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Drug War Chronicle #602 - October 2, 2009

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1. Feature: Marc Emery Jailed in Canada Pending Extradition to US

Canada's "Prince of Pot" is in jail in Vancouver, awaiting extradition to the US to accept a five-year plea bargain for selling marijuana seeds to US customers. But if anyone thinks that is going to shut up Emery and his supporters, they should think again.

2. Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Hundreds of people came to San Francisco last weekend for the annual NORML conference. The organizers can be forgiven if it seemed a bit California-centric because so much related to marijuana policy is occurring in the Golden State. With the clamor for marijuana reform gaining decibels by the day, the atmosphere was headier than ever.

3. Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

Mexico's foreign minister said this week that the high death toll in his country's drug war was a sign his government's policy was correct. If that's the case, he just got more confirmation, as the body count continues to rise.

4. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

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

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

We've got two weeks worth of corrupt cops again: dope-peddling cops, dope-stealing cops, cops who rip off motorists, cops who rip off their departments, cops who take bribes, cops who squeal to dealers.

6. Marijuana: Boston Freedom Rally Draws 30,000 -- No Arrests, Some Tickets, in Wake of State Decrim Vote

We would be remiss if we didn't mention Boston's annual Freedom Rally, the first since Massachusetts voters passed a state decrim law.

7. Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Libertarian Free Staters are staging daily pot-smoking civil disobedience protests in Keene, New Hampshire, and this week, the protests spread to Manchester.

8. Law Enforcement: PATRIOT Act "Sneak and Peek" Searches Targeted Drug Offenders, Not Terrorists

The Bush administration warned Congress and the public that we had to allow federal agents to do surreptitious "sneak and peek" searches in order to fight terrorism. Funny how that worked out.

9. Harm Reduction: Drug-Related Deaths Rose Dramatically in Recent Years, CDC Says

Nearly 40,000 died of drug-related causes in 2006, the vast majority of them overdoses. Dying on drugs is rapidly gaining on dying in car wrecks as America's leading accidental cause of death -- a grim demonstration of the failure of prohibition.

10. Public Health: Feds Finally Issue Warning on Tainted Cocaine

More than a year after the DEA quietly reported that a veterinary anti-parasitic agent was showing up in cocaine, and after at least two US deaths linked to the tainted drug, federal public health officials have finally issued an alert warning doctors, treatment centers, and public health professionals of the menace.

11. Law Enforcement: Drug Court Program Needs Serious Reforms, Defense Attorneys Say

It's been 20 years since Janet Reno established the first drug court in Miami. Now, there are more than 2,100 of them, but the nation's leading criminal defense attorneys' group says they are distorting justice and need serious reforms.

12. Weekly: This Week in History

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

13. Announcement: The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 12-14

Every two years drug policy reformers from across the United States and around the world come to the International Drug Policy Reform Conference to listen, learn, network and strategize together for change. This year the conference is in Albuquerque, in November, and is a partner.

1. Feature: Marc Emery Jailed in Canada Pending Extradition to US

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery turned himself in to Canadian authorities Monday and is in custody in Vancouver pending extradition to the United States. The Canadian Justice Minister is expected to sign extradition papers within a matter of weeks, and then Emery will be driven to the border, handed over to US authorities, shackled, and sent to a federal detention center in the Seattle area. Shortly after that, Emery is set to plead guilty to a single count of marijuana distribution, with an expected sentence of five years in a US federal prison.
Marc and Jodie Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture)
Emery and two employees of his cannabis seed selling business, Greg Rainey and Michelle Williams, were arrested in July 2005 by Canadian police honoring a US arrest warrant charging the trio with marijuana distribution and conspiracy for selling seeds to customers in the US. They faced decades or even life in prison under draconian US federal marijuana laws. Earlier this year, Rainey and Williams accepted a plea bargain in which they pleaded guilty to a single count and were sentenced to probation in Canada.

With his employees' legal situation resolved, Emery then cut his own deal. But that doesn't mean he's changed his ways. At a press conference outside the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver Monday just before he turned himself in, Emery was in typical "Prince of Pot" form.

