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Drug War Chronicle #577 - March 20, 2009

1. Feature: Legislatures Take Up "Good Samaritan" Overdose Bills in Bid to Reduce Deaths

Lives are being lost because when someone ODs on drugs, friends fearful of arrest of themselves or the victim hesitate to seek help. In 2007, New Mexico became the first state to pass a Good Samaritan law protecting people calling for help in ODs. This year, similar bills are popping up around the country.

2. Feature: Bills to Require Drug Testing for Welfare, Unemployment Pop Up Around the Country

Faced with economic crises, fiscal shortfalls, and growing welfare and unemployment rolls, some state legislators are proposing a really bad idea: drug testing welfare and/or unemployment recipients. But there is a broad array of organizations lined up against them. Oh, and there's that pesky Constitution, too.

3. Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Faces Decades in Federal Prison at Sentencing Monday

The Obama administration may have signaled an end to the federal war against medical marijuana in California, but there is unfinished business from the Bush era crusades. A tragic case in point is that of Morro Bay dispensary operator Charles Lynch, who faces years in federal prison when he is sentenced Monday.

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

This week, we have some drug cops whose misbehavior may not reach the standard of corruption, but is certainly worth noting. And then we have the usual corrupt cops.

5. Medical Marijuana: Attorney General Holder Sends Another Signal -- No DEA Busts Unless You Violate State Law

For the second time in three weeks, Attorney General Holder has said there will be no more DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states where it is legal -- as long as they are operating under state laws. But that still leaves some wiggle room.

6. Latin America: Mexico Prohibition Violence Catches Washington's Eye, New Initiatives Pending

Congress wants the Obama administration to "do something" about the prohibition-related violence ravaging Mexico. But that "something" just looks like more drug war.

7. Latin America: Peru to Export Coca Beer

Tired of the same old coca products? Now you can try coca beer! Coming soon to a bar near you... but only if you live in Peru, China, South Africa, Argentina, or Venezuela.

8. Drug Raids: Cops Shoot Michigan Student Over "A Few Tablespoonfuls" of Marijuana

There is outrage in western Michigan after an unarmed university student was shot and seriously wounded in a drug raid last week. And what did the cops find? "A few tablespoons full" of marijuana.

9. Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for House Floor

A medical marijuana bill in New Hampshire has passed a key committee vote and is now headed for the House floor. A similar measure failed there by a handful of votes two years ago.

10. Medical Marijuana: Not in Iowa, Not This Year

The Hawkeye State turns a deaf ear to the entreaties of medical marijuana patients. A bill that would have helped has died without action.

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

Scott Morgan brings us: "Former Drug Czar Doesn't Care If You Grow Marijuana," "Behind Bars in the Land of the Free," "The Debate Over Medical Marijuana Should Have Ended a Decade Ago," "Is it Even Intellectually Possible to 'Oppose' Medical Marijuana?," "Police Dispatcher Fired for Giving Medical Marijuana to Sick Relative," "Ron Paul Murders Stephen Baldwin in Marijuana Legalization Debate," "Police Lobby for Harsh Marijuana Laws," "Pennsylvania Liquor Store Employees Will Now be Nicer to You," "Police Shoot Unarmed Marijuana Suspect."

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

Apply for an internship at DRCNet and you could spend a semester fighting the good fight!

14. 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.

1. Feature: Legislatures Take Up "Good Samaritan" Overdose Bills in Bid to Reduce Deaths

Last year, in suburban Washington, DC, 19-year-old Alicia Lannes overdosed on heroin. The girl was in her bedroom and text messaging her boyfriend and heroin supplier, Skylar Schnippel, when he realized something was wrong. But when he realized Lannes was in trouble, he didn't call 911 or her parents. Instead, he called some friends and asked them to check up on her. At 4:00am, they peered through her window, saw her unconscious, and called paramedics. Shortly after 5:00am, her father, Greg Lannes, was awakened by paramedics pounding on his front door.

"We found my daughter lying next to her bed," Lannes told the Washington Post. "She had passed away. She had gone through a lot in her little life."

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Dr. Reardon and son Danny
Six years earlier, Washington dentist Daniel Reardon went through something similar. His son, Danny, 19, a freshman at the University of Maryland, passed out after a night of drinking. Fraternity members laid him on a sofa, took his pulse, and took turns watching him. But young Reardon quit breathing at some point during the night, and by the time fraternity members called an ambulance at 3:30am, Reardon was brain dead. He died six days later without gaining consciousness.

