Drug War Chronicle #537 - May 23, 2008

1. Feature: New Mexico's Medical Marijuana Law Is Working, But There Is a Hang-Up Over Production and Distribution

Nearly a year after it went into effect, New Mexico's medical marijuana program is registering and providing ID cards to patients, but its innovative provisions for state-licensed, -owned, or -operated marijuana production and distribution are stalled in the regulatory process.

2. Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- Stalled in St. Paul, Progress in Providence, Coming Out in Columbus

No one ever said it was going to be easy to get medical marijuana bill through state legislatures, and recent events in Minnesota and Rhode Island reinforce the notion that it's a lengthy, arduous process. But it isn't going to happen at all if you don't try, and that's what one Ohio legislator is doing.

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

On opposite sides of the country, crooked cops are headed for long prison sentences, and another Atlanta narc is going to the big house. Meanwhile, a Customs and Border Protection agent in San Diego and a jail guard in the Florida panhandle get busted.

5. Law Enforcement: Missouri Residents Sue Over Fake DEA Agent Busts

The DEA agent helped police in a Missouri do some COPS-style raids earlier this year. There was only one problem: He wasn't a DEA agent. Now the people busted are suing.

6. Pain Medicine: Kansas Doctor Fights Back, Attacks Federal Prosecution and Controlled Substances Act as Unconstitutional

Attorneys for Dr. Stephen Schneider, a Kansas physician indicted by the feds as a "pill mill" operator, have now filed a motion seeking dismissal of the indictment and challenging the constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act.

7. Drug Treatment: Massachusetts Senate Ponders "Secure Treatment Centers"

Faced with high rates of opiate addiction and a rising overdose toll, the Massachusetts Senate is considering funding a pair of "secure treatment centers" for arrested drug users.

8. Europe: New Head of British Government Drug Advisory Council Favors Downgrading Ecstasy

The British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government body charged with setting drug policy, has a new chairman this week, and he has said he wants to downgrade Ecstasy to a less serious drug classification.

9. Europe: Colombian Vice-President Wants Debate on Cocaine Legalization

Colombia's vice-president went to London to attend events related to a new British campaign against cocaine consumption, but while he was there, he suggested maybe legalization should be part of the discussion.

10. Europe: Calabrian Mob Grows Rich and Powerful on Cocaine Profits

Move over, Sicilian Mafia. The Calabrian mob, grown rich and powerful off trafficking in black market cocaine, are the new tough guys in Europe.

11. Latin America: Chilean Senator Challenges Inclusion of Marijuana on "Dangerous Drugs" List

The Chilean government recently reclassified marijuana as a "dangerous drug" like heroin or methamphetamine, but one senator is crying foul.

12. 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. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Rachel Hoffman's Family Issues an Urgent Call for Change," "If You Write Bad Pro-Drug War Editorials, We Will Find Them and Embarrass You," "The Obama Campaign Responds to My Criticism of His Position on Marijuana Decriminalization," "Informant Identified in Fatal Maple Tree/Marijuana Mix-up," "Virginia Senator Jim Webb Speaks Out Against Marijuana Laws," "New British Drug Czar Supports Reducing Penalties for Ecstasy," "Drug Czars Say the Darndest Things," "Dick Morris Tells John McCain to Propose Harsher Cocaine Laws," "'You Don't Want This!'"

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1. Feature: New Mexico's Medical Marijuana Law Is Working, But There Is a Hang-Up Over Production and Distribution

After an exhausting seven-year struggle, New Mexico joined the ranks of the medical marijuana states last year. As of July 1, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program will be a year old, but while parts of the program are well underway -- patients are registering and obtaining ID cards -- the state law's innovative system of state-licensed production and distribution of medical marijuana is stalled in the regulatory process, with no end in sight anytime soon.

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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signing a bill into law
Under the New Mexico law, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, patients suffering from a narrowly circumscribed set of illnesses -- cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, spinal cord damage with intractable plasticity, and HIV/AIDS -- can, with a doctor's recommendation and upon registration with the program, legally possess and use up to six ounces of marijuana, four mature plants, and three seedlings. The law also calls for a medical advisory board to determine whether other conditions should be added to the list.

Some 147 patients have registered with the state as of Wednesday, said Melissa Milam, head of the Medical Cannabis Program. "We're the little program that could," she said. "We just keep plugging along."

