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Drug War Chronicle #585 - May 15, 2009

1. Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- The State of Play

There are, have been, or will be medical marijuana bills in 19 states this year. We take a look at which ones are likely to actually have a chance of passage this year.

2. Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part II

Last weekend was round two of this year's Global Marijuana Marches. Rome stole top honors with more than 100,000 people -- possibly as many as 300,000 -- but Athens and Madrid also drew thousands. Down in Brazil, thousands more marched in various cities, while others were blocked by government issued bans.

3. Warning: No One Is Safe from SWAT Raids

Our new video draws attention to the overuse of SWAT teams. The accompanying petition calls for their use to be limited to emergency or especially high-intensity situations only.

4. Law Enforcement: 77-Year-Old Man Killed in Marijuana Raid After Firing on Officers

The war on marijuana has claimed another victim: a 77-year-old man shot dead in a pre-dawn raid aimed at his adult son after shooting at the intruders. A police officer was wounded, too.

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

A suburban Pittsburgh cop gets probation, two Kentucky cops cop pleas, and a Massachusetts cop gets arrested at work. Just another week in the drug war.

6. Free Speech: ACLU Backs Pain Activist's Effort to Quash Subpoena Issued in Kansas Case

Kansas federal prosecutor Tanya Treadway may have picked on the wrong woman when she went after the Pain Relief Network's Siobhan Reynolds for criticizing her prosecution of a local pain management physician. Now, the ACLU has joined Reynolds in fighting off a Treadway subpoena aimed at chilling her free speech rights and seeing what the doctor's defense is up to.

7. Marijuana: Connecticut Decriminalization Bill Dead in Water Following Arrest of Activist

A state marijuana decrim effort was defeated by an ardent Republican legislator. It's also a case of how "careless lips sink ships."

8. Canada: Veterans Affairs to Cover Medical Marijuana Expenses

When Health Canada failed to act, the Canadian Veterans Ministry stepped up. Now, Canadian veterans using medical marijuana have their costs covered just as with any other approved medication.

9. Latin America: Colombia's President Wants to Jail Coca Growing Farmers

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has already presided over years of drug war directed at his own country, he's busily trying to recriminalize drug possession, and now he wants to throw peasant coca farmers in jail. This is a man out of step with his region.

10. Europe: Dutch Border Province Cannabis Coffee Shops to Go "Members Only" in Bid to Dampen "Drug Tourism"

Cannabis coffee shops in the Dutch border province of Limburg will become "members only" next year as local mayors seek to inhibit "drug tourism." There are other restrictions, too.

11. Appeal: It's Time to CHANGE Business As Usual in Drug Policy

Thanks to your help, our "Changing Minds, Laws & Lives" 09 campaign has gotten off to a great start! Your support is still needed -- two exciting new t-shirts about drug prohibition are among the gifts we'd like to send you as our thanks.

12. Weekly: This Week in History

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

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Increased Marijuana Potency is an Argument for Legalization, Not Against It," "Wall Street Journal Thinks Americans Still Love the Drug War," "New Drug Czar Says 'War on Drugs' Mentality is Over," "CNBC Attacks Schwarzenegger for Endorsing Marijuana Legalization Debate," "DEA Agent Indicted for Framing 17 Innocent People," "Who Put Stephen Baldwin in Charge of Opposing Marijuana Legalization?," "Former Mexican President Calls for Drug Legalization Debate," "Obama Claims to Support Needle Exchange, While Telling Congress to Ban It," "The States Don't Need Federal Permission to Legalize Marijuana," "How Much Money is Marijuana Legalization Worth?"

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

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

Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- The State of Play

medical marijuana hearings, Minnesota Senate (the via
Medical marijuana is now legal in 13 states, and by year's end it could be legal in several more. Legislatures in at least 19 states are, have, or will be considering medical marijuana bills this year, and while in most of them efforts are just getting off the ground or stand little chance of passing this year, significant progress has already been made in at least five states and bills are just a handful of votes and a governor's signature away from passage.

More broadly, medical marijuana has become part of the legislative landscape. It is now either the law of the land or under consideration in more than 30 states. Most of the states where it is not on the political agenda are in the South. On the West Coast, it's a done deal; in the Rocky Mountain states, half are already there; in the Midwest, progress is slow but ongoing; and in the Northeast, the issue has been red hot in recent years.