In both cases, people who might have saved the lives of the victims with fast action hesitated to call for help, largely out of fear of legal repercussions. Whether it was using heroin or underage consumption of alcohol, friends as well as the victims themselves faced the possibility of prosecution for drinking or drug use.

Yesterday, Daniel Reardon testified before a Maryland General Assembly committee to urge members to pass a bill that might have saved his son's life. The House Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on HB 1273, a Good Samaritan overdose bill, which would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from facing criminal prosecution.

Although New Mexico is the only state to have passed such legislation, numerous college and universities have instituted similar policies. "There are about 90 schools across the country that have these medical emergency amnesties," said Stacia Cosner, a University of Maryland senior and member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), which has endorsed the Maryland legislation. "About one third are public; the rest are private, usually small colleges."

Unfortunately, the University of Maryland isn't one of them -- yet. "We have been working on this here for a couple of years, and there has been some progress, but there is nothing formally adopted yet," said Cosner.

It is working at George Washington University in Washington, said Cosner, citing ongoing research there. "Since they instituted the program, 911 medical emergency calls have gone way up," she said.

The movement is spreading beyond the college campus now. This year, besides Maryland, legislatures in at least seven other states -- Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington -- are considering Good Samaritan overdose laws. (The Washington state effort died earlier this month after failing to move out of committee.)

There is good reason for such laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 22,000 people died of drug overdoses (both licit and illicit) nationwide in 2005, the last year for which statistics are available, making ODs second only to traffic accidents as a cause of death for young people. Only about 15% of fatal overdoses result in immediate death, meaning quick action could save lives.

"It should never be a crime to call 911", said Naomi Long, director of the Drug Policy Alliance DC and Maryland Project, which is leading the charge for the bill in Annapolis. "This bill is about saving lives without compromising public safety. In these hard economic times, Maryland should focus resources on saving lives not arresting Good Samaritans."

The Good Samaritan bill "is about giving countless Marylanders a second chance at life," said Del. Kris Valderrama, the bill's sponsor. "We should pass laws that send the message that saving lives is our first priority."

"We need these laws to protect lives and to help people in confusing situations make the right decision to call for help if necessary," said Amber Langston, SSDP eastern regional outreach director. "People may hesitate to call 911 or not call at all out of fear of punishment, and even a few moments of hesitation can cost someone's life. If the goals of our drug policies are to save lives, then enacting Good Samaritan laws is good drug policy."

As a student organization, SSDP is particularly concerned about young people, said Langston. "This is an issue that particularly affects young people, who are generally less experienced and more fearful of retribution," she argued.

"We know that people are dying of overdoses, and these are preventable, unnecessary deaths," said DPA's Long. "We need to be creating the kind of situation where people immediately call for help. The bills in Maryland and elsewhere are an attempt to remove the perceived threat of prosecution from people who want to do the right thing, but are in a difficult situation."

Whether the Maryland bill passes this year remains to be seen, but the hearings have been an opportunity to open lawmakers' eyes to the problem, said Long. "We have been able to educate lawmakers about how the fear of arrest and punishment makes people hesitate to call 911, we have some really powerful stories, but the bottom line is that the bill still faces an uphill fight," she said.

"I think it's great that some state legislatures are trying to catch up with a good harm reduction program," said Hilary McQuie, western director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. "People frequently cite the fear of retribution as the main reason they didn't seek help. If these laws can get passed and accepted so they change people's behavior around what happens with an overdose situation, this could really make a difference in people's lives. It could save their lives."

But passing a Good Samaritan bill is just the beginning, said McQuie. "There is a lag between changes in the law and changes in 911 calls," she said. "It takes a little time for people to build trust in the system. You also have to educate police and the people around drug users that the law exists, and there is no funding for that. These efforts are wonderful, but they need more resources to be effectively implemented."

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2. Feature: Bills to Require Drug Testing for Welfare, Unemployment Pop Up Around the Country

With states across the country feeling the effects of the economic crisis gripping the land, some legislators are engaging in the cheap politics of resentment as a supposed budget-cutting move. In at least six states, bills have been filed that would require people seeking public assistance and/or unemployment benefits to submit to random drug testing, with their benefits at stake.