"I'm disappointed in my government, but very proud of my 'Overgrow the Government' revolution," Emery told supporters. "This terrible, insidious prohibition has been propped up by Liberal and Conservative governments for 45 years. It's a public policy with no public benefit, and it has caused so much misery, heartbreak, and torment for so many Canadians."

Emery urged supporters to lobby the Canadian Justice Ministry to not sign his extradition order -- something that is admittedly unlikely -- or, barring that, to make the government pay at the polls in the next election. "And if they do sign they must be punished in the next election," he said.

In the event that he is imprisoned in the US, Emery is urging supporters to demand that he be returned to Canada to serve his sentence. "I would be out on the streets in a year from now if I am transferred back to Canada as a first-time nonviolent offender in the Canadian system," he told the crowd.

Emery showed no remorse -- in fact, quite the opposite. "I'm proud of everything I've done; I only regret that I wasn't able to do more," Emery continued. "I did sell those seeds so people would overgrow the government, and I gave away $4 million that kick-started a worldwide movement. I'm the 'Prince of Pot' for a good reason. And there is no victim here; there are no dead people in my revolution."

"Plant the seeds of freedom. Overgrow the government, everyone," Emery yelled as he was led away by sheriffs.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Emery carved out a niche for himself as a cannabis entrepreneur and legalization advocate in Vancouver, but his activism extends back to his native Ontario, where, as a libertarian bookseller, he brought cases against Canadian censorship laws that then blocked magazines such as High Times from being sold in the country. After moving to Vancouver, Emery set up the Cannabis Culture shop, Cannabis Culture magazine, and the Marc Emery Seed Company.

A constant gadfly to law enforcement and drug warrior politicians on both sides of the border, Emery's mouth, his money, and his commitment to the cause enabled him to become one of the most well-known voices worldwide for ending pot prohibition. Emery founded the BC Marijuana Party and crisscrossed Canada to spread the word about "Overgrowing the Government," and profits from his seed sales help fund drug reform groups and activists in both Canada and the US.

That didn't win him any friends with the DEA or US federal prosecutors, who indicted him on marijuana distribution charges after busting some American growers who had obtained their seeds from him. Then DEA head Karen Tandy crowed over his arrest, describing it as a blow to the legalization movement, but then quickly backtracked in the face of accusations that his arrest was politically motivated.

While Emery is behind bars awaiting extradition to the US, his friends and supporters are mobilizing. Their immediate objectives are three-fold: to urge the Justice Minister to refuse to sign the extradition papers, to urge the US sentencing judge to give him a short or non-custodial sentence, and, in the event he is sentenced to prison time in the US, to urge the Canadian Public Safety Minister to approve his transfer to a Canadian prison.

To that end, supporters have set up a web site, No Extradition, with instructions on how to contact the relevant authorities. They are also planning vigils at Emery's current BC jail digs and a demonstration in Seattle when he arrives there for sentencing.

"We're planning it right this second," Seattle Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak said Thursday. "It's kind of difficult without having a date certain, but we're trying to get it so we're ready to go when it happens. There will probably be a rally at the federal courthouse," he added, noting that protest information would be posted on the Hempfest web site after tomorrow.

"This is terrible," said Jeremiah Vandemeer, an editor at Emery's Cannabis Culture magazine, which recently switched from print to an all online format. "It is an affront to Canadian sovereignty that Marc will be handed over to the US government and its prison system. If he committed any crime, he should have been prosecuted here in Canada."

In fact, Emery has been prosecuted in Canada for his seed sales, back in 1998. In that case, he was fined $2,000, with not a day of jail time. Since then, the Canadian government had been happy to ignore his seed sales and accept his tax payments from his seed business.

"It's terrible to see my friend and boss put behind bars for something in which there are no victims," said Vandemeer. "It's difficult, but we're getting through it, and we all have that extra resolve to work that much harder to get him back home."

Emery's young wife, Jodie, will be playing a key role, both in keeping Cannabis Culture and the Cannabis Culture Shop going and in waging the campaign to win his release. "Our campaign is about Free Marc Emery, but this is really about freeing everybody in prison for cannabis," she said Wednesday.

