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Drug War Chronicle #569 - January 23, 2009

1. Feature: Narcs Cheer -- House Economic Stimulus Bill Would Give Byrne Grant Program $3 Billion Over Three Years

In one of the few actions that won it kudos from drug reformers and civil rights groups, the Bush administration tried for years to zero out the Byrne grant program, which funds multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces. Now, as part of the economic stimulus bill, Congress wants to give it more money than ever.

2. Feature: After Decriminalization Victory, Massachusetts Activists Fight Rear-Guard Action Against Recriminalizers

Massachusetts voters approved a decriminalization initiative by a two-to-one margin in November. Now, decrim foes are fighting back with local ordinances banning public consumption, but they are finding that once again they have a battle on their hands.

3. The White House: Obama on Drug Policy

The incoming Obama administration has made its agenda available online. When it comes to drug policy, there's some good, some bad, and some things missing.

4. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we need your feedback to evaluate our work and make the case for Drug War Chronicle to funders. We need donations too.

5. 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!

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

No crooked jail guards this week, but we do have a nice variety of law enforcement and prosecutorial misbehavior.

7. Medical Marijuana: DEA Hits California Dispensary in First Raid of Obama Administration -- New President Promised End to Raids

The DEA raided another California dispensary Thursday, marking the first raid on President Obama's watch. Obama vowed during the campaign to end them, and activists are hoping it's just Bush administration holdovers at work. What is Obama going to do?

8. Medical Marijuana: Bill Introduced in Minnesota, One to Come Tuesday in South Dakota

With the number of medical marijuana states growing at the rate of one a year, and with Michigan last November becoming the first state in the Midwest to embrace therapeutic cannabis, two Upper Midwest state legislatures are about to grapple with the issue -- again.

9. Medical Marijuana: Montana Bill to Require Patients Who Drive to Take Drug Tests or Face Revocation of Registration Card Gets Hearing

One Montana legislator wants to make medical marijuana patients who get into a traffic accident or get pulled over for a violation to have to automatically submit to a drug test. It doesn't appear to be a popular idea.

10. Marijuana: Kalamazoo Next for a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative

Activists in Kalamazoo, Michigan, are laying the groundwork for making it the next town or city to pass an ordinance making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

11. Search and Seizure: Supreme Court to Hear Case of School Girl Strip-Searched for Ibuprofen

Is it okay for middle school authorities to strip-search a girl in search of a couple of Ibuprofen tablets? The Supreme Court will decide.

12. Sentencing: Texas Judges Call for Reducing Drug Possession Penalties

A Harris County, Texas, judge began a lonely crusade two years ago to get the legislature to reduce drug possession penalties. Now, it's not so lonely as some of his colleagues sign on.

13. Methamphetamine: Grassley, Feinstein Reintroduce Candy-Flavored Meth Bill, Despite Little Evidence the Stuff Even Exists

Ever eager to charge at windmills in the name of the war on drugs, two US senators have reintroduced a bill that addresses a non-existent menace and threatens to increase prison sentences for people who aren't the intended target.

14. Weekly: This Week in History

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

15. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"CNBC's Marijuana, Inc: Propaganda, Pot Porn, or Both?," "DEA's Medical Marijuana Raids Continue Under Obama Administration," "Drug Smuggling Robots are the Future," "Marijuana, Inc. Tonight on CNBC," "Drug Policy at," "Barack Obama is the President."

16. Announcement: "Unintended Consequences -- Global Drug War Poster and Video Contest," Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union is now accepting submissions for "Unintended Consequences -- Global Drug War Poster and Video Contest," part of a campaign to raise awareness of the UN's ten-year review of global drug control efforts.

Feature: Narcs Cheer -- House Economic Stimulus Bill Would Give Byrne Grant Program $3 Billion Over Three Years

As part of the $825 billion economic stimulus bill passed by the House last week, the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration included $3 billion for the controversial Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which funds multi-agency drug task forces across the country, and $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, which will pay for thousands of additional police officers to hit the streets. Drug enforcement lobby groups are pleased, particularly about the Byrne funding, but others predict that any "stimulus" more Byrne grants might provide will be followed long-term drag on state budgets in ways going beyond the federal dollars.

Sen. Harkin and Iowa law enforcement officials at 2004 press conference
In one of the few drug policy-related decisions made by the Bush administration that reformers could cheer, the Bush administration tried throughout its second term to reduce or eliminate funding for the Byrne grants. In so doing, it was heeding the concerns of conservative and taxpayer groups, who called the program "an ineffective and inefficient use of resources." But while the Bush administration tried to gut the program, Congress, still tied to the "tough on drugs" mentality, kept trying to restore funding, albeit at reduced levels.

The Byrne grant program, and especially its funding of the scandal-ridden multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, also came in for harsh criticism from drug reform, civil rights and criminal justice groups. For these critics, the program was in dire need of reform because of incidents like the Tulia, Texas, scandal, where a Byrne-funded task force police officer managed to get 10% of the black population of the town locked up on bogus cocaine distribution charges. Scandals like Tulia showed the Byrne grant program "did more harm than good," the critics wrote in a 2006 letter demanding reform.