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drug tests: don't waste the money
In Arizona, Hawaii, Missouri, and Oklahoma, bills have been filed that would force people seeking public assistance to undergo random drug tests and forgo benefits if they test positive. In Florida, a bill has been filed to do the same to people who receive unemployment compensation. In West Virginia, both groups are targeted. [Update: Kansas passed a bill on March 5.]

In most cases, legislators are pointing to the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act, which authorized -- but did not require -- random drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. But a major problem for the proponents of such schemes is that the only state to try to actually implement a random drug testing program got slapped down by the federal courts.

Michigan passed a welfare drug testing law in 1999 that required all Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants to provide urine samples to be considered eligible for assistance. But that program was shut down almost immediately by a restraining order. Three and a half years later, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier district court ruling that the blanket, suspicionless testing of recipients violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures and was thus unconstitutional.

"This ruling should send a message to the rest of the nation that drug testing programs like these are neither an appropriate or effective use of a state's limited resources," said the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project head Graham Boyd at the time.

According to the ACLU's now-renamed Drug Law Reform Project, which had intervened in the Michigan case, the other 49 states had rejected drug testing for various reasons. At least 21 states concluded that the program "may be unlawful," 17 states cited cost concerns, 11 gave a variety of practical or operational reasons, and 11 said they had not seriously considered drug testing at all (some states cited more than one reason).

Random drug testing of welfare recipients has also been rejected by a broad cross-section of organizations concerned with public health, welfare rights, and drug reform, including the American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

But that hasn't stopped politicians eager to take a stand on the backs of society's most vulnerable. Using remarkably similar rhetoric, legislators across the land are demanding that those seeking benefits be tested.

In West Virginia, Rep. Craig Blair (R-Berkeley County) has created a web site, Not With My Tax Dollars, to publicize his bill, which would apply to anyone seeking welfare, food stamps, or unemployment insurance. "I think it's time that we get serious about the problem of illegal drug users abusing our public assistance system in West Virginia," he wrote on the site. "We should require random drug testing for every individual receiving welfare, food assistance or unemployment benefits. After all, more and more employers are requiring drug testing. Why not make sure that people who are supposed to be looking for work are already prequalified by being drug free?"

In Florida, Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) has sponsored a bill that would require random drug testing of one out of 10 people seeking unemployment benefits. Those people are supposed to be "ready, able, and willing" to work, he told Tampa Bay Online. "If they can't pass a drug test for unemployment compensation," Bennett said, "then they can't pass a drug test at my construction business."

In Hawaii, Rep. Mele Carroll (D-District 13) introduced her "Welfare Drug Testing" bill last month. "The idea came from knowing a lot of families and members in the community who are on assistance that may or may not use some of our public funds for their drug habit," Carroll told KHON in Honolulu. "If the state is pouring money out there to assist families, this could be a way to look at some of our families who are on substance abuse. Make them accountable," she argued.

But such arguments didn't fly with any of the welfare rights, civil liberties, or poverty and child care organizations the Chronicle spoke with in recent weeks. They were unanimous in denouncing welfare drug testing as ineffective, arguably unconstitutional, and just plain mean-spirited.

"Drug testing welfare recipients is coming back?" asked an incredulous Maureen Taylor, Michigan state chair for the National Welfare Rights Organization. "That's ridiculous. The courts slapped it down when they tried it here, and they should slap it down again. These politicians think the reason people are poor is because they're on drugs, and that's just stupid," she scoffed.

"We are in favor of a drug free America and we believe people who exhibit strange behavior should be tested," said Taylor. "Elected officials who propose such things would be an excellent place to start. The politicians should lead by example."

"This is really bad policy," said Frank Crabtree of the West Virginia ACLU. "These are the most vulnerable people in our society, and their children are even more vulnerable. These are people of whom the legislature has no fear. They have to deal with the problems of daily life to such a degree that they are not as politically active, and that makes this bill just seem like a bullying tactic."

Crabtree also addressed the legality of any such programs. "Constitutionally speaking, I don't think the state can force you to give up your right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures to obtain public benefits," Crabtree said. "This would seem to fit that category."

