Drug War Chronicle #590 - June 19, 2009

1. Feature: America's War in Afghanistan Becomes America's Drug War in Afghanistan

It's summer in Afghanistan, and that means more fighting, more casualties, and this year, more drug war. Western militaries are now aiming directly at drug trafficking networks that fund the Taliban, and the Taliban isn't taking it lying down.

2. Feature: California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Underway, Aimed at 2010 Ballot

There are serious plans afoot for a marijuana legalization initiative in California for the November 2010 elections. Is it time to take advantage of apparent momentum for reform, or is the move premature and potentially counterproductive?

3. Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Bryan Epis was the first medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government, and he is one of dozens of people whose fate is still caught up in the federal system despite recent policy shifts by the Obama administration. Bryan is asking all of us to take action to help those who have risked much to help patients.

4. Medical Marijuana: Legislature Overrides Veto to Make Rhode Island Third Dispensary State

Rhode Island will become the third medical marijuana dispensary state and the first to expand an existing program to include dispensaries. This after the both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly overrode a veto by chronic medical marijuana obstacle Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri.

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

The stench emanating from Philadelphia's Narcotics Field Unit grew even more rank this week, an Arizona cop steals cash to feed his pill habit, and two Indianapolis cops turned thugs are headed for prison.

6. Medical Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Bill to Get DEA Out, Reschedule as Medicine

Rep. Barney Frank has reintroduced a bill to protect medical marijuana patients and providers and move pot from Schedule I to Schedule II. Will it get any further in a Democratic Congress than it did in Republican ones?

7. Marijuana: US Congressman Mark Kirk Introduces Bill Targeting "Kush Super-Marijuana"

One congressman marches resolutely backwards into the last century with a bill proposing 25-year sentences for people peddling kind bud. The "kush super-marijuana" turns good citizens into "zombie-like" creatures and must be stopped, suburban Chicago US Rep. Mark Kirk warns.

8. Sentencing: Louisiana Bill to Allow Parole for Heroin Lifers Passes Full House, Senate Committee

For years, heroin offenders in Louisiana faced draconian sentences of life without parole. The legislature changed that a few years ago, but didn't act to free the remaining "heroin lifers." It may get around to it this year.

9. Europe: Croatia Supreme Court Throws Out Jail Sentence in Veteran's Use of Medical Marijuana for PTSD

Explicitly acknowledging the medicinal use of the herb, the Croatian Supreme Court has thrown out marijuana possession charges against a war veteran who used it to treat PTSD.

10. Latin America: Chile Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization Yet, Poll Finds

The marijuana movement has a ways to go in Chile, according to a new poll. Only about 20% support legalization, and it's about the same for medical marijuana.

11. Weekly: This Week in History

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

12. 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.

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"FOX News Says Marijuana Will Eat Your Soul," "The Feds Are Giving Themselves New Drug War Powers," "Sharks Filled With Cocaine!!!," "How Many Innocent People Are in Jail on Drug Charges?," "Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Coming to Rhode Island," "'Tough on Drugs' Politics Just Aren't as Popular Anymore," "An Embarrassing Interview with the Drug Czar," "Video: Milton Friedman on Marijuana Legalization," "Video: Crack Sentencing Reform Petition Delivered to Congress -- Former Prisoners, Family Members and Advocates Speak Out," "Video on Abuse of the Environment -- and of People -- in Colombia's Drug War, from 'Witness for Peace.'"

14. Please: Don't Shoot!

The killing of Tarika Wilson, an unarmed mother holding her child, and the maiming of that child, is an inevitable consequences of the overuse of SWAT teams and the growing paramilitarization of the drug war.

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

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

1. Feature: America's War in Afghanistan Becomes America's Drug War in Afghanistan

As summer arrives in Afghanistan, it's not just the temperature that is heating up. Nearly 20,000 additional US troops are joining American and NATO forces on the ground, bringing foreign troop totals to nearly 90,000, and an insurgency grown wealthy off the opium and heroin trade is engaging them with dozens of attacks a day across the country. But this year, something different is going on: For the first time, the West is taking direct aim at the drug trafficking networks that deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the insurgents.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Last week, hundreds of British and Afghan troops backed by US and Canadian helicopters and US jets engaged in a series of raids in southern Helmand province, the country's largest opium producing and heroin refining region, seizing 5,500 kilograms of opium paste, 220 kilos of morphine, more than 100 kilos of heroin, and 148 kilos of hashish. They also uncovered and destroyed heroin labs and weapons caches, fending off Taliban machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade attacks as they did so.