"There is a lot of pressure up here, and different political actors are starting to voice their support," she said. "There is all sorts of activism, and it's just starting. We will start holding vigils outside his prison beginning Saturday and going on every day after that. We're having postcards made today that people can send to flood the ministers with mail. I'm hearing that the Minister of Justice's office is being flooded with phone calls, and people are pledging that they will call every day."

But while Jodie Emery the cannabis activist is planning the campaign, Jodie Emery the figuratively widowed wife is feeling the pain. "It's horribly rough," she said. "During the day, I can keep busy. It's only when I get home and I'm alone and I realize that he's gone that it really hits me. I cry a lot," she confessed. "Even if you think Marc is a loudmouth or got what was coming to him, think of what it does to the people who love him."

Sensitized by her experiences, Jodie Emery is broadening her activism. "This has motivated me to start speaking up for the families of prisoners," she said. "There are hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in prison right now, nameless and faceless except to their loved ones. I want to speak up for all the drug war widows. We want to put faces and names to the people suffering endlessly year after year."

The historical record will show that Marc and Jodie Emery know how to wage a campaign of agitation. Now, the question is whether they can use those skills to raise awareness not just of the injustice done to Emery, but to all the rest of the drug war incarcerated.

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2. Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

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3. Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:
Mexican army anti-drug patrol
Wednesday, September 23

Nine people were killed in a nine hour span in Ciudad Juarez. The dead included a beheaded man, and bullet-riddled bodies of three men and a woman found in a car. Additionally, another gunshot victim was found by the side of a road, and two bodies -- one beheaded -- were found wrapped in a blanket. The ninth victim was found dead inside a car.

Four people were killed after a gun battle in La Crucita, Durango. The four dead, all men, were killed during a firefight between two groups of rival drug traffickers in a hillside community. Three bullet-riddled SUVs were left at the scene.

Thursday, September 24

At least three US citizens were killed when gunmen attacked a motel in Ciudad Juarez, along with a Mexican man, whom police believe was the intended target. The two women who were killed were sisters.

A high-ranking police official was ambushed in Sinaloa. The official, Jesús Adolfo Fierro Bojórquez, had called his wife to pick him up after his car broke down. She arrived to find him dead with a gunshot wound to the chest. Additionally, a police radio operatior was shot and killed in Ecatepec, near Mexico City, and 18 people were killed across Ciudad Juarez in a 24 hour period. Two men were killed in Tijuana, and three in Guerrero.

Friday, September 25

Five suspected Sinaloa cartel assassins were arrested by the Mexican army in Ciudad Juarez. The men are thought to be involved in at least 45 murders, including the two recent attacks on drug rehabilitation centers in which 28 people were lined up against a wall and executed.

Monday, September 28

In the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, two Canadian men were shot and killed in execution-style slayings. Gunmen attacked Gordon Douglas Kendall and Jeffrey Ronald Ivans outside an apartment building, chasing them to the pool area before finally killing them. Canadian law enforcement officials were apparently aware of the two men, and believed they were deeply involved in the British Columbia cocaine trade.

A former Juarez police officer was arrested over the weekend, and is suspected of taking part in at least 18 killings in the city. He was one of several arrests made by Mexican military and police forces in Juarez over the weekend. The ex-officer, Miguel Angel Delgado Carmona, 39, was captured with an accomplice following a vehicle chase after an aborted extortion attempt at a Juarez funeral home. He is also suspected of taking part in locating another 80 homicide victims, and was captured with two AK-47s.

Mexico's foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, said that the high death toll of the Mexican government's war on drug traffickers is a sign of its success. "This is a very ugly statistic," she said, "but a good percentage of those killed never have their bodies claimed, their families never go and get them... that is a very clear indicator that these people were involved in drug trafficking." She added that some 60,000 drug traffickers have been arrested since president Calderon took office, and 50,000 weapons have been seized.

Tuesday, September 29

In Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexican army elements took over police stations and surrounded a stadium where municipal vehicles are kept. They also interrogated local police officers about an incident that occurred on the 3rd of September, in which it is suspected that local police leaked information to drug traffickers who killed at two police officers and a fireman who were travelling unarmed.