Here's what things look like right now, followed by some discussion below. Note that this is the Chronicle's assessment, based on legislative histories and the analyses of the people we talked to below, among others:

States where a bill was introduced and is already dead:

South Dakota

States where bills have been in play, but are unlikely to pass this year:


States with bills either just introduced or not introduced yet, but promised, and thus unlikely to pass this year:


States with the best chance of passage this year:

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

"There are a couple of states where we are very close," said Dan Bernath, assistant communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is involved in all the states most likely to see a bill pass this year. "Medical marijuana activists are used to having their hearts broken in state legislatures, but there's a very good chance we will see something pass this year."

In Illinois, companion House and Senate bills are awaiting floor votes, but MPP reports that "they do not have enough committed 'yes' votes to be sent to the governor for approval." A similar bill was defeated in the Senate two years ago, but the House has never had a floor vote on it.

In Minnesota, the House version of the medical marijuana bill passed its final committee hurdle on Tuesday and heads for a floor vote. The Senate has already approved its version. But Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has "concerns" and has threatened a veto.

Jim Miller at Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey event
In New Hampshire, a medical marijuana bill easily passed the House in March and was amended and passed by the Senate last month, but Democratic Gov. John Lynch has "serious concerns" and said the Senate version is "unacceptable." The House has voted not to accept the Senate amendments and is calling for a conference committee to craft final language that could be acceptable to the governor.

In New Jersey, a medical marijuana bill passed the Senate in February, but has languished in the House, where it is stuck in committee. But a hearing will take place later this year, and the bill could move forward after that.

In New York, identical bills have been introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate. The House passed a bill last year, but it went nowhere under then Republican Senate leadership. Now, with both houses under Democratic control and a friendly Democratic governor, the bill has a real chance.

In Rhode Island, which has an existing medical marijuana program, a bill that would establish "compassion centers" for distributing it to qualified patients passed the Senate in April and is awaiting action in the House.

"This is a crucial time for a lot of bills we have in play," said Bernath, citing the far advanced bills in Minnesota and New Hampshire, both of which face reluctant governors. "In New Hampshire, we've passed both the House and Senate, and now the House is working to address some of the governor's concerns while still crafting a bill that will work with patients."

In Minnesota, Bernath noted, Gov. Pawlenty has opposed medical marijuana. "The governor has expressed concerns in the past, and our supporters in Minnesota have been working hard to address those," he said. "The governor has had the opportunity to get educated on medical marijuana over these past few years, but continues to say he sides with law enforcement. But law enforcement's credibility has been eroding, so there's some reason to hope the governor will come around."

In New Jersey, where the Drug Policy Alliance, MPP and NORML have a played a role, it may just be a matter of time. "It's headed for the Assembly Health Committee for a hearing, perhaps in June, but maybe in the fall," said Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "It really depends on the chairman of the committee, Dr. Herb Conaway (D-Delran). We've been in contact with him, but the problem is all the assemblymen are up for election in November, and they're nervous about what they consider a controversial medical marijuana bill. If not in June, it could be after the election."

Rhode Island patient activist Rhonda O'Donnell, at DC protest
The assemblymen are mistaken if they think medical marijuana is controversial, said Wolski. "There is positive political capital in supporting medical marijuana -- it polls better than any of those legislators," he said. "Any legislator who puts his reelection chances ahead of suffering patients probably doesn't deserve to be elected anyway."

"New Jersey is going to be a long slog, it could go either way, but it looks like they'll sit on it through September, which gives both sides plenty of time to lobby," said NORML's Allen St. Pierre. "But with Gov. Corzine saying he will sign it; that gives it greater impetus, so I think New Jersey will end up with patient protection laws."

As for New York, the political stars could now be aligning, said St. Pierre. "It's not clear how far this will progress, but as in New Jersey, it's one of those rare times where the governor has effectively said he will sign a medical marijuana bill, and that helps."

Like New Jersey, New York has been the subject of years of work by DPA in Albany, and MPP has a hired lobbyist stalking those halls. "In both cases, there have been people working this for five to seven years," said St. Pierre.