Crabtree saw the West Virginia bill more as political grandstanding than a serious contribution to public policy. "If part of their rationale is that there is more drug use among recipients of public assistance, that argument fails," said Crabtree. "But this does appeal to a certain kneejerk mentality, which leads me to think this is just a lot of political posturing and pandering to a conservative constituency."

"I oppose such legislation for both philosophical and practical reasons," said Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, which works with poor families. "The proposal here would have state social workers taking on yet another task for which they are not prepared. This will add cost and more bureaucracy, and with our state budget in the fix it is, I don't think we can pull this off," he said.

"Philosophically, I think we should be holding people accountable for what we want them to do, not for what we don't want them to do," said Preis. "People want to take care of their families, to do the right thing. It just doesn't make sense to me. Taking away benefits from someone struggling with substance abuse issues isn't going to help them; it will only make matters worse."

"These bills are a waste of money at a time when governments don't have money to waste," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "And they're extremely discriminatory in that they focus on someone smoking marijuana, but don't address at all whether someone is blowing his check on alcohol or gambling or vacations. The bottom line is that even if someone is using drugs, that doesn't mean they should be denied public assistance, health care, or anything else to which citizens are entitled. These bills are unnecessarily cruel and they show that some politicians still think it's in their best interest to pick on vulnerable people with substance abuse issues."

The bills seeking to drug test people seeking unemployment benefits are even more pernicious, Piper said. "Unemployment compensation is something that people pay into when they're working, that's not a gift from the state," he said. "If you are unemployed, you earned those benefits and you shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone."

"Drug testing welfare recipients or people getting unemployment is a terribly misguided policy," said Hilary McQuie, western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. "If you find people and cut them off the rolls, what's the end result? You have to look at the end result."

Legislators proposing random drug testing of welfare or unemployment recipients have a wide array of organizations opposing them, as well as common sense and common decency. But none of that has prevented equally pernicious legislation from passing in the past. These bills bear watching.

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3. Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Faces Decades in Federal Prison at Sentencing Monday

The Obama administration may have put an end to the DEA raids on medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal (see story here), but the legacy of the Bush administration's crusade against medical marijuana continues. Morro Bay, California, dispensary operator Charles Lynch is a case in point. After having been convicted of federal marijuana law violations, he goes to court for sentencing Monday, where he faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and the possibility of up to 100 years behind bars.

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Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
Lynch did everything by the book. Before opening his business in April 2006, he first contacted the DEA, which eventually told him it was "up to cities and counties" to decide about dispensaries. He also sought and received all necessary business permits from the city of Morro Bay.

But that didn't stop a local law enforcement official bent on shutting down his Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers from going after him. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges unleashed an 11-month investigation into Lynch and the dispensary. He and his deputies surveilled the premises, took down license plate numbers and stopped the vehicles of dispensary workers and clients, and even resorted to using criminal undercover informants in a failed bid to get Lynch to violate state law.

Sheriff Pat Hedges couldn't find enough evidence against Lynch to even get a search warrant from state courts, so he turned to the DEA. On March 29, 2007, the feds hit full-force, raiding the dispensary and Lynch's home in full paramilitary attire. Lynch was not arrested at the time, and reopened the dispensary on April 7, 2007. The DEA then threatened the dispensary's landlord with seizure of his property if he didn't evict the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers. On May 16, 2007, the dispensary shut down for good.

The DEA wasn't done with Lynch. Two months later, in yet another paramilitary-style raid, they arrested Lynch at his home and charged him with five counts of violating the federal marijuana laws.

After a trial in which -- as is always the case in federal court -- neither California's medical marijuana law nor the fact that Lynch was operating under it could be admitted as evidence, a jury convicted him of all counts in August 2008.

Lynch has received strong support from his local community, as well as sympathizers across the state and country. Demonstrations have been (and will be) held to demand justice in his case. Whether community support for Lynch or the Obama administration's commitment to not prosecute cases that do not involve violations of state medical marijuana laws will have any impact will only be found out Monday.

With the Obama administration's pronouncements so far on medical marijuana, it may be that the era of federal raids on medical marijuana providers is over. But as long as people like Charles Lynch are facing years in federal prison and others are serving sentences there, there is still some unfinished business if justice is to be served.