"This has been an important operation against the illegal narcotics industry and represents a significant setback for the insurgency in Helmand Province," said Lt. Col. Stephen Cartwright, commanding officer of some of the British troops. "The link between the insurgents and the narcotics industry is proven as militants use the money derived from the drug trade as a principle source of funding to arm themselves with weapons and conduct their campaign of intimidation and violence. By destroying this opium and the drug making facilities we are directly target their fighting capability. The operation has been well received by the Afghan people."

It wasn't the first Western attack on the Afghan drug trade this year, and it certainly won't be the last. Operating since last fall on new marching orders, Western troops and their Afghan allies are for the first time engaging in serious drug war as part of their seemingly endless counterinsurgency. And they are drawing a sharp response from the Taliban, which must be seen not so much as a monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement, but as an ever-shifting amalgam of jihadis, home-grown and foreign, competing warlords, including the titular head of the movement, Mullah Omar, disenchanted tribesmen, and purely criminal drug trafficking organizations collectively called "the Taliban."

So far this year, 142 NATO and US troops have been killed in the fighting, putting 2009 on a pace to be the bloodiest year yet for the West in the now nearly eight-year-old invasion, occupation, and counterinsurgency aimed at uprooting the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies. Also dead are hundreds, if not more, Taliban fighters, and an unknown number of Afghan civilians, victims of Western air strikes, twitchy trigger fingers, and unending Taliban attacks on security forces and public places.

There will be "tough fighting" this summer and beyond in Afghanistan, top US commander Gen. David Petraeus said Wednesday in remarks to reporters in Tampa. As US and NATO troops go on the offensive "to take back from the Taliban areas that they have been able to control, there will be tough fighting," he said. "Certainly that tough fighting will not be concluded just this year. Certainly there will be tough periods beyond this year," he added, noting that the Taliban insurgency is at its bloodiest levels since 2001.

That rising insurgency, financed in large part by drug trade profits, has sparked a rethinking of Western anti-drug strategy, as well as the deployment of nearly 20,000 additional troops, with some 7,000 of them headed for Helmand, which, if it were a country, would be the world's largest opium producer.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out the new thinking in testimony to the Senate last month. The West is losing the battle against opium production, he said, so instead of merely going after Taliban militants it is time to "go after" the powerful drug lords who control the trafficking and smuggling networks in Afghanistan.

"With respect to the narcotics -- the threat that is there -- it is very clearly funding the insurgency. We know that, and strategically, my view is that it has to be eliminated," Mullen said. "We have had almost no success in the last seven or eight years doing that, including this year's efforts, because we are unable to put viable livelihood in behind any kind of eradication."

While the new approach -- de-emphasized eradication of farmers' fields and targeting the drug trade, especially when linked to the insurgency -- is better than the approach of the Bush years, it is still rife with problems, obstacles, and uncertainties, said a trio of experts consulted by the Chronicle.

"We are seeing a clear shift away from eradication being the dominant focus and a clear emphasis on rural development as a way to proceed, and that is a major positive development," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a scholar of drugs and insurgency at the Brookings Institution. "Interdiction was always nominally part of the package, but there is now a new mandate. Since October, NATO countries can participate in the interdiction of Taliban-linked traffickers. Certainly, the US and the UK are planning to vastly engage in this mission."

"The whole policy has changed," agreed Raheem Yaseer, assistant director of the Afghanistan Studies Center at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "There was lots of criticism about the troops not going after the drug leaders and the trafficking. They were concentrating on the terrorists, but now they realize the opium traffic has actually been used to finance their activities, so now they are trying to eliminate the traffickers and promoters of the trade," he explained.

"There is more emphasis on reconstruction," said Yaseer. "There will be some compensation for people who are giving up the poppy, and shifting from poppy to saffron, things like that. Still, security is key, and there are some problems with security," he added in a masterful use of understatement.

"The administration appears at least to understand that eradication should target cartels rather than poor local farmers," said Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst with the libertarian leaning Cato Institute. "I hope they continue down that path; it's the best of many horrible options. The best policy would be legalization," she said, adding wistfully that she would prefer a more sensible drug policy.