"The patients are really excited to get their ID cards and have some legal protections," agreed Reena Szczepanski, head for the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office, who has been intimately involved in the passage and implementation of the law. "The Department of Health and the Medical Cannabis Program are doing a great job of working with the patients, and it's been very thoughtfully implemented in terms of registration and the medical advisory board," she said.

But the law also provides for designated caregivers to be able to grow for patients and for a system of state licensing of production and distribution. Although the law called for the Department of Health to promulgate regulations for production and distribution by last October 1, that hasn't happened yet. As a result, the provisions for caregivers and licensed production and distribution have not gone into effect. That means patients must either grow their own medicine or procure it on the black market.

The Department of Health finally promulgated draft regulations in December and held a public hearing on them on January 14. Those draft rules provided for "five different kinds of licensed producers: a qualified patient, a caregiver, an association of persons, a private entity, or a state owned and/or operated facility."

Based on the input it got in the hearing process, the department has been crafting a revised draft of the regulations ever since. "We're still working on that rule," said Deb Busemeyer, spokesperson for the Department of Health. "We held a public hearing and received written and oral comments, and we made some revisions, and it looks like we'll probably hold another public hearing to let people comment on our revisions."

Busemeyer was vague on a timeline, offering only that she expects a hearing "some time this year" and resolutely declining to predict when the regulations on production and distribution would actually be implemented.

But he department is committed to crafting the production and distribution regulations, Busemeyer said. "The governor was really clear -- this is an important program, and he wants us to figure out how to implement the law. We've been working on hard on this, we believe in this program, we're not dropping it by any means, but we want a good strong law with the right kind of rules, so we're taking our time," she said.

Still, Busemeyer conceded that the delay was hard on patients. "They still have to get it the same way patients do in those other medical marijuana states," she said.

"The biggest source of dissatisfaction among patients is where do you get it?" said Szczepanski. "It's the same situation as in so many other medical marijuana states. That's why the legislature was keen on the state-licensed distribution system; the intention was that New Mexico would be different."

It may well turn out to be different, but the question is when. "I'm concerned that we don't have a date for when the rest of the regulations are coming out," said Szczepanski. "I don't have any reason to believe they won't implement it, but I'd like to know the time frame."

Although Szczepanski bemoaned delays in drafting the regulations, she said she is glad the department is holding another public hearing. "My understanding is that they are working on significant changes to the regs, and we are pleased to have a formal opportunity to have input," she said. "If there are drastic changes from the first draft, it's better to have another hearing."

While each of the five sorts of licensed producers and distributors envisioned in the first draft of the regulations has its advantages, there is a strong argument to be made for including a state-owned or -operated component, said Szczepanski. "We are a largely rural state and we have to be concerned about equality of access," she noted. "New Mexico has public health offices scattered around the state, and we have a Department of Agriculture at our state university that knows how to grow things. The possible downside to a single supplier is that if it's producing poor quality medicine or not delivering a range of products, what do you do?"

The best solution would be to have a mix of licensees as envisioned in the first draft regulations, Szczepanski agued. "Having a variety of options is important for patients. If you're in a small town with a public health office and only using for a short time, that might work for you. But if you live in Albuquerque and have a chronic condition with specific health needs, you might want other options. We have to do what's best for the patients," she said.

While Szczepanski chafed at the delays, she saw no sinister forces at work. "The feds pushed back against us when we were in the legislature, but I haven't heard any rumblings at all about any pressure from Washington," she said. "Our local opponents have also been very quiet. There's nothing for them to glom onto to; there have been no scandals or abuses or outrages. The program is working and the patients have their cards and are protected," she said.

But they still need help growing their medicine while the Department of Health ponders the regulations. The department could take interim steps to ease their plight, said Szczepanski. "If the department is going to wait much longer to produce the production and distribution regulations, they need to start certifying caregivers immediately," she said. "The department says it doesn't have the authority to do that until the regs are published, and we're not looking for hasty action, but the caregiver regulations could be done now. There are already applications pending."

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2. Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- Stalled in St. Paul, Progress in Providence, Coming Out in Columbus

State legislatures are once again proving a formidable hurdle for the medical marijuana movement. In the last two weeks, legislation died for lack of action in the Minnesota Senate, and while the Rhode Island Senate passed a dispensary bill, it is unclear whether it will make it to the House floor. But hope springs eternal, as evidenced this week in Ohio, where the first medical marijuana bill in years was introduced.

