of the world," said Mexican political figure Jorge Ángel Pescador Osuna, the former Mexican consul general in Los Angeles. "Fortunately, this Plan Mérida initiative has yet to be approved by the US Congress, and hopefully, the voice of Mexico will be heard in this debate. We think there are real solutions that are within the grasp of the government and civil society," he said.

"They want to spend $500 million the first year, half of which will go to buy military equipment and advanced technologies," said Pescador Osuna. "My first response is how nice. But then I have to ask why we should use the military in areas that are outside its competence. What we need here is to strengthen our democracy, and we will not accomplish that by using the military for civilian law enforcement."

"These kinds of anti-drug policies that focus on policing are overwhelmingly simplistic," concurred Colombian economist Francisco Thoumi, director of the Center for Drug and Crime Studies at the University of Rosario in Bogota. "They do not attack the problem at the base," he argued. "The drug trade is a capitalist industry, and it accepts the losses of interdiction and eradication as a cost of doing business. This kind of enforcement looks good on TV and makes politicians and police happy, but the industry goes on, and this doesn't solve the problem."

"The idea with this is to give power to the armed forces," said Luis Astorga, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City and head of a UNESCO program devoted to understanding the ramifications of the international drug trade. "Calderon is doing nothing more or less than reconfiguring the anti-drug struggle in Mexico by putting it in the hands of the military. One question is how long this will last," he noted.

General Francisco Gallardo, a leading advocate of human rights within the Mexican armed forces, was also critical. "The context for Plan Mérida is this new world order where the US struggle for hegemony with China and the European Union," he argued. "The US has militarized its foreign policy, and it wants us to militarize our drug enforcement. But the function of the army is to defend the sovereignty of the state, not to fight crime. That is the job of the police," he said.

"Involving the military under the auspices of Plan Mérida does not respond to Mexican interests," Gallardo said. "It has a bad effect on the institutional and judicial order of the nation. The soldiers who kill innocents are absolved; they have impunity," he said, citing the cases of several mass killings by soldiers in Sinaloa, including an incident in Santiago de Caballero in the mountains above Culiacán in late March, in which four unarmed young men in a Hummer were killed by soldiers on an anti-drug mission. "The drug trade is a matter for police and the justice system, not the military," Gallardo concluded.

While the Bush and Calderón administrations are seeking to steamroll opposition to the proposed aid package, it is clear that Plan Mérida is drawing heated criticism in Mexico. What is less clear is whether that opposition can successfully block the initiative on the Mexican side. Right now, the best prospects for that appear to lie in the US Congress.

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2. In Mexico's Drug Heartland, A Debate on Alternatives to the Drug War Takes Place

About 6:30 local time Wednesday evening, the latest outbreak of Mexican drug war violence occurred in Culiacán, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, long a drug-producing region and home to one of the most feared of the country's drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa cartel. Two cartel gunman and two Culiacán policemen died in a series of shoot-outs that broke out when Mexican soldiers and police attempted to arrest suspected narcos, or cartel members.

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shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacan -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from ''the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona''

The deaths occurred less than a mile from the central Culiacán hotel where a number of intellectuals, academics, and political figures were staying while they were in town for a two-day International Forum on Illicit Drugs organized by the muckraking local newsweekly Ríodoce. The bloody gun battles were poignant punctuation for a conference Tuesday and Wednesday dedicated to seeking alternatives to Mexico's drug war, which has seen nearly 1,000 people killed so far this year, and nearly 4,000 dead since President Felipe Calderón called out the army at the beginning of 2007.

While Calderón and his allies in the Bush administration are seeking a $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package to try to break the back of the cartels by ramping up Mexican military involvement in the fray under the Plan Mérida initiative, the Culiacán conference was dedicated to searching for a different path. Its subtitle was "Plan Mérida and the Experiences of Decriminalization."

Organized by Ríodoce as a response to the violence that appears to be spiraling out of control, the forum brought together leading Mexican drug experts, such as Luis Astorga, head of the UNESCO program studying the economic and social aspects of drugs and the drug trade; Dr. Humberto Brocca, a Mexico City physician who deals with street youth and drug addiction; Ricardo Ravel, a journalist for the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso and author of numerous books on the Mexican cartels; General Francisco Gallardo, the leading proponent of human rights in the Mexican military; Jorge Hernández Tinajero, advisor to Deputy Elsa Conde and founding member of AMECA (the Mexican Assocation for Cannabis Studies), and Carlos Montemayor, a towering figure among the Mexican intelligentsia, among others.