"I have a feeling this is going to be a very bloody summer," said Malou. "There will be more violence because of the Afghan elections this August, as well as the Taliban's annual spring and summer offensive, which this year is going to be a sort of counteroffensive to the Western surge."

What the new emphasis on going after traffickers will accomplish remains to be seen, said Felbab-Brown. "Interdiction could provide a good reason for the Taliban to insert itself more deeply into the drug trade, or it could encourage traffickers to join the Karzai government," she said.

The effect of the new campaign on security in the countryside also remains to be seen, Felbab-Brown said. "Our reconstruction capacity is so weak after decades of neglect and a systematic effort to destroy those projects," she noted. "At bottom, though, the effectiveness of rural development programs depends on security. Without security, there is no effective program."

Western military forces also have some image-building to do, said Yaseer. "Because of wrong policies of the past and high civilian casualties, the original favorable perception of the foreign troops has changed from favorable to antagonistic. It will take some time to get back the good image."

Yaseer also had doubts about the utility of the massive foreign, mainly US, troop increase now underway. "Unless the sources of the problem, which lie in Pakistan, are attacked, adding more troops will not be very useful," he said. "They will just make the region more volatile and create more resentment, and they will provide the insurgents with a larger target than before," he said.

"The new administration's desire to change the policy makes one a bit optimistic, but again, time will tell whether the West is serious about them," Yaseer continued. Progress will depend on the nature of the operations and whether the new policies are actually implemented, whether this is real."

For Malou, the clock is ticking, and Western soldiers have no good reason to be remaining in Afghanistan for much longer. "We haven't found bin Laden in eight years, and most of the high-level Al Qaeda we've captured have been the result of police detective work, not military force. The foreign military presence in Afghanistan is perceived as a foreign occupation by many people in the region on both sides of the border, and that's poisoning the well even further," she said.

The US needs to be planning an exit strategy, said Malou. "When you look strategically and economically, the US just doesn't have a vital interest impelling us to stay in the region indefinitely," she said. "We need a timeframe for withdrawal within the next several years. We need to narrow our objectives to training security forces. I don't see any reason why we need to stay in this region any longer."

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2. Feature: California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Underway, Aimed at 2010 Ballot

Talk about marijuana legalization is at a level never seen before this year, and nowhere is that more strongly the case than in California. For the first time, a legalization bill is before the state legislature. Legalization recently polled at 56% in California. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps entranced by visions of dollar signs as he presides over an exploding budget deficit and imploding state economy, has publicly pondered whether now is the time to talk about legalization. And with the state bordering on Mexico, the notion of undercutting Mexican drug trafficking profits through legalization resonates especially loudly in the Golden State.

Now, somebody wants to do something about it, and the revolution is starting in Oaksterdam, the medical marijuana business empire/social movement centered in downtown Oakland and anchored by Richard Lee's Bulldog Café, SR-71 dispensary, and Oaksterdam University. Lee and a team of activists, attorneys, political consultants, and signature-gathering pros are working on the final drafts of an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in California that they hope to place on the November 2010 election ballot.

In its current form (which is still subject to revision), the initiative would:

  • Allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults;
  • Allow adults to grow in an area of up to 25 square feet, and keep the fruits of the harvest;
  • Allow counties and municipalities to license the cultivation of marijuana for commercial sales and license marijuana retail sales;
  • Allow consumption in licensed premises;
  • Allow counties and municipalities to tax any licensed production or sales;
  • Not allow interstate or international sales.

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Each provision leaves room for argument over its wisdom and its complications. Leaving legal marijuana commerce and taxation to localities instead of the state, for instance, could weaken the argument for state tax revenue benefits, but make the measure more palatable to counties either cash-strapped and eager for revenues or conservative and not desirous of allowing "pot clubs" to sprout in their domains.

Others require a bit of explanation. The provision for allowing possession of only an ounce runs contrary to treating it like alcohol -- there are no limits on wine cellars or beer collections -- and appears at first glance to at least potentially conflict with the personal grow provision. But the one ounce would be the state minimum; even in counties or cities that choose not to allow marijuana commerce, pot smokers could still have their stash.

The larger questions around a 2010 legalization initiative in California are whether the time is right and what would be the consequences of failure. Movement opinion appears to be split.