Of course, Tulia wasn't the only Byrne-related scandal. A 2002 report from the ACLU of Texas found 16 more scandals involving Byrne grant-funded task forces in Texas, including cases of witness tampering, falsifying of government records, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, racial profiling, and sexual harassment. Byrne-related scandals have also occurred in other states, including the misuse of millions of dollars of grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions because of police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower charges in exchange for cash or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

In accord with its own budget-cutting imperatives, and in response to critics on the right and left, the Bush administration again tried to zero out the Byrne grant program in FY 2008. While the program was indeed cut from $520 million in 2007, Congress still funded it at $170 million for 2008. Now, it has folded the Byrne program and the Clinton-era COPS program into the emergency economic stimulus bill, leading to loud cheers from the law enforcement community.

"Safe communities are the foundation of a growing economy, and increased Byrne JAG funding will help state and local governments hire officers, add prosecutors and fund critical treatment and crime prevention programs," said National Criminal Justice Association President David Steingraber, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. "I applaud the stimulus bill proposed by the House Democrats and press Congress for its quick approval."

"This is very encouraging," said Bob Bushman, vice-president of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition and a 35-year veteran of drug law enforcement in Minnesota. "We think it's a very good sign that this was included in the House bill. The House side was where we struggled in past years. Maybe now the House has listened to us and is taking our concerns more seriously," he said. "We built a broad coalition of law enforcement and drug treatment and prevention people."

Byrne money doesn't just fund the task forces, Bushman pointed out, although he conceded that's where much of the money has gone. "Byrne money goes to all 50 states, and most of them used it for the multi-jurisdictional task forces. Here in Minnesota, we split it between task forces and offender reentry programs and drug courts."

While a answer to just how much Byrne money has gone to the task forces remains buried deep in the bowels of the Justice Department -- part of the problem is that the 50 states are awarded block grants and then decide at the state level how to allocate the funds, and some states are better than others at reporting back to Justice -- observers put a low-ball figure of at least 25% going to fund them, and possibly much higher.

The task forces are needed, said Bowman. "While we are never going to arrest our way out of this, I've seen too much of the damage done by drug abuse, and we need all the help we can get," he said. "Not just for policing, but also for treatment and prevention and drug courts. We need all three pillars, and the Byrne program helps with all three."

If law enforcement was pleased, that wasn't the case with civil rights, taxpayer, and drug reform groups. They said they were disappointed in the restoration of funding under the auspices of the economic stimulus bill, and vowed to continue to try to either cut or reform the program.

"We're working on a letter to Congress about the Byrne grants right now," said Lawanda Johnson, communications director for the Justice Policy Institute, one of the organizations that had signed on to the 2006 DPA letter. "The Byrne grant program is not an effective use of funds for preserving public safety or stimulating the economy. The only way you will get an economic boost from this is if you own stock in Corrections Corporation of America," she laughed, grimly.

"With so many smart people working on the budget and the stimulus package, you would think they would understand that the states are looking to reduce their prison populations and change those policies that have jailed so many people," said Johnson. "To then turn around and have the federal government invest $4 billion in more police and more grants seems paradoxical. It's just going to jack up the spending for states and localities, and they are already struggling."

"We oppose the wasteful economic stimulus bill and we oppose the inclusion of the Byrne grants in it," said Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the conservative taxpayer groups that has opposed the grants for the past several years. "If there is going to be government spending, the least you can do is make sure the money is going to have a long term positive impact on the economy."

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This reverses Bush's cuts in the program and restores funding at even higher levels. At the same time Congress and the Obama administration are expressing great concern about racial disparities and over-incarceration, they keep trying to fund this program, which will only stimulate more arrests of more nonviolent drug offenders," Piper noted.

"The Democrats are framing this as helping in these tough economic times, but the people who will be arrested will end up in state prison, and the states will have to pay for that," Piper pointed out. "The states may well end up paying more in the long run. It's far from clear that this will stimulate the economy, but what is clear is that it will stimulate the breaking up of families and decreasing productivity and tax revenues, especially in communities already devastated by the impact of over-incarceration."

Killing funding outright is unlikely, said Piper. "I don't think there's any way we can stop this from being included because the support for it is strong and bipartisan," he said. "No one wants to go up against the police. Our real hope is that later in the year we can put some restrictions on the program, which is what we've been working on. Instead of trying to cut it, we can try to use it to encourage state and local law enforcement to change how they operate. They're so addicted to federal funding that they may do just about anything, such as documenting arrests or having performance measures."

Bushman and the rest of law enforcement aren't resting easy just yet. "The funding has to survive hearings and make it into the final appropriation," he noted. "This is not a done deal yet."

But it looks like Congress is well on the way to funding three more years of Byrne grants at $1 billion a year, the highest level of funding in years. And don't forget the 13,000 new police officers to be funded for the next three years by the COPS program. If Congress and the cops have their way, we can look forward to more drug busts, more prosecutions, more people sentenced to prison, and a greater burden on already deficit-ridden state budgets.

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Feature: After Decriminalization Victory, Massachusetts Activists Fight Rear-Guard Action Against Recriminalizers

Massachusetts voters supported marijuana decriminalization by a margin of nearly two-to-one in November, despite the horrified protestations of the Bay State's law enforcement community. Now, thanks to the inclusion of a sentence in the ballot initiative and guidance from state Attorney General Martha Coakley, decriminalization foes see an opening to keep fighting their lost battle by seeking to pass municipal ordinances that would fine, or in some cases, subject to criminal penalties, people who consume marijuana in public.