Wednesday, September 30

Army troops seized $7.3 million in cash from a house in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state. The raid came after soldiers received a tip from local residents who said they had seen several armed men at the house. Four handguns and four vehicles were also seized in the raid on the home, which is thought to have been a Gulf Cartel safe house.

Three civilians were wounded when soldiers at a military checkpoint shot at the car in which they were travelling. The incident took place in Morelia, Michoacan. The three men in the car were apparently drunk, and security in the area was high because of a visit to the city by President Calderon. This is the latest in a series of shootings at road blocks set up by the military to stem the flow of drugs and arms moving along Mexico's roads.

Body count for the last two weeks: 275
Body count for the year: 5,411

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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

We've got two weeks worth of corrupt cops again: dope-peddling cops, dope-stealing cops, cops who rip off motorists, cops who rip off their departments, cops who take bribes, cops who squeal to dealers. Let's get to it:

In Weston, Missouri, a Weston police officer was arrested September 22 on two drug-related charges. Officer Kyle Zumbrunn, 26, was arrested by officers of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at the request of the Atchison Police Department. He went down after selling a suspected controlled substance to a KBI undercover officer. Zumbrunn now faces charges of sale of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school and using a telephonic device to facilitate a drug transaction.
Is something amiss in the evidence room?
In Watertown, Connecticut, a Waterbury police officer was arrested September 24 on a variety of drug charges. Officer Francis Brevetti, 29, was injured in a traffic accident the previous weekend, and when police towed his vehicle, they found drugs inside. He is now charged with possession of cocaine, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a school, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of marijuana with intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a school and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer assigned to a federal drug task force was arrested September 24 on charges he stole money and jewelry from houses targeted in drug raids and embezzled funds used to pay snitches. Officer Mark Lunsford, a six-year veteran, had been assigned to the Baltimore DEA, which conducts large-scale drug investigations. Now he's been assigned to a federal detention facility pending a bond hearing.

In Lyndhurst, Ohio, a former Lyndhurst police officer was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing drugs from the evidence room and replacing them with rock salt. Former officer Robert Colombo, 40, is charged with drug possession, tampering with evidence, and theft in office. Colombo responded to a May traffic accident, found heroin, arrested two people, and took the evidence to log it in to the evidence room. But instead, he replaced the heroin with rock salt. The heroin was found at his home the next day.

In West Columbia, Texas, a former West Columbia police detective pleaded guilty September 21 to five felony charges, including two counts of tampering with physical evidence and theft of a firearm by a public servant. Former officer Joseph McElroy, 33, admitted to stealing a gun and cocaine from the department evidence room, forging signatures on department checks, and falsely signing a collection book receipt saying he had returned money to someone when he hadn't. In exchange for pleading guilty, McElroy gets one year in jail and 10 years on probation.

In Miami, a former Miami-Dade County police officer pleaded guilty September 24 to stealing marijuana and cash from a driver during a traffic stop. Jesus Rodolfo Hernandez will do 30 days in jail for pulling over a confidential informant, arresting him for a traffic offense, and stealing marijuana and $575 in cash he found in the driver's back pocket. He pleaded guilty to grand theft, possession of marijuana and tampering with evidence. He will also spend two years on probation and must pay back the nearly $25,000 it cost to investigate and prosecute the case.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was convicted September 24 of tipping off a friend about an impending drug raid. Former Officer Rickie Durham, 44, was found guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of lying to investigators for tipping off a cocaine kingpin hours before a raid four years ago, while he was working as a member of an FBI drug-gang task force. Durham now faces 12 to 15 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on January 6.

In Glendora, California, a former Glendora police officer pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he stole drugs and money on the job. Former officer Timothy Radogna, 33, was charged in May with grand theft, possession of drugs for sale, and possession of drugs with a firearm. Radogna went down in an "integrity investigation" in December 2008, when he stole $1,000 and a small amount of methamphetamine from a car he was asked to book into evidence.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, the former Holland police chief was sentenced September 18 to two years in prison for ripping off the town in various ways, including stealing seized drug money. Former Chief Kevin Gleason pleaded guilty to larceny by scheme of more than $250 and two counts of larceny of more than $250. He admitted to selling town-owned guns and rifles and pocketing the money, receiving $655 in reimbursements for a conference he never attended, and stealing $2,190 in seized drug money from a locker to which he had the only key.

