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Drug War Chronicle #550 - September 5, 2008

1. Editorial: How Much Does It Cost to Build an Air-Conditioned Drug Smuggling Tunnel?

Every now and then authorities discover an electrified, air-conditioned tunnel underneath our border with Mexico or Canada, presumably built for drug smuggling. How many such tunnels go undiscovered? And does it take more than one successful smuggling operation to pay for a tunnel's construction?

2. Feature: Venezuela, US Governments Spar Over Drug Fighting

Washington and Caracas traded barbs over Venezuelan cooperation (or the lack thereof) with US drug fighters this week.

3. Chronicle Book Review: "On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine," by Nicolas Rasmussen (2008, New York University Press, 352 pp, $29.95 HB)

With "On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine," historian of science Nicholas Rasmussen has written a fascinating and enlightening history of America's favorite stimulant, and the role of drug companies, the medical profession, and consumers in making it that way.

4. Offer: Unique and Important New Book on Medical Marijuana

"Dying to Get High," by sociologists Wendy Chapkis and Richard Webb, is a groundbreaking work that provides an in-depth portrait of one of the country's most well-known medical marijuana collectives.

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

A cop with a pain pill habit gets in trouble. So does yet another jail guard.

6. Presidential Politics: Both Major Party Tickets Include Former Drug Users

With the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, both major party tickets now include acknowledged former drug users. But there is little sign either party is going to do anything groundbreaking on drug policy reform.

7. Drug Use: Prescription Pills Up, Cocaine and Meth Down, Marijuana Holds Steady

The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health is out. While some drugs are less popular than last year, others are more popular, and overall use levels remain largely unchanged.

8. Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Extends Moratorium

The Los Angeles City Council has extended its year-old moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries for another six months.

9. Marijuana: Fayetteville, Arkansas, Lowest Priority Initiative Turns in More Signatures

A lowest law enforcement priority initiative for adult marijuana possession offenses in Fayetteville, Arkansas, seems set for the November ballot as organizers hand in nearly a thousand additional signatures. They needed 300 valid ones.

10. Marijuana: SAFER Takes on the NFL, Cites "Hypocrisy" of Player's Huge Fine for Marijuana Possession

The marijuana reform group SAFER is accusing the NFL of hypocrisy over a huge fine imposed on one player for minor marijuana possession while the league makes hundreds of millions from alcohol advertising. It has an online petition you can sign.

11. Australia: Drug Researcher Says Ecstasy Safer Than Binge Drinking, Causes Flap

A leading Australian drug researcher has dared to suggest young people might be better off taking small doses of ecstasy rather than getting stinking drunk on a regular basis, and that has excited cries of blasphemy!

12. Latin America: Mexican Drug Violence Taking Toll on Pres. Calderón's Popularity

Mexican President Felipe Calderón called out the army to put the hurt on drug trafficking organizations. But with a rising prohibition-related death toll, as well as public impatience with common crime, his policies may be putting a bigger hurt on himself.

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Victim's Rights in the War on Drugs," "Palin Pick Makes Medical Marijuana a Problem Issue For McCain," "Police Raid Wrong Address, Hit Innocent Man With the Butt of a Shotgun," "Prosecutor Getting Nervous in the Ryan Frederick Case," "Republicans Promise to Continue the Drug War," "BREAKING: People Smoke Pot at Outdoor Concerts," "$20,000 Bond for One Ecstasy Pill," "How Much More Public Support Does Medical Marijuana Really Need?"

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Editorial: How Much Does It Cost to Build an Air-Conditioned Drug Smuggling Tunnel?

David Borden, Executive Director

David Borden
Awhile back I attended a small lunch-time forum on the subject of immigration and the US-Mexico border. Seated at the table was a man in a military uniform, not one of the speakers, but clearly eager to say his piece. After the presentation was over, he put up his hand, told us he was an officer with Southcom -- the branch of the Armed Forces dealing with areas to the south of the United States -- and that his military education and experience told him that walls don't stop people. Walls just slow people down, he said -- you can go over a wall, you can through it, you can go around it, or you can go under it. And militarily he understood that a wall spanning our border would not slow people down enough to stop the kind of traffic that we have crossing the border, not unless we simply shoot people to kill on sight, which he was unwilling to do.

Whatever one thinks about immigration, or attempts to block it at the border, the reasoning has clear implications for the so-far ineffective attempts at drug interdiction. If it is either impossible or at least difficult to stop people at the border -- and since we haven't managed to do it so far, it must at least be difficult -- how difficult must it be to stop the flow of drugs? After all, people have a certain height and width and depth, and they need oxygen and occasionally food and water and space to move. Drugs can be packaged in any shape or size, they don't require maintenance over the period of time involved in trafficking them, and a fairly small volume of certain drugs can be worth a small mint. It's fairly safe to say that drugs are not going to be kept out of this country, no matter how hard we try. It is simply not going to happen.