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

This week, we have some drug cops whose misbehavior may not reach the standard of corruption, but is certainly worth noting. And then we have the usual corrupt cops. Let's get to it:

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too much drug cash can corrupt cops
In Orlando, Florida, Orange County Sheriff's Office narcs are under investigation for allegedly failing to turn up for drug searches after drinking cocktails for lunch as supervisors watched. The Sheriff's Office has confirmed it is investigating at least a half-dozen officers, including at least two sergeants, and there could be a "pattern" of bad behavior in the unit. The unit was already under fire after drug cases had to be dropped because officers got caught lying. This latest investigation came as a result of yet another investigation, this one of one of the narcotics sergeants involved and some missing evidence.

In Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a Manitowoc DARE officer was arrested March 2 for driving while intoxicated. Officer Michaelyn Culligan, 40, was arrested after the car she was driving got stuck in snow bank. Culligan has resigned from her DARE position, but is still on the force pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

In New York City, a New York prison guard was arrested March 4 after being caught with 15 kilograms of cocaine. Officer Edinson Rosales, 29, was ensnared in a sting operation by the DEA, NYPD, and Department of Corrections investigators, and agreed to carry the cocaine to Detroit for $15,000. He was to return from Motor City with $400,000 in cash proceeds from the sale of the cocaine, for which he was to have earned another $5,000. Now he faces charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance and eight to 20 years in state prison.

In Boston, an MIT police officer was arrested Saturday upon taking possession of a Fedex package containing 340 OxyContin tablets. Fedex workers had become suspicious of the package and notified police it contained a large quantity of prescription drugs. Officer Joseph D'Amelio was in uniform and driving an MIT police cruiser when he went to pick up the pills -- and Boston police were waiting for him. He is now charged with trafficking more than a hundred grams of OxyContin, for which he faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

In New York City, a former Customs and Border Protection supervisor at JFK International Airport pleaded guilty March 12 to charges relating to bribery and drug importation. Walter Golembiowksi, 66, was arrested during a long-term investigation into the trafficking of large quantities of hashish, other drugs, and other contraband into the US through JFK. The feds seized more than 600 pounds of hash and arrested 60 people involved in the ring. Golembiowski was caught on tape on multiple occasions accepting bribes from co-conspirators to allow illegal drugs and counterfeit goods to pass through Customs without inspection. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import narcotics, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit bribery during an undercover sting operation (who knew?). He's looking at up to 50 years in prison.

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5. Medical Marijuana: Attorney General Holder Sends Another Signal -- No DEA Busts Unless You Violate State Law

Three weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder first signaled an end to DEA raids against medical marijuana providers, he has reiterated those remarks. Again in response to a question posed at his weekly Wednesday press conference, Holder said federal agents would only target medical marijuana distributors who violate both state and federal law.

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Eric Holder
Thirteen states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana even though federal law considers all marijuana possession, production, and distribution illegal. The conflict has been most intense in states with the broadest medical marijuana laws, California in particular. The DEA has raided dozens of dispensaries operating in the state in recent years, and US Attorneys have occasionally prosecuted their operators, exposing them to harsh federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.

"The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law," Holder said Wednesday at the Justice Department. But he was quick to add that the feds will go after anyone who tries to "use medical marijuana as a shield" for dope dealing.

"Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal and state law."

During his election campaign, President Obama promised repeatedly to end the raids on California dispensaries, but raids continued after his election and even shortly after he took office, prompting Holder's original statement three weeks ago. No raids have occurred since then.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes told the Associated Press he welcomed Holder's remarks. "It signals a new direction and a more reasonable and sensible direction on medical marijuana policy," he said.

But, he added, there is still unfinished business left over from the Bush administration's crusade against the dispensaries. More than 20 California medical marijuana providers are currently being prosecuted in federal court, including San Luis Obispo County dispensary operator Charles Lynch (see story here), who could face decades in prison when sentenced on Monday.

"There remains a big question as to what the federal government's position is on those cases," Hermes said.

Another question is just how aggressive the DEA and the US Attorneys will be in determining that a given operation is violating state law. Perhaps in recognition of medical marijuana's broad support in California, the feds have tended to portray dispensary busts as targeting "drug dealers," not legitimate medical marijuana providers.

And yet another question will be the degree to which hostile local law enforcement entities attempt to sic the feds on dispensary operators, as was the case with Lynch.