"We see a lot of things making it right for this time," said Lee. "The budget crisis here in California, the violence in Mexico, the economy continuing to decline, the polls -- all suggest that this may be the time to do it. The bigger picture is it's important to keep the issue alive, and we hope to have a vigorous campaign over the next year and a half to move this forward."

"This initiative is inevitable," said long-time Southern California activist Cliff Schaffer, who has been insisting for several years now that legalization in California is unstoppable. "I understand the money is already in place to gather signatures. They plan to do this whether anybody else likes it or not."

The time is ripe now, said Schaffer. "We've already got the tax issue -- the billion dollars in tax revenue even got Arnold's attention, and I think that 56% approval number is going to increase naturally. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it in the 60s by this time next year," he predicted.

But the national marijuana reform organizations are not so excited, and even a little bit nervous. National NORML didn't even want to talk about it, deferring instead to the state chapter. And the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), while diplomatic, was decidedly lukewarm.

"Everybody supports the idea of what Richard is trying to do and wants to see marijuana regulated and taxed in California as soon as possible, but there is also an ongoing debate and uncertainty as to when and how is best to proceed," said Bruce Mirken, MPP's San Francisco-based communications director. "Our take is that the polling we've seen so far suggests it is not likely to pass in 2010. Everyone wants to take advantage of public opinion moving in our direction, but it's not clear that it has moved enough. There is honest debate about when to pull the trigger. In our opinion, we should wait and build our forces and aim at 2012."

"I think it's premature," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "If you look at the poll numbers carefully, it's clear it wouldn't pass. We saw 56% in the Field Poll, but other polls show smaller margins, and once an initiative has any particulars to attack, you start seeing support melting away percentage point by percentage point."

Urging patience, Gieringer harkened back to the days of Proposition 215. "Before we did Prop. 215, there had been three medical marijuana bills in the state legislature, the Vasconcelos medical marijuana bill had passed and been vetoed, and that was basically what we took to the voters," he said. "We knew that an initiative to allow the personal use and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes would pass because we had already gotten it through the legislature."

Marijuana legalization, on the other hand, doesn't have that extensive legislative pedigree or the years of discussion in Sacramento about its ins-and-outs that allows points of contention to be fleshed out. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced a legalization bill this year, but this is the first time, and it hasn't even had a hearing yet.

"The Ammiano bill is very far-reaching, but it hasn't been discussed," said Gieringer. "We need to take this to the legislature, see where the weak points are. Those kinds of discussions will lead to changes and revisions and give us an idea where we can get the public to support this."

And then there's the cost. "Initiative campaigns are mind-bogglingly expensive here, and we may not get a lot of chances to raise the money to do it right," Mirken pointed out. "Smaller states like Nevada, we could do for around $2 million, but that doesn't even cover a decent local campaign here in California."

The challenges are considerable, Lee conceded, but that isn't stopping him. "We need to collect 460,000 valid signatures, and that means we need to collect 650,000 signatures. We think it will cost about $1.50 a signature, so you're looking at about a million dollars just to get it on the ballot."

Lee said backers hoped to have a final draft early next month. From there, the initiative goes to the attorney general's office for a title and summary, and should be ready for signature-gathering by the end of August. From then, organizers will have 150 days to collect the required signatures.

"We're a draft or two away," said Lee. "We're making some changes in the current draft and then we will test it again with our focus groups. We're getting pretty close now."

Once the initiative makes it to the ballot, said Lee, financial backing should appear. "I think people will start coming out of the woodwork to get on board," he said.

There are also arguments that could appeal to so far untapped, even unfriendly constituencies, said Schaffer. "It's not just taxes. We're also talking about the revenue from growing this stuff. The tax revenues are chump change compared to that. We'll see an additional $20 billion in revenue from the Central Valley, and people here have to pay income taxes at an 11% rate; that's another $2 billion right there. We have to make that an issue," he said.

Schaffer already has been playing that card in the conservative, but economically depressed and increasingly desperate Central Valley, the state's leading agricultural region, and one of the most important in the world. His brash views have garnered interest from farmers and press attention in an area of the state not considered friendly towards marijuana.

"That's a huge cash crop -- do we want those billions to go to Mexico or to Central Valley farmers?" is the question Schaffer is posing. "This is going to be a very important argument in the Central Valley, and we're going to have trouble unless we can pick up votes there, too. If we turn this into an economic opportunity, then we're not arguing about whether marijuana is good or bad, but does Fresno want $20 billion."