The idea of going "under" a wall or border to get somewhere got press this week. In the Mexican state of Baja California, near the border across from the California town Calexico, Mexican police arrested eight men who were digging a sophisticated cross-border tunnel. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the tunnel has "its own elevator, lighting and ventilation systems," and starts from an otherwise ordinary white house in an upper-middle class neighborhood near the border fence. Some reports say it has electric rail for container transport too.

While the technology and professionalism involved in the tunnel's design and construction may sound remarkable, the project was by no means unique. According to the US Immigration and Customs Bureau (ICE), at least 75 have been found since the 1990s. They're not limited to our southern border, either.

My two questions are: How many successful drug smuggling operations are needed in order to pay for constructing and maintaining such a tunnel -- might it only need to be used once? -- and how many more tunnels are there that have never been found? I have a feeling that there are many undiscovered smuggling tunnels, and that the cost of building one with air-conditioning and electric transportation is low compared with the likely rewards. The proof that the cost is low is simply the fact that they keep building them over and over. They wouldn't keep building the tunnels if it weren't a cost-effective strategy.

Don't expect the drug trade to slow anytime soon, at least not because of law enforcement. And don't let the pictures of the latest tunnel or drug seizure fool you into thinking it might.

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Feature: Venezuela, US Governments Spar Over Drug Fighting

The tense relations between the Bush administration and Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez grew even more strained this week as Washington and Caracas traded charges and counter-charges over Venezuela's fight against cocaine trafficking. While it seems indisputable that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela has increased in recent years, the two governments are trading barbs over the extent of official Venezuelan complicity in the trade, whether Venezuela is doing enough to combat trafficking, and whether it needs to comply with US demands in order to effectively fight the drug trade.

Venezuela (from the CIA World Factbook)
Venezuela does not grow coca or process cocaine, but like other countries in Latin America, it has been used as a conduit, especially by traffickers from neighboring Colombia, the region's largest coca and cocaine producer. The rise of the European cocaine market in recent years has undoubtedly made the country an attractive way station for cocaine headed east.

"The flow of cocaine through Venezuela -- both north particularly through the Dominican Republic and Haiti but also into Europe through Africa and other places -- has increased dramatically," US drug czar John Walters told the Associated Press in a recent interview. He said smuggling through Venezuela had quadrupled since 2004, to about 250 metric tons last year, or about one-quarter of total regional (and thus global) cocaine production.

The remarks come as the US is pressing Venezuela to renew cooperation with it on drug trafficking, and are probably laying the groundwork for a looming decertification of Venezuela's compliance with US drug war goals. Relations between the US DEA and the Venezuelan government have been almost nonexistent since Chávez expelled the DEA in 2005, charging that it was spying on his country. Only two DEA agents are currently stationed in Venezuela, and their activities are very circumscribed.

But Venezuela last weekend brusquely rejected renewed calls from Washington to accept a visit from Walters and resume cooperation on the drug front, saying it had made progress by itself and working with other countries. "The anti-drug fight in Venezuela has shown significant progress during recent years, especially since the government ended official cooperation programs with the DEA," Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement. Renewing talks on drugs would be "useless and inopportune," the statement said.

Walters had tried to "impose his visit as an obligation," the foreign ministry complained. "The government considers this kind of visit useless and ill-timed and feels that this official would better use his time to control the flourishing drug trafficking and abuse in his own country," the statement said. "Venezuela has become today a country free of drug farms, neither producing nor processing illicit drugs, and which has smashed records one year after another for seizing substances from neighboring countries," it added.
That statement came one day after US Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy ruffled feathers in Caracas by saying that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the US was leaving an opening for traffickers. "The drug traffickers are taking advantage of the gap that exists between the two governments," Duddy told reporters, citing the estimated fourfold rise in trafficking.

President Chávez responded to those remarks Sunday by calling them "stupid" and warning that Duddy would soon be "packing his bags" if he is not careful. Chávez also suggested that the US concentrate on its own drug use and marijuana production.

On Monday, Venezuelan Vice-President Ramón Carrizales echoed his chief, telling reporters in Caracas that Venezuela was cooperating internationally, just not on US terms. "The DEA asks for freedom to fly over our territory indiscriminately," Carrizales said. "Well, they aren't going to have that freedom. We are a sovereign country."

