Drug War Chronicle #567 - January 9, 2009

1. Feature: DEA Rejects Yet Another Rescheduling Petition, But the End Game Lies Far Down the Road

Marijuana reform advocates have been seeking to have it rescheduled out of Schedule I since 1972. This week, the DEA rejected the latest petition to seek rescheduling, but that just sets the stage for the next moves. Meanwhile, another petition is moving through the bureaucratic process.

2. Feature: Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules in Michigan Stir Chorus of Complaints

The Michigan bureaucrats charged with drafting rules and regulations for the state's new, voter-approved medical marijuana program need to go back to the drawing board, patients and advocates demanded at a Monday hearing.

3. Drug Legalization: El Paso City Council Unanimously Calls for National Debate, Mayor Vetoes Resolution Same Day, Override Vote Set For Next Week

With Mexico's prohibition-related violence within earshot, the El Paso City Council Tuesday passed a resolution calling for a national debate on drug legalization. But then, the mayor vetoed it. An override vote is set for next week.

4. The Border: US Prepares "Surge" In Case Prohibition Violence in Mexico Spills Over

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has been keeping an eye on the border. Now, he reveals that he has plans for a "surge" if Mexico's prohibition-related violence spills over into the US.

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

A former Border Patrol agent cops a plea, another jail guard gets busted, a mystery is solved in Alabama, and one remains in Minnesota.

6. Salvia Divinorum: Banned in Ohio in 90 Days

Ohio becomes the latest state to criminalize salvia divinorum (and its users). The ban goes into effect in 90 days.

7. Obama Administration: Surgeon General Nominee Gupta Hates Marijuana, Sort of Supports Medical Use

Word is CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been offered the position of US surgeon general. A 2006 editorial he penned for Time magazine, opposing marijuana law reform initiatives on the ballot in two states, suggests Gupta may not be great news for drug reform.

8. Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case Asserting Religious Right to Use, Possess

The Arizona Supreme Court will decide whether there is a religious right to use and possess marijuana.

9. Drug Testing: Chess Players Rebel

Drug testing in chess? You've got to be kidding. That's what the players think, but the chess federation is dead serious, and now it finds itself in something of a pickle.

10. West Africa: Here Come the Narcs

In recent years, South American cocaine traffickers aiming at lucrative European markets have made West Africa a favorite stop-over. Now, the narcs are following them.

11. Weekly: This Week in History

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

12. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

What Are the Worst Arguments Against Legalizing Drugs?," "Drug War Debate Continues in El Paso," "If the Drug War is so Great, How Come You Don't Wanna Talk About It?," "The Drug War is Basically an Employment Program for Criminals," "Metro Threatens Flex Your Rights with Legal Action, ACLU Defends," "Obama's Surgeon General Hates Marijuana (But Sort of Supports Medical Use)," "High Times Should Give Me a Job," "The Drug Cartels are Becoming More Powerful Than the Government," "The Drug War Only Causes Violence. It Can't Create Peace."

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

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

1. Feature: DEA Rejects Yet Another Rescheduling Petition, But the End Game Lies Far Down the Road

The DEA has rejected yet another petition seeking to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), this one from Iowa-based marijuana reformer Carl Olsen. It is only the latest petition rejection by the agency in a glacially-paced struggle to reschedule marijuana that has been going on since 1972.

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marijuana plants
But Olsen and other advocates of the rescheduling tactic say that is to be expected, and the rejection is only the opening phase of this particular battle, not the end of the line. And while Olsen heads to federal court to challenge the DEA ruling, another petition to reschedule marijuana is still in process, as it has been for the past six years.

Richard Nixon was just beginning his second term in office when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) filed the first rescheduling petition. It took 22 years and numerous court challenges before the DEA finally rejected that petition. In the meantime, the DEA rescheduled marijuana's primary psychoactive ingredient, THC, as a Schedule II drug in 1985 and loosened controls over THC even further by rescheduling it to Schedule III in 1999. That allows doctors to prescribe Marinol, but not marijuana.

Another rescheduling petition, filed by Olsen in 1992, was rejected years later, as was a 1995 petition submitted by former NORML head, researcher, and professor of public policy Jon Gettman. In 2002, Gettman, in association with a long list of supporters, submitted yet another Cannabis Rescheduling Petition, which remains pending.

Under the CSA, he argues, substances must meet several criteria to be placed in Schedule I, the most restrictive schedule. The substance must have a high potential for abuse, it must have "no currently accepted medical use" in the US, and there must be a lack of accepted safety for use of the substance. Both the Olsen petition that was rejected last month (although the decision was not published until this week) and the pending Gettman petition argue that marijuana no longer qualifies to be placed in Schedule I because it does have "currently accepted medical use" in the US, citing in particular the ever-growing number of states that have legalized its medicinal use.