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6. Latin America: Mexico Prohibition Violence Catches Washington's Eye, New Initiatives Pending

When lawmakers in Washington managed to tear themselves away from the AIG bonus scandal, much of their attention this week was focused on Mexico. With prohibition-related violence there showing no sign of a let-up -- more than a thousand people have been killed already this year -- legislators held a number of hearings this week to assess the threat and see what the Obama administration plans to do about it.

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DEA Spanish-language poster targeting Mexican trafficking organization (2007)
At a joint hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) warned that Mexican drug trafficking organizations posed a direct threat to the US. Citing a recent Justice Department report, he said they have a presence in at least 230 US cities.

But Durbin also said some of the blame resides north of the border. "The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," he said.

"The facts about what is going on in Mexico are staggering, imposing an enormous threat to the United States," concurred Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

In the face of increasingly shrill congressional demands to "do something," Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, who oversees the border as head of the Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the administration is working on an integrated plan to address the seemingly unending violence, much of it taking place in the border towns of Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and the Mexican cities on the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

He said likely measures would include efforts to clamp down on the flow of guns into Mexico, tightening border security, and increased support for the Mexican military. "I think we'll have good plans come out of this work this week," he said.

Renuart also hinted that the new plan could involve more boots on the ground in the border region. "Certainly, there may be a need for additional manpower," he said. "Whether that is best suited or best provided by National Guard or additional law enforcement agencies, I think, this planning team will really lead us to," he told the committee.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed some 50,000 troops in his war against the cartels, including some 8,500 who occupied Juárez and took over policing duties there last week. But Calderón's two-year-old offensive has only led to increasing levels of brutal and exemplary violence. More than 2,000 people died in the cartel wars in 2007, more than 5,000 last year, and the pace of killings this year should yield similar numbers.

But DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Plácido told the joint committee that the escalating violence was a "desperate attempt" by traffickers to fight off the government offensive. "DEA assesses that the current surge in violence is driven in large measure by the government of Mexico's offensive against these traffickers who, in turn, perceive themselves as fighting for a larger share of a shrinking market," he said.

With passage of last year's Mérida Initiative, the US has pledged some $1.4 billion in anti-drug aid to Mexico over the next three years. The first tranche of that aid has already been delivered, providing Mexico with helicopters and sophisticated surveillance equipment.

On Wednesday, in the week's first concrete action to crack down on the border, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was sending 50 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents to the border to try to cut down the flow of weapons headed south.

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7. Latin America: Peru to Export Coca Beer

A coca trade fair in Lima designed to demonstrate that coca is not cocaine showcased a number of products, but the star of the show was a coca leaf beer whose manufacturer has plans to export it to markets in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The fair was organized by the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys of Peru (CONPACCP), the country's largest coca growers' union.

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Cerveza Apu coca beer (photo from malamarxa.blogspot.com)
The coca beer, sold under the brand name Apu by the entrepreneurial Alarcón family of Andahuaylas, is already being sold (and eagerly consumed) in Peru's Andean region, as well as markets in Lima. General manager Manuel Alarcón told Living in Peru the beer was a big hit with tourists at Machu Picchu. But with a production capacity of 180,000 bottles a month, Alarcón is looking outside the domestic market.

Alarcon said the paperwork is already underway to export Apu to China, South Africa, Argentina, and Venezuela. That seems like a breach of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics, which sought to phase out use of the coca plant, excepting de-cocainized products such as Coca Cola. Some contest that interpretation of international law, however, and given that Venezuela has already inked deals with Bolivia to import coca products, it seems the treaty is sometimes observed only in the breach.

"Thankfully China is a country where coca leaves are accepted and its derivatives can easily enter the country," said Alarcón.

Peru is the world's second largest coca producer, after Colombia and ahead of Bolivia. While some of the country's hundreds of thousands of small producers are registered with the national coca monopoly and deliver their harvests to it, the majority of producers are not legally growing the plant, and much of it is destined for the insatiable international cocaine market.

The situation has led to years of conflict between coca growers and the Peruvian national government. If recent reports are to be believed, it is now leading to a resurgence of the Shining Path and an increasingly violent counterinsurgency operation by the Peruvian military in the Apurímac and Ene River valleys.