Venezuela has seized tons of cocaine in recent years and has some 4,000 people behind bars on trafficking charges, he added. Most US-bound cocaine moves north by sea, he said, largely along Colombia's Pacific Coast.

But the Bush administration wasn't backing down. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said: "Our officials, including Ambassador Duddy, are going to continue to speak out on the state of US-Venezuelan relations... (and) what we see happening inside Venezuela. That does not foreclose the possibility of a better relationship... and certainly we're prepared to have a better relationship," he added, saying Washington first needed to see some unspecified actions by the Venezuelan government.

Good luck with that, said a trio of analysts consulted by the Chronicle. "There is little chance of increased cooperation," said Ian Vasquez, director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, who cited corruption within the Venezuelan government.

Prospects for a rapprochement on drug policy are low, said Adam Isaacson of the Washington-based Center for International Policy. "There is so much distrust between the two governments," he said. "Chávez's threat scenario is a US invasion, and a US military, security, or even police presence would be seen as probing for weaknesses. On the other hand, the US thinks Venezuela is on a campaign to bring Iran and Russia into the region, and Walters is an ideologue who thinks Venezuela is doing this to destabilize the region, you know, the idea of a leftist leader making common cause with drug traffickers. There is no trust, and there's not going to be any trust. The drug war stuff is really only one aspect of that larger context," he said.

"The Venezuelans have repeatedly stated they want to cooperate with the US on drugs, but Chávez deeply distrusts the US government," said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "He has had a terrible time with activist US ambassadors and he feels they have intervened repeatedly in Venezuela's sovereign affairs, but this could be a propitious moment. The Bush administration will get nowhere with any new anti-Chávez initiatives, so they just might be interested in taking some steps toward normalizing relations with Venezuela simply to show that the US is capable of using diplomacy."

Still, said Birns, don't look for any dramatic breakthroughs. "There won't be any effective agreement on drug trafficking unless it's part of a larger mix of confidence-building measures," he said. "Hugo Chávez has a confrontational, combative personality, but he's relatively clean when it comes to human rights violations or other derelictions, and that's very frustrating for Washington. There will not be any comprehensive agreement on this issue, just some de facto improvements on a graduated basis because the necessary confidence between the two governments just doesn't exist."

All three agreed that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela is increasing, but none thought it was a matter of official policy. "It's true there is now a lot of cocaine going through Venezuela," said Isaacson. "While I don't think that Chávez is actively trying to turn the country into a narco playground, I haven't seen any major effort to root out drug-related corruption. Chávez also has problems controlling his national territory; there are security and public security problems, common crime is a serious problem, and organized crime is growing."

"Venezuela has an income of $100 billion a year from oil revenues, why would they be interested in drug revenues?" Birns asked. "I'm sure there are some rogue elements in the government, but this is not a matter of state policy," he said. "You can't deny there is drug trafficking in Venezuela, but I can't imagine that Chávez has anything to do with or gain from it. After all, he's giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year around the world, including the US, in oil and heating oil, so this just doesn't seem like an income opportunity he would be interested in."

The war on drugs is just a waste of time and resources, said Vasquez. "Asking countries to enforce US drug prohibition is asking them to do the impossible," said Vasquez. "It hasn't succeeded in Colombia, Mexico, or anywhere in the Andes. You see some ephemeral victories -- you might kill a drug lord or shut down a cartel, but this is a multi-billion dollar multinational industry that can easily adapt to whatever is thrown at it."

Asking for more enforcement is only asking for trouble, said Vasquez. "The more prohibition, the more law enforcement, the more violent it becomes," he said. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel. To the extent that the drug war is more aggressively pursued, we can expect more violence and corruption."

Still, there are things Venezuela could do to ease tensions, said Isaacson. "Venezuela could be more cooperative in monitoring its airspace, sharing radar information, even allowing occasional US verification flights like the other Latin American countries do," he said. "And as Fidel Castro has done, they need to take a hard line against drug corruption in the state -- it can eat a state from the inside out."

But if Chávez can be accused of playing politics with the drug issue, so can the US, said Isaacson. "US anti-drug goals look even more politicized. I'm sure Venezuela will be decertified, and people will fairly say they're singling out Venezuela because they're leftists and say bad things about the US. Meanwhile, Colombia, with the world's largest coca crop, and Mexico, which has a huge drug trafficking industry, will get a pass because they're pro-US."

"The US certification process on drugs is very tarnished," agreed Birns. "All of these annual mandates from Congress on drugs and terrorism and the like have been carried out in an archly political manner. The US minimizes the sins of its friends and maximizes those of its enemies."