But the two petitions differ in the way they seek to remedy the situation, and it is this difference that accounts for the vastly different pace at which they have been handled by the DEA. While the Gettman petition is still awaiting a ruling six years after it was filed, Olsen's petition was only filed this year. The Gettman petition seeks to reschedule marijuana through the administrative process, the Olsen petition argues that the issue is a matter of statutory law. Under the CSA, if marijuana is found to have "currently accepted medical use," it cannot be Schedule I.

"I filed in May, filed a federal lawsuit in September, and got a ruling December," said Olsen. "The DEA has never moved that fast on a petition in its history, and by denying the petition, it is avoiding the possibility of having to deal with it again because now it will instead go back to the court of appeals."

Olsen's petition was not a request, but a demand that DEA recognize the reality that marijuana cannot be a Schedule I drug, he said. "I didn't ask for anything; I demanded that they comply with the law. It's not a Schedule I drug, and they are breaking the law by keeping it there," he said. "The statute says it can't be a Schedule I drug if it has accepted medical use, and 13 states say it has accepted medical use. Doesn't that mean anything?"

Not according to the DEA it doesn't. "Your petition and notice rest on your contention that federal drug law gives states the authority to determine, for purposes of the CSA, whether a drug has a 'currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,' and that marijuana has such a currently accepted medical use because 12 states have passed laws relating to the use of marijuana for medical purposes," wrote DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart in denying the petition.

Leonhart cited the Raich medical marijuana case in arguing that marijuana has no "accepted medical use" because the federal government doesn't recognize it, and even quoted from the decision: "The Supremacy Clause unambiguously provides that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail," and "Congress expressly found that [marijuana] has no acceptable medical uses."

Leonhart also quickly disposed of additional arguments presented by Olsen, summarizing her position by finding that "the existence of state legislation is not relevant to a scheduling determination." Thus, "there is no statutory basis for DEA to grant your petition to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana. Nor is there any basis to initiate any action based on your August 5th notice. The Petitioner's request is denied."

Now, it will be up to the federal courts to decide who is right. "The court has to rule on my complaint to enjoin the DEA from enforcing Schedule I," said Olsen. "If they rule in my favor, the DEA cannot claim it is a Schedule I drug; it will have to remove it from Schedule I."

In either case, the losing side will appeal. Look for a resolution of the Olsen case some time in the not-so-near future.

That's just how Olsen planned it, said Gettman. "I wasn't surprised at the DEA decision, and I don't think Carl was either," he said. "The whole point of his petition was to get this into federal court, and to do that, he had to be rejected administratively. This is really the beginning of Carl's legal challenge rather than the end."

Gettman credited Olsen with breaking new ground with the petition and even for inspiring Gettman himself to get involved with rescheduling. "Carl's arguments greatly clarify and build on state-level recognition of medical use, and set the stage for greater attention to this matter," he said. "And I have to say that Carl's activity and pioneering efforts are one of the things that inspired me to file the 1995 petition in the first place."

Meanwhile, Gettman's petition is still pending, although it has already moved through several stages of a lengthy bureaucratic process involving the DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). "The last time we got a status report from FDA, they were nearing the end of their review," Gettman reported.

He is no hurry right now, he said. "We have deliberately decided not to pressure the government to complete the review. We would prefer to deal with the next administration instead of the current one," he explained. "Regardless of how the election turned out, we would have new personnel overseeing the process, and we think a fresh perspective would be beneficial."

Even if the FDA were to come down with a favorable review, there are many steps between that and actually rescheduling marijuana, and even then, the fight over marijuana will still be underway, said Gettman. "Rescheduling will not make medical marijuana available right away and it is not the end of deciding marijuana's regulatory status, it's the beginning," he said. "But it would change the regulatory environment and make it easier for states to accelerate the pace of reform, as well as make it easier for human studies to get under way and for companies to develop marijuana as a medical substance. Schedule I status discourages companies from doing that."

NORML founder Keith Stroup, who was in on the original 1972 rescheduling effort applauds Gettman's and Olsen's efforts, but said he has lost faith in ever gaining redress through that process. "I just don't believe anymore that the rulemaking process is ever going to work in our favor," he said. "We've been trying since 1973, and I think we're going to have to win this the old-fashioned way, through the legislative process or voter initiatives. I just don't think the people in those agencies have the principled courage to do the right thing," Stroup added.

"Still, I'm pleased that Carl and Jon continue to pursue these avenues," he said. "It's to our advantage to put pressure on the system wherever we can."

