Drug War Chronicle #552 - September 19, 2008

1. Feature: Serious Crime Down, Drug Arrests Hold Steady, But Marijuana Arrests Increase to 872,000

The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report is out. Serious crime is down across the board, but drug arrests held roughly steady. Marijuana arrests actually increased by 5% to more than 872,000 -- nearly 90% of them for simple possession.

2. Feature: US Lists "Major" Drug Producing and Trafficking Countries, Names Only Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as Not Complying

In its annual act of diplomatic hubris, the US government this week released its list of "major" drug producing and trafficking countries. Only three of them -- all political foes of Washington -- were found wanting.

3. 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.

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

A Texas constable and probation/parole officers in Massachusetts and North Carolina are in the spotlight this week.

5. Marijuana: Massachusetts Decrim Initiative Organizers Take Off the Gloves, File Criminal Complaints Against Prosecutors

With less than two months before Massachusetts voters go to the polls to vote on a marijuana decriminalization initiative, initiative supporters have filed criminal complaints against the organized opposition.

6. Salvia Divinorum: Nebraska Shopkeeper to Go on Trial For Selling "Intoxicants" in Magic Mint Case

A Nebraska shop-keeper must stand trial for selling salvia divinorum, even though it's not illegal in Nebraska.

7. Search and Seizure: Feds Must Get Warrant Before Scouring Cell Phone Location Records, Federal District Court Judge Rules

The government must obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before forcing wireless service providers to divulge historical cell phone tower location information, a federal district court hearing a drug trafficking case has ruled.

8. Latin America: Brazilian Cops Kill With Impunity, Moonlight as Drug Gang Executioners, UN Report Says

Brazilian police are killers, both on and off the job, according to a new report from the UN's Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, and arbitrary executions.

9. Europe: Britain's Drug Advisory Panel Ponders Down-Scheduling Ecstasy

Britain's advisory panel on drug policy is about to undertake a review of the scheduling of ecstasy as a Class A drug, the most serious classification. The move comes after several reports saying the popular stimulant should be downgraded.

10. Europe: Dutch Supreme Court Says Patient Can Grow Marijuana for Therapeutic Use

Holland may be famous for its marijuana coffee houses, but pot cultivation remains illegal -- unless you are a patient who can demonstrate a medical necessity, the Dutch Supreme Court has ruled.

11. South Asia: Sri Lanka in Medical Marijuana Quandary

Marijuana has been used in ayurvedic medicine in South Asia for thousands of years. Now, authorities in Sri Lanka are seeking to authorize gardens to supply ayurvedic demand.

12. Weekly: This Week in History

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

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Study: Decriminalizing Marijuana Doesn't Increase Use," "Happy Constitution Day!," "Drug Czar Embarrassed By Marijuana Arrest Rates," "A New Record for US Marijuana Arrests," "Mark Kleiman vs. 'Drug Policy Reform'."

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1. Feature: Serious Crime Down, Drug Arrests Hold Steady, But Marijuana Arrests Increase to 872,000

Nearly 1.9 million people were arrested on drug charges in the United States last year, some 872,000 for marijuana offenses, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released Monday. While overall drug arrest figures declined marginally (down 84,000), marijuana arrests increased by more than 5% and are once again at an all-time high. Drug arrests exceed those for any other type of offense, including property crime (1.61 million arrests), driving under the influence (1.43 million), misdemeanor assaults (1.31 million), larceny (1.17 million), and violent crime (597,000).

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People arrested for drug offenses face not only the distinct possibility of serving time in jail or prison -- drug offenders account for roughly 20% of all prisoners, and well more than half of all federal prisoners -- but also face collateral consequences that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. In addition to carrying the burden of a criminal record, drug offenders can lose access to various state and federal benefits, including students loans, food stamps, and public assistance, as well as being barred from obtaining professional licenses, and in some states, other consequences such as having their drivers' licenses suspended.

The high level of drug arrests comes as overall drug use rates remain roughly at the level they were 30 years ago. In the meantime, state, local, and federal authorities have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and arrested tens of millions of people in the name of drug prohibition.

The increase in drug arrests comes as the overall crime rate decreased. Violent crime was down 0.7% over 2006 and property crime was down 1.4%, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining numbers. All seven categories in the FBI's list of serious criminal offenses -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and car theft -- saw declines last year. But not drug arrests.