Washington's problems with Venezuela are just part of an overall decline in US influence in the region, said Birns. "With countries like Peru having high growth rates because of the increased valuation of natural resources across the board and new resource discoveries, with Brazil on the verge of becoming a superpower, with various new organizations of which the US is not a part, like the Rio Group and the South American security zone, our leverage over Latin America is waning. The only way to achieve real results on any of these issues is earnest negotiation where real concessions are made."

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Chronicle Book Review: "On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine," by Nicolas Rasmussen (2008, New York University Press, 352 pp, $29.95 HB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Almost everybody knows about methamphetamine, that demon drug, that pharmacological equivalent of plutonium, stereotypically favored by toothless, uneducated white guys tweaking in trailer parks out in the sticks. Many fewer people are aware of Desoxyn, which is widely prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And even fewer are aware that Desoxyn is nothing other than pharmaceutical grade methamphetamine legally prescribed by doctors across the land.

How can the same substance be both demon drug and miracle cure? Science historian Nicolas Rasmussen of the University of New South Wales in Sydney provides some answers to that question -- and much more -- in "On Speed." What Rasmussen is really interested in is the interaction between the pharmaceutical industry, the medical profession, and broader social forces afoot in Western culture, and amphetamines make a fascinating, if surprising, vehicle for his meditations.

As Rasmussen tells us, amphetamine was first tested on a human on June 3, 1929, when Los Angeles chemist Gordon Alles injected himself with his new concoction. As Rasmussen's reproduction of Alles' testing notes put it early in the experience, "Feeling of well-being." Later, he reported "a rather sleepless night" where his "mind seemed to race from one subject to another." Still, Alles reported feeling fairly well the next morning.

Pharmaceutical companies had a new product. Now, they had to figure out something to use it for. First off the mark was the Benzedrine inhaler, marketed for relief of nasal congestion. But by the 1940s, amphetamine tablets by the millions were being used by soldiers on all sides of World War II as energy- and morale-enhancers. Within a few more years, amphetamines were being widely prescribed for an ever-increasing array of "diseases," including obesity and neurotic depression. By the late 1960s some 5 million Americans were gobbling down amphetamines under a doctor's supervision, and another 2 or 3 million were using them as "thrill pills" outside the bounds of medical practice.

While Rasmussen provides lots of detail on the marketing strategies of various pharmaceutical companies, the needs of doctors to deal with patients complaining of low grade depression, malaise, lack of energy, and obesity, and the increasing clamor of Americans for pills that would make them feel more energetic, gregarious, and productive -- oh, what All-American desires! -- what is most fascinating for students of American drug policy is the way his narrative lays the blame for the creation of subsequent amphetamine abuse problems squarely at the feet of market-hungry pill makers, pill-pushing doctors, and, of course, the American military, which exposed millions of GIs to the pleasures -- and dangers -- of speed. But at some point, he argues, the "push" from drug companies and doctors was complemented by a "pull" from consumers who developed a liking for the drug and its stimulant effects.

As Rasmussen notes, a thrill-seeking speed subculture emerged almost immediately, beginning with University of Minnesota students in the 1930s who were given Benzedrine inhalers in clinical trials, decided they liked them, and took them home to party and study with. By the late 1940s, some of those millions of GIs exposed to amphetamines during the war had continued using speed and were bringing awareness of it to the general population. By the 1950s, Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs were enshrining it in a nascent counterculture, and by the 1960s, as legal amphetamine production reached record highs, speed abuse was identified as a serious problem, not only by doctors, researchers, law enforcement, and fear-mongering politicians, but also by the counterculture itself.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the federal government intervened, severely crimping the speed supply and -- voilà! -- the illicit speed industry took off. As Rasmussen puts it: "Naturally, once the national supply of pharmaceutical amphetamine was sharply cut by federal action after 1971, demand for home-made speed grew, driving down quality and strengthening the position of the motorcycle gangs. Making a popular drug illegal, without reducing demand, only spurred the development of organized crime to supply consumers -- with inferior and often dangerous products. It was the same with alcohol in the days of Prohibition."

In other words, meet the progenitors of today's meth lab cookers, thanks to prohibitionist actions. And although I don't recall Rasmussen mentioning it, the restrictions on legal amphetamine production came shortly before the reemergence of cocaine as a popular recreational drug in the late 1970s and 1980s. Ironically, amphetamine's trajectory from miracle cure to demon drug mirrored cocaine's earlier but similar trajectory. For some, amphetamines had replaced cocaine; now, perhaps, cocaine was replacing amphetamine.