Whether it's a long-shot or not, the effort to change the marijuana laws through seeking rescheduling is not going away. And who knows? It might actually pay off big one of these years.

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2. Feature: Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules in Michigan Stir Chorus of Complaints

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), which is charged with crafting rules and regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, got an earful from patients and activists at a public hearing in Lansing Monday. The MDCH draft regulations are overly burdensome and sometimes conflict with the new law, patients and activists charged.

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Michigan Capitol
Under the state's medical marijuana law, which passed with the approval of 63% of the voters, MDCH has until April 4 to craft program regulations and begin issuing ID cards to qualified patients and caregivers. But now, after the detailed criticisms of its draft regulations, MDCH will have to go back to the drawing board -- and move fast.

Under the proposed rules, those qualified to grow and use marijuana would have to register yearly and be issued registration cards that could be revoked for criminal use or sales. Registered medical producers could supply no more than five patients each, and possess no more than 12 mature plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana per patient.

Among the proposed rules drawing the ire of patients and advocates was one that would require patients to keep an inventory of the amount of marijuana they had on hand and one that would require patients to treat their medical marijuana supply more restrictively than they treat other medicines, including prescribed opiates, by requiring that the usable marijuana -- not just the plants -- be kept in an enclosed, locked facility. Another proposed rule, barring the use of medical marijuana in view of the public, went beyond the scope of the law, which only bars use in public, patients complained. They said that rule could lead to patients being arrested for medicating on their porches or even inside their homes if visible through a window.

"It seems to me you are attempting an end-run of what the people wanted and voted for," said Ken Shapiro of East Lansing, who uses marijuana for metastatic melanoma that, he said, has afflicted him for 31 years. Shapiro said he had endured radiation, chemotherapy, and more than 50 operations during his struggle with the disease. "Marijuana helped me get through it," he said. "It should be taken for granted that seriously ill people are not dealing drugs."

Another medical marijuana patient, Tom Higgins of Bay City, who currently cultivates his own marijuana outside the protection of the law, said proposed rules requiring disclosure and paperwork requirements could create a trail that could expose him to federal prosecution. "I won't follow the rules as they are now; I'll just keep growing marijuana as I have been," said Higgins, who suffers from hepatitis.

"The regulations are far more burdensome than necessary, directly conflict with the law that the voters enacted in several areas, and would require things not permitted by the law," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed the November initiative. "The department doesn't have the authority to create new, restrictive requirements, but that's what they've tried to do."

O'Keefe also testified at the Monday hearing, where she presented a detailed, 22-point list of required revisions to bring the draft regulations in compliance with the medical marijuana law. Voters approved the law and the safeguards it contains "without requiring self-incrimination or making life overly difficult for the seriously ill patients whom 63% of Michigan voters chose to allow to use medical marijuana without fearing arrest," she told the hearing.

O'Keefe was guardedly optimistic that MDCH would heed the complaints. "They've said they would take all comments into consideration, and we hope they will do so. We want this to be fixed and to see the program up and running as soon as possible," she said. "Until they set the rules, they won't be issuing ID cards, and until then, patients are at risk of arrest."

"The rules as proposed were overly technical and burdensome," said Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA), the state's largest patient group. "But once we went through the hearings and explained our concerns, I think the state realized its rules weren't workable. We were not happy with the original rules, but we are happy the state seems to be listening."

Indeed, at the end of the hearing, State Bureau of Health Professions policy analyst Desmond Mitchell, who conducted the meeting, said the MDCH "will review everything and take a look at what revisions need to be made" in the coming weeks.

Even law enforcement complained about some of the proposed rules, especially one that would require that the medicine of patients who died or left the program be turned over to the state police. "It's burdensome for law enforcement to have someone come in, asking to destroy 12 plants," said Greg Zorotney of the State Police executive division. "Plants can grow quite big."

But Zorotney also told the panel that the ID card system should be entered into the same database as drivers' licenses, and that raised a red flag for advocates. "The state police don't want to be running around gathering up plants and medicine," said MPP's O'Keefe. "That's reasonable, and so is wanting the ability to verify ID cards 24-7. But they also want some kind of access to the patient database, and the law says that patient information is confidential. The only information they are entitled to is whether the patient is indeed registered," she said.

During the campaign to pass the initiative, the public face of patients was the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, but that MPP-funded group went out of business once its electoral objectives had been achieved. Now, MMMA, representing patients and activists who kept a low profile during the campaign, is coming to the fore.

"MPP asked us to lay low during the campaign, but we organized behind the scenes so we would be ready to go," explained Francisco. "We launched at the close of the polls on November 4. MMMA is about patients and what's right for the state and coming up with a workable medical marijuana program for the state," he said.