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Rhode Island Senate chamber
In Minnesota, a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana in the state, SF 345, died this week because of inaction on the House floor. The bill had passed the state Senate last year, the first year of the state's biannual legislative session, and passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee on a 13-4 vote earlier this month.

But it never got to a floor vote in the House before the session ran out. Supporters blamed the House leadership and the opposition of some sectors of law enforcement, which could not be pleased no matter how many changes to the bill -- 19 -- supporters made to assuage their fears. The bill also faced a likely veto from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"We're disappointed that the Minnesota legislature failed to enact a medical marijuana bill this year," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the parent group for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, which led the lobbying fight to pass the bill. "But we've seen in other states that the legislative process often takes several years, and we picked up incredible support this year, including the endorsements of the state's two largest newspapers. The dozens of brave patients who came forward to tell their stories in recent months aren't giving up, and neither are we."

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, the state Senate approved legislation May 15 that would create "compassion centers" or dispensaries where patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program could legally obtain their medicine. Under the bill, S. 2693,the dispensaries could legally grow and sell marijuana to the 359 patients in the state medical marijuana registry. The dispensaries would be regulated by the state Department of Health.

The legislation would create licensed marijuana dispensaries, or "compassion centers," that would legally grow and sell the drug at affordable prices to the 359 patients in the state's program. The centers would be regulated by the state Health Department.

But despite strong popular support and a 29-6 vote in the Senate, the bill is not expected to get through the House this year, the Providence Journal reported. It cited opposition in the House.

"I would really have to have a sock over my head if I didn't know that," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Providence). "What I think is important is to show movement," Perry said of the Senate vote. "I think getting it out of a chamber is movement. It's showing that there is a level of understanding and a level of acceptance," she told the Journal.

How patients would get their medicine was "the unasked question" when the state's medical marijuana law was passed, House Majority Leader Gordon Fox told the Journal. "Do you send someone that may be suffering from cancer or whatnot out into the streets to procure it? I don't know if that's necessarily a good solution. I think the natural extension of that is that we provide some sort of safe place to obtain it for those who are legally authorized."

But Fox declined to support the bill just yet. "I'm not saying that the leadership's going to support it," he said. "I'd like to read the bill. I haven't looked at what the bill does."

While the Journal has pronounced the bill dead, that's a bit premature, said Jesse Stout, spokesman for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC). "The House leadership hasn't said they're not going to vote on it, so we're working with them to try to schedule it," he said. "We still have another month left in the session."

Stout was confident the measure would pass if it got to a floor vote. "We have a lot of rank and file support from House members who favor this common sense expansion of the law, and we have a new poll that shows popular support for this measure at 69%. We have lots of support, so this is by no means over," he said.

While the legislative process has been long and torturous in Minnesota and Rhode Island, it is just getting underway in Ohio. On Wednesday, state Sen. Tom Roberts (D-Trotwood) announced details of his proposed Ohio Medical Compassion Act during a press conference at the state capitol in Columbus. Under Roberts' bill, the state Health and Agriculture Departments would be authorized to set up an advisory board to:

  • Consider granting medicinal use of cannabis in cases of debilitated medical conditions.
  • Consider applications for and renewals of registry identification cards for qualified patients and primary caregivers.
  • Provide recommendations for the safe use and efficient growing of medicinal cannabis.

"Our laws should reflect the latest in medical research, which has shown that medical cannabis has a variety of benefits for treating pain, nausea and other symptoms related to a wide range of disease," Roberts said in a prepared statement. "In an era of scientific breakthroughs and medical advances, patients should not be put in the position of choosing between living a normal life and living a healthy life," Roberts said.

"We took what we thought was the best of other medical marijuana laws and created this bill," said Tonya Davis, director of advocacy for the Ohio Patient Network. Davis, a chronic pain sufferer who is unable to walk, was optimistic about the bill's prospects. "This time around we have a cosponsor and more support in the Senate than ever before," she said.

For Davis, access to medical marijuana is a quality of life issue. With medical marijuana, she can reduce her reliance on other medications, she told the Wednesday press conference. "I require medical marijuana to maintain a lifestyle with dignity," Davis said.

The Ohio bill will likely face the same long and twisting legislative path that medical marijuana has followed in any number of statehouses. Whether it becomes law this year seems unlikely, but experience has shown that getting bills through is typically a multi-year process.

And that's something to remember in Minnesota and Rhode Island, too, not to mention other states, such as Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, where bills are active this year, said MPP's Mirken. "I understand the frustration, but we've seen before that it typically takes several years to get medical marijuana passed. Elected officials by and large still think medical marijuana is more controversial than it is. It's never easy," he said.