The rate of drug arrests was highest in the West (677.5 per 100,000), followed by the South (664.5), the Midwest (549.6), and the Northeast (508.0). Nationally, the drug arrest rate was 614.8 per 100,000.

Of those arrested on pot charges, 775,000, or 89%, were charged only with possession, a figure similar to that for drug arrests overall. Another 97,000 pot offenders were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation or sales offenses, even those involving small-scale violations. Marijuana arrests last year accounted for 47.5% of all drug arrests. Almost three-quarters of marijuana arrests involved people under the age of 30.

The continuing high levels of drug arrests and the increase in marijuana arrests prompted sharp responses from drug reformers. "For more than 30 years, the US has treated drug use and misuse as a criminal justice matter instead of a public health issue," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Yet, despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent and millions of Americans incarcerated, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community; and the harms associated with them -- addiction, overdose, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis -- continue to mount. Meanwhile, the war on drugs has created new problems of its own, including rampant racial disparities in the criminal justice system, broken families, increased poverty, unchecked federal power, and eroded civil liberties. Continuing the failed war on drugs year after year is throwing good money and lives after bad."

Marijuana reform organizations naturally zeroed in on the pot arrest figures. "Most Americans have no idea of the massive effort going into a war on marijuana users that has completely failed to curb marijuana use," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC. "Just this summer a new World Health Organization study of 17 countries found that we have the highest rate of marijuana use, despite some of the strictest marijuana laws and hyper-aggressive enforcement. With government at all levels awash in debt, this is an insane waste of resources. How long will we keep throwing tax dollars at failed policies?"

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor cannabis offenders," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a cannabis consumer is arrested every 37 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

"It's time for a new bottom line for US drug policy -- one that focuses on reducing the cumulative death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drug misuse and drug prohibition," said Piper. "A good start would be enacting short- and long-term national goals for reducing the problems associated with both drugs and the war on drugs. Such goals should include reducing social problems like drug addiction, overdose deaths, the spread of HIV/AIDS from injection drug use, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and the enormous number of nonviolent offenders behind bars. Federal drug agencies should be judged -- and funded -- according to their ability to meet these goals."

Piper agreed with the marijuana reform advocates that the marijuana laws are a good place to start. "Policymakers should especially stop wasting money arresting and incarcerating people for nothing more than possession of marijuana for personal use," he said. "There's no need to be afraid of what voters might think; the American people are already there. Substantial majorities favor legalizing marijuana for medical use (70% to 80%) and fining recreational marijuana users instead of arresting and jailing them (61% to 72%). Twelve states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 12 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana use (six states have done both)."

As Piper noted, marijuana law reform is happening, but it's not happening at fast enough a pace to slow the number of pot arrests. Alaska remains the only state to allow for the legal possession of marijuana (in one's home). A federal decriminalization bill was introduced this year for the first time since the Jimmy Carter presidency, but no one thinks it will get anywhere anytime soon. And even decriminalization means that marijuana users are still punished for their choice of substance, as well as having their property stolen by law enforcement.

The situation is even more bleak when it comes to non-pot drug offenders. There is virtually no impetus to rein back the war on them, and even the reform efforts that could reduce their numbers in prison, such as the Nonviolent Drug Offender Rehabilitation Act on the California ballot this fall, would not do anything to reduce the number of arrests. It would merely funnel those arrested into coerced treatment instead of prison.

Barring serious radical reform efforts to end the war on drugs -- and not merely ameliorate its most outrageous manifestations -- there is little reason to expect we will have anything different to report when it comes to drug arrests next year or the year after that.

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2. Feature: US Lists "Major" Drug Producing and Trafficking Countries, Names Only Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as Not Complying

In their annual exercise in congressionally-mandated diplomatic hubris, the Bush administration and the US State Department Tuesday released its FY 2009 List of Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries, but only placed three countries -- Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela -- on their list of countries that had "failed demonstrably" to adhere to the US interpretation of the international anti-drug conventions and to the mandates of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

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Bolivian coca (source: US State Dept.)
President Bush named 20 countries as major drug producers or transit countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. But while Afghanistan dominates global opium production, Colombia is the world's leading cocaine exporter, and Mexico is the primary conduit for drugs entering the US, Bush and his spokespersons aimed most of their criticism at Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela.