Now, MDCH has about three weeks to revise the rules and submit them to a legislative committee. The committee can either approve or reject the rules. If it rejects them, the legislature will have two weeks to write a bill with new rules, get it passed, and have it signed by the governor. In either case, the April 4 rollout date looms large.

"They have one more chance to get it right," said Francisco. "Once the revised rules go in, that's it. I really do believe these are just bureaucrats trying to do their job and that they will make the necessary changes. If not, it's litigation time."

"This has gotten a lot of attention in Michigan," said O'Keefe. "There was a really strong patient and advocate presence at the hearing, and there was a lot of media there. I think the department understands that it is important to get this right. If not, we are prepared to litigate," she warned.

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3. Drug Legalization: El Paso City Council Unanimously Calls for National Debate, Mayor Vetoes Resolution Same Day, Override Vote Set For Next Week

Spurred by the unending prohibition-related violence tormenting Mexico, and in particular, Ciudad Juárez, El Paso's sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande, the El Paso City Council Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution that called for, among other things, "a serious debate" on drug legalization as a means of ending the violence. But Mayor John Cook, who sat silently through the council meeting, vetoed the resolution the same afternoon.

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DEA El Paso graphic (usdoj.gov)
The battle isn't over. South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke announced Wednesday he would seek to override the veto at the council meeting this coming Tuesday. The resolution passed 8-0; he will need six votes to override.

Drafted by the city's Border Relations Committee, the resolution outlined 11 steps the US and Mexican governments can take to help El Paso's "besieged and beleaguered sister city." But O'Rourke proposed a 12th step -- which also passed unanimously -- an amendment calling on national leaders to "support an honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." (See the draft resolution not including the amendment here.)

"We know the war on drugs is empowering the drug lords and is costing us millions of dollars," O'Rourke told his fellow council members. "Let's start an honest national debate that would end the prohibition of narcotics," he said, successfully urging them to support his amendment.

"It's a terrible situation that calls for a more dramatic solution than just asking for stepped up enforcement," O'Rourke said after the Tuesday meeting. "What I asked for today and the council approved was urging our representatives to have an honest, open dialogue about ending the prohibition on narcotics," he told the El Paso Times."I hope our congressman, Silvestre Reyes, and our US senators hear us loud and clear and have a very difficult and politically challenging debate, one that needs to happen. We can't continue the status quo; it's not working."

But El Paso's federal representatives may not hear the council's request loud and clear, because later Tuesday afternoon Mayor Cook issued his veto. "The action of council... undermines the hard work of the committee by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution," he said in the veto. "It is not realistic to believe that the US Congress will seriously consider any broad-based debate on the legalization of narcotics," Cook added. "That position is not consistent with the community standards both locally and nationally."

Cook's after-the-fact veto angered several council members. "I am really disappointed. I went and told him that personally," O'Rourke said. "This amendment received unanimous support from council and it also received the support of the members of the committee who wrote the resolution."

Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega said he respected Cook's decision, but disagreed with it. "The controversial amendment merely calls for the initiation of a debate regarding the prohibition of narcotics. It does not endorse the legalization of drugs but it places it on the table for debate," he said. "Ending cartel related violence in Juárez represents this region's biggest challenge and justifies an all-inclusive dialogue concerning potential solutions."

"I completely understand... this is a very uncomfortable conversation to have," said West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd. "But the reason that I am compelled to support the resolution as we approved it is that whatever we have been doing in the last 40 years has not worked."

But Cook told the Times that asking for a debate on ending prohibition diverted attention from the real issue. "The whole purpose of the resolution was to get national attention to the violence in Juárez," he said. "After it was amended, the focus was placed instead on legalizing drugs in the United States."

And US Rep. Reyes, who would have been one of the recipients of the resolution, told the Times he would not have been receptive anyway. "Legalizing the types of drugs that are being smuggled across the border is not an effective way to combat the violence in Mexico," he said. "I would not support efforts in Congress that would seek to do so."

O'Rourke was irritated with the mayor's backroom maneuver. "We started a conversation about solutions ... a conversation that was supported by everyone on council," he said. "The mayor, though, didn't say a word during the meeting. It wasn't until I received a Xerox copy of his veto that I heard from him."

Now O'Rourke has to keep his fellow council members on board for Tuesday's vote. "My intention is to ask that this be on the Tuesday agenda, as adopted, for reconsideration, and we'll just see how the votes fall," O'Rourke said Wedneday. "I'm going to respect whatever the members of .council decide to do.After hearing from their constituents, they may have a different take on it."