Still, said Mirken, time and the angels are on the side of the movement. "There is no question the historical tide is with us. It's just that sometimes it moves more slowly than we would like."

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

On opposite sides of the country, crooked cops are headed for long prison sentences, and another Atlanta narc is going to the big house. Meanwhile, a Customs and Border Protection agent in San Diego and a jail guard in the Florida panhandle get busted. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, a former LAPD officer was sentenced to 13 years in prison May 12 for leading a ring of corrupt cops who robbed homes while carrying out fake drug raids. Ruben Palomares, 38, admitted to leading more than 40 home invasion robberies disguised as police raids in working-class Los Angeles neighborhoods between 1999 and 2001. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deal drugs, violating the civil rights of his victims, and using a firearm during the commission of a felony. The former Ramparts Division cop is already serving six years for a San Diego conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Palomares is one of five former police officers to be convicted in the scheme. Another Palomares accomplice and former LAPD officer was sentenced Monday to 102 years in prison. William Ferguson got hammered so hard because he turned down a plea deal that involved testifying against his brother John, who was also convicted in the ring and is currently doing eight years.

[Ed: Ferguson's century-long sentence seems troubling for multiple reasons. Armed robbery is serious business, as are betraying the public trust and contributing to the public's distrust of police. But it's not like he killed someone. Not being willing to testify against another person, let one's your brother, shouldn't be reason for increasing a sentence by 89 years and a factor of eight. I wonder how much of the sentence was the drug conspiracy charges as opposed to the robberies. -DB]

In Atlanta, another Atlanta narc has been sentenced to prison in the killing of Kathryn Johnston. Atlanta Police Officer Arthur Tesler was sentenced Tuesday to four years and nine months for lying to investigators about the November 2006 drug raid that resulted in the death of the 92-year-old woman. The three officers involved in the case lied to a judge to obtain a search warrant, tried to persuade another informant to lie for them, and planted marijuana in Johnston's home after the fact. The other two have already pleaded guilty and are serving their sentences. Tesler was the only one of the three to go to trial.

In Boston, a former Boston police officer was sentenced to 26 years in prison May 16 for his leadership role in a scheme that enlisted two other Boston police officers to escort trucks filled with cocaine headed for the city. Roberto Pulido pleaded guilty in November in the middle of his trial after jurors heard tapes of more than two dozen conversations where a swaggering, swearing Pulido was recorded plotting the protection racket in a sting organized by the FBI. Pulido and fellow officers Carlos Pizarro and Nelson Carrasquillo were arrested in July 2006 after guiding a truck filled with 100 kilograms of cocaine from Western Massachusetts into the city. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and 1 kilogram of heroin and two counts of attempting to aid and abet the distribution of the cocaine. He pleaded no contest to a fourth charge of carrying a gun in a drug-trafficking crime. Pulido blamed his crimes on his steroids habit.

In San Diego, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer was arrested last Friday on charges he conspired to smuggle drugs and illegal immigrants across the border. CBP Officer Luis Francisco Alarid, 31, had worked at the Otay Mesa border crossing, across the frontier from Tijuana, Mexico. Federal investigators watched Alarid repeatedly fail to properly check vehicles coming through his inspection lane. Investigators found dozens of illegal immigrants and hundreds of pounds of marijuana that Alarid is suspected of allowing to be smuggled into the country.

In Panama City, Florida, a Washington County corrections officer was arrested May 10 while on duty for allegedly selling marijuana to inmates. Guard Ivan Duke Peters, 34, is charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver, unlawful compensation, and smuggling contraband into a detention facility. Investigators had received information that Peters was smuggling in contraband in return for cash from prisoners.

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5. Law Enforcement: Missouri Residents Sue Over Fake DEA Agent Busts

Seventeen residents of Gerald, Missouri, located in Franklin County, have filed federal lawsuits alleging that their arrests on drug charges were illegal because a fake DEA agent helped make them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday. The lawsuits, filed last week, came in the wake of a man now accused of duping Gerald officials into believing he was a bona fide federal agent on loan from the DEA.

Authorities admitted last week that the fake DEA agent, William Jakob, of Washington, Missouri, conducted drug raids and made arrests without legal authority. The police chief and two officers involved have already been fired. Jakob has yet to be charged with any crime.

The plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuits allege that Jakob and Gerald police officers burst into their homes in April and May, pointed guns at their heads, damaged property, took money, and made arrests. The suits name city officials, police, and Jakob as defendants and say police should have verified Jakob's identity.

One suit filed by 11 people seeks $11 million for each plaintiff. Another suit filed by six people did not specify damages sought.

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6. Pain Medicine: Kansas Doctor Fights Back, Attacks Federal Prosecution and Controlled Substances Act as Unconstitutional

Lawyers for a Haysville, Kansas, physician facing a 34-count federal indictment alleging he acted as a drug dealer in prescribing pain medications fought back last Friday, filing in federal court a motion to dismiss both the indictment and federal Controlled Substances act (CSA) as unconstitutional. Attorneys for Dr. Steven Schneider argued that federal prosecutors in Wichita improperly claimed authority over the regulation of medicine.

Schneider and his wife, a nurse at his Haysville clinic, were arrested in December amidst great fanfare from prosecutors, who referred to the general care, ambulatory, and pain relief clinic as a "pill mill" and asserted Schneider was "linked" to 56 deaths. They remained in jail held without bond until last month, when they were finally released pending trial.

Schneider is only the latest of dozens of physicians arrested and tried by federal prosecutors over their pain medication prescribing practices in recent years. With the DEA and Justice Department prosecutors asserting that they know best medical practices and willing to arrest doctors whose practices they disagree with, the field of pain relief medicine has been plagued by the tension between the imperatives of pain relief and those of drug control.

Schneider and his lawyers want the government out of the doctor's office. "This case is an effort by the federal government to define and regulate the practice of medicine masquerading as a criminal prosecution," wrote Schneider's legal team, which includes nationally known specialists. "This case should not be about whether Dr. Schneider fell short of the standard of care for certain patients, but whether he engaged in the legitimate practice of medicine."

Schneider's medical conduct should be a matter for the state medical board, not the federal criminal apparatus, the lawyers wrote. "All of the accusations against Dr. Schneider and Ms. Atterbury [Mrs. Schneider] revolve around matters of medical science, professional judgment, and evolving standards of practice. However, by seizing on widespread ignorance and hysteria surrounding the use of opioid analgesics in the treatment of chronic pain, the government has endeavored to shoehorn these matters, which bear no relevance to criminal culpability, into the rubric of drug dealing and health care fraud. With regard to the charges related to the Controlled Substance Act ('CSA'), the sole question should be whether Dr. Schneider was a drug dealer 'as conventionally understood.' Instead, the government confounds this question with irrelevant facts and improper standards."

The CSA is unconstitutional on its face as "impermissibly vague" when it comes to providing guidance for physicians and as applied in this particular indictment, the lawyers argued. "As applied in the Indictment, the CSA fails to adequately and meaningfully inform physicians of what conduct is proscribed, largely because such conduct is arbitrarily and unilaterally determined by enforcement authorities lacking knowledge and expertise with respect to issues of medical science and ethics."

No word yet on when a ruling on the motion is expected. But the direct attack by the federal government's drug war apparatchiks on pain doctors and the patients they serve has now provoked a counterattack aimed right at the drug war's jugular vein.

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7. Drug Treatment: Massachusetts Senate Ponders "Secure Treatment Centers"

Faced with rising drug overdose deaths and high rates of opiate addiction, Massachusetts lawmakers this week began discussing a $5 million plan to fund two "secure treatment centers" for arrested drug users. Under the initiative, drug users busted for small-time offenses who currently face jail would be given the option of seeking drug treatment for up to 90 days.

According to the state Department of Public Health, the number of opiate-related deaths in the Bay State increased from 363 in 2000 to 637 in 2006. The number of non-fatal drug overdoses has also increased dramatically, from 8,000 in 1996 to more than 18,000 in 2005.

"This is an epidemic," state Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Boston), who is pushing the plan, told the Associated Press. "We have all these kids and young adults who get hooked on the OxyContin and heroin, but the treatment infrastructure we have is mostly for alcohol."

Under Tolman's plan, which is included in the Senate version of the state budget, the $5 million would create two 60-bed secure treatment centers. The budget also includes language establishing a special commission to investigate and study the impact of OxyContin and heroin and make additional recommendations.

The plan was set to be discussed this week in the state Senate as part of the appropriations process.

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8. Europe: New Head of British Government Drug Advisory Council Favors Downgrading Ecstasy

Professor David Nutt took over from Sir Michael Rawlins Monday as head of the British government's key advisory body on drug policy, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The British press immediately noted that Nutt has called for the down-scheduling of Ecstasy, the stimulant popular with Britain's young club crowd.