"Things have never looked better in New York," said MPP's Bernath. "In the past, the problem was the Republican-controlled Senate, but now it's the Democrats in charge, and we have a lot of confidence that this will get through the Senate. The Assembly is already very supportive."

The state legislative process is agonizingly and frustratingly slow, but medical marijuana has already proven to be an issue that can win at the statehouse and not just at the ballot box. In 2009, only 13 years after California voters approved the first state medical marijuana law, about a quarter of the population live in medical marijuana states. Chances are that before the year is over, that percentage is going to increase.

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Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part II

Last weekend was the second act in this year's two-part Global Marijuana Marches, aimed at celebrating global cannabis culture and pushing marijuana law reform. Last week, we focused primarily on North America; this week, we look a little further abroad.

Porto Alegre march, Brazil, Parque da Redenção
According to organizers, marches took place in some 263 cities worldwide -- from Amsterdam, Abbotsford (BC), and Auckland to Wichita, Wellington, and Zagreb. Marches took place on every inhabited continent, with turnouts ranging from a few dozen to more than a hundred thousand. Few problems were reported.

The single largest event took place in Rome, where organizers estimated the crowd gathered at the Plaza San Giovanni at somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. In Rome, marchers demanded repeal of Italy's L.49 drug law, which they complained is "the toughest in the West."

"What we want is the cancellation of L.49, the end of arrests and increasing persecution against users and self-growers, the right to relief for patients, the end of 1930-style terrorist campaign on media against all scientific evidence, and the official revaluation of the multiple properties of this ancient plant," said Rome event organizer Alberto Sciolari.

Police and the media downplayed the numbers, Sciolari said, but the event was huge. "The plaza was completely full, and there were still thousands of people trying to get in," he reported. "The trade unions held their May Day concert there last weekend, and the TV talked about 'almost one million people' being there then, and our crowd was only slightly smaller."

Rome has emerged as the monster of the Global Marijuana Marches, drawing about 35,000 in 2007 and doubling that to 70,000 last year, before exploding this year. That's no surprise, said Sciolari. "Every year there is a sharp increase in participants, probably because it is a regular event, and people learned to wait for it much in advance, and tell friends, without much need of promotion. The date is fixed year after year, and then you just have to confirm that still it will take place despite all, and people are happy to show up," he said.

Athens GMM poster
One reason for the huge crowds in Rome could be anti-government sentiment and rejection of the conservative values and policies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "This wasn't specifically anti-Berlusconi, but against the 'culture' he and his government spread and support," Sciolari noted. "The people mocked and laughed at them rather than taking their positions seriously. Although we are seeing repression and security campaigns in Italy that are passing any limit, pot lovers and patients know that, Berlusconi or not, no government will give anything for free."

"It's always large in Rome," said Joep Oomen, coordinator of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. "It is like it is a yearly event for the whole nation, although some people say most go for the party than for anything else."

Things weren't nearly as active in Oomen's home city of Antwerp, where he reported some 50 people showing up, or even in Amsterdam, where the crowd was estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people. Part of that could be due to complacency in countries with relatively lax drug laws, Oomen said.

"People don't realize they can still lose their freedom until it is too late," he said. "But once they do understand how important it is to get it legalized, they are supposed to become more active in the movement. These marches can act as eye-openers for new generations."

In Berlin, organizers doing their first Global Marijuana March pulled in several hundred demonstrators, with the crowd swelling to more than a thousand by the time it reached its final destination, a reggae club, where the party continued into the night. Although organizer Mathias Meyer hinted at disappointment with the crowd size, he is going to do it again next year.

"The march was quite nice," he reported. "The police were very calm and liberal. One cop jokingly asked us where we hid the stash, but then smiled and walked on. We think it was quite good for our first strike."

Hungary GMM poster
Vienna saw about 2,000 people show up, as did Prague, while some 5,000 marched in Madrid. Other European marches typically pulled in dozens or hundreds -- except for Greece.

Athens, radicalized by weeks of street fighting a few months back, was the scene of one of the larger European marches, with more than 15,000 people showing up for the "protestival" organized by Iliosporoi, the InfoAction Youth Network on Political and Social Ecology.