Council members may fear the call for open debate on drug legalization will alienate voters ahead of looming elections, he said. "Unquestionably, it gets tougher for those representatives and the mayor to make this decision knowing they are going to face the voters in less than six months."

The debate over whether to even talk about radical drug policy reform continues to roil El Paso, and Tuesday's meeting should be interesting, to say the least. Among the latest to join the fray was former Mayor Bill Tilney, who served from 1991 to 1993. Where he came down was evident from the title of the op-ed he penned Wednesday: "Former mayor to City Council: Stay the course on drug resolution."

Some elected officials, such as Mayor Cook and Rep. Reyes, may want to close their eyes and plug their ears, but all El Pasoans have to do is look across the border to see how well the drug war is working. More than 5,000 Mexicans died in prohibition-related violence last year, hundreds of them in Ciudad Juárez alone. Now the people closest to the border are starting to demand something besides more of the same old same old.

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4. The Border: US Prepares "Surge" In Case Prohibition Violence in Mexico Spills Over

The United States has developed plans for a "surge" of law enforcement and even military deployment along the US-Mexican border in case prohibition-related violence in Mexico spills across the border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday. The plans have been in the works since last summer, he said.

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US Border Patrol
About 8,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the military against the so-called cartels two years ago, more than 5,300 of them last year. The dead include members of rival cartels, who are fighting the Mexican state as well as each other, along with hundreds of police and soldiers, and innocent bystanders.

Mexican border cities have been some of the hardest hit, with some 1,600 people killed in Ciudad Juarez (across from El Paso) last year and hundreds more killed in Tijuana (across from San Diego). Border area law enforcement and political figures have been increasingly worried that the violence will flow north across the border just like the illicit -- and hugely profitable -- black market trade in drugs does.

"We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge -- if I may use that word -- capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with" the Defense Department, Chertoff told the New York Times in a telephone interview.

Homeland Security officials told the Times the plan called for aircraft, armored vehicles, and "special teams" to be ready to converge on any emerging hot-spots, with the size of the force depending on the scale of the problem. Military forces could be called on if civilian agencies like the Border Patrol and local police forces were overwhelmed, but the officials said that was considered unlikely.

"I put helping Mexico get control of its borders and organized crime problems" at the very top of the list of national security concerns, Chertoff added.

The US has also responded to the violence in Mexico by approving a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance plan, the first tranche of which is now flowing to the Mexican state. It will provide military equipment, helicopters, planes, and training.

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

A former Border Patrol agent cops a plea, another jail guard gets busted, a mystery is solved in Alabama, and one remains in Minnesota. Let's get to it:

In Laredo, Texas, a former Border Patrol officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes to escort a load of drugs through Zapata County. Leonel Morales, 30, admitted in federal court that he took $9,000 ensure that 20 kilograms of cocaine made it safely through the county. The guilty plea came in the face of prosecutors prepared to introduce audio and video recordings of Morales planning, negotiating, and coordinating the drugs' movements. Morales faces up to 15 years in prison and remains in custody while awaiting a March 18 sentencing hearing.

In Decatur, Alabama, a Decatur police sergeant faces theft and additional charges after disappearing last Friday, only to show up in Las Vegas, where he was arrested. Police Sgt. Faron White allegedly stole $70,000 in drug money from the department's narcotics office, then attempted to cover up his crime by trashing his office to make it appear he had been assaulted and kidnapped. His family reported him missing Saturday, and local police spent several days searching the Tennessee River and surrounding areas looking for him. Also arrested as an accomplice was Sarah Richardson, who picked White up at the police station Friday night and drove him to Nashville to catch a flight to Las Vegas. According to a police affidavit, Richardson was aware White had stolen the cash stash and helped him so he could "avoid apprehension."

In Kissimmee, Florida, an Osceola County jail guard was arrested last Friday on charges he smuggled drugs into the jail. Guard Eric Sosa, 30, become prisoner Eric Sosa after he left the jail during a break to buy marijuana from an undercover officer. He is charged with drug possession with the intent to sell, as well of introduction of contraband into a county facility and other charges.

In Lewiston, Minnesota, the acting mayor has reported that money, drugs, and documents are missing from the Lewiston Police Department's evidence locker and close to $50,000 in city funds are unaccounted for. Police discovered that drugs seized as evidence and "a couple of thousand bucks" were missing from the evidence locker when they took an inventory nearly a year ago upon the hiring of an interim police chief. The evidence locker, which can be opened only with a key, was in the police chief's office. The Winona County District Attorney's Office is investigating. The acting mayor also told the city council that $50,000 given to the city by the fire department is unaccounted for, as are many official documents, including minutes of council meetings from 2005.