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ecstasy pills
The ACMD is tasked with making drug scheduling decisions, among other things, and the government almost always follows its recommendations. A notable recent exception was the government's decision to reclassify marijuana from Class C to Class B in the face of the ACMD's repeated recommendations that it remain Class B.

In 2006, Nutt told a science and technology committee hearing that some drugs were probably not in the right drug classification schedules: "I think the evidence base for classification producing deterrence is not strong and we see that with a number of drugs," he said. "I think 4MTA, LSD and ecstasy probably shouldn't be class A."

While the press was atwitter over the remarks, the government was taking Nutt's ascension to head of the ACMD calmly. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith praised the departing Rawlins -- whose advice she ignored -- and welcomed Nutt. "I look forward to working with his successor so that the advisory council's expert advice can continue to inform our drive to reduce the harm caused by illegal substances."

Nutt's appointment and the press's questions to the Home Office may prompt a reexamination of the scheduling of Ecstasy and other drugs. "The ACMD will consider the evidence for the classification of ecstasy with an open mind based upon its social misuse and harms relative to other drugs in the classification system," a spokesman said.

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9. Europe: Colombian Vice-President Wants Debate on Cocaine Legalization

Appearing in London at an event aimed at undermining cocaine consumption in Great Britain, Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón appeared to suggest that discussions about cocaine policy should include the possibility of legalization. But there is no political will to do so, he complained.

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Francisco Santos
Colombia is the world's leading cocaine producer and exporter. Cocaine has been a leading revenue source for both rightist paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas engaged in a bloody, decades-long civil war. Now, with consumption rising in Europe in general and Great Britain in particular, the British government this week announced a new public relations program to dampen demand. Santos was in London for an event kicking off that push.

"In the case of Colombia and this country, the discussion of legalization is something that does not have the political will or the possibility of becoming a reality in the near future," Santos said in remarks reported by politics.co.uk. "So in Colombia, where a lot of illegal groups fund themselves through this kind of operation, we have no other option in terms of combating it. The debate is open but we wish it had a louder sense in terms of how we can reduce consumption and production."

It's not the first time Santos has criticized current drug policies. In September of last year, Santos noted the failure of aerial eradication programs targeting coca (the plant from which cocaine is derived), and called for a change in emphasis in anti-drug efforts.

According to the British Home Office, whose head, Home Secretary Vernon Coaker also attended the event, cocaine is the only drug in Britain to see an increase in use over 1998. It is a Class A drug under Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act, with possession punishable by up to seven years and sales punishable by up to life in prison.

While the British government is now engaged in a public relations campaign to reduce cocaine use, it appears deaf to the Colombian vice-president's suggestion that legalization be put on the table. It's all about law enforcement, said Home Secretary Coaker.

The new campaign is "just one part of enforcement measures we use," Coaker said. "The really important thing about drugs policy, whether it is in respect of cannabis or cocaine, is that we have a tough law enforcement approach in respect of that, of course you do, but alongside that people know we also have to have education programs and treatment programs so when we have got people in the system we try to help them and work with them," he added.

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10. Europe: Calabrian Mob Grows Rich and Powerful on Cocaine Profits

Italy's Calabrian mob syndicate, the 'Ndrangheta, has now displaced the Sicilian Mafia as Europe's most powerful gangsters, thanks largely to the 'Ndrangheta's domination of cocaine trafficking on the continent, researchers and prosecutors said at a Rome conference Wednesday. The Calabrian mob did almost $69 billion in criminal business last year, mainly through the cocaine trade, according to researchers.

The 'Ndrangheta's take was the equivalent of 2.9% of Italian Gross Domestic Product in 2007, according to the Rome-based think tank Eurispes. That marked a 16% increase in Calabrian mob revenues over 2006, when the group garnered some $58 billion. According to Eurispes, some 62% of 'Ndrangheta revenues were from the drug trade, most it from direct business ties with Colombian cocaine cartels.

Calabria is one of Italy's poorest and most backwards regions, and the 'Ndrangheta traditionally concerned itself with kidnappings for ransom and shaking down small town merchants. But it has now expanded into being the largest player in Europe's flourishing cocaine trade, largely by eliminating intermediaries in its dealings with the Colombians, prosecutors said.