''Gutterheads'' and ''Girls 4 Ganja'' pre-lobbying party, week of Quincy hearing
Under the initiative passed in November and in effect since early this month, the maximum penalty for marijuana possession (up to one ounce) is a $100 fine. But as the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security noted in law enforcement guidelines issued earlier this month: "Question 2 permits the cities and towns to pass ordinances or by-laws prohibiting public use of marijuana or THC and to provide for additional penalties for public use. EOPSS recommends that municipalities enact such by-laws or ordinances and provide police with the option of treating public use as a misdemeanor offense. "

Attorney General Coakley was happy to help out. Her office drafted and distributed a model ordinance for banning the public use of marijuana, which could include either criminal or civil sanctions, or both. A number of Massachusetts towns and cities have expressed interest in passing such ordinances, which does not sit well with decriminalization advocates, and now battles over the ordinances are breaking out all across the state.

It hasn't gone as well for the recriminalizers as they might have expected. The first municipality to vote on an ordinance, Worchester, voted it down last week. West Newbury Police Chief Lisa Holmes asked for a public pot smoking ordinance, but the council there unanimously said no. In Methuen and Quincy, Bay State activists have managed to put local elected officials on alert that they can expect trouble if they pass such ordinances.

But those battles aren't over yet, and there are many more to be fought. In Framingham, the town board of health passed a measure amending the smoking ban to include marijuana, but state law already prohibits the lighting of tobacco or other combustible products in public buildings. In Braintree, an ordinance proposing a $500 fine for public consumption will be discussed in coming weeks. In Auburn, where the police chief said the decriminalization law was unenforceable, he is expected to draft an ordinance fining public smokers. Ordinance fights will also take place in Danvers, Everett, Haverhill, Melrose, Milford, Newburyport, North Andover, Plymouth, Revere, Wakefield, and Watertown, according to Massachusetts activists. And there are probably more to come -- or perhaps not, if a string of defeats occurs.

And if activists can mobilize in those towns like they did Tuesday night in Quincy, they might just have the recriminalizers on the run. In Quincy, more than 60 people showed up outside city hall with signs and banners to express opposition to any ordinance. Mobilized by cell phone, Facebook, MySpace, and the web site, about two-thirds of the ralliers were young people, said's Scott Gacek.

"Many of our people had just voted for the first time, for Obama and for decriminalization, and now they feel like their votes are being ignored," said Gacek in explaining the youth turn-out. Although the ordinance was on the agenda, the city council dithered for hours over a zoning issue, but the crowd lingered into the night, sending the council a strong message of opposition.

"The council introduced the measure and, with no discussion whatsoever, voted to send it to the public safety and ordinance committees, but it doesn't exactly look like it's on a fast track," said Gacek.

Citizen action is a good thing, affirmed Bill Downing, president of the MassCann, the Bay State NORML affiliate. "If people want to participate in these protests in places like Quincy, that's a significant thing. If people are reading this in Maine or New Hampshire or Rhode Island, they can get on our e-mail list as well as read the news on the MassCann web site and join in. Please."

For Downing, the ordinance moves are a last gasp of the anti-decrim dinosaurs. "I see this as sour grapes by the folks who lost the vote," he said. "Hopefully, people throughout the state who voted for this would see actions like that as an insult, as they well should. It may end up helping us progress toward better marijuana laws because these people are only vilifying themselves."

"Attorney General Coakley was hostile toward us from the beginning, and after the election she sent out a model ordinance," said John Leonard, a former MassCann chair and currently a board member with the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (DPFMA). "Now, they're jumping on this all over the place. We are in the process of formulating an action plan here at DPFMA," he said. "We're fighting these things left and right, and we need some help. We're happy that the Marijuana Policy Project came here and did the initiative, but now we're left with the aftermath."

MPP largely dictated November's initiative language and funded the campaign. Local activists had issues with some of the initiative's language, but papered over them to unite behind the campaign. In the sometimes rancorous debate in the run-up to the initiative, the language about ordinances was not an issue.

Perhaps it should have been, Leonard suggested in hindsight. "It is a shame that Question 2 allowed for public consumption laws," said Leonard. "Those are traditionally used for legal substances, like alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is already illegal in public."

Downing also blamed the wording of Question 2 for some of the current problems. "The question itself said it didn't prevent towns from passing local ordinances. If they hadn't put that in there, this whole thing could have been avoided. Don't get me wrong," Downing continued. "We're thankful for MPP for all they did, but now we have to deal with this."

DPFMA is mobilizing to fend off the ordinances, Leonard said. "We are going to buy advertising in Quincy, which is the largest city where this is an issue, and we're going to be asking all the national organizations to chip in by adopting a town and lending their support. We want to stop this now," he said.

MPP is a bit more sanguine about the ordinances than Bay State activists. "The bottom line is really whether specific proposals are an attempt to subvert the intent of Question 2 or whether it is just a reasonable public nuisance ordinance," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "If they are going to use this as a pretext to give people criminal records, then that becomes a problem." But it's Massachusetts voters who can stop the ordinances, or not, Mirken said. "It is up to local folks to decide what they're willing to tolerate and how organized they're going to get to stop something they don't like."

It's not that big a problem, said another national reform leader. "We're not worried that there will be serious damage from this," said Keith Stroup of national NORML. "It sounds like most of this is just chest-beating from the losers. They didn't like the initiative, so they run out and say 'in my town we're going to be tough,' but they are going to find that not many elected officials will want to go up against the expressed will of the voters."

"We want to make sure this law works well, and if it doesn't, we are going to need to work with people to fix it," said Stroup. "But we're not going back to arresting marijuana smokers. I think the people of Massachusetts appreciate their new law and having police pay more attention to serious crimes."