In Indianapolis, a former Indianapolis police officer was sentenced September 23 to 25 years in federal prison for using false search warrants or breaking into homes in order to steal drugs and cash. Former Officer Robert Long, 35, and two other now-convicted former officers were tracked by the FBI as they did their misdeeds. Long was found guilty in June of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 50 kilograms of marijuana, three counts of possession with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana and attempt to possess with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana. One of his comrades in crime took a plea deal and got the minimum 10 years in prison. A third renegade officer awaits sentencing.

In New York City, a former Customs and Border Protection supervisor was sentenced September 24 to 10 years in federal prison for turning a blind eye to drug trafficking through JFK Airport. Walter Golembiowski, 66, a former Supervisory Customs and Border Protection Officer at JFK, pleaded guilty in March to narcotics conspiracy and two counts of bribery conspiracy. He must also pay $10,000 in fines and more than $2.5 million in asset forfeiture.

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6. Marijuana: Boston Freedom Rally Draws 30,000 -- No Arrests, Some Tickets, in Wake of State Decrim Vote

The 20th annual Boston Freedom Rally brought an estimated 30,000 people to Boston Common on Saturday, September 19, to support the reform of marijuana laws. That would make the Freedom Rally the second largest marijuana reform event in the country, behind only the Seattle Hempfest.
2009 Boston Freedom Rally (Scott Gacek on
All afternoon, tens of thousands of people sat in the sun, listening to speakers extolling the virtues of cannabis and calling for its legalization and bands rocking out for the cause. At 4:20pm, a massive cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the Commons as the crowd celebrated the stoner holiday (or time of day).

Sponsored by MassCann, the Bay State affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Freedom Rally had in some past years been marred by arrests for pot-smoking. In a previous article, Drug War Chronicle predicted that the rally would see "numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator." That was an overstatement -- our apologies to MASSCANN for it. 2007 did see 53 arrests at the Freedom Rally, according to Boston Police -- one of them of NORML founder Keith Stroup. But even that number, while significant, was a fraction of a percent of the attendees. Last year, the number of possession busts was down to just six.

And this year there were none. Massachusetts residents voted to decriminalize marijuana possession last November, and so all the police could do this year was issue tickets with a maximum fine of $100, which they did to 136 people. Three others were arrested for marijuana distribution, and another three on unspecified charges.

Still, participants and organizers of the festival alike lauded the relative freedom of living in a decrim state, while decrying the presence of undercover officers who, apparently randomly, would select members of the crowd to be searched and hassled. On its web site, Freedom Rally organizers have asked that people who were ticketed or searched by police contact them.

Stay tuned for Chronicle coverage of the Massachusetts decriminalization law and of the movement in Massachusetts.

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7. Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Daily marijuana legalization protests in the Central Square in Keene, New Hampshire, led to one arrest Saturday for marijuana possession and one Sunday -- but the victim in that arrest was later found to be smoking chocolate mint in his glass pipe and released without charges. The demonstrations began last Tuesday with a couple of dozen people gathering at 4:20pm to toke up as an act of civil disobedience and call for marijuana law reform. After Saturday's arrest, the protests continued, with about 100 people showing up Monday.
(YouTube and
The protests are being led by Free Keene, a local affiliate of the libertarian New Hampshire Free State Project. The project's stated goal is to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in a bid to shift the politics of the low-population Granite State.

Arrested Saturday was Richard Paul, 40, one of the protest organizers. Paul was arrested after police patrolling the square saw him smoking a joint. Protestors shouted at police, yelling "Leave him alone!" and "This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!"

After the arrest, about 50 protestors followed Paul and police officers to the police station, where they shouted through the door and sat in a circle smoking marijuana. No more arrests were forthcoming, though.

To confuse police at the protests at the square, some smokers smoked things other than marijuana. That was the case Sunday, when police arrested a protester identified only as "Earl" for puffing on a glass pipe. Embarrassingly for police, that substance turned out to be not marijuana but chocolate mint, and Earl was quickly released.