Bolivia is the third largest coca producer, behind Colombia and Peru, and the US has been critical of President Evo Morales' "zero cocaine, not zero coca" policies that have allowed a gradual expansion of the coca crop while at the same time working to interdict cocaine produced from coca diverted to the black market. Burma is a distant second to Afghanistan in opium production, but also a leading source of methamphetamine for Asian black markets. Venezuela does not produce drug crops, but is accused by US officials of not adequately fighting the flow of Colombian cocaine through its territory on the way to European markets.

More importantly, all three countries are current political foes of the Bush administration. The Burmese military junta has been criticized for years by Washington on numerous grounds, while Bolivia's Morales and Venezuela's Chávez are at the core of a Latin American leftist bloc that is challenging US domination in the region and is now in the midst of a diplomatic showdown with Washington. Both Venezuela and Bolivia threw out US ambassadors last week in the midst of a still-unresolved dispute between Morales and conservative opposition governors in Bolivia's resource-rich eastern provinces.

"The Venezuelan government's continued inaction against a growing drug trafficking problem within and through its borders is a matter of increasing concern to the United States," said Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs David Johnson at a Tuesday afternoon briefing on the determination. "Despite Venezuelan assurances that seizures have increased, the amount of drugs bound for the United States and Europe continues to grow," he said. Perhaps as importantly: "Venezuela has refused to renew its counternarcotics cooperation agreements with the United States, including refusing to sign letters of agreement to make funds available for cooperative programs to fight the trafficking of drugs from and through Venezuela to the United States," Johnson said.

And although Johnson conceded that Bolivia "does have a number of effective, US-supported coca eradication and cocaine interdiction programs," he warned that "its official policies and actions have caused a significant deterioration in its cooperation with the United States. President Morales continues to support the expansion of licit coca leaf production, despite the fact that current legal cultivation far exceeds the demand for legal traditional consumption and exceeds the area permitted under Bolivian law."

The expansion of cultivation had resulted in an increase of 14% in coca cultivation and an increase of potential cocaine production from 115 to 120 metric tons, Johnson claimed. He also cited the recent departure of US AID workers and DEA agents from Bolivia's Chapare coca-producing region at the firm request of the coca growers' unions backed by the Bolivian government.

"The US government's determination that Bolivia 'failed demonstrably' to adhere to counternarcotics obligations seems to demonstrate the political nature of this process," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network. "It is worth noting that in his press statement, Assistant Secretary Johnson felt the need to highlight that the determination was not 'a hasty decision,' because it was just that -- a hasty response to the expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg," she said.

"Word from several Capitol Hill sources just days before Goldberg's expulsion was that while there were concerns, there was no way to justify saying Bolivia had 'failed demonstrably' in its obligations," Ledebur continued. "This is the third determination since Morales was elected and the fourth since the adoption of the cato system [allowing selected farmers to grow small coca crops], yet this is the first time they chose to decertify Bolivia."

Ledebur also pointed out that while the US criticized Bolivia for growing coca in excess of legal traditional consumption and above the 12,000 hectare ceiling established by Law 1008, that ceiling had never been honored. "At the peak of US-funded forced eradication and other repressive eradication policies, coca production was never reduced to the ceiling," she noted.

"I'm not at all surprised because the drug certification process has been so tainted and archly politicized," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington, DC-based think tank. "So you can predict that if the US has taken a certain line toward Bolivia and Venezuela, there will be a negative drug certification. The US always has a hidden test, and that's the nature of Washington's relationship with the country in question."

Birns pointed to the Clinton administration's refusal to decertify Mexico in the wake of the 1993 NAFTA agreements, although Washington had ample evidence of significant drug corruption in the Mexican government. At the same time, it refused to certify Colombia as cooperating in the drug war despite its real efforts because it accused then President Ernesto Samper of having received funding from drug traffickers during his presidential campaign. There are also non-drug examples of the politicization of certification exercises, according to Birns, who cited Reagan administration claims that El Salvador was improving its human rights situation during their civil war in the 1980s, and the Bush administration's use of the terrorism designation in order to pressure North Korea on its nuclear ambitions.

The Bolivian government was quick to challenge US figures and the whole certification process. In a Wednesday speech in La Paz, Morales countered with a UN report from earlier this summer that saw only a 5% increase in cultivation, then went on the offensive. "There should be a certification process for those who are fighting drug trafficking by eliminating the consumer market,'' Morales said. "Drug trafficking responds to the market." Morales also attacked the entire notion of US certification: "These are political decisions,'' Morales said. "We're not afraid of these campaigns against the government using black lists."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was similarly -- if predictably -- scathing Wednesday in remarks reported by Agence France-Presse "The United States can say whatever it likes," Chávez said. "That is pure garbage. It is not true. They can release whatever list they like. What do we care about this list? They can shove it in their pocket, they are no moral authority to make any lists."