They were joined by Colombian drug specialist Francisco Thoumi, director of the Center for the Study of Drugs and Crime at the University of Rosario in Bogota; and Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York City-based Drug Policy Alliance. Also in attendance, albeit briefly, were a number of local political figures, including a former state governor, a member of the state congress, the state human rights coordinator, and the state coordinator for the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). The attendance of the local political figures at the forum's opening session is a sign that, given a massive military presence (about 1,000 more Mexican army troops deployed to Culiacán last week, joining about 2,000 others already working in the state), rising levels of violence, and endemic corruption among law enforcement and political figures, the state's political elite is starting to look for alternatives to even more soldiers, more narcos, and more violence.

"The drug trade has become one of the most complex and important problems facing us today," said Ríodoce publisher Ismael Bojórquez as he opened the conference Tuesday morning in the Torre Académica at the Culiacán campus of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa. "Our efforts to fight it have not produced results. But it is not just a law enforcement problem, it is also a health problem. How do we protect drug consumers? Here today, we are proposing that given the failure of our drug policy, we need to look at alternatives."

[Much of the discussion at the forum focused on Plan Mérida and the militarization of Mexico's drug war. See that discussion here.]

AMECA founder Jorge Hernández Tinajero explained one alternative, the decriminalization of marijuana use and possession, as a first step on a path toward meaningful drug reform in Mexico. "We have a proposal before the congress that would remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession," he explained, arguing that marijuana smokers should be dealt with outside the criminal justice system.

Although conceding that change will come incrementally if at all, Hernández Tinajero also made a broader anti-prohibitionist argument. "It is disingenuous to say that we should rely on the military and police to reduce the supply of drugs," he said. "Who trusts the police? Nobody," he said, to cheers and laughter from the audience.

While the Ríodoce conference marked the first public gathering in Sinaloa to discuss alternatives to the drug war, it is a problem that has been festering for years, said Nery Córdova, a poet and essayist who is a member of the social sciences faculty at Autonomous University of Sinaloa. "We've been discussing this for some time, and not just professionals and academics," he told a rapt audience of students, community members, and other interested parties. "This is a problem that involves millions of people here in Mexico. Prohibition has been very profitable," he noted.

But while prohibition has been profitable for some, it also imposes steep costs on others, Córdova said. "We've seen the army raid thousands of villages, and now, in the mountains hundreds of villages are just vanishing. We have seen massacres of innocents by the military, and at the same time, we have the media telling us that killing a narco is saving the homeland. But the use of institutional force and violence only generates more violence," he said.

"Prohibition has been inefficient and useless," said José Manuel Valenzuela, a professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at the College of the Northern Frontier in Tijuana, and author of award-winning books on popular culture and "narco-culture." "Prohibition corrupts not only the police forces and the army, but also many other spheres of society. We have become accustomed to confronting this in a brutal manner," he said.

There is a better way, said Brocca, citing the experience of Holland. But getting to a better solution, he said, requires looking within. "Blaming drugs obscures real problems," he said. "We fear the truth."

Still, said Brocca, times are changing. "We are used to working in the trenches, and we've been waiting for change to come from above, but this is changing. This decrim bill is the result of a group of us -- political people, doctors, academics, celebrities -- coming together to push for change."

But while panelist after panelist made strong arguments for a paradigm shift in drug policy, it was DPA's Nadelmann, with his energetic public presentation unimpeded by the necessity of ongoing translation, who stole the show and most captivated the crowd.

"The war on drugs is a disaster; it's contrary to common sense, the laws of economics, and human rights," Nadelmann told a rapt audience. "Our policy has resulted in a global prohibition regime that uses the criminal laws with respect to some drugs, but not others. Those decisions were not based on science or medicine; they had less to do with the dangers of various substances than with who was using them," he said, citing the racist history of drug laws in the US and comparing them to the contemporary "hysteria" over the of people from Mexico into the US , an approach that resonated plainly with his Mexican audience.