"It was more than good -- it was a perfect moment of our life," reported an unnamed Iliosporio activist. "Thousands of people came Saturday to demonstrate with their smiles and their happiness that the laws and the state politics about drugs have to change," he said. "The so-called war on drugs -- designed from the USA and imposed on almost all governments of the world -- has had much worse effects on our societies than that other classic failure of the USA, the amazing idea to make alcohol illegal," he said.

"We legalized marijuana in Athens this weekend," he continued. "This festival celebrated personal and social autonomy and the liberation of public space. All of us legalized marijuana without expecting the laws to change."

Brazil was also the scene of Global Marijuana Marches, with six cities participating in the Brazilian marches. On March 3, nearly 500 people marched in Florianópolis and 1,500 in Recife. Last weekend saw 2,000 people, including the Brazilian environment minister, marching in Rio de Janeiro, 250 in Belo Horizonte, and 500 in Porto Alegre.

Brazilian marchers in some cities faced threats from authorities to prosecute them for "apology for crime," as they had done in past years. Rafael, a Porto Alegre activist with Active Principle, reported that marchers there won an injunction from a local judge protecting their right to express their viewpoints. But that wasn't the case in eight other Brazilian cities, where marches were cancelled as appeals of bans work their way through the courts.

"For many years, ministries have banned local marches, accusing people of being involved in the drug traffic or 'being anonymous,'" Rafael explained. "Last year, of 15 cities, only four marched because of the bans, but none of those cases were actually tried because the marches had already passed, which suggests the ministries were only trying to ban the marches. This year, we will bring those cases, because we know they're going to lose. Our constitutional right to discuss drug policies outweighs any 'apology for crime,'" he said.

In Rio, Environment Minister Carlos Minc spoke to the crowd, advocating in favor of the legalization movement. Although he said he came as a private citizen, he added that he had always attended the marches and wouldn't stop just because he was a minister.

Another May, another round of Global Marijuana Marches. With even the US seeing the first signs of support for legalization reaching the 50% mark, maybe soon marchers will have something big to celebrate.

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Warning: No One Is Safe from SWAT Raids

I'm pleased to announce our new online video, "SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe." Please visit to watch it.

When you're done, please sign our "Petition for Responsible SWAT Reform"; and please inform your friends, family members, and mailing lists you're on about so they can watch the video and sign the petition too.

"SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe" is based on the 2008 case of Cheye Calvo, Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, whose home was stormed and two dogs killed by a SWAT team during a botched marijuana investigation. Last month the Maryland General Assembly passed groundbreaking legislation, proposed by Mayor Calvo, requiring SWAT teams to report on their activities so the public can know.

Our web site will send copies of your petition to your own state legislators, and to Congress and the Attorney General, helping Mayor Calvo and others get SWAT reform legislation passed in Congress and in states across the nation. Please visit to watch the video, sign the petition and spread the word so this can happen.

The overuse of SWAT teams is one of many abuses in our failing "drug war" -- visit for information about this troubling problem -- and to do something about it. Also, please click here to donate to this effort.

Thank you for standing up for justice,

David Borden
Executive Director

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Law Enforcement: 77-Year-Old Man Killed in Marijuana Raid After Firing on Officers

A 77-year-old Foley, Alabama man was shot and killed during a pre-dawn raid by police officers with a search warrant for marijuana. Robert Woods had emerged from a rear bedroom holding a gun and fired once, wounding one police officer. Four other officers returned fire, killing the homeowner.

Arrested in the raid was Woods' son, Michael Woods, 51, who had been the raid's target. Woods had told an undercover investigator he had a large quantity of marijuana, resulting in the search warrant served during the fatal raid. It is not clear how much marijuana was seized. Michael Woods shared the home with his parents.

In the police version of events, officers knocked on the door, then announced they were entering the house, then entered the house yelling "Police! Search warrant!" Then they detained Michael Woods and his mother before a man came out of the bedroom holding a handgun. Officers shouted for Woods to drop the gun, but he fired, striking Officer Randy Stillworth. The other officers then fired back, killing Woods. That version of events has not been corroborated by witnesses.