The ordinance battles will continue. At best, they will result in a resounding defeat of the recriminalizers. But even if decrim foes are able to get ordinances passed in some municipalities, it may be a pyrrhic victory: In the process of trying to do so, they are waking up a whole new generation of Bay State marijuana activists. Perhaps the local ordinance clause will turn out to be a Trojan Horse for building the drug policy reform movement.

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The White House: Obama on Drug Policy

The incoming Obama administration has posted its agenda online at the White House web site While neither drug policy nor criminal justice merited its own category in the Obama agenda, several of the broad categories listed do contain references to drug and crime policy and provide a strong indication of the administration's proclivities.

But before getting into what the agenda mentions, it's worth noting what the agenda does not mention: marijuana. There is not a word about the nation's most widely used illicit drug or the nearly 900,000 arrests a year generated by marijuana prohibition. Nor, despite Obama campaign pledges, is there a word about medical marijuana or ending the DEA raids on providers in California -- which doesn't necessarily mean he will go back on his word. It could well be that the issue is seen as too marginal to be included in the broad agenda for national change. With the first raid on a medical marijuana clinic during the Obama administration hitting this very week, reformers are anxiously hoping it is only the work of Bush holdovers and not a signal about the future.

Reformers may find themselves pleased with some Obama positions, but they will be less happy with others. The Obama administration wants to reduce inequities in the criminal justice system, but it also taking thoroughly conventional positions on other drug policy issues.

But let's let them speak for themselves. Here are the relevant sections of the Obama agenda:

Under Civil Rights:

  • End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.

  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
  • Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
  • Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Under Foreign Policy:

  • Afghanistan: Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security -- the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan's economic development. Obama and Biden will demand the Afghan government do more, including cracking down on corruption and the illicit opium trade.

Under Rural Issues:

  • Combat Methamphetamine: Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

Under Urban Issues:

  • Support Local Law Enforcement: President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to fully funding the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities. Obama and Biden also support efforts to encourage young people to enter the law enforcement profession, so that our local police departments are not understaffed because of a dearth of qualified applicants.

  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports: America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Obama and Biden will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership, and work to reform correctional systems to break down barriers for ex-offenders to find employment.

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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

No crooked jail guards this week, but we do have a nice variety of law enforcement and prosecutorial misbehavior. Let's get to it:

In Fairview, Oklahoma, a former Custer County Sheriff was convicted last Friday on rape and bribery charges for coercing sex from female inmates and drug court defendants. Former Sheriff Mike Burgess, 56, was convicted of 13 felonies, including five counts of second-degree rape and three counts of bribery by a public official. Testimony included that of several former female inmates who testified they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to the sheriff, as well as two female drug court participants. Burgess sexually assaulted one of them in his patrol car after arresting her for a drug court violation. The jury recommended Burgess be sentenced to 94 years in prison, but sentencing is not until March 24.

In Oakland, California, 11 police officers, including two sergeants, were fired January 15 for their roles in falsifying search warrant affidavits in drug cases. The police officers would make a drug buy, then seek a search warrant from a judge, telling him the substances had been tested when they hadn't. Oakland Police discovered the problem during an internal affairs investigation and went public at the end of September. Now, the city faces lawsuits from at least seven people claiming Oakland police "have repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of citizens by fabricating information in reports (and) providing false and/or intentionally misleading information in warrant affidavits to the court." A number of pending cases have been dropped, too.

In Muncie, Indiana, the Delaware County prosecutor must repay $168,092 unlawfully seized in drug cases, a circuit court judge ruled last Friday. Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney collected the seized assets and attorneys' fees in confidential agreements without a court order. Indiana state law requires a court order, and it requires that asset forfeiture proceeds be divided between state and local government and schools, but McKinney instead deposited the funds into accounts for the Muncie-Delaware County Drug Task Force and the Muncie city police department. McKinney has 30 days to come up with the money. Deputy Prosecutor Eric Hoffman also has to repay $17,164. The judge in the case said both men had perpetrated "a fraud on the court" by their actions.

In Huntsville, Alabama, the city, the police chief, and a former officer are being sued by a man who claims the officer planted marijuana in his car and then arrested him for marijuana possession. Officer Wesley Little and another officer, Ryan Moore, were indicted in May 2008 on criminal evidence tampering charges in the case, and the charges against Quincy Turner were later dropped. Little and Moore were investigated after Little was overheard saying "there could be some marijuana inside the vehicle if it needed to be." Both Little and Moore resigned from the Huntsville Police Department in June, but now, the good citizens of Huntsville are likely to pay for their out-of-control employees' misdeeds.

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Medical Marijuana: DEA Hits California Dispensary in First Raid of Obama Administration -- New President Promised End to Raids

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, California, Thursday, marking the first dispensary raid during the brand new Obama administration. On the campaign trail, candidate Obama said repeatedly he would end such raids.

DEA and SFPD dispensary raid, May 2008 (courtesy Bay Area Indymedia)
Neither the DEA nor the Obama administration had commented on the raid by Thursday evening. With the Obama administration mere days in office, many high-ranking Bush officials are still on the job, including acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart, who has been responsible for numerous federal raids in California. The Obama administration has yet to name a new DEA head or permanent drug czar (head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy), and attorney general nominee Eric Holder is still undergoing congressional vetting.