While various speakers at the forum placed Mexico's drug war within the ambit of American neo-colonialism -- oh, what a difference being outside the US makes! -- Nadelmann disagreed. "It's easy to believe that American drug policy with respect to Mexico is primarily to advance American political, military, and economic interests, or that the real intention is to humiliate Mexico. I think that's mostly false," he said. "What we are seeing is simply the international projection of our domestic psychosis. We are crazy when it comes to drugs, and Mexico must be swept up. It isn't rational, and it doesn't advance our national interest. Our interest is in peace, security, and open markets, and the American drug war does not serve those interests. Our craziness undermines us," he argued.

"What's the alternative? Legal regulation must be on the table. What Mexico is experiencing today reminds of Chicago under Al Capone -- the crime, the violence, the corruption," Nadelmann continued. "These are not the consequences of drugs, but of a failed prohibitionist approach."

About the time Nadelmann was saying those words the latest killings in Culiacán took place. As audience members left the forum, went home, and turned on their televisions, Mexico's narcos, soldiers, and police were busy reinforcing the arguments heard at the Torre Académica.

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3. Dedication: Seattle Musician Timothy Garon, Victim of the Drug War

Earlier this week, Scott Morgan discussed on our blog the case of musician Timothy Garon, denied a transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center due to his medical use of marijuana to control nausea (Denying Organ Transplants to Medical Marijuana Patients Is Evil). Medical use of marijuana is legal in Washington state, and marijuana is not known to damage the body, the stated rationale for denying transplants to patients.

We are saddened to report that Garon passed away late last night. This issue of Drug War Chronicle is dedicated to him. We will report more fully on this injustice next week.

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4. Offer: New Clergy Anti-Drug-War Video

We are pleased to offer as our latest membership gift: "Clergy Against the War on Drugs," a new DVD by our friends at the groups Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative and Common Sense for Drug Policy. The IDPI DVD is essential. As Rev. Scott Richardson of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Diego said in his interview, "One of the reasons that we as religious leaders need to speak out against [the drug war] is that we share responsibility for it." And speak out they do, in this two part video (9 minutes & 17 minutes). The voices of clergy opposing the drug war is a powerful tool that you and your friends can use to enlighten members of your community.

Donate $16 or more to DRCNet, and we will send you a copy of the IDPI video -- perfect for showing at a meeting, in a public viewing at your nearest library, or at home for friends or family who don't yet understand. Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to make your donation and order your DVD today -- consider signing up to donate monthly! If you haven't already seen the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) DVD, let us know and we'll include that in the package too -- or order some other premium for us, and add either or both videos for free! (Use the comment form at the bottom of our donation form for any special instructions.)

If you can't afford the $16, make us an offer, we'll get the video to you if we can. But please only ask this if you truly aren't able to donate that amount. Our ability to get the word out about important products like the IDPI and LEAP videos depends on the health and reach of our network, and that depends on your donations. Please consider donating more than the minimum too -- $50, $100, $250 -- whatever you are able to spare to the cause. The cause is important -- as Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater NY Religion Labor Coalition expressed it in the video, "the war on drugs has caused as much devastation to communities around this country, particularly low income communities, as the drug themselves."

online version of Clergy Against
the War on Drugs video

Again, our web site for credit card donations is http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ -- or send a check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock.

Thank you for your support of the work of DRCNet and our allies. We hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network

Washington, DC

http://stopthedrugwar.org

P.S. Special thanks to Common Sense for Drug Policy for funding the video and providing copies! Clergy Against the War on Drugs can also be viewed online here.

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5. Sentencing: Woman Who Fled Michigan Drug Sentence 32 Years Ago Caught in California, Faces 20 Years

Susan LeFevre was a Michigan teenager when she was arrested in 1974 for selling relatively small amounts of heroin to an undercover officer. At the request of her conservative family, she pleaded guilty and hoped for mercy, but was instead sentenced to 20 years in prison despite having no previous record. With the help of family members, she bolted from prison in 1976 and fled to California, where she started a new life with a new identity.

Last week, thanks to an anonymous tip to the Michigan Department of Corrections, she was tracked down and arrested in San Diego, where she had lived a quiet upper middle-class life and raised three children with her husband of 23 years. Now, Michigan wants her back to do the rest of her sentence.

The case of LeFevre, now known as Marie Walsh, is putting the issues of crime and punishment and redemption and forgiveness, not to mention harsh drug sentencing, in the national spotlight. While the nation debates her fate, LeFevre sits in a California jail cell awaiting extradition to her home state.