The 'Ndrangheta emerged dramatically on the European scene last year, when six young Italians were gunned down by mob hit men in Duisberg, Germany, in August, but the group had been growing in the shadows for some time, prosecutors said. Seven 'Ndrangheta members were arrested in the killings earlier this month.

"Duisberg might capture your imagination, but it was only a symptom of a 20-year-old, ignored presence" of the 'Ndrangheta in Europe, said Vincenzo Macri, a national anti-Mafia prosecutor based in Calabria. Macri added that feuding clans within the Calabrian mob are stockpiling weapons with their profits off the drug trade. "There is a particular instability" among clans now, "which could explode to the point of wars that could last for decades," he predicted.

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11. Latin America: Chilean Senator Challenges Inclusion of Marijuana on "Dangerous Drugs" List

In March, the Chilean government reclassified marijuana as a Class One dangerous drug, grouping it along with methamphetamine and heroin as a narcotic substance capable of producing physical or psychological dependency and health problems. Now, that move is being challenged by at least one senator, who is demanding that the government produce the scientific rationale for the rescheduling.

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Nelson Ávila
With marijuana now classified as Class One, said María Teresa Chadwick, director of the National Council of Drug Control (CONACE), judges will not be able to reduce marijuana sales charges, and trafficking even small amounts of the weed will now result in jail sentences of between 1 ½ and five years.

"This responds to the fact that the drug is not harmless. One-third of the 7,000 people treated (each year) come in for marijuana abuse," Chadwick told the Santiago Times in March. The new penalty also addresses the increase of marijuana use in Chile. According to the latest study by CONACE, 7% of Chileans used the drug in 2006, up from 5.3% in 2004.

"The drug causes neurotoxic affects. We see young people with neurological atrophy, with aging minds," said Dr. Rolando Chandía, director of the Alfa Addictions Clinic, adding that he had seen cases of psychosis among young people using "indoor-grown marijuana, a stronger cannabis cultivated with fluorescent lighting."

But Tuesday, after he met with the Interior Ministry to demand an explanation for the reclassification decision, Radical Party Sen. Nelson Ávila said it was "absolutely absurd" to include marijuana in the same class as heroin or meth. "My suspicion is that this decision was adopted without any scientific or technical foundation," Ávila told the Valparaiso Times. "This decision reflects a sensation of neurosis and it is marked by nothing more than prejudices."

Ávila delivered an official petition to Interior Minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma requesting the evidence that was the basis for the reclassification decision. Ávila said it would take time for the ministry to gather the information, but in the meantime he was preparing to introduce a measure condemning the reclassification.

"When the government turns over the report, I plan on fully analyzing the information. At that point, I will make my point of view known," Ávila said. "If I do not agree (with the government decision), then I would propose the creation of an independent organization at the legislative level to investigate this issue. This body would also identify and punish any government members who backed the change without the corresponding scientific data," he said.

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12. Weekly: This Week in History

May 27, 1963: President Nathan M. Pusey of Harvard University announces that an assistant professor of clinical psychology and education has been fired. The man dismissed was Dr. Richard Alpert, later known as "Ram Dass."

May 29, 1969: The Canadian government forms the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical use of Drugs, which ultimately issues the famed LeDain report, recommending that simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use be permitted. The report contradicts almost all of the common fallacies held by some of the general public. During an interview in 1998, LeDain blames politicians for the fact that virtually none of the commission's recommendations were made into law.

May 26, 1971: In tapes revealed long after his presidency ended, President Richard M. Nixon says, "You know it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there's so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish."

May 25, 1973: The NBC Evening News reports that 28 marines and 18 sailors handling the president's yacht were transferred and reassigned from Camp David due to marijuana offenses.

May 30, 1977: Newsweek runs a story on cocaine reporting that "Among hostesses in the smart sets of Los Angeles and New York, a little cocaine, like Dom Pérignon and Beluga caviar, is now de rigueur at dinners. Some party givers pass it around along with canapes on silver trays... the user experiences a feeling of potency, of confidence, of energy."

May 24, 1988: The domestic hashish seizure record is set (still in effect today) -- 75,066 pounds in San Francisco, California.

May 24, 1993: At 3:45pm, Juan Jesús Cardinal Posados Ocampo, the archbishop of Guadalajara, is assassinated at Hidalgo International Airport in Guadalajara by San Diego gang members hired by the Arellano-Felix Organization. As the archbishop's car arrives in the parking lot across the street from the terminal, a young man opens the door and opens fire, while half a dozen other gunmen spray the scene killing the driver and five bystanders, including an old woman, her nephew and a startled businessman with a cell phone in his hand.