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6. Salvia Divinorum: Banned in Ohio in 90 Days

Salvia divinorum will become a Schedule I controlled substance in Ohio 90 days from Wednesday. That's the day Gov. Ted Strickland (D) signed a bill banning the plant that passed the legislature late last year. It is unclear how salvia possession defendants will be charged, but a fifth degree felony, the least serious in Ohio, merits a jail sentence of up to a year.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
Ohio now joins at least nine other states that have banned the use, possession, or distribution of salvia. In California, minors are barred from possessing the plant or its extracts.

Although used for centuries by Masatec shamans in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, salvia has in recent years become popular among recreational drug users here. Smoking extracts of the plants causes a powerful, disorienting, five-to-10 minute hallucinogenic experience.

Young people posting videos on YouTube of themselves under the influence of salvia have aroused anxious parents, politicians, and policemen across the land, who, seeing someone get high, can only come up with a reflex response to ban the new "threat." But salvia is not addictive and has not been linked to overdose deaths.

In Ohio, the sponsor of the ban bill, former state Rep. Thom Collier (R), seized on the killing of a Loudonville boy by a friend who had earlier used salvia. But even Collier has admitted there is no evidence the salvia use was directly involved in the killing.

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7. Obama Administration: Surgeon General Nominee Gupta Hates Marijuana, Sort of Supports Medical Use

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Sanjay Gupta (loc.gov)
Drug reformers busily poring over the tea leaves in an effort to discern the drug policy intentions of the incoming Obama administration have found little solace in the announcement that it will nominate Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the position of surgeon general. One of America's most famous doctors, Gupta is a neurosurgeon who also doubles as a correspondent for CNN and CBS News.

The Obama administration offer came after a two-hour meeting between Gupta and Obama in Chicago in November. At that meeting, Obama told Gupta he would have an expanded role in providing health policy advice and would be the highest-profile surgeon general in history.

Gupta has a history in health policy. He served as a White House fellow in the 1990s, writing speeches and advising Hillary Clinton on health policy issues. He is also an accomplished, telegenic communicator.

While he has received criticism from some quarters for being too friendly with big pharmaceutical companies and from others for wrongly accusing filmmaker Michael Moore of falsehoods in his documentary "Sicko," it is his old-school views on marijuana that are raising hackles in drug reform circles. Most famously, in a November 2006 editorial in Time magazine, Gupta, while acknowledging marijuana's medical benefits for some patients, went on to repeat a raft of long-debunked anti-marijuana myths as reasons for opposing marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot in Nevada and Colorado that week. In Gupta's words:

"Maybe it's because I was born a couple of months after Woodstock and wasn't around when marijuana was as common as iPods are today, but I'm constantly amazed that after all these years -- and all the wars on drugs and all the public-service announcements -- nearly 15 million Americans still use marijuana at least once a month. California and 10 other states have already decriminalized marijuana for medical use. Two states -- Colorado and Nevada -- are considering ballot initiatives that would legalize up to an ounce of pot for personal use by people 21 and older, whether or not there is a medical need.

"What do voters need to know before going to the polls?

"The first is that marijuana isn't really very good for you. True, there are health benefits for some patients. Several recent studies, including a new one from the Scripps Research Institute, show that THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for the high, can help slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease. (In fact, it seems to block the formation of disease-causing plaques better than several mainstream drugs.) Other studies have shown THC to be a very effective antinausea treatment for people -- cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example -- for whom conventional medications aren't working. And medical cannabis has shown promise relieving pain in patients with multiple sclerosis and reducing intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients.

"But I suspect that most of the people eager to vote yes on the new ballot measures aren't suffering from glaucoma, Alzheimer's or chemo-induced nausea. Many of them just want to get stoned legally. That's why I, like many other doctors, am unimpressed with the proposed legislation, which would legalize marijuana irrespective of any medical condition.

"Why do I care? As Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, puts it, "Numerous deleterious health consequences are associated with [marijuana's] short- and long-term use, including the possibility of becoming addicted."

"What are other health consequences? Frequent marijuana use can seriously affect your short-term memory. It can impair your cognitive ability (why do you think people call it dope?) and lead to long-lasting depression or anxiety. While many people smoke marijuana to relax, it can have the opposite effect on frequent users. And smoking anything, whether it's tobacco or marijuana, can seriously damage your lung tissue.

"The Nevada and Colorado marijuana initiatives have gained support from unlikely places. More than 33 religious leaders in Nevada have endorsed the measure, arguing that permissive legalization, accompanied by stringent regulations and penalties, can cut down on illegal drug trafficking and make communities safer.