These days, methamphetamine is a demon drug, but its close relatives in the amphetamine family, amphetamine-type stimulants differing from meth by only the addition or subtraction of an atom or two from the basic amphetamine molecule, are once again wildly popular at the doctor's office and on the street. The roughly 2.5 billion tablets of amphetamine-type stimulants such as Ritalin (for ADD and ADHD), Preludin (obesity), and Redux (ditto) now being prescribed annually is the same amount of speed being produced medically as at the height of the "amphetamine epidemic" of the 1960s. Ten million Americans are gobbling speed as you read these words, more than did so at the height of the "epidemic."

With widespread use of amphetamine-type stimulants, we can expect an increase in unhappy side effects, Rasmussen predicts, ranging from dependence to amphetamine psychosis, as well as the subsequent development of a market for "downers." In the past heroin and barbiturates played that role; now, he suggests, prescription pain pills will fill the need.

What is needed is not only more law enforcement to deal with the illegal meth trade, but harm reduction measures for amphetamine users and means to reduce demand, Rasmussen concludes. And more control over the pharmaceutical industry, including stronger restrictions on marketing and promotion, as well as tighter controls on the role of pharmaceutical companies in doing medical research for marketing purposes.

"On Speed" is a fascinating book for students of drug policy and drug use in the broader social, economic, and political context of the West, and the United States in particular. It is most helpful in aiding one to think clearly and broadly about how patterns of drug use emerge, the institutional factors behind them, and the way we respond to them. And it is a clarion call for reform of the US pharmaceutical industry, as well as a riveting social history of speed.

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Offer: Unique and Important New Book on Medical Marijuana

Dear friend and reformer,

In our current TRUTH 08 Campaign, we have featured the important and unique new book Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine, by sociologists Wendy Chapkis and Richard Webb. More than 1,300 people have read our review of the book by Drug Chronicle editor Phil Smith -- check it out here!

Please donate to the TRUTH 08 Campaign to support's work providing this and other critical writing reaching hundreds of thousands of people every month. Donate $36 or more and you can receive a complimentary copy of Dying to Get High as our thanks.


notepad folder:

Donate $60 or more, and we'll send you both Dying to Get High AND the new TRUTH 08 Campaign padded notepad folder with clasp. Or just select the notepad folder as your gift selection with a donation of $36 or over. (Use our regular donation page to browse the many other books and gift items that we continue to make available.)

Following are a few things that Chronicle editor Phil Smith had to say about the book Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine, in his recent widely-read review:

In "Dying to Get High," sociologists Wendy Chapkis and Richard Webb... trace the use of marijuana as medicine in the US... its removal from the pharmacopeia in 1941... the continuing blockage of research into its medical benefits by ideologically-driven federal authorities.

Chapkis and Webb deliver a resounding, well-reasoned indictment of the political and (pseudo) scientific opposition to medical marijuana.

"Dying to Get High" is also an in-depth portrait of one of the country's most well-known medical marijuana collectives... describing in loving detail the inner workings... of a group with charismatic leadership... more than 200 seriously ill patients, and the specter of the DEA always looming.

Your help is needed right now to capitalize on the tremendous progress we've already made getting the TRUTH out: the past 12 months nearly 150,000 people per month visited Several months the number of visitors topped 180,000 and the trend is continuing upward.

I am very excited about the new momentum we're generating together, and I'd like to thank you very much for your interest in changing this country's drug policies and for giving your support to the TRUTH 08 CAMPAIGN. Your contribution has never been more important.

David Borden
Executive Director, (DRCNet)
News & Activism Promoting Sensible Reform

P.S. It's time to stop the senseless tragedy of the drug war and to bring an end to the countless injustices occurring every day. Your donation to the TRUTH 08 CAMPAIGN today will help spread the word to more people than ever and build the momentum we need for change. Thank you!

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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A cop with a pain pill habit gets in trouble; so does yet another jail guard. Let's get to it:

In Elwood, Indiana, an Elwood police officer was arrested August 29 for stealing prescription pain pills from the department's evidence room. Officer Shaun "Andy" Murray, 28, is charged with official misconduct, theft and possession of a controlled substance after he admitted stealing 10 hydrocodone tablets from the evidence room. Police said he admitted taking pain pills on numerous occasions over the past year and that he had admitted he had a drug problem. Murray went on leave and entered a treatment program August 23.

In Alamance County, North Carolina, an Alamance County jail guard was arrested August 28 on charges she gave drugs to a county jail inmate. Detention officer Jo Ann Hensley, 58, is accused of providing marijuana to an 18-year-old inmate sometime between August 11 and 13. She is charged with drug distribution and possession of a controlled substance on a jail premise. She was fired the same day.