In the comment section of the article linked to above, a person who identifies herself as Wood's granddaughter had this to say: "He and my grandmother survived being robbed at gunpoint in their home in McCalla, Alabama. He also survived a horrible accident when the golf cart he was driving, working as a security guard, lost control and went up under an eighteen wheeler. He had to have brain surgery to remove a tumor due to that accident. Now, let me set the scene for y'all. For one, he didn't have his hearing aids in. Secondly, he didn't have his glasses on. Thirdly, what the hell would y'all do if you give his history, if all of sudden you where woken by a loud boom?!?!?!? You would grab the nearest object that you have by your bed. And seeing that we all live in Alabama, you either have a baseball bat or a gun. So, he grabs his gun and goes running towards the sound of the boom, all he sees is a figure moving in his home!!! Now, Mike sold to an undercover the night before in the driveway and says he has a large supply in the house. People, it was 4 small bags of pot. My paw-paw lost his life for 4 small bags of pot."

Foley Police have called in the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, as is standard with police shootings. They will be assisted by the Baldwin County District Attorney's Office and the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, he said. Meanwhile, the officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave.

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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A suburban Pittsburgh cop gets probation, two Kentucky cops cop pleas, and a Massachusetts cop gets arrested at work. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it.

In Worcester, Massachusetts, a Worcester police officer was arrested at work May 7 and charged with an unspecified drug offense. Police would not confirm the exact charges, but said he was one of 17 people arrested during a six-month investigation that involved wiretaps. Officer Carlos L. Burgos, 39, has bailed out and is on unpaid leave, but had to turn in his gun and badge.

In Bowling Green, Kentucky, two former Glasgow Police Department majors pleaded guilty April 22 to illegally distributing prescription pain pills and witness tampering. Johnny Travis, 41, and Maxie Murray, 36, admitted to conspiring to illegally possess hydrocodone, a Schedule III controlled substance. They also admitted trying to persuade a witness not to share information about their crimes to law enforcement. They each face up to 21 years in federal prison and a $251,000 fine. Sentencing is set for August 4.

In Pittsburgh, a retired Penn Hills police lieutenant was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation for stealing thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine from the department's evidence lockers. William Markel, 55, was arrested in March 2008 by detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and later pleaded guilty to theft and drug possession charges in exchange for no jail time. The 29-year veteran of the force claimed he stole the drugs for personal use in coping with back problems and has since enrolled in several drug treatment programs.

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Free Speech: ACLU Backs Pain Activist's Effort to Quash Subpoena Issued in Kansas Case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined pain activist Siobhan Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network (PRN) in her effort to block a bare-knuckled federal prosecutor from compelling her to produce documents about her contacts with Kansas pain doctor Steven Schneider and his wife, as well as friends, relatives, employees and attorneys.

Siobhan Reynolds at 2004 Congressional briefing
The federal grand jury subpoena marks the second time US Assistant Attorney Tanya Treadway has gone after Reynolds for her advocacy for the Schneiders as they face federal charges they unlawfully prescribed pain medications.

The Schneiders were arrested and their pain clinic and home raided by federal agents in December 2007. Reynolds, a tireless advocate for chronic pain patients and the doctors who prescribe for, went to Kansas to support the couple, whom she sees as being hounded by overzealous federal drug warriors. There, with her criticism of the prosecution's case, she became a thorn in Treadway's side.

Last July, Treadway sought a gag order barring Reynolds and the Schneiders from talking to the press and another order barring Reynolds from talking to "victims" and witnesses in the case. The judge hearing the case, US District Court Judge Monti Belot, denied that motion to stifle dissent.

At the time, Treadway said in court documents that Reynolds had a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and alleged that she was using the case to further the Pain Relief Network's political agenda and her own personal interests.

Then, in March, Treadway hit Reynolds with the subpoena, which demands that Reynolds turn over all correspondence with attorneys, patients, Schneider family members, doctors, and others related to the Schneider case. Treadway's subpoena is supposedly part of an obstruction of justice investigation aimed at Reynolds. She also demands that Reynolds turn over bank and credit card statements showing payments to or from clinic employees, patients, potential witnesses and others, including virtually every attorney Reynolds knows.

That meant that in order to defend herself, Reynolds had to write and submit her own motion to quash the subpoena, which she filed on April 9. Now, the ACLU has ridden to the rescue, filing an amended motion to quash the subpoena that strongly argues the subpoena should be withdrawn because it threatens Reynolds' First Amendment rights and amounts to little more than a "fishing expedition" aimed at finding out information about the Schneiders' defense.