"Perhaps. But I'm here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good. And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger."

Whether Gupta if confirmed will support medical marijuana -- as opposed to mere THC-based pharmaceuticals such as Marinol -- or do good for drug policy reform in other ways, remains to be seen. And he did demonstrate a willingness to acknowledge some of the arguments made by the other side. But his apparent blindness to the harm caused to marijuana users by arrest and incarceration is not a great first sign. Change we can believe in for drug policy? Only time will tell.

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8. Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case Asserting Religious Right to Use, Possess

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether there is a religious right to possess marijuana. The issue is being raised in Arizona v. Hardesty, in which Daniel Hardesty, a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based church that practices neo-Zoroastrian tenets and believes marijuana provides spiritual enlightenment and a connection to the divine mind.

Hardesty was arrested for marijuana possession after being stopped for a burned out headlight in 2005 and convicted of marijuana and paraphernalia possession in district court despite arguing that First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion entitled him to use and possess marijuana as a sacrament in his church. Hardesty appealed, but lost in the appeals court as well.

In rejecting Hardesty's appeal, the appeals court held that while he has the right to believe what he wants, the First Amendment protections do not give him the right to commit criminal offenses for religious reasons. The appeals court also said the legislature has a legitimate interest in banning marijuana and the courts should not second-guess the legislature.

If the state Supreme Court overturns the lower court decisions, it will be the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of marijuana -- but not the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of a controlled substance. Arizona courts have ruled repeatedly that the possession of peyote for religious purposes by the Native American Church is allowable.

The appeals court argued that was different. With peyote, there was never any finding that the cactus was addictive or being used in quantities harmful to the health of participants. Also, peyote was used by a "discrete and well-defined group," the court held. Now, one of these months, we'll see if the state Supreme Court agrees.

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9. Drug Testing: Chess Players Rebel

The World Chess Federation, better known by its French acronym FIDE, has gotten itself into a controversy over drug testing. FIDE instituted its anti-doping program in a so far futile attempt to gain chess entrance into the Olympic Games, but now, with its threat to order a two-year suspension for Ukrainian Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk, the federation is facing rebellion and ridicule in the ranks.

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chess board (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Players had already ridiculed the drug testing policy and criticized the quest to gain Olympic status as misguided, but the looming Ivanchuk suspension is bringing matters to a head. Ivanchuk, the third-ranked player in the world and a very popular figure in the game, failed to take a mandatory drug test after he lost a crucial game at the Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, in November. Instead of completing the drug test, an angry and distraught Ivanchuk left the building and was later seen stomping around and kicking posts outside.

"Can we believe such news?" Latvian-born Spanish Grandmaster Alexei Shirov, once a challenger for the world title, wrote in an open letter on the Ivanchuk case in December. "A player who has been at the very top for more than 20 years... gets banned simply because he wanted to calm down after a lost game?"

Another prominent player, German veteran Robert Hübner, one of the best players in the West during the 1970s and 1980s, refuses to participate in FIDE events to protest the drug testing policy.

The Ivanchuk affair is a case of "bureaucracy gone haywire," Washington, DC, tournament organizer Michael Atkins told the Washington Times this week. "Enhancing physical performance for athletes obviously needs testing, but I don't think anyone has ever shown that there are mental performance-enhancing illegal drugs that would improve play over the board to the degree that it affects results," he said. "Having to become a chess cop would drive me away from tournaments quickly. It really isn't worth it to do this just to get in the Olympics."

FIDE's anti-doping regulations are based on those of the World Anti-Doping Association, the body that governs drug testing in Olympic sports. The association's list of prohibited substances includes not only steroids, stimulants, gene doping and other "performance enhancing" substances, but also all illicit drugs, including marijuana, LSD, and heroin.

This isn't the first time FIDE has stirred controversy in the ranks over anti-doping policies. In the 2004 Chess Olympiad on the Spanish island of Mallorca, officials forfeited two lower ranking players after they objected random drug tests after their match. But Ivanchuk is a much more prominent and well-liked player, and that's giving the federation pause.

FIDE officials have postponed announcing a final decision on the mandatory two-year ban. Instead, a "doping hearing panel" will review the case in the next couple of months and make a decision. In the meantime, Ivanchuk is still playing tournament chess, and FIDE is a laughing stock for its members.

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10. West Africa: Here Come the Narcs

In the last three years, South American cocaine traffickers aiming at lucrative European markets have increasingly turned to West Africa as a way station in the intercontinental trade. Now, the narcs are following them. Several countries, including the US, Brazil, and Colombia, are either increasing or establishing an anti-drug presence in the region in a bid to dent the traffic.