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Presidential Politics: Both Major Party Tickets Include Former Drug Users

Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has famously confessed to teenage drug use in his published memoirs. Now, with Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain having announced his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential ticket-mate, both major parties have confessed former drug users on the ticket.

Palin has smoked pot, she told the Anchorage Daily News in a 2006 interview. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Palin doesn't support legalizing marijuana, worrying about the message it would send to her four kids. But when it comes to cracking down on drugs, she says methamphetamines are the greater threat and should have a higher priority.

Palin said she has smoked marijuana -- remember, it was legal under state law, she said, even if illegal under US law -- but says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it now.

"I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled."

Reports of Palin's comments excited an immediate reaction from the Marijuana Policy Project, whose executive director, Rob Kampia, called on Republicans to respect states' rights when it comes to marijuana policy. "That she used marijuana is no big deal, but what is a big deal is that she thinks that the 100 million Americans who have used marijuana, including herself, belong in jail. That wouldn't be good for her kids," he said.

"Perhaps most importantly, Alaska is one of 12 states that allow the medical use of marijuana, and one in five Americans currently live in those states. The heavy hand of the federal government has trampled state authority and tried to interfere with the implementation of these state-level medical marijuana laws. The GOP ticket should embrace the time-honored Republican principle of local control by promising to end the federal government's war on sensible medical marijuana laws in both red and blue states," Kampia continued.

Although confessed former drug users are now on both major party tickets, drug policy and drug reform are nowhere to be seen so far in either party's platform or the nominee's campaign events. If you want to discuss drug policy reform in the 2008 presidential election, you have to talk to the Greens, Nader, or the Libertarians.

(This article was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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Drug Use: Prescription Pills Up, Cocaine and Meth Down, Marijuana Holds Steady

Nearly 20 million Americans used illicit drugs in the month before responding to an annual national survey last year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That figure includes not only illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs used for non-medical purposes. The numbers come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which interviewed 67,500 people for its annual report.

The numbers for overall drug use are similar to those for recent years, although the survey reported marginal declines in cocaine and methamphetamine use among young people. Among 18-to-25-year-olds, cocaine use dropped to 1.7%, down 23% from 2006, while meth use dropped to 0.4%, down about a third from 2006.

Drug control officials attributed the decline to increased interdiction and enforcement leading to higher prices. But the decline could reflect the generational learning curve typically observed in drug use patterns over time.

The declines in illegal stimulant use were countered by an increase in the non-medical use of prescription pain pills. According to the survey, 4.6% of young adults reported using pain pills for non-medical reasons last year, a 12% increase over 2006.

Marijuana remains by far the most commonly used illicit drug, with an estimated 14.4 million people reporting use in the previous month. That is about 5.8% of the population, down slightly from 6% in 2006.

Baby boomers moving into their fifties are taking their drug habits with them, according to the survey. Illicit drug use among those 55 to 59 more than doubled to 4.1% last year.

Despite millions of drug arrests and hundreds of billions of dollars spent enforcing drug prohibition in the past three decades, drug use levels remain roughly where they have been for the entire period.

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Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Extends Moratorium

A year-old moratorium on the opening of new medical marijuana dispensaries within the Los Angeles city limits will be extended for at least another six months. The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to extend the moratorium for that period as it wrestles with new draft regulations covering the dispensaries.

Los Angeles is home to hundreds of dispensaries and had seen a dispensary boom prior to the moratorium that was first enacted in August 2007. Under guidelines published last week by Attorney General Jerry Brown, dispensaries are legal, but only if they are established as co-ops or collectives and are nonprofits -- a restriction that is certain to meet with legal challenges. It is unclear how many LA dispensaries meet those criteria.

The council voted to extend the moratorium on a 14-0 vote. Prior to voting, Councilman Dennis Zine said the continued moratorium would give the city attorney's office time to craft a dispensary policy that would ensure marijuana is made available to legitimate medical patients while preventing "abuses."

Under California's medical marijuana law, a legitimate patient is anyone who has received a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana. The broadly written state law does not limit such recommendations to a defined set of diseases or symptoms. Instead it lists a number of diseases, such as cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma, then adds the words "or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."

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Marijuana: Fayetteville, Arkansas, Lowest Priority Initiative Turns in More Signatures

A municipal initiative that would add Fayetteville, Arkansas, to the growing list of cities and counties that have adopted lowest law enforcement priority initiatives for adult marijuana possession offenses appears headed to the November ballot after organizers handed in nearly 1,000 new signatures last Friday.

Petitioners turned in more than 5,000 signatures on August 20, but after they were examined by city officials, only 3,385 signatures were found to be valid. It takes 3,686 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

The Fayetteville City Clerk was examining the signatures this week. Even if only 300 of them turn out to be valid, the measure will be on the November ballot.