"It's been a secret no one knew for so long, and now everyone knows," LeFevre told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, a San Diego suburb. "I hope there's some mercy."

There sure wasn't any mercy when she copped a plea in Michigan more than 30 years ago. She plea bargained in a bid for a lenient sentence, or even probation. Instead she was sentenced to the maximum 10 to 20 years. "I kept thinking it had to be a mistake. I was supposed to have probation," LeFevre said.

And it doesn't sound like Michigan is feeling any more forgiving now than it was back when Gerald Ford was president. "Just because she escaped and evaded capture for 30 years doesn't mean your prison sentence is negated," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. She would have to do at least nine years to satisfy her sentence, he said.

That his wife has turned out to be a fugitive from justice means little to Alan Walsh, who never knew about LeFevre's secret past. "I've known my wife, Marie, for 23 years," he said in a statement. "She is a person of the highest integrity and compassion. During that time she's been nothing but a caring and wonderful wife and mother. She has raised three beautiful children and worked hard to build a good life for them, and has dedicated her life to their well-being. Her family is now threatened to be destroyed."

Barring a refusal by the state of California to extradite her back to Michigan, which is highly unlikely, LeFevre's only hope would appear to be a commutation of her sentence. Otherwise, she will become just one more drug war prisoner in Michigan's prisons overflowing with drug war prisoners.

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

New Haven's former top narc heads to prison, a Louisiana DARE officer goes down, a South Carolina jail guard gets caught shooting cocaine, and an Idaho deputy gets caught ripping off cash and drugs. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In New Haven, Connecticut, the former head of the New Haven police drug squad was sentenced Monday to 38 months in prison for stealing thousands of dollars in supposed drug money planted by the FBI in a sting and for taking bribes from bail bondsmen. Former Lt. William White, 64, pleaded guilty last October in US District Court to conspiracy to commit bribery and theft of government property. He admitted to stealing $27,500 planted by the FBI in a car trunk and another $1,000 planted at a house after being told it belonged to drug dealers.

In Pineville, Louisiana, the Pineville Police DARE officer was arrested April 23 after a drug deal he was plotting with an informant while on duty was inadvertently broadcast over a police scanner. Officer Raymond Smith, 37, a nine-year veteran and DARE officer for the last year, was working at a local elementary school, when local law enforcement starting overhearing a conversation about taking "bricks" and "kilos" to Detroit. Smith then met with the informant, and was arrested for conspiring to obtain and distribute one kilogram of powder cocaine.

In Union, South Carolina, a Union County jail guard was arrested April 23 for stealing cocaine used to train drug dogs and shooting it up on the job. Union County Detention Center Officer Ricky Haney, 53, is charged with possession of cocaine and misconduct in office in the April 7 incident. He is now a former Union County jail guard at last report residing at his former place of employment.

In Boise, Idaho, a former Fremont County deputy sheriff was arrested Monday for allegedly stealing cash and prescription drugs from the county jail. Deputy Bradley Holjeson, 25, came under suspicion after an inmate being released asked for his cash back and it couldn't be found. An audit quickly turned up missing prescription pain relievers, and after several interviews with investigators, Holjeson resigned and moved to Boise. He now faces charges of grand larceny and possession of a controlled substance.

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7. Sentencing: Federal Crack Sentence Reductions Begin to Take Hold

More than 3,000 federal inmates serving lengthy sentences on crack cocaine charges have won reductions in their sentences since changes in sentencing guidelines approved by the US Sentencing Commission in December took effect at the beginning of March. Some 1,600 inmates are eligible for immediate release, but it was not clear how many had already walked out of prison, the Commission said in a report dated April 21.

The change in sentencing is designed to address what the Commission described as racial disparities in federal sentencing because of more severe penalties for crack cocaine offenses than for powder cocaine offenses. Four out of five federal crack offenders are black, but most powder cocaine offenders are white. The racial breakdown of released prisoners would appear to back the Commission's contention that crack sentences had disproportionately affected blacks: African-American inmates accounted for 84% of those granted sentence reductions.