"These subpoenas constitute an abuse of the grand jury process," the ACLU argued. They would have "a chilling effect" on Reynolds' constitutionally protected speech. The subpoena directed at Reynolds is also "a misuse of the grand jury process because it is aimed at invading the defense camp of the Schneiders. On its face, AUSA Treadway's fishing expedition appears to have the impermissible purpose of obtaining information about the Schneider's defense. Therefore the subpoenas should be quashed as an abuse of the grand jury process."

The motion was heard on Tuesday (5/12), but there is no word back from the judge yet, who took it under advisement. Proceedings were conducted "under seal," at Treadway's behest, prohibiting the involved parties from publicly discussing it.

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Marijuana: Connecticut Decriminalization Bill Dead in Water Following Arrest of Activist

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana is effectively dead after it was filibustered by a key opponent in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. With an early afternoon deadline for committee action Tuesday, Sen. Toni Boucher (R-New Canaan) railed against the bill until the deadline had passed.

"This legislative body is proposing to take a substance that is proven to be unhealthy and dangerous and illegal -- schedule one drug, still so at the federal level -- putting us in direct contrast. And slap the hand of one who uses it just like another parking ticket," Boucher said. "This is just a minor step in a long progression," she added, calling marijuana a gateway drug.

The bill, SB 349 would have made the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana an infraction with a maximum $250 fine. It was supported by the legislature's Democratic leadership and the advocacy groups Efficacy and A Better Way Foundation.

While the bill appeared poised to pass last week, Boucher garnered some sympathy and attention after an officer in the newly formed Connecticut state NORML chapter got himself arrested for allegedly threatening her in an email message. Chapter vice-president Dominic Vita, a 28-year-old veteran of the Iraq war who testified in favor of the bill earlier this year, sent an e-mail in which he said he was about to "go postal" on Boucher. He was arrested on disorderly conduct charges Friday.

While national NORML quickly closed down the Connecticut chapter, the incident had fellow Republicans rallying to Boucher's defense. Connecticut NORML did not play a leading role in pushing for marijuana reform in the state -- it was only a month old -- but the incident was grist for the media mill over the weekend.

In comments posted to a local talk show host's blog, family members of Vita said he showed "poor judgment" in venting his feelings in that manner in an e-mail, but criticized the media's portrayal of it. Vita intended the e-mail to go to a friend and colleague, they explained, but accidentally used "reply" instead of "forward," sending it to the state's legislative "bill-tracker" reporting service instead. The e-mail was written in reaction to an unfavorable amendment Boucher had filed to the decrim bill, which Vita felt would prevent patients from benefiting from it. The staff person who received the e-mail forwarded it to the Capitol Police.

The talk show host, Shelly Sindland, wrote that she was "shocked" and that Vita had been "very articulate and polite" when he appeared on her show.

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Canada: Veterans Affairs to Cover Medical Marijuana Expenses

Canadian military veterans who use marijuana for medicinal reasons under Canada's Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) will now have those expenses covered by Veterans Affairs Canada, according to a letter quietly delivered to a Comox, British Columbia, vet. Previously, the agency had refused to pay medical marijuana expenses for veterans, although it covers prescription drug expenses.

Canadian medical marijuana demonstration (
The agency has made no public announcement of the policy shift, but Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson described it in the letter, which was sent to the vet, Bruce Webb. Webb had been obtaining medical marijuana through Health Canada in accordance with the MMAR, but was cut off because he could not afford to pay for it.

"As a disability pensioner, you are only entitled to coverage of prescription drugs listed on Veterans Affairs Canada's formularies," Thompson wrote. "However, the Department may consider covering medications that are not on the list if an exceptional need for the product is demonstrated. It may be of interest to know that the Department made changes to its policy with respect to the provision of medical marijuana, and may now cover the costs of this product for clients who have qualified under the MMAR, administered by Health Canada. In order to qualify for coverage of this non-listed product, a client must be approved by Health Canada, to possess and use marihuana for medical purposes; the product must be obtained from Health Canada in accordance with its requirements; and the client must have obtained pre-authorization from Veterans Affairs Canada."