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8. Drug Raids: Cops Shoot Michigan Student Over "A Few Tablespoonfuls" of Marijuana

Grand Valley State University film student Derek Copp is an avowed marijuana aficionado, reform activist, and a "a left-wing hippie peace-keeping liberal," according to his Facebook page. As of last week, he is also a victim of the drug war, or, more precisely, of police heavy-handedness in enforcing what appears to be a petty violation of the marijuana laws. Copp was shot and seriously wounded March 11 by a police officer who was part of a task force raiding his residence with a search warrant.

According to a compilation of local media accounts of the shooting, an Ottawa County deputy coming through the apartment's back door shined a flashlight in Copp's face, causing him to raise his right hand to cover his eyes. The officer then fired one round, striking the student in the chest. Copp said he had no idea the man who shot him was a law enforcement officer.

"He never even had a chance to even see who was coming at him, with a bright flashlight in his face," said his mother, Sheryl Copp. "He had no clue. He heard someone knock on his door, and he had no clue."

According to the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office, Copp was shot in the chest by a sheriff's deputy acting as a member of the West Michigan Enforcement Team, which consists of Ottawa County deputies and members of the Michigan State Police. Police have not identified the deputy, nor is it known whether he has been suspended. Investigators said Copp, 20, did not threaten or confront police when they entered his home. Nor have they revealed the search warrant, what they were looking for, or what they found.

But an attorney hired by Copp's family after the shooting said it was all over a very small amount of marijuana. In a Tuesday statement, attorney Frederick Dilley said: "I have been asked what drugs may have been seized by those executing the search warrant at Derek Copp's apartment. To my knowledge, the raid resulted in the seizure of a few tablespoonfuls of marijuana, and nothing more," Dilley continues, "The primary concern remains the manner in which this raid was carried out. And the apparent lack of any justification whatsoever for the use of force... much less deadly force in executing a search warrant."

Dilley is not alone in his concerns. The Grand Valley State University Student Senate issued a statement the same day wishing "Derek a full and complete recovery" and questioning police conduct. "Even though this incident took place off-campus," the statement said, "Student Senate is greatly concerned with the actions of the law enforcement team. Student Senate will await a full and complete explanation from the Michigan State Police. Like all students, we want to know why the West Michigan Drug Enforcement Team entered Derek Copp's apartment and why a firearm was used."

Even the university president demanded to know what had happened to one of his students. In a Monday e-mail to the university community, President Thomas Haas wrote: "The fact that this incident took place off-campus diminishes neither my interest nor my concern. The university's campus security staff was not involved. Like many of you, I await a full and complete explanation from law enforcement, and I have made a formal request for such information. I want to know what brought the Enforcement Team to Derek's apartment and why a firearm was discharged."

The shooting has also led to at least two protest demonstrations by students demanding answers. "Justify This Shooting!" demanded one sign held by a demonstrator. "We want answers!" read another. "Marijuana or not, unjust shot!" and "Our campus is not a war zone!", students chanted at a campus demo on Friday.

The Michigan State Patrol is investigating the shooting. That means the state police are investigating themselves, since the Western Michigan Enforcement Team consists of state police and Ottawa County sheriff's deputies.

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9. Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for House Floor

A bill that would allow patients suffering from specified diseases and conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes passed the House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday on a 13-7 vote. The bill is now headed for a House floor vote next week.

Medical marijuana came before the House in 2007, too. But after passing out of committee, it was defeated on a vote of 186-177.

Last time, the committee made a "do not pass" recommendation to the House as a whole. This time, proponents hope the "do pass" from the committee can take the measure over the top.

The bill, HB 648, would set up a registry for patients with qualifying diseases or conditions whose doctors certified that they would be helped by the herb. Patients or caregivers could grow six plants and possess up to two ounces of marijuana. They could also possess up to 12 seedlings. Plants would have to be grown in a secure facility indoors.

"This is truly a matter of compassion. People who are suffering, at least in our state of New Hampshire, ought not to be called criminals," said Rep. Roger Wells (R-Hampstead), one of two committee Republicans to vote for the bill.

If it passed the measure, the committee would be going against the advice of "national drug experts," warned Rep. Peter Batula (R-Merrimack). "There is no right way to do the wrong thing," he said.

"The committee studied the bill very diligently, and now it has placed its stamp of approval on a well-written, responsible bill," said Matt Simon, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which supports the bill. "It was a good day for democracy."