Attorney General Mukasey and other drug war hardliners had sought to block the early releases, arguing that they would result in a mass release of violent criminals who would wreak havoc on American cities. Mukasey's Justice Department asked Congress to limit the early releases to first-time nonviolent offenders, but Congress did not act on that request. Commission statistics showed that only 9% of prisoners granted sentence cuts were violent or repeat offenders, while 30% were minor or first-time offenders.

The new sentencing guidelines will allow some 20,000 federal crack offenders to seek reductions. So far, slightly more than 3,600 have requested reductions, with more than 80% winning sentence cuts.

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8. Marijuana: New York City Pot Arrest Capital of the World

Police in New York City arrested more than 39,700 people on marijuana charges last year, and that is no fluke. In the last decade, nearly 400,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for carrying small amounts of marijuana, the vast majority of them black or brown.

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The figures come from a just released report by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine and Breaking the Chains executive director Deborah Small. According to the report, "Marijuana Arrest Crusade," whites constituted only 15% of those arrested, while Hispanics were 31% and blacks made up more than half of all pot arrests, with 52%.

"Racial profiling is a fact of life on the streets of New York City," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, during a news conference at the group's Manhattan headquarters.

New York is among the small number of states that decriminalized marijuana possession in the late 1970s, but that hasn't stopped police from arresting people carrying small amounts of weed and then subjecting them to average 24-hour stays in New York City jails while they await arraignment. Police get around the decrim law by "manufacturing" arrests for "possession in public view," said Levine. Police routinely stop young black and brown men on the streets, force them to empty their pockets, then charge them with the more serious "possession in public view" offense.

Since Big Apple marijuana arrests started going through the roof during the administration of Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, the city has sometimes accounted for one out of 10 marijuana arrests in the entire country. Last year, that figure was lower, with New York accounting for roughly 5% of pot arrests nationwide, still a huge number.

That makes New York City "the marijuana arrest capital of the world," said Lieberman.

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9. Europe: Dutch Ban on Magic Mushrooms Moves Closer

The conservative Dutch cabinet last Friday formally proposed a ban on the sale of psychedelic mushrooms. The proposal now goes before the Dutch parliament, where it is expected to pass.

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psilocybe cubensis (courtesy erowid.org)
Currently, dried mushrooms are illegal in the Netherlands, but fresh ones can be bought legally in "Smart Shops," stores that sell cognition-enhancing products, but also magic mushrooms, salvia divinorum, and other legal but mind-altering substances.

A campaign to ban psychedelic mushrooms gathered steam after a particularly photogenic French girl died jumping off a bridge after eating them last year. A number of other incidents, most involving young visitors, have also been publicized. Amsterdam emergency services reported 128 mushroom-related incidents in 2006, more than double the 55 calls they got two years earlier. Most of them involved young British tourists.

The Dutch health ministry cited such cases in a statement laying out the rationale for a ban. "The use of mushrooms can produce hallucinogenic effects which can lead to extreme or life-threatening behavior," it said, according to a Reuters report.

Industry efforts to blunt the ban by self-policing were of no avail. In February, the Dutch Association of Smart Shops (VLOS) said the industry would self-regulate and protested that the increase in reported incidents was smaller than the increase in mushroom sales.

The conservative Dutch government has been trying to find ways to reverse the country's 30-year experiment in pragmatism with the cannabis coffee shops. Now, it is on the verge of criminalizing psilocybe cubensis. A VLOS spokesman told Reuters the coffee shops better watch out. "If they succeed with this mushroom ban then I am sure they will try to ban things like cannabis as well. This is part of a wider trend," said Freddy Schaap.

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10. Canada: Supreme Court Nixes Random Use of Drug Dogs

In a ruling last Friday, the Canadian Supreme Court held that the use of drug-sniffing dogs in a random search of an Ontario school was unconstitutional. The decision should result in an end to random drug dog searches across the country -- except at borders and airports, where customs officials have free rein.

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drug dog
The court held that the use of a drug-sniffing dog without particularized suspicion violated Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which governs what constitutes reasonable search and seizure.

The case began in 2002, when police visited St. Patrick's High School in Sarnia, in the southwestern part of the province. Police confined students to their classrooms, while taking their backpacks to an empty gym. The dog alerted on one backpack, and one youth who was identified only by his initials was subsequently charged with possession of marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms.

Police admitted they had no search warrant nor even a tip that drugs were present at the school. Instead, they said, they were responding to a long-standing open invitation from school officials.