Sponsored by an umbrella group known as Sensible Fayetteville, the measure would not only direct Fayetteville police and prosecutors to make such offenses their lowest priority, it would also order the city clerk to send an annual letter to state and federal officials. That letter would say:
"The citizens of Fayetteville have passed an initiative to deprioritize adult marijuana
offenses where the marijuana is intended for personal use and request that the federal and Arkansas state governments take immediate steps to enact similar laws." The letter would be sent each year until state and federal laws change.

"We needed about 300 additional signatures, and so far, we've collected upwards of 900," Ryan Denham, campaign director told the Northwest Arkansas Morning News last Friday. "We've almost tripled what we needed, and we're still going. We'll turn them in at the end of the day."

The two-week final push to get over the hump was the culmination of a months-long campaign, Denham said. "We've been working on this since last November. We've been at the post office, the University of Arkansas and we've been going door-to-door. This is a local campaign, but it's a national issue and we hope people understand that," he said.
"A number of cities are starting to recognize what a waste the current policy is," Denham added. "Marijuana arrests are clogging the system and wasting our resources. We'd rather not have an adult arrested for possessing one ounce of marijuana. We'd rather see them cited."

Similar laws have been passed by communities in Missouri, Montana, Washington, California and Colorado, as well as nearby Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

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Marijuana: SAFER Takes on the NFL, Cites "Hypocrisy" of Player's Huge Fine for Marijuana Possession

New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk was suspended for one week and fined two weekly paychecks, or about $300,000, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week after pleading guilty in July to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. That has the marijuana reform group SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) crying foul.

SAFER Ricky Williams billboard, 2007 (
SAFER, whose primary argument is that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should not be treated more harshly, announced Thursday that it would deliver an online petition and letter calling for changes to the NFL's marijuana policy to Goodell today in New York City. For SAFER, the huge fine assessed against Faulk is rank hypocrisy from a sporting organization that accepts hundreds of millions of dollars in alcohol advertising.

The petition reads as follows:

"Players with the National Football League who use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate are making a rational choice to use a less harmful substance.

"Suspending these players and taking away hundreds of thousands (or sometimes millions) of dollars for using marijuana is driving them to use alcohol, a drug that -- unlike marijuana -- contributes to violent and aggressive behavior. Unless the NFL plans to suspend every player who receives a speeding ticket -- which is considered an offense on par with marijuana possession in some states -- it has absolutely no reason to suspend players for the simple use and possession of marijuana. Doing so is not only irrational, but given the NFL's acceptance and blatant promotion of alcohol, it is exceptionally hypocritical.

"Marijuana is safer than alcohol and the National Football League's substance abuse policy should be changed immediately to reflect that fact."

"The NFL has no problem with players using alcohol and it accepts hundreds of millions of dollars to promote booze to football fans of all ages," said SAFER executive director Mason Tvert. "Yet the league punishes those players who make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate. The NFL is driving its players to drink. Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol both to those who use it and to others around them," Tvert said. "It is a mystery why Commissioner Goodell and the NFL would want to steer the biggest, toughest guys in the country away from using marijuana and toward using alcohol, which contributes to aggressive behavior and countless violent crimes."

This isn't the first time SAFER has gone after the NFL's marijuana policy. Last October, the group erected a billboard across the street from Invesco Field in Denver that featured an image of NFL superstar Ricky Williams in a Denver Broncos jersey, urging the recently reinstated player to "Come to Denver: Where the people support your SAFER choice."

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Australia: Drug Researcher Says Ecstasy Safer Than Binge Drinking, Causes Flap

Responding to recent data suggesting that young Queenslanders are switching to ecstasy in the wake of a steep increase in the state government's tax on popular "alcopops," a leading drug researcher said the young people would be better off taking small amounts of ecstasy than going on drinking binges. Unsurprisingly, the comments have attracted criticism from some quarters.

ecstasy pills
Professor Jake Najman, director of Queensland's Alcohol and Drug Research Center, said ecstasy was "a lesser evil" than binge drinking, long a popular Australian pastime. Ecstasy is "relatively benign if taken in small quantities," he said. "When young people switch from a substantial amount of alcohol to a small amount of ecstasy... I don't think that's a bad trade at all. It is not likely that one pill on a Saturday night poses the same dangers as frequent binge drinking."

Illegal drugs kill about a thousand Australians a year, but alcohol kills around 20,000. According to a 2004 government study, 19% of 18-to-24-year-old men and 11% of women in the same age group had engaged in binge drinking -- defined as seven drinks or more at a sitting -- at least once a week over the past year.