"Whether or not this unconscionable raid on a medical marijuana provider is the fault of federal officials from the previous administration, President Obama has an opportunity to change this harmful and outdated policy," said Caren Woodson, director of government affairs for Americans for Safe Access, the leading national medical marijuana advocacy organization. "We are hopeful that these are the last remnants of the Bush regime and that President Obama will quickly develop a more compassionate policy toward our most vulnerable citizens."

During the Bush years, the DEA raided more than a hundred California dispensaries, sometimes merely seizing their medicine and cash, sometimes prosecuting their operators and sending them to federal prison. But the DEA has also gone after a medical marijuana organization in Washington state that supplied starter plants for its members, used a federal grand jury in Oregon to obtain patient records, and even threatened New Mexico officials planning to implement that state's medical marijuana distribution program.

In Thursday's raid, DEA agents hit the Holistic Solutions dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, seizing cash and medical marijuana. They made no arrests.

"President Obama must rise to the occasion by quickly correcting this problem and by keeping the promise he made to the voters of this country," said Woodson, citing Obama's repeated campaign pledges.

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Medical Marijuana: Bill Introduced in Minnesota, One to Come Tuesday in South Dakota

With the number of medical marijuana states growing at the rate of one a year, and with Michigan last November becoming the first state in the Midwest to embrace therapeutic cannabis, two Upper Midwest state legislatures are about to grapple with the issue -- again. A bill was introduced last week in the Minnesota legislature, and one will be introduced next week at the South Dakota statehouse.

In Minnesota, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, SF 97, would allow patients with a physician's approval and who have registered with the state to grow up to 12 plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, or to obtain that same amount from a state-regulated nonprofit. To be eligible, an individual must suffer from one of a long list of "debilitating medical conditions," including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, Hepatitis C, and MS.

The bill is nearly identical to legislation that last year passed the state Senate, but stalled in the House after Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) threatened to veto it. Pawlenty said he would veto any medical marijuana bill opposed by law enforcement.

This year's bill includes support from members of Pawlenty's party. Two Republicans are coauthors, and three more have signed on as cosponsors. Similar bipartisan support is expected in the House when a companion bill will be introduced next month.

That's not surprising given the broad popular support for medical marijuana among the Minnesota electorate. In a KTSP/SurveyUSA poll conducted last May just after Gov. Pawlenty's veto threat, 64% supported medical marijuana. Even 53% of Republicans did, something for Pawlenty and GOP legislators to keep in mind.

In neighboring South Dakota, Bob Newland of South Dakotans for Safe Access has reported that a medical marijuana bill will be filed next Tuesday by state Rep. Gerald Lange (D-Madison), with a hearing set for the following Monday.

Another Democrat, then Rep. Ron Volesky (D-Huron) introduced a medical marijuana bill in 2001, but it went nowhere, being deferred until "the 41st day" of the 40-day session. In 2006, South Dakota suffered the ignominy of becoming the only state to defeat an initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana. That effort came close, but ultimately fell short with 48% of the vote.

The South Dakota bill will have at least two cosponsors, Reps. Ed Iron Cloud (D-Porcupine) and Martha Vanderlinde (D-Sioux Falls), a registered nurse. While the odds are against this bill passing, the effort may help Newland lay the groundwork for another try at the initiative process in 2010.

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Medical Marijuana: Montana Bill to Require Patients Who Drive to Take Drug Tests or Face Revocation of Registration Card Gets Hearing

A bill that would require registered medical marijuana patients involved in a traffic accident or pulled over for a traffic infraction to submit to a blood test for THC or face revocation of their medical marijuana registration card got a hearing in the Montana legislature Tuesday. It didn't get a very warm welcome, with a number of people lined up to denounce it and only two who spoke in support.

Senate Bill 212 also sets specific THC levels in blood plasma that would create a "rebuttable inference" that the driver is impaired. According to the bill, if less than one nanogram of THC per milliliter is detected, the driver is not considered impaired. If between one and five nanograms and alcohol is also detected, the driver is considered impaired. If greater than five nanograms of THC alone, the driver is considered impaired.

Patient-drivers who are determined to be impaired would not only lose their medical marijuana registration, but would also be subject to prosecution for driving under the influence.

But according to peer-reviewed academic studies cited by the Marijuana Policy Project, drivers with less than five nanograms of THC in their blood have no greater risk of crashes than drug-free drivers. Only when THC levels are above five to 10 nanograms does the crash risk begin to rise above that for sober drivers.

The bill is the brainchild of state Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), who told the hearing: "I think this is a problem and we need to look at the drugs as well as the alcohol."

But curiously for someone who professed to be concerned with highway safety, Jackson made no mention of applying similar sanctions to people receiving prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, Valium, or a host of other potentially driving-impairing substances.

At Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, medical marijuana supporters argued that there are no accurate tests for marijuana impairment, that marijuana stays in the systems of users for days (long after any impairment has vanished), and that there was no evidence Montana had a problem with medical marijuana patients on the highways.

"I have not heard of any allegation, even, of a registered Montana patient driving under the influence," said Tom Daubert of Helena, director of Patients and Families United, the state's largest medical marijuana support group. "There's no scientific basis for the standards in the bill for impairment," Daubert says. "Those who medicate with marijuana would be pretty much guaranteed to fail the test."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in 2004. Since then, more than 1,200 people have signed up with the state registry in order to participate in the program.

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Marijuana: Kalamazoo Next for a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative

Work is getting underway in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on getting an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority on the ballot, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported Monday. The effort is being led by Michigan NORML.