While putting dollars signs in the eyes of farm country will build support there, said Schaffer, the best argument for legalization proponents will be the "like alcohol" argument. "Everyone understands that," he said. "The closer we can come to just saying tax and regulate it like alcohol, the better off we are with the general public."

It's the consequences of losing a legalization initiative in California that concern MPP's Mirken and CANORML's Gieringer. "California has a reputation as a liberal, progressive state," said Mirken. "If it loses badly here, that could be perceived as serious setback at the national level."

"If we lose in 2010, that will really take the wind out of our sails," said Gieringer. "The legislature won't have to take us seriously, and there won't be anything on the 2012 ballot because funders will get discouraged and pull out. When an initiative loses in California, the cause dies. We're on a really great track toward legalization now, but we need to develop this further, and that's going to take a few years."

And so begins the debate within the California marijuana legalization debate. Would California voters jump on board for legalization next year, with momentum growing like Iranian demonstrations, or will opponents find enough niggling loose ends and unanswered questions to derail it? Is now the time for the final push, or will eagerness to make progress turn into a trap?

Right now, the ball is in the hands of Richard Lee and his Oaksterdam team.

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3. Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Dear reformers:

You probably know my name from the pages of Drug War Chronicle. I was the first California medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government -- in 1997, during the Clinton administration -- and I served two years before being released in 2004 while my ten-year sentence was appealed. Last month a federal judges panel upheld that sentence, and now I'm appealing to the full 9th Circuit.

I'm writing to StoptheDrugWar.org readers because I'm one of 32 medical marijuana activists who are still caught up in a federal prosecution, despite the Obama administration's promise to stop interfering with state medical marijuana laws; and because there are 67 others of us whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned. I've created a "political action" page that asks you to sign eight online petitions and to write a letter to President Obama about these issues. The page also takes on other aspects of marijuana prohibition. Please visit my page at http://www.bestlodging.com/politics/ to sign them -- the only way that anything will change is if we all let our voices be heard, and the dozens of us caught up in this for helping patients need for change to come sooner rather than later.

A little bit about the petitions, three of which I authored. One of them is directed to US Attorney General Eric Holder, listing the 32 medical marijuana defendants whose cases should be dismissed. Another is about my case, and emphasizes some egregious prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in my case and affected the outcome -- I think you'll agree it's an astonishing story. A third is directed to President Obama, and lists all 67 defendants whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned because they were implementing state medical marijuana law. (Let me know if I've left anyone out.) The other five petitions are related to these issues.

Thank you for standing up and taking action.

Sincerely,

Bryan Epis

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4. Medical Marijuana: Legislature Overrides Veto to Make Rhode Island Third Dispensary State

The Rhode Island legislature Wednesday easily overrode Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of a bill that will create medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The override vote was a unanimous 68-0 in the House and a punishing 35-3 in the Senate.

Rhode Island will now become the third medical marijuana state to allow for patients to be supplied through a dispensary system. The other two states are California and New Mexico. With the override, Rhode Island becomes the first state to expand an existing medical marijuana program to allow for state-licensed dispensaries. California voters did it at the polls, and in New Mexico, dispensary provisions were written into the law passed by the legislature.

"This gives a safe haven for those who have to go into the seedy areas to try and get marijuana," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), who suffers from cancer and has said he plans to smoke the drug for pain relief. "I think that this center will definitely help those who most need it," he added as he received a standing ovation from the House floor.

"Our hard work has paid off," said Jesse Stout, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. "Within a year, the Department of Health will license a nonprofit compassion center to grow and distribute medical marijuana for patients."

"We are seeing a historic shift to allowing state-licensed, regulated medical marijuana production and distribution," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed the effort. "Combining regulated distribution with provisions for patients to grow a limited quantity for themselves is the best way to assure safe access for patients, with solid safeguards to prevent abuse."

Other states where pending medical marijuana bills include dispensary provisions include Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Arizona, a ballot initiative with similar language is circulating, while in Maine, voters will vote in November on an initiative to add dispensaries to that state's law.