Protests continued this week in Keene and have now spread to Manchester. In the latter town, protestors sparked up in the presence of police, but failed to provoke any arrests.

Perhaps the cops have better things to do. And that's precisely the point.

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8. Law Enforcement: PATRIOT Act "Sneak and Peek" Searches Targeted Drug Offenders, Not Terrorists

The Bush administration sold the PATRIOT Act's expansion of law enforcement powers, including "sneak and peek" searches in which the target of the search is not notified that his home has been searched, as necessary to defend the citizens of the US from terrorist attacks, but that's not how federal law enforcement has used its sweeping new powers.

According to a July report from the Administrative Office of the US Courts (thanks to Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post), of 763 sneak and peek search warrants issued last year, only three were issued in relation to alleged terrorist offenses, or less than one-half of 1% of all such black-bag clandestine searches. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were issued to investigate drug trafficking offenses.

The report also includes figures on existing warrants that were extended last year. When new and extended warrant figures are combined, the total number of warrants was 1,291, with 843, or 65%, for drug investigations. Only five of all new or extended sneak and peek warrants were for terrorism investigations. Of 21 criminal offense categories for which warrants were issued or extended, terrorism ranked 19th, exceeding only conspiracy and bribery.

As Grim noted, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a leading critic of the PATRIOT Act, challenged Assistant Attorney General David Kris about why powers supposedly needed to fight terrorism were instead being used for common criminal cases.

"This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence," said Kris. "It's for criminal cases. So I guess it's not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases."

"As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold retorted, "which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism. It didn't have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I'm concerned about these numbers: That's not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ's website in 2005 as being necessary -- quote -- to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists," he said.

"I think it's quite extraordinary to grant government agents the statutory authority to secretly breaks into Americans' homes in criminal cases, and I think some Americans might be concerned it's been used hundreds of times in just a single year in non-terrorism cases," the Wisconsin progressive continued. "That's why I'm proposing additional safeguards to make sure that this authority is available where necessary, but not in virtually every criminal case."

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9. Harm Reduction: Drug-Related Deaths Rose Dramatically in Recent Years, CDC Says

In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that drug-related deaths -- the vast majority of them overdoses -- increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006, and that drug-related deaths now outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 16 states. That's up from 12 states the previous year and double the eight states in 2003.

More people died from drug-related causes than traffic accidents in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The news comes even as harm reductionists and public health advocates seek to gain support on Capitol Hill for passage of H.R. 2855, the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). The bill would create a federal grant program to support both existing and new overdose prevention programs across the country.

"Patients and their families could receive written instructions on how to recognize and respond to an overdose. In addition, college campuses could utilize overdose prevention money to educate students on how to recognize and respond to an alcohol overdose," advocates for H.R. 2855 wrote in a letter to Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the committee's Health subcommittee, respectively.

Something like H.R. 2855 is desperately needed. According to CDC researchers, who examined death certificate data from around the country, some 45,000 died in traffic accidents in 2006, while 39,000 people suffered drug-related deaths. About 90% of the drug deaths were classified as overdoses, but researchers also included in that figure people who died of organ damage from long-term drug use.

Researchers reported a sharp increase in deaths tied to cocaine and to the opioid analgesics, a class of powerful drugs, used medically for pain treatment (as well as for non-prescription drug-taking via the black market), that includes fentanyl, methadone, morphine, and popular pain relievers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Cocaine-related deaths jumped from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2006, but methadone-related deaths increased seven-fold to about 5,000, and other opioid deaths more than doubled from less than 3,000 to more than 6,000. Interestingly, heroin-related deaths actually declined slightly, hovering just below 2,000 a year throughout the period in question.

And despite all the alarms about young people dying of drug overdoses, the 15-24 age group had the lowest drug-related death rate of any group except those over 65. Only about three per 100,000 young people died of drug-related causes in 2006, compared to six per 100,000 among the 25-34 age group, eight per 100,000 in the 35-44 age group, and 10 per 100,000 in the 45-54 age group.

CDC researchers did not discuss causes for the increase in overall drug-related deaths or the rate of drug-related deaths.