Lowest priority initiatives have become an increasingly popular way to advance the marijuana reform cause since the effort was pioneered in Seattle in 2003. Since then, a half-dozen California communities, Denver, and Eureka Springs and Fayetteville, Arkansas, among others, have passed similar initiatives.

Although ballot language is not yet final, organizers hope to have the issue on the November ballot. They will have to gather at least 1,273 valid signatures of registered city voters by August 14, a task organizers said they could accomplish easily. Once enough valid signatures are submitted, the Kalamazoo City Commission would have 14 days to either adopt the ordinance or put it before the voters.

Kalamazoo was chosen because it is "a progressive city with motivated activists on the ground," said Greg Francisco, director of MINORML's Southwest Michigan chapter. "Anyone who wants to use marijuana can already find it," Francisco said.

Unsurprisingly, local law enforcement is not amused. "This is a silly idea," Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team commander Capt. Joseph Taylor told the Gazette. "It's a roundabout way of circumventing the more difficult process of getting marijuana legalized," he said, adding that marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that violent dealers have migrated from crack cocaine to weed because of lower criminal penalties.

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Search and Seizure: Supreme Court to Hear Case of School Girl Strip-Searched for Ibuprofen

The US Supreme Court agreed last Friday to review the case of a 13-year-old honor student who was subjected to a strip search by school officials looking for prescription-strength Ibuprofen. In doing so, it will once again revisit the contentious topic of just how far school officials can go in performing anti-drug searches that would be considered unconstitutional if conducted outside the school setting.

US Supreme Court
The case had its genesis in the 2003 search of then 8th-grade honor student Savana Redding after another student who had been found with Ibuprofen pills in violation of school policy said Redding had given her the pills. Redding denied having provided any pills. School officials searched Redding's locker and belongings and found nothing. They then made Redding strip to her bra and underwear and ordered her, in the words of the appeal court, "to pull her bra out to the side and shake it" and "pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it." No pills were found.

Redding's mother filed a lawsuit challenging the strip search as unconstitutional and seeking damages from the school district. A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit against school officials, ruling that they were immune from suit. A three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, but was overturned in a 6-5 vote by the full court, which ruled that the suit could go forward against the assistant principal who ordered the search.

The 9th Circuit majority was scathing in its opinion. "It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority, quoting a decision in another case. "More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity."

But in his dissent, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said that while the case was "a close call" given the "humiliation and degradation" endured by Redding, school officials were "not unreasonable" in ordering the search. "I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students. I would find this search constitutional," he wrote, "and would certainly forgive the Safford officials' mistake as reasonable."

Now, the Supreme Court must decide two questions: "Whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits school officials from conducting a search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing prescription drugs, and whether the 9th Circuit departed from established principles of qualified immunity in holding that a public school administrator may be liable in a damages lawsuit for conducting a search of a student."

The case is Redding v. Safford Unified School District #1, or, as it is now known with the school district appealing, Safford Unified School District v. Redding.

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Sentencing: Texas Judges Call for Reducing Drug Possession Penalties

Two years ago, Houston State District Court Judge Michael McSpadden stood alone when he called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to support lowering simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Last year, he was still alone. But this year, McSpadden is making the same call, and this time, he has the support of 15 more judges.

As the state legislature got underway last week, McSpadden and his colleagues sent a letter to top state officials and Houston's state representatives urging them to change what he called the state's "draconian" drug laws. The judges want to see possession of less than one gram of a controlled substance reduced from a state jail felony to a misdemeanor.

"Sixteen of us feel that it's just unfair to be convicted for a residue amount and be labeled a felon, which changes your whole life," McSpadden said. "We're not talking about legalizing it; we're talking about making it a misdemeanor."

In addition to calling for a downgrading of drug possession charges, McSpadden's letter urged mandating drug treatment for offenders and funding misdemeanor drug courts. He said simple possession drug felonies account for 25% to 30% of Harris County's 22 criminal district court dockets and that Harris County prosecutors routinely charge as felonies offenses that are charged as misdemeanors in other parts of the state, leading to disparate treatment among counties.

"The 'War on Drugs' isn't working, and we as judges realize it, and the public realizes it," wrote McSpadden, along with fellow Republican judge cosigners Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, Jeannine Barr, Vanessa Velasquez, Denise Collins, Marc Carter, Belinda Hill, Joan Campbell and Jim Wallace, and Democratic judge cosigners Ruben Guerrero, Shawna Reagin, Kevin Fine, David Mendoza, Randy Roll, Hazel Jones and Maria Jackson.

But will the legislature listen? Last year, McSpadden's efforts never made it out of the House crime committee. But now, the budget squeeze is on, and McSpadden has come up with some reinforcements, so perhaps the proposal will get a little further down the legislative road.

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Methamphetamine: Grassley, Feinstein Reintroduce Candy-Flavored Meth Bill, Despite Little Evidence the Stuff Even Exists

A year and a half ago, word started spreading from isolated law enforcement sources that candy-flavored methamphetamine was showing up in drug busts. Seeing a new, candy-flavored drug bogeyman just around the corner and an opportunity to look tough on drugs, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) quickly responded with the Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act, which would increase the penalties for dealers peddling flavored meth to any buyers to match those for dealers who actually sold drugs to kids.

strawberry-flavored meth, or just colored meth?
That bill went nowhere in 2007 or last year, and the candy-flavored meth story was quickly debunked by, among others, Join Together's Bob Curley, who penned Meth Ado About Nothing? in June 2007, and the urban myth web site, which addressed the issue at about the same time. Both articles suggested authorities may have mistakenly attributed flavors to meth that was merely colored.