At the Tuesday State Department press briefing, an anonymous reporter used the last question to ask about the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Referring to the criteria for a country's inclusion on the "majors list," he asked: "If the Majors was applied to the United States, it would be on the list, too, correct? 5,000 hectares of cannabis and a major -- and a place through which drugs flow?"

"I don't know," Assistant Secretary Johnson evaded. "I don't want to tell you something I don't know. And I'll look into that for you. I'm not trying to dodge your question. I just don't -- I don't know."

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3. 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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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.

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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 StoptheDrugWar.org. 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, StoptheDrugWar.org (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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4. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas constable and probation/parole officers in Massachusetts and North Carolina are in the spotlight this week. Let's get to it:

In Brownsville, Texas, a former Cameron County constable was sentenced September 11 to four years and nine months in federal prison for selling marijuana from the precinct evidence room. Former Constable Saul Ochoa, 37, had pleaded guilty in July to selling 10 pounds of marijuana to a confidential informant in return for the dropping of three additional counts of marijuana sales. All told, Ochoa is suspected of selling at least 175 pounds of seized marijuana he stole from the evidence room. Only 15 pounds were in the evidence room when there should have been 190 pounds. Ochoa was the only person with a key to the evidence locker. Ochoa told investigators he sold the drugs to finance a $40 a day cocaine habit. When he was arrested in May, police found eight pounds of marijuana, along with a loaded 9 mm Beretta, two shot guns, shot gun ammunition, and an M-16 in his squad car. Investigators also found a small amount of cocaine in his wallet and evidence bags with control numbers matching a constable's office marijuana seizure. At Ochoa's home, investigators found a digital scale, a lighter, pipe, two hunting rifles, a brick of marijuana, and more empty evidence bags.

In New Bern, North Carolina, a former North Carolina probation and parole officer was sentenced September 11 to 46 months in federal prison for aiding in the peddling of crack cocaine. Patricia Lisa Gederberg, 42, was convicted of possession with the intent to distribute more than five grams of crack and aiding and abetting. According to federal prosecutors, Gederberg used her state-issued vehicle to meet with contacts she provided with classified documents and for the transportation of drugs. She was charged last October and copped a plea in December.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, a former state probation officer was sentenced September 9 to 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of drug dealing charges. Juan Latorre, a 23-year veteran probation officer, was arrested in March 2007 with three other men as police broke up a large Oxycontin and other pain pill distribution network. Police seized $100,000 in cash during the bust. Latorre pleaded guilty to possession of an opium derivative with intent to distribute, possession of methadone with intent to distribute, possession of diazepam with intent to distribute, and violation of a drug-free school zone. While that case was making its way through the courts, Latorre was busted again and has now ended up also pleading guilty to an additional four counts of heroin distribution and one of possession. His attorney said he was strung-out on Oxycontin after a previous injury.

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5. Marijuana: Massachusetts Decrim Initiative Organizers Take Off the Gloves, File Criminal Complaints Against Prosecutors

The battle over a Massachusetts initiative that would decriminalize marijuana possession is heating up. Although the initiative, which would make marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal infraction (and is known as Question 2 on the ballot), leads comfortably in early polling, organized opposition led by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (MDAA) emerged this month, and on Wednesday, initiative sponsors the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) announced it had filed criminal complaints against the prosecutors for violating campaign fundraising laws and publishing false statements about the initiative.

The prosecutors, organized into the Coalition for Safe Streets, filed a statement of organization on September 5 and have come out swinging since then. There's just one problem, according to CSMP. Under state campaign finance laws, ballot committees cannot raise money until they register with the state, as the Coalition for Safe Streets did less than two weeks ago. But CSMP has evidence that prosecutors were funneling money into the effort as far back as July. This unlawful fundraising and spending constitutes the 14 counts of CSMP's first complaint.

CSMP's second complaint charges prosecutors violated state election laws prohibiting the making of false statements about candidates or ballot issues in at least five instances. Targeted by the complaint are such anti-marijuana fare appearing on the MDAA web site as "Decriminalization will reverse a recently documented positive trend in youth marijuana use," "There is a direct link between marijuana use and criminal activity," and "There is a direct link between marijuana use and motor vehicle crashes." In its complaint, CSMP systematically rebuts each of these statements.