"During the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California, leaving states hesitant to set up state-regulated distribution," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Now that the Obama administration has announced a policy change, state legislators seem to feel safer adopting a sensible, regulated system of medical marijuana distribution that avoids the mistakes of California, where dispensaries sprang up with no rules. This is a historic step forward."

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

The stench emanating from Philadelphia's Narcotics Field Unit grew even more rank this week, an Arizona cop steals cash to feed his pill habit, and two Indianapolis cops turned thugs are headed for prison. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, the festering narcotics squad scandal just keeps getting uglier. The Philadelphia Daily News reported Wednesday that at least three women who were present at addresses raided by the Narcotics Field Unit have accused a unit member, Officer Thomas Tolstoy, of sexually assaulting them. None of the women have criminal records, none were arrested during the raids, and none of them knows the others. You can read the ugly details at the link above. This is just the latest sordid tale to emerge about the Narcotics Field Unit since February, when the Daily News reported that unit member Officer Jeffrey Cujdik lied on search warrant applications in order to get into suspected drug houses. In March, the same newspaper reported that Cujdik, Tolstoy and other dope squad members routinely raided corner stores that sold small plastic baggies, disabling surveillance cameras, threatening owners with arrest, and stealing thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise. Tolstoy is now on desk duty as the department and the FBI investigate.

In Yuma, Arizona, a Yuma Police officer was arrested June 8 for allegedly stealing more than $11,000 in cash from seized evidence to buy prescription drugs to which he was addicted. Officer Geoff Presco is charged with one felony count of theft and has been placed on paid leave. Presco went down after a detective following up on a case noticed the missing cash and other evidence and tracked it back to Presco, who had apparently been dipping into the till since February. He was named Yuma's patrol officer of the year last year. He was being held on a $55,000 bond.

In Indianapolis, two former Indianapolis Police narcotics detectives were convicted last Friday for their roles in a scheme to steal marijuana and money from pot dealers. Former detectives Robert Long, 35, and Jason Edwards, 38, were found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana, as well as several counts of drug possession or attempted possession with the intent to distribute. The pair went down during an FBI sting in which they were videotaped stealing pot and cash from a stash house in one incident and ripping off $20,000 from a supposed drug courier. A third officer, James Davis, earlier pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme. He faces 10 to 15 years in prison, while Long and Edwards are now looking at 20 years.

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6. Medical Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Bill to Get DEA Out, Reschedule as Medicine

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced legislation Monday that would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug and eliminate federal authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Titled the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (HR 2835), the bill currently has 16 sponsors and has been sent to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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Barney Frank
Frank introduced similar legislation in the last two Congresses, but the bills never got a committee vote or even a hearing. Advocates hope that with a Democratically-controlled Congress and a president who has at least given lip service to medical marijuana, Congress this year will prove to be friendlier ground.

"We are encouraged by the federal government's willingness to address this issue and to bring about a more sensible and humane policy on medical marijuana," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access. "It's time to recognize marijuana's medical efficacy, and to develop a comprehensive plan that will provide access to medical marijuana and protection for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from its use."

When it comes to reining in the feds, the bill would bar the use of the Controlled Substances Act or the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act for prohibiting or restricting doctors from prescribing marijuana and patients, caregivers, and co-ops or dispensaries from using, possessing, transporting or growing marijuana in accordance with state law.

The Obama administration has pledged to not use Justice Department resources to go after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Still, the DEA has continued to target medical marijuana providers, prosecutors continue to file drug charges against providers acting in accord with state laws, and federal judges continue to sentence medical marijuana providers who followed state laws, but were convicted under federal drug laws.

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7. Marijuana: US Congressman Mark Kirk Introduces Bill Targeting "Kush Super-Marijuana"

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) Monday introduced a bill that would dramatically increase prison sentences for marijuana trafficking offenses if the pot in question had THC levels over 15%. Warning Monday that "kush super-marijuana" had invaded the Chicago suburbs, Kirk is calling for prison sentences of up to 25 years for trafficking even small quantities of the kind bud.

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Mark Kirk
Under current federal law, the manufacture, distribution, import and export, and possession with intent to distribute fewer than 50 kilograms or 50 plants is punishable by up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 individual fine and $1 million group fine. Kirk's bill, the High-Potency Marijuana Sentencing Enhancement Act (HR 2828) increases the maximum fines for high-potency pot to $1 million for an individual and $5 million for a group, as well as increasing the maximum prison sentence five-fold. A second offense would double the fines and increase the maximum sentence to 35 years.