May 28, 1994: President Clinton's appointed director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Thomas Constantine, says in a Washington Times interview: "Many times people talk about the nonviolent drug offender. That is a rare species. There is not some sterile drug type not involved in violence -- there is no drug user who is contributing some good to the community -- they are contributing nothing but evil."

May 23, 2000: Eighty-five US troops arrive in Guatemala to participate in the two-week-long "Operation Maya Jaguar," intended to provide training for Guatemalan police, to carry out seizures of illegal drug shipments, and to facilitate joint counternarcotics operations.

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13. 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:

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  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!

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14. 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 -- huge numbers of people have been reading it recently -- 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! Check out the Speakeasy main page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy.

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

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan offers: "Rachel Hoffman's Family Issues an Urgent Call for Change," "If You Write Bad Pro-Drug War Editorials, We Will Find Them and Embarrass You," "The Obama Campaign Responds to My Criticism of His Position on Marijuana Decriminalization," "Informant Identified in Fatal Maple Tree/Marijuana Mix-up," "Virginia Senator Jim Webb Speaks Out Against Marijuana Laws," "New British Drug Czar Supports Reducing Penalties for Ecstasy," "Drug Czars Say the Darndest Things," "Dick Morris Tells John McCain to Propose Harsher Cocaine Laws" and "'You Don't Want This!'"

David Guard posts numerous press releases, action alerts and other organizational announcements in the In the Trenches blog.

Please join us in the Reader Blogs too.

Again, http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and writing...

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15. Webmasters: Help the Movement by Running DRCNet Syndication Feeds on Your Web Site!

Are you a fan of DRCNet, and do you have a web site you'd like to use to spread the word more forcefully than a single link to our site can achieve? We are pleased to announce that DRCNet content syndication feeds are now available. Whether your readers' interest is in-depth reporting as in Drug War Chronicle, the ongoing commentary in our blogs, or info on specific drug war subtopics, we are now able to provide customizable code for you to paste into appropriate spots on your blog or web site to run automatically updating links to DRCNet educational content.

For example, if you're a big fan of Drug War Chronicle and you think your readers would benefit from it, you can have the latest issue's headlines, or a portion of them, automatically show up and refresh when each new issue comes out.

If your site is devoted to marijuana policy, you can run our topical archive, featuring links to every item we post to our site about marijuana -- Chronicle articles, blog posts, event listings, outside news links, more. The same for harm reduction, asset forfeiture, drug trade violence, needle exchange programs, Canada, ballot initiatives, roughly a hundred different topics we are now tracking on an ongoing basis. (Visit the Chronicle main page, right-hand column, to see the complete current list.)

If you're especially into our new Speakeasy blog section, new content coming out every day dealing with all the issues, you can run links to those posts or to subsections of the Speakeasy.

Click here to view a sample of what is available -- please note that the length, the look and other details of how it will appear on your site can be customized to match your needs and preferences.

Please also note that we will be happy to make additional permutations of our content available to you upon request (though we cannot promise immediate fulfillment of such requests as the timing will in many cases depend on the availability of our web site designer). Visit our Site Map page to see what is currently available -- any RSS feed made available there is also available as a javascript feed for your web site (along with the Chronicle feed which is not showing up yet but which you can find on the feeds page linked above). Feel free to try out our automatic feed generator, online here.

Contact us for assistance or to let us know what you are running and where. And thank you in advance for your support.

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16. Resource: DRCNet Web Site Offers Wide Array of RSS Feeds for Your Reader

RSS feeds are the wave of the future -- and DRCNet now offers them! The latest Drug War Chronicle issue is now available using RSS at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/feed online.

We have many other RSS feeds available as well, following about a hundred different drug policy subtopics that we began tracking since the relaunch of our web site this summer -- indexing not only Drug War Chronicle articles but also Speakeasy blog posts, event listings, outside news links and more -- and for our daily blog postings and the different subtracks of them. Visit our Site Map page to peruse the full set.

Thank you for tuning in to DRCNet and drug policy reform!

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17. Resource: Reformer's Calendar Accessible Through DRCNet Web Site

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DRCNet's Reformer's Calendar is a tool you can use to let the world know about your events, and find out what is going on in your area in the issue. This resource used to run in our newsletter each week, but now is available from the right hand column of most of the pages on our 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.

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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

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