"The people who are paid to uphold the law should also be expected to follow the law," said CSMP campaign manager Whitney Taylor. "The DAs blatantly ignored the law in a cynical attempt to conceal their campaign activity for as long as they could, undermining the very laws they have sworn to uphold. Not only does this warrant an immediate investigation, but because of the positions they hold, they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

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6. Salvia Divinorum: Nebraska Shopkeeper to Go on Trial For Selling "Intoxicants" in Magic Mint Case

Sometimes no publicity is good publicity, but it's too late for that for Lincoln, Nebraska shop-owner Christian Firoz. Firoz runs Exotica, a Lincoln boutique, and back in March, as the Nebraska legislature was pondering legislation that would ban salvia (it died without a vote), Firoz was quoted in a March Lincoln Journal-Star article about an up-tick in interest in the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen after the ban effort received local news coverage.

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salvia leaves
That resulted in a visit from undercover officers from the Lincoln police, who purchased salvia at the shop, then returned with arrest and search warrants. Firoz was charged not with selling salvia, but with violating a state law against selling substances "which will induce an intoxicated condition ...when the seller, offerer or deliverer knows or has reason to know that such compound is intended for use to induce such condition."

That prompted Firoz' attorney, Susan Kirchmann, to seek dismissal of the charges, arguing that the law is so vague ordinary people can't understand what is prohibited and must guess at its meaning. But the state countered that Firoz was not selling cleaning chemicals with no idea they were to be used to get high. Instead, he was knowingly selling salvia his purchasers would use to become intoxicated, they argued.

Last week, Lancaster County Judge Gale Pokorny sided with the prosecution. In a September 10 order, Pokorny ruled that Firoz must stand trial because he knew what he was selling.

"This judge is of the opinion that Mr. Christian Firoz knew precisely that the Salvia Divinorum he was selling was a 'substance' his purchasers were buying intended for human ingestion for the sole purpose of achieving mind altering intoxication," Pokorny wrote.

"While there may be others who potentially might be caught up in some confusing terminology contained in these two statutes, Mr. Christian Firoz does not appear to be one of them."

Firoz will go on trial for unlawfully selling a legal substance next month. He faces up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Meanwhile, the first prosecution of anyone on salvia charges anywhere in the United States is set for next week in Bismarck, North Dakota, where at last word, Kenneth Rau was set to go to trial Monday on felony salvia possession charges.

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7. Search and Seizure: Feds Must Get Warrant Before Scouring Cell Phone Location Records, Federal District Court Judge Rules

In the first opinion by a federal court on the issue, a federal judge ruled September 10 that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before ordering a wireless service provider to turn over records showing where customers used their cell phones. The case involved a drug trafficking investigation, but could begin to establish a broader standard for such records requests, which are becoming more routine as more and more people carry cell phones that reveal their locations.

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cell phone tower
Judge Terrence McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected the government's argument that historical cell phone tower location data did not require probable cause. In so doing, he upheld an earlier ruling by US Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan, who had ruled in February that whether historical or real-time, government orders to wireless operators to hand over such data required a warrant based on probable cause.

The federal government had requested an order directing Sprint Spectrum to provide historical cell phone data including cell tower location information, call times, and durations. But Magistrate Judge Lenihan ruled that the information sought was "extraordinarily personal and potentially sensitive... (and) particularly vulnerable to abuse."

On appeal, the government argued that such records are no different from routine transaction records, such as credit card purchase records, and do not require a warrant. "For instance, records of past credit card transactions will often serve to place a person at a given location at a specific time, yet under established Fourth Amendment law they enjoy no Fourth Amendment protection," US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said in a brief asking the district court to overturn Lenihan's ruling.

But District Judge McVerry wasn't buying that argument, and now the Justice Department must decide whether it will appeal the decision.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates welcomed the ruling. "People place a certain privacy value on their movements," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump told the Washington Post. "Whether it's their movements yesterday or their movements today, it's the same."

"This is a great ruling for location privacy and for people who think the government should have probable cause before they track you," said Jennifer Granick, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case. "Most people don't think that somebody could go back in time and find out where I was or who I was talking to or who was nearby at that same time. This is sensitive information, and there should be good reason before the government gets it."