Despite horrified warnings from different law enforcement sources and hysterical reporting by various local media outlets around the country, nobody ever seemed able to actually come up with any candy-flavored meth, let alone any nefarious schemes to entice kids with sweetened drugs in an effort to crack the pre-pubescent meth market. Still, the threat of candy-flavored meth continues to surface periodically, although not for the past few months. Most recently, the (false) alarm was sounded in Florida in February and Southwest Virginia in March.

The lack of evidence for any real problem with candy-flavored meth hasn't stopped the drug-fightin' senatorial duo, though. In a Monday press release, Grassley announced that he and Feinstein were reintroducing the Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act. It was as if the debunking of the myth had never occurred.

"The candy-flavored meth bill comes after reports detailing the growing trend of candy-flavored meth," the press release breathlessly, if belatedly, warned. "According to law enforcement officers and drug treatment officials, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs are being colored, packaged and flavored in ways designed to attract children and minors."

"It's disturbing that drug dealers are trying to lure teens and young kids by flavoring drugs to taste like candy. This latest craze needs to be dealt with before it's too late," Grassley said. "We've also got to make sure our law enforcement has the tools they need to adequately enforce the laws we pass. The legislation that Senator Feinstein and I have introduced should make drug dealers think twice about selling candy flavored drugs to our kids and help law enforcement keep the Combat Meth Act effective."

Under federal law, anyone who sells drugs to someone under 21 faces a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence and a sentencing enhancement that doubles the sentence, or triples it for a repeat offense. Under the Feinstein-Grassley bill, the same penalty would also apply to anyone who "manufactures, creates, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is flavored, colored, packaged or otherwise altered in a way that is designed to make it more appealing to a person under 21 years of age, or who attempts or conspires to do so."

In addition to addressing a problem that doesn't exist, the bill is written so vaguely as to apply to all kinds of illicit drug packaging. Would an ecstasy tablet stamped with a cartoon image qualify? How about heroin packaged under cute names? How about marijuana in a baggie with a smiley face sticker? For answers, you will have to consult your local federal prosecutor. Or, if there is any sense in Washington, this bill will meet the same ignominious fate as its predecessor and be assigned to the dustbin of history.

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Weekly: This Week in History

January 23, 1912: In the Hague, twelve nations sign a treaty restricting opium and coca production.

January 28, 1972: The Nixon Administration creates the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) to establish joint federal/local task forces to fight the drug trade at the street level. Myles Ambrose is appointed director.

January 28, 1982: President Ronald Reagan creates a cabinet-level task force, the Vice-President's Task Force on South Florida. Headed by George Bush, it combines agents from DEA, Customs, ATF, IRS, Army, and Navy to mobilize against drug traffickers.

January 25, 1990: President George Bush proposes to add an additional $1.2 billion to the budget for the war on drugs, including a 50% increase in military spending.

January 24, 1992: A Washington Post editorial comments, "... performance testing appears to be more effective than the standard urinalysis now used in the industry both after accidents and on a random basis." It also mentions that 97 percent of railroad accidents are caused by fatigue, illness, stress and other factors not associated with drug or alcohol use, and states, "On an annual basis, the test is less expensive than periodic urinalysis, and it's far less intrusive."

January 25, 1993: Based on a tip that drugs were on the premises, police smash down the door and rush into the home of Manuel Ramirez, a retired golf course groundskeeper living in Stockton, California. Ramirez awakes, grabs a pistol and shoots and kills one policeman before other officers kill him. No drugs are found.

January 25, 1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act extends ONDCP's mission to assessing budgets and resources related to the National Drug Control Strategy. It also establishes specific reporting requirements in the areas of drug use, availability, consequences, and treatment.

January 25, 1995: The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia by Robert Kampia and Chuck Thomas. MPP's mission is to provide the marijuana law-reform movement with full-time, organized lobbying on the federal level.

January 27, 1995: The international hashish seizure record is set -- 290,400 pounds -- in Khyber Agency, Pakistan.

January 23, 1996: President Clinton nominates General Barry McCaffrey to become the nation's fourth drug czar.

January 29, 1998: Judge Nancy Gertner, a district judge in Boston, criticizes the drug war for spending too much federal funds while depriving Americans of liberty at a forum organized by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.

January 26, 2000: Rockefeller drug law prisoner Elaine Bartlett, subject of the book "Life on the Outside: the Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett," is set free after sixteen years in Bedford Hill prison for a first time, low-level, cocaine selling offense.

January 24, 2005: The US Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, rules that police do not violate the Fourth Amendment when they use drug-detecting dogs to locate illegal drugs in the trunks of cars during a legal traffic stop.

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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

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

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "CNBC's Marijuana, Inc: Propaganda, Pot Porn, or Both?," "DEA's Medical Marijuana Raids Continue Under Obama Administration," "Drug Smuggling Robots are the Future," "Marijuana, Inc. Tonight on CNBC," "Drug Policy at," "Barack Obama is the President."

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

Please join us in the Reader Blogs too.

Again, is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and writing...