The trial judge in the case granted a motion to exclude the seized drugs as evidence and acquitted the youth. Prosecutors appealed, but the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2004 upheld the trial judge, saying the sniffing of backpacks by the drug dog amounted to "a warrantless, random search with the entire student body held in detention."

Crown lawyers argued unsuccessfully that being sniffed by a drug dog does not constitute a search. Odors in the public air are not private, and a drug dog detecting contraband by smell should be viewed as similar to police officers detecting an odor in the air, they argued.

That argument would have flown in the United States, where the Supreme Court has okayed the use of drug dogs in random searches, saying a drug dog sniff did not amount to a search. But it didn't fly in the Canadian courts. Now, police will not be able to conduct random searches with drug dogs in public places, such as churches, schools, and shopping malls.

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

May 3, 1994: Dear Abby states publicly in her column that "Just as bootleggers were forced out of business in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed, making the sale of liquor legal (thus eliminating racketeering), the legalization of drugs would put drug dealers out of business. It also would guarantee government approved quality, and the tax on drugs would provide an ongoing source of revenue for drug-education programs."

May 2, 2001: The Louisiana Senate, voting 29-5, passes sweeping legislation to bring relief to an overflowing state prison system, including ending mandatory prison time for possession of small quantities of drugs.

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

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

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

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

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12. 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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13. Job Listing: Field Coordinator, Americans for Safe Access, Oakland

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research. ASA works in partnership with state, local and national legislators to overcome barriers and create policies that improve access to cannabis for patients and researchers, and has more than 30,000 active members with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states.

ASA provides legal training for and medical information to patients, attorneys, health and medical professionals and policymakers throughout the United States, and organizes media support for court cases, rapid response to law enforcement raids, and capacity-building for advocates. ASA's successful lobbying, media and legal campaigns have resulted in important court precedents, new sentencing standards, and more compassionate community guidelines.

The mission of Americans for Safe Access is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic uses and research.

The field coordinator is responsible for building and maintaining ASA's field of organizers, and for maintaining communication between the field, ASA staff and ASA campaigns. The position is supervised by, and accountable to, the Chief of Staff. This is a full-time, salaried position. This position is based out of our Oakland, CA headquarters.

Specific tasks and responsibilities include recruiting new volunteer organizers and sending them introduction packets; reaching out to field organizers from other organizations and to other key allies; schedule and staff tabling outreach at public events and conferences; following up with new contacts from public events and conferences; conducting web and email outreach; collecting new contacts through internet, personal, and chapter-based outreach; adding new emails to email lists regularly; maintaining regular communication with key organizers & chapter leaders including convening monthly organizer conference calls; providing information, guidance, assistance, and training to local leadership; maintaining project and program-based materials and distributing such to organizers; maintaining relationships with field organizers from other organizations with other key allies; maintaining Internet responsibilities including updating the website and managing listservers and discussion forums; sending monthly action packets to organizers; coordinating regular trainings; visiting chapters and affiliates as needed; maintaining clear records of organizers, including updating contact information and tracking communication and activities; advising and participating in strategic planning with chapter leaders and key organizers; acting as a liaison to staff through regular meetings; setting up constituent meetings on legislation; coordinating grassroots actions based on current programs, projects and campaigns; organizing court support for medical marijuana defendants; writing campaign materials, activist alerts, updates, and letters to organizers; creating and maintaining political materials for national and state-based outreach; writing regular reports of grassroots activity for distribution to staff and the public; and posting to blogs and discussion forums regularly.

Experience and qualifications necessary include a minimum of two years experience in grassroots organizing; political campaign and/or lobbying experience preferred; commitment to the mission and goals of Americans for Safe Access; computer literacy, and being comfortable with acquiring new skills; exceptional time management and prioritization skills; calm under pressure; being flexible at setting (and re-setting) priorities and managing multiple projects; exceptional communication, organizational and diplomacy skills with strong written communication skills; a sense of humor, high ethical professional standards, and a multi-cultural perspective; the ability to work well in a team environment; a flexible schedule, including availability to work occasional evenings and weekends, and to travel periodically throughout the state and nationally; and dedication to working closely and cooperatively in a community-based organization with diverse staff, volunteers, and community members.

If interested, a cover letter and resume should be sent to [email protected].

No phone calls or faxes please. ASA is an equal opportunity employer.

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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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