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8. Latin America: Brazilian Cops Kill With Impunity, Moonlight as Drug Gang Executioners, UN Report Says

Brazilian police are responsible for a large number of the 48,000 murders committed in that country each year, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions said in a report issued late last month. Not only do police routinely resort to deadly violence in the course of their work, they also moonlight as death squad killers for a variety of entities, including drug gangs, said Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.

"In Rio de Janeiro, the police kill three people every day," Alston reported. "They are responsible for one out of five killings," he added in a Monday press statement.

Alston's report came after a fact-finding trip to Brazil last year. While there, Alston met with government officials, including police commanders and senior ministers, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and over 40 witnesses to human rights abuses.

Brazil's murder rate is among the world's highest, and police vigilantism has played a role for years. Police regularly engage in massive sweeps of poor slum neighborhoods, where drug gangs -- the notorious "commandos" -- often have strong influence or even outright control. Alston was particularly critical of the sweeps, or "mega-operations," which have grown increasingly frequent in Rio de Janeiro.

The report examined one such sweep, a June 2007 operation in Complexo do Alemão. In that sweep, more than 1,450 police attacked the slum, killing 19 people, with independent experts concluding that many of the dead had been executed. But for all the violence, police seized only two machine guns, six pistols, one sub-machine gun, and 300 kilos of drugs.

"Local officials claim that these impressive sounding mega-operations are protecting residents from drug gangs, but the operations have hurt ordinary people far more than they have hurt the drug gangs," Alston said.

The report said there has been little or no outcry over police violence in Brazil because people are skeptical that traditional law enforcement measures are working against the drug gangs. But police death squads have also been implicated in the killings of criminal suspects, the homeless, and even street children, with little outcry.

Police criminality in Brazil extends beyond the job, said Alson. "A remarkable number of police lead double lives. While on duty, they fight the drug gangs, but on their days off, they work as foot soldiers of organized crime," he said. "Clearly, the institutions for holding police accountable are broke, but they are not beyond repair. My hope is that the detailed recommendations in my report will provide a starting point for undertaking the necessary reforms."

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9. Europe: Britain's Drug Advisory Panel Ponders Down-Scheduling Ecstasy

The British government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will begin a review of ecstasy's current classification as a Class A drug, the most serious classification under Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act. The ACMD announced this week it will hold a hearing next Friday.

The popular amphetamine-type stimulant is used by tens of thousands of young Britons each weekend. Some 5% of 16-to-24-year-olds say they have used it in the past year, making it the third most popular illicit drug, behind marijuana and cocaine.

Pressure has been slowly mounting for years to reschedule ecstasy. The 2000 Police Foundation inquiry chaired by Dame Edith Runciman called for the drug to be moved to Class B after finding that ecstasy was nowhere near as dangerous as heroin and that the number of annual deaths related to ecstasy use was around 10. The Runciman report was followed in 2006 by a report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that recommended urgently for ecstasy to be down-scheduled.

In the latter report, Members of Parliament heard Professor Colin Blakemore, then chief of the Medical Research Council, describe ecstasy as "at the bottom of the scale of harm." Blakemore added that: "On the basis of present evidence, ecstasy should not be a Class A Drug."

Last year, Professor David Nutt, the incoming chairman of the ACMD, published a paper ranking licit and illicit drugs according to the level of harm.

Ecstasy was ranked as third least harmful, trailing only amyl nitrate and khat, even though it is a Class A drug, along with heroin and cocaine.

Making ecstasy Class A made a mockery of the entire drug classification system, Nutt said at the time. "The whole harm reduction message disappears because people say, 'They are lying'," he said. "Let's treat people as adults, tell them the truth and hopefully work with them to minimize its use," he said.

While the ACMD will be holding a hearing next Friday to review the latest data on ecstasy's toxicity and neuropsychological effects, a final recommendation is unlikely to come before next year. And while the AMCD's make-up and posture suggest it will recommend down-scheduling it, such a move would likely be struck down by the government, which recently ignored the ACMD's recommendation that marijuana not be reclassified from Class C to Class B.

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10. Europe: Dutch Supreme Court Says Patient Can Grow Marijuana for Therapeutic Use

The Dutch Supreme Court Tuesday upheld an appeals court ruling allowing a patient suffering from multiple sclerosis to grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes. The high court found that while marijuana cultivation is illegal in Holland, patients could use what amounts to a medical necessity defense to avoid prosecution.

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California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
"An illegal scheme can be justified when committed out of necessity," the court ruled. In the case of the patient, the "exceptional circumstances" of his illness could get him out from under Dutch cannabis cultivation laws. "The state of necessity is established," the court held.