Ecstasy is "cheaper and safer" than excessive alcohol consumption, Najman said. "Even drug-related problems, including psychotic episodes and violent behaviour are not seen with ecstasy, as they are with amphetamines and alcohol," he said.

University of Adelaide PhD student Emily Jaehne attacked Najman's statement on two counts. She said ecstasy was often adulterated, but that is an artifact of prohibition, not a property of the drug itself. Her second count, that ecstasy causes potentially serious increases in body temperature, was stronger. "When taken at hot nightclubs or rave parties the heightened effects could lead to severe brain damage or death," Ms. Jaehne said.

But while the risk of death from using ecstasy is real, it is also infinitesimal. According to a 2004 study of national death statistics, 12 people died of ecstasy-related causes in Australia between 2001 and 2004.

Still, that didn't stop Jo Baxter, director of Drug Free Australia, from calling Najman's comments "irresponsible" and dangerous. "There is no guarantee that if young people hear a message of so-called 'safe use' from people in authority, that they will use only small quantities. Taking ecstasy is like Russian roulette. No one individual knows exactly what it will do to their body chemistry," she said.

"A person in Professor Najman's position and with his qualifications is showing an extraordinary lack of responsibility, if his views have been reported accurately," Baxter continued. "The other aspect is that we seriously have to question why our young people are feeling the need to take drugs in order to 'have a good time.' We need to be giving our young people reasons not to have to rely on drugs for their social events. If we can reduce the demand, the huge volumes of ecstasy now coming into Australia would have no market."

Good luck with that, Mrs. Baxter.

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Latin America: Mexican Drug Violence Taking Toll on Pres. Calderón's Popularity

In December 2006, newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced a bold escalation in that country's decades-long struggle with wealthy, powerful, and violent drug trafficking organizations, calling in the army to join the struggle. Now, nearly 30,000 troops have joined thousands of state, federal, and local police in the fight, but the death toll continues to escalate, and Mexicans are getting fed up.

Felipe Calderón (
Last weekend, after yet another brutal month of prohibition-related violence, including the decapitation of 12 people in the Yucatán and the raking of a Chihuahua dance hall with gunfire that left 13 dead, including an infant, Mexicans took to the streets by the tens of thousands in cities across the land to say "Enough already!" They were protesting not only the violent drug trafficking wars, but also the more common crime -- robbery and kidnapping--that has become increasingly commonplace.

Most crimes go unsolved, and police corruption is endemic. While prohibition-related violence is often disturbingly brutal and sensational, it is only part of a larger wave of criminality plaguing the country. Marchers in Mexico City, for instance, were stirred by the August kidnapping and murder of a businessman's son by a group that included a police officer.

In Mexico City, tens of thousands of marchers filled the Zócalo, demanding action. "Security," they chanted. "If you can't do it, resign!"

"We can no longer live, we can't be safe anywhere," Enrique Contreras, 42, salesman and the victim of numerous robberies, told the Associated Press. "I hope those in government do their jobs. Otherwise, they should resign."

Calderón is attempting to respond to rising public disaffection with his crime and security policies. He met Sunday with protest leaders, pledging to set up citizen panels to monitor government progress, arm police with better weapons, and recruit better officers. But if he is not successful in reducing the violence, his war on the drug trafficking organizations could backfire on him.

"Calderón, who was on shaky ground after the closeness of the 2006 election, increased his public opinion approval by militarizing the fight against drug-trafficking violence in Mexico," Bruce Bagley, a Latin America expert at the University of Miami, told the Christian Science Monitor. "Many people were won over to him... I think Calderón has begun to lose the confidence of the Mexican people."

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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

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

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "Victim's Rights in the War on Drugs," "Palin Pick Makes Medical Marijuana a Problem Issue For McCain," "Police Raid Wrong Address, Hit Innocent Man With the Butt of a Shotgun," "Prosecutor Getting Nervous in the Ryan Frederick Case," "Republicans Promise to Continue the Drug War," "BREAKING: People Smoke Pot at Outdoor Concerts," "$20,000 Bond for One Ecstasy Pill," "How Much More Public Support Does Medical Marijuana Really Need?"

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, 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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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!

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

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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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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 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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Resource: Reformer's Calendar Accessible Through DRCNet Web Site

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.

  • Visit each day and you'll see a listing of upcoming events in the page's right-hand column with the number of days remaining until the next several events coming up and a link to more.

  • Check our new online calendar section at to view all of them by month, week or a range of different views.
  • We request and invite you to submit your event listings directly on our web site. Note that our new system allows you to post not only a short description as we currently do, but also the entire text of your announcement.

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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