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10. Public Health: Feds Finally Issue Warning on Tainted Cocaine

Three weeks ago, Drug War Chronicle reported on cocaine cut with the veterinary agent levamisole and asked what the federal government was doing about it. Ten days later, the feds responded to the situation, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) issuing a public health alert on September 21.
The alert, sent out to medical professionals, substance abuse treatment centers, and other public health authorities, warned of the "life-threatening risk" that much of the US cocaine supply may be adulterated with the veterinary anti-parasitic drug. It has been linked to a serious, sometimes fatal, blood disorder called agranulocytosis, with SAMHSA saying there are at least 20 confirmed or suspected cases and two deaths in the US associated with the tainted cocaine.

Despite being first noticed by forensic scientists at least three years ago and by the DEA late last year, there has been little public awareness of the public health threat. SAMHSA expects the number of cases to rise as public and professional awareness spreads.

"SAMHSA and other public health authorities are working together to inform everyone of this serious potential public health risk and what measures are being taken to address it," said SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick, DDS, MPH.

The addition of levamisole to cocaine is believed to be done by Colombian drug traffickers. Ingesting the tainted drug can seriously reduce a person's white blood cells, suppressing immune function and the body's ability to fight off even minor infections. People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can experience overwhelming, rapidly-developing, life threatening infections, SAMHSA warned. Other serious side effects can also occur.

The DEA is reporting that levamisole is showed up in over 70% of cocaine analyzed in July, and authorities in Seattle are reporting that 80% of persons testing positive for cocaine are also testing positive for levamisole.

In its alert, SAMHSA warned that:


  • high fever, chills, or weakness
  • swollen glands
  • painful sores (mouth, anal)
  • any infection that won't go away or gets worse very fast, including sore throat or mouth sores; skin infections, abscesses; thrush (white coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat); pneumonia (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also getting in on the act. CDC will shortly publish a case report analysis in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and will be working with state public health authorities to collect information on the phenomenon. That information will be "used to guide treatment and prevention initiatives to address this public health concern."

One thing the feds are not doing is coming up with a test kit that would allow users to detect the presence of levamisole in cocaine. That's too bad, said Dr. Michael Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center. "I thought to myself, why isn't there a test kit? It is easy to test for," he said. "It would be like testing your hot tub for its chemistry. Take a sample, mix some chemicals together, add a reagant, and see what turns what color."

Clark is working on developing just such a test kit. "It could be used at street level, and it could be used by a lot of public health and harm reduction groups. You want to identify levasimole before people ingest, very much like the Ecstasy testing. You could do the same thing with cocaine and levasimole," he said.

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11. Law Enforcement: Drug Court Program Needs Serious Reforms, Defense Attorneys Say

Drug courts have spread all across the country since the first one was instituted in Miami 20 years ago by then local prosecutor Janet Reno, but now, the nation's largest group of criminal defense attorneys says they have become an obstacle to cost-effective drug treatment and a burden on the criminal justice system. In a report released Tuesday, America's Problem-Solving Courts: The Criminal Costs of Treatment and the Case for Reform, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) argued that drug addiction should be considered a public health problem, outside the criminal justice arena.
drug court
More than 2,100 drug courts are now in operation in the US, the group noted, but they have had no noticeable impact on drug use rates or arrests. Furthermore, the courts, which empower judges and prosecutors at the expense of defendants and their attorneys, too often limit treatment to "easy" offenders while forcing "hard cases" into the jails or prisons.

Minorities, immigrants, and poor people are often underrepresented in drug court programs, leaving them to rot behind bars at taxpayer expense. Drug courts also mean that access to drug treatment comes at the cost of a guilty plea, the group said.

"Today's drug courts have been operating for over 20 years yet have not stymied the rise in both drug abuse or exponentially increasing prison costs to taxpayers," said NACDL president Cynthia Orr. "It is time for both an extensive review of these courts and for the average American to ask themselves: Is our national drug policy working, and perhaps it is a public health concern rather than a criminal justice one?"