It will be a better day for democracy if Granite State legislators enact the bill and the governor signs it into law. More than 70% of New Hampshire voters support medical marijuana, according to a 2008 Mason-Dixon poll.

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10. Medical Marijuana: Not in Iowa, Not This Year

There will be no relief for Iowa patients who could have been helped by medical marijuana. A bill that would have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in the Hawkeye State died last week, after it failed to get reported out of committee in time for a legislative deadline.

Introduced by state Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), SF 293 would have allowed patients with qualifying medical conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation and registration with the state. The bill would also have provided for the creation of "compassion centers," which could produce medical marijuana for numerous patients.

"The bill is essentially an attempt to address the suffering that people are in," Bolkcom said during a hearing last week. "People with severe medical conditions are not being helped by conventional medications. Studies have found that marijuana is an effective treatment."

But Sen. Merlin Bartz (R-Grafton) said that while he supported the notion of medical marijuana, he thought the bill lacked "correct checks and balances." Bolkcom agreed that the bill was perhaps not perfect, but vowed to return to the issue in coming years.

The Upper Midwest has so far remained immune to the lure of medical marijuana, with the closest medical marijuana states being Michigan to the east and Montana to the west. But that could change this year. Although South Dakota legislators killed a bill last month, legislative efforts in Minnesota and Illinois are still moving ahead.

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

March 22, 1972: The Richard Nixon-appointed, 13-member National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommends the decriminalization of marijuana, concluding, "Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it."

March 23, 1983: Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush is placed in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, which was supposed to staunch the drug flow over all US borders. Twenty-six years later drugs continue to be widely available throughout the United States.

March 25, 1994: Retired minister Accelyne Williams dies of a heart attack when a SWAT team consisting of 13 heavily armed Boston police officers raids his apartment based on an incorrect tip by an unidentified informant. No drugs or guns were found in the apartment. An editorial in The Boston Globe later observed: "The Williams tragedy resulted, in part, from the 'big score' mentality of the centralized Boston Police Drug Control Unit. Officers were pumped up to seize machine guns in addition to large quantities of cocaine and a 'crazy amount of weed,' in the words of the informant."

March 24, 1998: House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) establishes the Speaker's Task Force for a Drug-Free America to design a World War II-style victory plan to save America's children from illegal drugs and achieve a Drug-Free America by 2002. Eleven years after the founding of the task force, in 2009, drugs continue to be widely available throughout the United States.

March 20, 2002: Reuters reports that British scientists found that motorists who smoke a cannabis joint retain more control behind the wheel than those who drink a glass of wine. Research from Britain's Transport Research Laboratory showed drivers found it harder to maintain constant speed and road position after drinking the equivalent of a glass of wine than after smoking a "spliff."

March 25, 2002: The Maryland House of Delegates overwhelmingly approves H.B. 1222, the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, which removes criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana.

March 26, 2002: A unanimous US Supreme Court rules that public housing tenants can be evicted for any illegal drug activity by household members or guests, even if they did not know about it.

March 21, 2003: President Bush announces his intention to nominate Karen P. Tandy to be the Drug Enforcement Administration's new administrator. Tandy served in the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. She also previously served in DOJ as Chief of Litigation in the Asset Forfeiture Office and as Deputy Chief for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Earlier in her career, she prosecuted drug, money laundering, and forfeiture cases as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and in the Western District of Washington.

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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.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dc-beer-raid-small.jpg
prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan brings us: "Attorney General Holder Says Feds Will Respect State Medical Marijuana Laws," "Former Drug Czar Doesn't Care If You Grow Marijuana," "Behind Bars in the Land of the Free," "The Debate Over Medical Marijuana Should Have Ended a Decade Ago," "Is it Even Intellectually Possible to 'Oppose' Medical Marijuana?," "Police Dispatcher Fired for Giving Medical Marijuana to Sick Relative," "Ron Paul Murders Stephen Baldwin in Marijuana Legalization Debate," "Police Lobby for Harsh Marijuana Laws," "Pennsylvania Liquor Store Employees Will Now be Nicer to You," "Police Shoot Unarmed Marijuana Suspect."

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 StoptheDrugWar (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

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

StoptheDrugWar 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 rein in the use of SWAT teams, to expand our work to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act 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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14. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

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

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

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

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

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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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