The court upheld an October 2006 ruling in the case of MS sufferer Wim Moorlag and his wife, Klasiena Hooijers, that the couple could grow marijuana for use in alleviating his illness. In trial court, the pair had been convicted of marijuana cultivation and fined $350. But the conservative Dutch government challenged the appeals court ruling, saying it set a precedent that could endanger the country's tolerant approach to marijuana.

Moorlag and his wife argued that they needed to grow their own because marijuana available in Holland's famous coffeeshops could contain fungi and bacteria harmful to MS sufferers.

It is not clear what impact the decision will have on other Dutch medical marijuana patients. But after the 2006 appeals court ruling, Moorlag's lawyer said the decision meant that other patients, such as people with AIDS, would also be able to legally grow their own medicine.

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11. South Asia: Sri Lanka in Medical Marijuana Quandary

Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years in South Asia, but it many of its preparations, which include marijuana, conflict with modern proscriptions against the herb. Now, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Indigenous Medicine and its Department of Ayurvedha are seeking to resolve that conflict.

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ayurvedic herbal garden (ayurveda.gov.lk)
On Monday, the ministry announced it needs 20 acres of land to cultivate marijuana for use in a number of ayurvedic medications. The ministry has forwarded a cabinet paper seeking permission for the medicinal marijuana garden. It is also discussing the possible grow with the Dangerous Drugs Board.

"We have to consider the security side of cultivating cannabis even if it is for medicinal purposes. People are sure to misuse the permission granted to cultivate the psychoactive drug," said Minister for Indigenous Medicine Asoka Malimage. "It is required to prepare ayurvedic medicines such as Madana Modaka and several other drugs," he said. "We have to address the matter with care."

Malimage said he would consult with his homologues in India about how their program works. India already allows the cultivation of marijuana for ayurvedic preparations.

Ayurvedha Commissioner Ramani Gunawardhana said Sri Lanka needs about 12,000 pounds of marijuana to supply its traditional medicinal needs. He added that the program currently gets most of its marijuana from crops seized by the courts when illegal cultivators are arrested. But the seized pot is often withered and dried and has lost its therapeutic qualities, thus the need for authorized cultivation.

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12. Weekly: This Week in History

September 21, 1969: In an attempt to reduce marijuana smuggling from Mexico, the Customs Department, under Commissioner Myles Ambrose, acting on the orders of President Richard Nixon, launches Operation Intercept, subjecting every vehicle crossing the Mexican border to a three-minute inspection and to many observers marking the beginning of the modern war on drugs. The operation lasts two weeks and wreaks economic havoc on both sides of the border, but fails to seriously impact the flow of marijuana into the US.

September 19, 1986: Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin says, "Drug testing is a form of surveillance, albeit a technological one. Nonetheless, it reports on a person's off-duty activities just as surely as if someone had been present and watching. It is George Orwell's Big Brother society come to life."

September 25, 1996: Mere days before Congress adjourns for the year, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) introduces H.R. 4170, the "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996." Within a few days, the bill attracts a coalition of 26 Republican cosponsors. The legislation demands either a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone caught bringing more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States.

September 24, 1997: A federal grand jury in San Diego indicts Mexican cartel leader Ramón Arellano Félix on charges of drug smuggling. The same day he is added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

September 20, 1999: The public is finally informed of the results of Washington, DC's Initiative 59, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998, after Judge Richard Roberts orders the release of the tally previously suppressed by Congress. Voters had supported medical marijuana by 69-31%.

September 19, 2002: The Guardian (UK) reports that Mo Mowlam, the former cabinet minister responsible for drugs policy, is calling for the international legalization of the drug trade as part of a more effective drive to combat terrorism.

September 23, 2002: Mike and Valerie Corral's medical marijuana hospice near Santa Cruz, California, is raided just before dawn by federal agents. The Corrals are held at gunpoint while their co-op garden is destroyed.

September 21, 2004: In a speech, US House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says, "The illegal drug trade is the financial engine that fuels many terrorist organizations around the world, including Osama bin Laden."

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13. 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 writes: "Study: Decriminalizing Marijuana Doesn't Increase Use," "Happy Constitution Day!," "Drug Czar Embarrassed By Marijuana Arrest Rates," "A New Record for US Marijuana Arrests" and "Mark Kleiman vs. 'Drug Policy Reform'."

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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14. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

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

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

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

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

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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

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School