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Announcement: "Unintended Consequences -- Global Drug War Poster and Video Contest," Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) gathered in New York to discuss the future directions of global drug policies in 1998. The meeting was dominated by the slogan "A drug free world: we can do it!" and, accordingly, the target adopted was to significantly reduce the demand and supply of illicit drugs within 10 years. Ten years later we can see that member states have failed to achieved these targets. For example, despite massive forced eradication campaigns against farmers, cocaine production has increased by 20% and opium production has increased by 120% in the past decade; and despite restrictive drug laws, in most countries the prevalence of illicit drug use is on the rise.

What is worse is the price we have paid for prohibitive drug policies, for example: illicit trafficking generates civil wars in producer countries and violent crime on urban streets and it leads to corruption and money laundering; eradication of drug crops, without the provision of alternative livelihoods for farmers, leads to humanitarian crises and aerial fumigation damages the agriculture and the environment; and repressive laws push drug users to the margins of society with millions of people incarcerated for simple possession of illicit drugs and the human rights of drug users often violated not only by law enforcement but also by public health authorities. This stigma and discrimination also causes huge public health problems, for example the spread of lethal overdoses and HIV; in fact, outside of Africa, one in three new HIV infections is related to the sharing of injection equipment. However, although this way of HIV transmission could easily be prevented by effective harm reduction interventions like opiate substitution treatment and needle exchange, in many countries the access to these services is limited by repressive drug policies.

In March 2009 the UN will hold a High Level Segment -- a meeting of high ranking government officials in Vienna -- to review the past 10 years of global drug control efforts and to adopt a new political declaration for the future decade. We can see from recent UN statements that there is a spirit of reform in the air -- but without the pressure of civil society we cannot expect governments to do anything other than congratulate themselves for what they have done already. In July 2008 more than 300 NGOs from all around the world gathered in Vienna to adopt recommendations to governments about reforming the drug control system and there was a consensus that there is a need to shift the focus from criminal justice and repression to public health and human rights. However, there is very little knowledge and discussion amongst the general public about the failure of the global drug control regime -- therefore we need to raise the awareness of people on the harms caused by this system and to promote alternatives to the current framework.

"Unintended Consequences -- Global Drug War Poster and Video Contest" aims to highlight the unintended consequences of drug control efforts on public health, crime, environment, human rights -- by articulating personal stories and tragedies, lost opportunities and liberties, and the irreversible damage that has been caused to lives and property.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) is looking for creative, attention-grabbing and poignant images and videos that graphically express the everyday reality and impact of the global drug war on public health, public security and human rights.

Highlighted Topics

  • Repressive law enforcement interventions;

  • Imprisonment of drug users;
  • Impact of forced eradication on farmer's lives;
  • Environmental impact of eradication;
  • Barriers to access to health care;
  • Stigma against drug use;
  • Poverty and drug use;
  • Contrast of attitudes toward licit and illicit drugs;
  • Drug use as a cultural heritage;
  • Impacts of the drug war on ethnic minorities;
  • Violence related to the black market of drugs;
  • Forced treatment of drug users;
  • Drug users with HIV and AIDS;
  • Death penalty;
  • Impact of the drug war on families;
  • Fear-based drug education & prevention;
  • Mandatory drug testing in schools and workplaces;
  • Best practices in education, care, treatment & harm reduction.

Contest Rules

In the Poster Category:

  • This contest is open only to individuals and/or organizations from any country who submit original posters that they have personally created;

  • Posters can illustrate fictional scenes -- but should be based on existing, real problems in the context of the global and national drug control regimes;
  • You may submit multiple entries, so long as each entry meets all requirements;
  • Posters should be submitted in high quality format not smaller than 3MB, by sending them to: [email protected];
  • You must add a title and a short description (where and when it was taken and what it illustrates) to the poster in English;
  • Each entrant can win only one prize.

In the Video Category:

  • This contest is open only to individuals and/or organizations from any country who submit original videos that they have personally created;

  • Videos can be filmed about real events or fictional scenes that are based on real events;
  • Videos should be submitted in digital format, preferable formats: Windows media video, MPEG 4, Flashvideo (.flv);
  • HCLU accepts submissions in DVD format to their postal address (1084 Budapest Víg u. 28. 1/3);
  • HCLU also accepts films posted on video sharing sites - the link should be sent to our email address: [email protected];
  • Only short (not more than 10 minutes) videos are accepted (this is the upload limit on YouTube);
  • You may submit multiple entries, as long as each entry meets all requirements;
  • The language of all entries must be in English, or subtitled to English -- entries in any other language will not be considered;
  • Each entrant can win only one prize.

Deadline of poster submission: February 20, 2009. Deadline of video submission: March 5, 2009. (Entries posted later than the deadline will not be considered.)

HCLU will select two winners at the end of contest period in the two categories: (1) Best Poster Submission and (2) Best Video Submission. Each winner will be selected by a panel of experts based on the following equally weighted criteria: originality, creativity, appeal to a worldwide audience and delivery of a clear message about the failure of the current drug control system and/or a positive message about alternatives to the current drug control system.

The Best Poster Submission will be awarded $1,000 EUR, and the Best Video Submission will be awarded with $1,500 EUR. In the video category, the second best wins $500 EUR and the third best wins $300 EUR. In the poster category the second best wins $400 EUR and the third best wins $200 EUR.

All submissions to the contest will be licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. The choice of license shows HCLU's commitment to the ethos of free culture.

HCLU plans to organise a poster exhibition of the best poster submissions in March 2009 in the UNO City, Vienna, and also to show the best videos publicly. HCLU may also use all photo and video materials in its campaign in the forms of public advertisements, posters, flyers, stickers etc.

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