Webb responded with effusive thanks, saying: "It is a medication, it is a proved medication, it's grown by the government of Canada, for the people of Canada, at taxpayers' expense. All veterans, anyone that needs this stuff should have a right to do it. This man is a compassionate member of parliament. Mr. Thompson, thank you."

The policy shift also won praise from the medical marijuana advocacy group Canadians for Safe Access, which had previously called on Health Canada to deal with the issue of patients who cannot afford their marijuana medications. "For many, this medicine is more effective than the available alternatives, with fewer negative side-effects. It is so important that the cost for this medicine is covered for those in need," said Rielle Capler, the group's director. "Veterans use cannabis for various medical conditions and symptoms including chronic and phantom limb pain, sleep disturbance, brain injuries, Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression," she added.

While the Veterans Ministry move is to be lauded, Health Canada and the MMAR still have their problems. Only about 3,000 of the estimated 400,000 people who use medical marijuana in Canada are licensed through Health Canada, and only a small fraction of them obtain their marijuana from Health Canada. Patients and advocates have long complained that Health Canada's sole-source monopoly marijuana is of low quality.

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Latin America: Colombia's President Wants to Jail Coca Growing Farmers

Coca farmers, typically peasants in Colombia's most impoverished regions, have never been considered criminals, but that could change if President Álvaro Uribe has his way. Not content with waging war on the coca plant and the cocaine trade, as he has done throughout his two terms in office, or with recriminalizing drug possession, as he is currently attempting for the third time, Uribe now wants to go after the bottom of the drug supply chain too.

coca seedlings
In an interview Sunday, Uribe said he wants peasants "who persist in growing coca to be put in jail." The change from current policy is necessary, said Uribe, because without drastic measures like sending peasant farmers to jail, the government will never be able to stop coca planting.

Under Uribe, Colombia has wholeheartedly embraced the Washington-inspired Plan Colombia, which has seen nearly $6 billion spent in the past decade, mostly on military and police equipment and fumigation of coca crops. But despite all the years and billions of dollars, Colombia remains the world's largest current coca producer, and production levels are similar to where they were a decade ago.

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Europe: Dutch Border Province Cannabis Coffee Shops to Go "Members Only" in Bid to Dampen "Drug Tourism"

Bowing to complaints about "drug tourists" from more repressive neighboring countries flooding into Dutch border towns to cop weed at their conveniently located cannabis coffee shops, mayors in the border province of Limburg have announced that the Limburg cannabis cafes will be "members only" beginning next year. The move was made by the mayors of the eight Limburg towns that host cafes, led by Maastricht Mayor Gerd Leers.

downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
"We will transform the coffee shops from open establishments, accessible by all, to closed establishments of which clients need to be members," Maastricht mayor Gerd Leers told a press conference in the border town. The measure would seek to "discourage the majority of drug tourists," said the mayor. "We have been fighting for years against the nuisance brought here by the Belgians, the French and the Germans," he added.

Limburg lies in the southeast of the Netherlands, bordering Belgium and Germany and not far from France. Some four million foreigners a year travel to Limburg to buy cannabis, said a local official. Those "drug tourists" have caused problems with traffic congestion, public order, crime, and harder drug use and sales.

Foreigners will not be barred from becoming cannabis coffee shop members -- that would violate European Union law -- but like everyone else, they will have to apply for membership in an application that will take several days to process. All customers will also have to now pay with a debit or credit card and will be limited to buying three grams a day anywhere in the province, two less than provided for under Dutch law.

The restrictions in Limburg come in a broader context of pressure against the coffee shops nationwide. The conservative national government is hostile but committed to not acting against them until after new elections, but as with the mayors in Limburg, municipalities are putting on the squeeze.

According to a survey conducted for the Justice Ministry, the number of cafes declined by 3.7% between 2005 and 2007 to 702 nationwide. Some 88 cafes were cited for violations of the codes surrounding their operation, while three were closed permanently because of those violations.

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Appeal: It's Time to CHANGE Business As Usual in Drug Policy

Dear Drug Policy Reformer,


Right now, the entire nation is focused on changing priorities and changing "business as usual."

That's why this year's campaign, "Changing Minds, Law & Lives," pulls out all the stops to make our case: the Drug War is a waste of time, money and good people's lives.

Thanks to friends like you, I'm glad to report it's off to a great start!