In a press release announcing the bill, Kirk warned of "zombie-like" pot smokers stumbling around the Chicago suburbs. "According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 25 million individuals age 12 and older used marijuana in 2007 -- significantly more than any other drug," he said. "That's why Kush and other high-potency marijuana strains are so worrying. Local law enforcement reports that Kush users are 'zombie-like' because of the extreme THC levels. Drug dealers know they can make as much money selling Kush as cocaine but without the heavier sentences that accompany crack and cocaine trafficking. Higher fines and longer sentences aren't the total solution to our nation's drug problem. But our laws should keep pace with advances in the strength and cash-value of high-THC marijuana. If you can make as much money selling pot as cocaine, you should face the same penalties."

Rep. Kirk appears to have swallowed the assumption that higher-potency marijuana is somehow more harmful than lower-potency pot, an old bromide dating back to former drug czar John Walters' "it's not your father's marijuana." But marijuana users say they adjust dosages to achieve the desired effect by smoking smaller amounts of more potent varieties. A user might smoke an entire blunt of low-potency Mexican brick weed, but only a couple of tokes of more potent pot, just as an alcohol user might chug down a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, but only a few ounces of more potent distilled spirits.

Further, kush is only one of a number of different strains of high-potency marijuana now available on the market. Many of those strains will produce potency levels of 15% or higher, much to the pleasure of marijuana connoisseurs.

"I don't know what's more ridiculous about this," said Bruce Mirken, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, "Kirk's incredible scientific ignorance or the hypocrisy of a man who's taken thousands of dollars from the alcohol and tobacco industries going after marijuana."

By Wednesday afternoon, Kirk's bill had yet to pick up any cosponsors.

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8. Sentencing: Louisiana Bill to Allow Parole for Heroin Lifers Passes Full House, Senate Committee

From the 1970s until 2000, anyone caught possessing, distributing, or producing heroin in Louisiana was eligible for a prison sentence of life without parole. After the legislature changed the law, those penalties were reduced to five to 50 years in prison, with the possibility of parole, but that legislation did not deal with the remaining heroin lifers, who stay behind bars while people convicted since then do their time and go home.

Now, a bill that would redress that injustice has passed the Louisiana House, and on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it, too. The bill, HB 630, would allow heroin lifers to seek parole after they have served at least 15 years.

"It is a matter of basic fairness," Pete Adams, executive director of the District Attorneys Association, told the committee. The association supports the bill.

State Rep. Walt Leger III (D-New Orleans) said the average sentence for heroin offenses these days is five years. Keeping the heroin lifers in prison costs the state too much money, he added.

The legislature has killed similar proposals in recent years, including last year, when the House defeated it 44-48. This year it passed the House 57-29. Legislators had said the heroin lifers should seek review at the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which reviews the cases of nonviolent offenders to assess how dangerous they would be if released.

But even if the panel recommends a reduction, only the governor has the power to commute sentences. Governors typically "are not into signing these things," testified Rep. Cedric Richmond.

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9. Europe: Croatia Supreme Court Throws Out Jail Sentence in Veteran's Use of Medical Marijuana for PTSD

In a June 3 decision, Croatia's Supreme Court threw out a jail sentence given to a war veteran who used marijuana to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The high court held that the man's use of marijuana was a "meaningless act" under Croatian law, which means he cannot be prosecuted.

The ruling comes even as Croatia embraces a "zero tolerance" drug policy. Under new Croatian drug laws, even the possession of a single joint can lead to a jail sentence.

The man, known only as "KD" in Croatian press reports, is one of about 18,000 veterans of the 1991-1995 wars around the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail in his home town of Vitrovitica for growing marijuana plants and possessing a little more than two ounces of usable marijuana.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence, noting that "the defendant suffers from PTSD, and marijuana relaxes him and helps him to overcome psychological problems." The ruling is viewed as a precedent for other war veterans with PTSD.

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10. Latin America: Chile Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization Yet, Poll Finds

An independent candidate in Chile's December presidential election has raised the topic of marijuana legalization, but according to a new Angus-Reid poll, that's not a winning issue in the conservative South American country. A solid majority oppose legalization, the poll found.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marcoenriquezominami.jpg
Marco Enríquez-Ominami
More than 57% of Chileans polled by the organization said they opposed marijuana legalization. Only slightly more than one out of five (21.7%) supported legalization for medical reasons, and slightly fewer than one out of five (19.6%) supported general legalization.