In the report, NACDL recommended the following reforms:

  • Treating substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one;
  • Opening admission criteria to all those who need, want and request treatment;
  • Enforcing greater transparency in admission practices and relying on expert assessments, not merely the judgment of prosecutors;
  • Prohibiting the requirement of guilty pleas as the price of admission;
  • Urging greater involvement of the defense bar to create programs that preserve the rights of the accused;
  • Considering the ethical obligations of defense lawyers to their client even if they choose court-directed treatment; and
  • Opening a serious national discussion on decriminalizing low-level drug use.
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12. Weekly: This Week in History

October 8, 1932: The Uniform State Narcotics Act is passed, endorsed by the federal Bureau of Narcotics as an alternative to federal laws. By 1937 every state prohibits marijuana use.

October 4, 1970: Legendary singer Janis Joplin is found dead at Hollywood's Landmark Hotel, a victim of what is concluded to be an accidental heroin overdose.

October 2, 1982: Ronald Reagan, in a radio address to the nation on federal drug policy, says, "We're making no excuses for drugs -- hard, soft, or otherwise. Drugs are bad, and we're going after them. As I've said before, we've taken down the surrender flag and run up the battle flag. And we're going to win the war on drugs."

October 7, 1989: Former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz tells an alumni gathering at Stanford Business School, "It seems to me we're not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost... We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs... No politician wants to say what I have just said, not for a minute."

October 2, 1992: Thirty-one people from various law enforcement agencies storm Donald Scott's 200-acre ranch in Malibu, California. Scott's wife screams when she sees the intruders. When sixty-one-year-old Scott, who believes thieves are breaking into his home, comes out of the bedroom with a gun, he is shot dead. A drug task force was looking for marijuana plants. Interestingly, Scott had refused earlier to negotiate a sale of his property to the government. DEA agents were there to seize the ranch. After extensive searches, no marijuana is found.

October 3, 1996: US Public Law 104-237, known as the "Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996," is signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It contains provisions attempting to stop the importation of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals into the United States, attempting to control the manufacture of methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories, to increase penalties for trafficking in methamphetamine and List I precursor chemicals, to allow the government to seek restitution for the clean-up of clandestine laboratory sites, and attempting to stop rogue companies from selling large amounts of precursor chemicals that are diverted to clandestine laboratories.

October 5, 1999: The war on drugs is "an absolute failure," says Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico at a conference on national drug policies at the Cato Institute. Johnson, who drew sharp criticism from anti-drug leaders for being the first sitting governor to advocate legalizing drugs, argues that the government should regulate narcotics but not punish those who abuse them: "Make drugs a controlled substance like alcohol. Legalize it, control it, regulate it, tax it. If you legalize it, we might actually have a healthier society." Johnson also meets with founding members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy; footage from the meeting appears on CBS evening news.

October 6, 2000: Former US President Bill Clinton is quoted in Rolling Stone: "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be."

October 7, 2003: Comedian Tommy Chong begins a nine-month federal prison sentence for operating a glass blowing shop that sold pipes to marijuana smokers.

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13. Announcement: The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 12-14 (DRCNet) is pleased to be a partner in the upcoming 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, this November 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Reform Conference, sponsored by our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance, is the major biennial gathering of drug policy reformers of all kinds. The last one, held in New Orleans in 2007, brought together over 1,000 attendees representing 25 different countries. This year attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days interacting with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions given by leading experts from around the world. Click here to register -- early bird rates are available through October 9, and discounts are available for students and New Mexico residents.

Some testimonials from the 2007 conference:

"The conference was a tremendous educational experience. I established tons of contacts and look forward to a future dedicated to fighting the drug war."

"Lots of great energy! This was my very first conference and I would most definitely recommend it to any health care professional desiring information on this subject. The speakers were very educated on their subjects and readily available to answer questions."

"This conference has been an incredible experience. The level of knowledge and experience from the presenters has been fantastic."

"I thought the conference was a wonderful collaboration of minds and knowledge on the multiple aspects of drug policy. I enjoyed having applicable speakers on both sides of the debate of policy and drug reform."

"This conference exceeded my expectations in every way possible. As a first year attendee I had no idea what I would learn."

"Once again, thank you for the most exciting and informative conference in the world."

Hope to see you there.

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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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