It's not too late for you to renew your commitment to drug policy reform and get your free gifts. For a contribution of $36, you can choose either "Prohibition Doesn't Work" or "STOP" (click for an enlarged view). For a gift of $60 or more, you get both shirts. And for a contribution of $100 or more, you also get your choice of any item from the inventory.

Your contribution today will make an immediate impact by helping us:

  • Produce more internet videos like "SWAT Raids — No One Is Safe" and fund more initiatives like the News Rewriting Project.
  • Build the groundswell for change by helping grassroots organizations — our movement's "boots on the ground."
  • Pressure the Obama Administration to make good on all of its promises and lobby Congress to make smart funding choices.
  • Break more records! With each improvement to the web site, the world's #1 source for news, information and activism promoting sensible drug law reform, we can get more visitors and become an even more powerful resource in the fight to end prohibition.

What we're doing together is working. Please help us take advantage of this unique opportunity to build momentum in 2009!


David Borden
Executive Director, (DRCNet)

P.S. Please join us in "Changing Minds, Laws & Lives" by renewing your generous support of today. It's time to stop wasting time, money and good people's lives!

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Weekly: This Week in History

May 15, 1928: Birth of Arnold Trebach, father of the modern drug policy reform movement.

May 18, 1971: Tapes released years later reveal that sometime between 12:16pm and 12:35pm, President Nixon says to entertainer Art Linkletter, "... radical demonstrators that were here... two weeks ago... They're all on drugs, virtually all."

May 15, 1988: Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke calls for a national debate on decriminalization of illicit drugs. Schmoke is quoted in the Washington Post: "Decriminalization would take the profit out of drugs and greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the drug-related violence that is currently plaguing our streets."

May 19, 1988: Carlos Lehder is convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus an additional 135 years. He had been captured by the Colombian National Police at a safe house owned by Pablo Escobar and extradited to the US.

May 20, 1991: The domestic heroin seizure record is set (still in effect today) -- 1,071 pounds in Oakland, California.

May 15, 1997: Conclusions from a comprehensive, long-term study by Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, CA) show no substantial link between regular marijuana smoking and death, but suggest that marijuana prohibition may itself pose a health hazard to the user.

May 20, 1997: Eighteen year-old Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., of Redford, Texas, becomes the first American to be killed on American soil by US soldiers in peacetime when he is shot on his own property by camouflaged Marines involved in a Joint Task Force-6 border drug interdiction operation. No drugs are found. Hernandez had never been suspected of or arrested for any criminal or drug-related activity.

May 15, 2001: Governor of Hawaii Ben Cayetano is quoted by the Associated Press: "I just think that it's a matter of time that Congress finally gets around to understanding that the states should be allowed to provide this kind of relief [medical marijuana] to the people. Congress is way, way behind in their thinking."

May 16, 2001: Regina McKnight is convicted and sentenced to 12 years in South Carolina for using crack during a pregnancy that resulted in a stillbirth. It is the first time in US history that a woman is convicted of homicide for using drugs during a pregnancy.

May 17, 2001: Canada's House of Commons passes a unanimous motion to create a committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada. Members of all five parties say they intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.

May 21, 2001: Geraldine Fijneman, head of the Amsterdam branch of the ayahuasca-using Santo Daime church, is acquitted by a Dutch court. Fijneman had owned, transported and distributed a DMT-containing substance, but the court ruled that her constitutional right to Freedom of Religion must be respected.

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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: "Increased Marijuana Potency is an Argument for Legalization, Not Against It," "Wall Street Journal Thinks Americans Still Love the Drug War," "New Drug Czar Says 'War on Drugs' Mentality is Over," "CNBC Attacks Schwarzenegger for Endorsing Marijuana Legalization Debate," "DEA Agent Indicted for Framing 17 Innocent People," "Who Put Stephen Baldwin in Charge of Opposing Marijuana Legalization?," "Former Mexican President Calls for Drug Legalization Debate," "Obama Claims to Support Needle Exchange, While Telling Congress to Ban It," "The States Don't Need Federal Permission to Legalize Marijuana" and "How Much Money is Marijuana Legalization Worth?"

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

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a (DRCNet) internship for this summer or fall 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 to learn more about our organization.

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