The countries of West Africa are poor, crime-ridden and beset with weak institutions, making them attractive to traffickers able to buy protection on the cheap. And with half of the world's cocaine now going up the noses or into the crack pipes of Europeans -- use rates there have doubled in the past four years, according to the UN -- traffickers are rushing to set up shop in places like Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. One quarter or more of all cocaine headed for Europe now transits West Africa.

Colombian National Police Commander Gen. Óscar Naranjo said last week that he will soon send a 10-man anti-drug team to the region, with a headquarters in Sierra Leone. "We want to establish a common front with these countries, to help identify the Colombian traffickers who come and go," Naranjo said.

Brazil, which is itself a major consuming country as well as a transshipment point, is also sending narcs across the water. About a half-dozen agents are headed for West Africa, one foreign narcotics agent told the Los Angeles Times.

And the US DEA is getting in on the action, too. While for years, the DEA had only one office in the entire continent, in Lagos, Nigeria, it is now expanding its activities in West Africa, agency spokesman Garrison Courtney told the Times. "The drug traffic is now going both ways. Cocaine is moving through Africa and on to Europe, while precursor chemicals from China and India for making methamphetamines are now transiting through on the way to Central America and Mexico," Courtney said. Profits from the trade could be funding terrorists, he warned.

Drug busts are already on the rise in the region. In 2001, less than a ton of cocaine was seized in West Africa; by 2006, the figure was up to 14.6 tons, according to the UN. Last year, four tons were seized in Mauritania and Senegal alone, 2.5 tons were found on a Liberian freighter, and another half-ton on board a plane that crashed at Sierra Leone's international airport.

Guinea-Bissau has been an especially tempting spot for traffickers. One of the poorest nations in the world, it has a two-ship navy, no prison, and a few dozen police. Under last year, when tougher laws were passed, the maximum penalty for drug trafficking was a $1,000 fine, even if the quantity in question weighed in the tons. Two suspected members of the Colombian FARC guerrillas were arrested there in 2007 while on a drug trafficking mission -- and mysteriously released.

Now, West Africa will be treated to the tender mercies of the DEA and its homologues.

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

January 11, 1906: LSD inventor Dr. Albert Hofmann is born.

January 9, 1923: US Labor Secretary Davis endorses the idea of a national campaign against the peril of habit-forming drugs.

January 11, 1923: The New York Times publishes the article "Marihuana Is Newest Drug," and claims the State of New York has 50,000 drug addicts.

January 12, 1929: The Porter Narcotic Farm Act is passed, establishing the first two narcotics hospitals for addicts in federal prisons in response to addicts' crowding.

January 14, 1937: A private federal cannabis conference takes place in room 81 of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, leading to enactment of federal marijuana prohibition later that year.

January 15, 1963: President Kennedy establishes the Advisory Commission on Narcotic and Drug Abuse, with Judge E. Barrett Prettyman as chair.

January 9, 1996: DEA agents in Miami arrest Jorge Luis Cabrera, a 1995 $20,000 donor to the Democratic Party who was invited to a Christmas party that year by Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is busted along with four partners in possession of 6,000 pounds of cocaine.

January 15, 1997: Milahhr Kemnah, an AIDS patient visiting the Cannabis Cultivators Club in San Francisco, becomes the first person to buy medical marijuana in California following passage of Proposition 215.

January 12, 2001: Salon.com reports that the nephew of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft received probation after a felony conviction in state court for growing 60 marijuana plants with intent to distribute the drug in 1992. This is a lenient sentence, given that these charges often trigger much tougher federal penalties and jail time. Ashcroft was the tough-on-drugs Missouri governor at the time.

January 15, 2002: The Associated Press reports that a federal appeals court ruled that, in Idaho, marijuana users can drive legally as long as their driving isn't erratic and they can pass a field sobriety test. A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that while it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, Idaho law doesn't list marijuana as a narcotic.

January 14, 2003: A high profile pain prosecution ends with a whimper when California prosecutors dismiss all remaining charges against Dr. Frank Fisher.

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12. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet also provides 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: What Are the Worst Arguments Against Legalizing Drugs?," "Drug War Debate Continues in El Paso," "If the Drug War is so Great, How Come You Don't Wanna Talk About It?," "The Drug War is Basically an Employment Program for Criminals," "Metro Threatens Flex Your Rights with Legal Action, ACLU Defends," "Obama's Surgeon General Hates Marijuana (But Sort of Supports Medical Use)," "High Times Should Give Me a Job," "The Drug Cartels are Becoming More Powerful Than the Government," "The Drug War Only Causes Violence. It Can't Create Peace."

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

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

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

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

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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