Former Socialist Party politician Marco Antonio Enríquez-Ominami Gumucio, who split from the party to run for the presidency as an independent, had broached the topic. He created something of a stir in Chile by saying he "is a supporter of looking into the matter of legalizing marijuana."

That is apparently still a hard sell in the socially conservative country where abortion is illegal, being gay was a crime until 1988, and divorce was illegal until 2004. Whether Enríquez-Ominami's presidential bid gets any traction will be determined December 11, when the first round of the election will be held.

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

June 19, 1812: The United States goes to war with Great Britain after being cut off from 80% of its Russian hemp supply. Napoleon invades Russia to sever Britain's illegal trade in Russian hemp.

June 24, 1982: During remarks about Executive Order 12368 made from the White House's Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan says, "We're taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. We're running up a battle flag."

June 19, 1991: In a secret vote, the Colombian assembly votes 51-13 to ban extradition in a new Constitution to take effect on July 5. The same day Pablo Escobar surrenders to Colombian police.

June 20, 1995: On a Discovery Channel special, "The Cronkite Report: The Drug Dilemma," former CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite calls the drug war a failure and calls for a bipartisan commission study alternatives to prohibition, concluding, "We cannot go into tomorrow with the same formulas that are failing today."

June 23, 1999: New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson says, "The nation's so-called War on Drugs has been a miserable failure. It hasn't worked. The drug problem is getting worse. I think it is the number one problem facing this country today... We really need to put all the options on the table... and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization... What I'm trying to do here is launch discussion."

June 20, 2002: Rolling Stone magazine reports that the Senior Judge of England's highest court, Lord Bingham, publicly declared his country's marijuana prohibition "stupid" and said he "absolutely" supported legalization.

June 22, 2002: The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association passes an "Alternatives to the War on Drugs" Statement of Conscience.

June 25, 2003: The Superior Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, Colombia orders a stop to the spraying of glyphosate herbicides until the government complies with the environmental management plan for the eradication program and mandates a series of studies to protect public health and the environment.

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12. 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!

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13. 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 opines on: "FOX News Says Marijuana Will Eat Your Soul," "The Feds Are Giving Themselves New Drug War Powers," "Sharks Filled With Cocaine!!!," "How Many Innocent People Are in Jail on Drug Charges?," "Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Coming to Rhode Island," "'Tough on Drugs' Politics Just Aren't as Popular Anymore" and "An Embarrassing Interview with the Drug Czar."

David Borden makes note of: "Video: Milton Friedman on Marijuana Legalization," "Video: Crack Sentencing Reform Petition Delivered to Congress -- Former Prisoners, Family Members and Advocates Speak Out" and "Video on Abuse of the Environment -- and of People -- in Colombia's Drug War, from 'Witness for Peace.'"

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

Please join us in the Reader Blogs too.

Again, http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and writing...

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14. Please: Don't Shoot!

Dear Drug War Chronicle Reader:

The graphic to the left is from the web site of the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team. In January 2008, the team stormed the home of Tarika Wilson and Anthony Terry during an ordinary drug investigation. A member of the SWAT team shot and killed Wilson -- an unarmed 26-year old -- also blowing a finger off the one-year old son she was holding. Another member of the SWAT team killed two family dogs on a different floor. The police department removed the graphic from the web site following the incident. Wilson's killer was charged with two misdemeanors, acquitted, and continues to work for the Lima police department, though not for the SWAT team.

Created for emergency or very high-intensity situations (snipers, hostages and the like), today SWAT teams deploy more than 50,000 times per year, mostly in low-level drug raids. This is dangerous and wrong, as the killing of Wilson, the maiming of her child, and the image the SWAT team chose to represent itself before things went bad all demonstrate. Please watch our online video, "SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe," please forward it to your friends, and if possible please post it on your web site. When you're done, please sign the "Petition for Responsible SWAT Reform" to limit SWAT raids to when they're truly needed.

Please consider donating to this effort, and thank you for helping to stop the "war on drugs."

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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15. Students: Intern at StoptheDrugWar.org (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 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 http://stopthedrugwar.org to learn more about our organization.

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

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