Drug War Chronicle #621 - February 19, 2010

1. Feature: Federal Medical Marijuana Raids in Colorado -- Is the Denver DEA Going Rogue?

A series of DEA raids on medical marijuana growers and labs in Colorado in recent weeks is raising serious questions about whether the Denver DEA is following Justice Department policy... or whether the Obama administration's stance on medical marijuana is shifting back toward the bad old Bush days.

2. Feature: Chronicle of an Offensive Foretold -- The Occupation of Marja, Afghanistan

US, NATO and Afghan military forces are consolidating their hold on the Taliban stronghold of Marja in Helmand province. But now is when the real battle for hearts and minds begins.

3. Latin America: Mexico's Drug War Stirs Opposition in the Streets and from the Bishops

Mexican President Felipe Calderon caught serious flak this week from two different directions: Angry residents of Ciudad Juárez, tired of the killing and the soldiers, and the Mexican Catholic Church, which issued a report critical of human rights abuses in the military and crooked law enforcement.

4. Medical Marijuana: DEA Raids LA Dispensary, LA City Attorney Moves Against 21 More

Both city and federal officials cracked down on the thriving LA medical marijuana scene Thursday, employing raids and civil enforcement actions.

5. Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

Thirty people were killed Wednesday in Mexico's prohibition-related violence. That's not even close to the daily record.

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

It's prison guards gone wild this week, with 16 going down in one Florida sting alone and one in New York City busted with a half-pound of smack. A crooked Texas border town cop cops a plea, too.

7. Medical Marijuana: Iowa Pharmacy Board Recommends State Legalize It for Therapeutic Use

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy had to be dragged into reconsidering marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefit. But now it has done so, and is recommending it be rescheduled and that the legislature look into setting up a medical marijuana program. In so doing, it has become the first state pharmacy board to take such an action ahead of voters or lawmakers.

8. Decriminalization: New Hampshire Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for House Floor

In 2008, an effort to decriminalize marijuana was turned back in the New Hampshire legislature. Now, they're at it again, and a bill has already passed a key House committee and is headed for the floor.

9. Tainted Supply: Cocaine Laced With Levamisole Keeps Turning Up

Cocaine contaminated with a veterinary de-worming agent called levamisole made the news last fall when coke users started coming down with a nasty disease called agranulocytosis and a few of them died. While the clamor has quieted, the tainted dope hasn't gone away. In fact, there seems to be more of it than ever.

10. Weekly: This Week in History

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

11. Did You Know? Laws, Fees and Possession Limits in the 14 Medical Marijuana States, on ProCon.org

MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family, is an in-depth web site presenting information and views from a variety of perspectives on the medical marijuana issue. The Chronicle is running a series of info items from ProCon.org over the next several weeks, and we encourage you to check it out.

12. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Dallas Police Plan Widespread Warrantless Drug Searches," "Synthetic Marijuana: Let's Try Regulation Instead of Prohibition," "DEA Backs Down After Threatening Colorado Dispensaries," "Retirement Home Fires Staffer for Medical Marijuana Use," "Angry Man Says Potheads Should be Kicked in the Nuts."

13. 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: Federal Medical Marijuana Raids in Colorado -- Is the Denver DEA Going Rogue?

Colorado's burgeoning medical marijuana community is up in arms after a series of DEA raids in recent weeks. First, DEA agents hit medical marijuana laboratories in Denver and Colorado Springs that tested for THC levels and contaminants such as mold. Then, late last week, DEA agents raided and arrested Highland Park medical marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz after he appeared in local media talking about his grow operation.

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Colorado medical marijuana certificate (courtesy cannabisculture.com)
While no charges have been filed against the lab operators, Colorado US Attorney David Gaoutte announced Tuesday that he would prosecute Bartkowicz, who now faces up to 40 years in federal prison for his efforts. The pattern is similar to that seen previously in California, where DEA often raided dispensaries, but federal prosecutors only prosecuted some of those raided.

The DEA actions appear to fly in the face of Obama campaign promises to stop the raids. Those promises were, the medical marijuana community thought, kept when Attorney General Eric Holder issued a Department of Justice memorandum instructing federal officials to lay off medical marijuana in states where it is legal -- unless the provider is violating both state and federal law. That memo went out to all US Attorneys, as well as acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart, who has since been nominated to be the permanent administrator of the agency.

The October Justice Department memo said the feds should not go after people in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." The memo said nothing about "large grows" or testing labs not being included.

Denver DEA Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Jeffrey Sweetin at first sounded as if he had missed the memo. In an interview last Saturday with the Denver Post he threatened to go after the state's rapidly increasing number of medical marijuana dispensaries. "Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law," he said. "The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They're violating federal law; they're at risk of arrest and imprisonment."

In an interview with Denver's TV 9 News, Sweetin carried on in the same vein, saying that even though state law allows for medical marijuana, federal law does not. "We will continue to enforce the federal law. That's what we are paid to do," he said.

Sweetin said the Justice Department guidelines give him discretion. "Discretion is: I can't send my DEA agents out on 10-plant grows. I'm not interested in that, it's not what we do. We work criminal organizations that are enterprises generating funds by distributing illegal substances," Sweetin said.

By Tuesday, though, Sweetin was singing a slightly different tune in an interview with Westword. "We are not declaring war on dispensaries," he said -- though he added with a laugh, "If we were declaring war on dispensaries, they would not be hard to find. You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting thirty of them."

Sweetin also took a pot shot at Denver medical marijuana attorney Robert Corry, who filed a complaint with the Department of Justice inspector general's office alleging waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct against the department and the DEA. The complaint asks the inspector general to sanction Sweetin and the other agents involved.

People like Corry and others critical of the raids are doing people a disservice, Sweetin said. "I think the people who claim to represent marijuana growers in this state are trying to create this fear, and I think that's sad," he said without a trace of irony.

The question facing Colorado's medical marijuana community is whether Sweetin has gone off the reservation or whether the raids represent a shift in the Obama administration's approach to medical marijuana in the states where it is legal.

"It's hard to say whether it's a rogue law enforcement effort limited to Colorado or whether we have something to worry about in regards to not keeping the promise made by the Justice Department memo last October," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "It's worth noting that two days before the first lab raid that President Obama nominated Michele Leonhart to head DEA. She's already acting administrator, a holdover from the Bush administration, but it was alarming to activists and advocates to find out we were going to get more of the same. She was the deputy administrator under Karen Tandy when the DEA carried out more than 200 aggressive raids against the people of California," he said.

"It seems like a rogue office," said Brian Vicente, leader of the marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado. "Sweetin is saying marijuana is not a medicine as if he were a doctor, and the US Attorney is following his lead to prosecute the providers. This is very concerning. Sweetin has long been an absolute enemy of marijuana, and now, an enemy of Colorado voters, who voted for medical marijuana."

"Hopefully, this is just an instance of rogue law enforcement, and Obama and Holder will rein it in, but we're not waiting to find out," Hermes said. "We are right now preparing an alert to members to write to the administration expressing their frustration with the DEA's apparent failure to comply with Justice Department policy."

Vicente and dozens of other Sensible Colorado members and medical marijuana patients spent part of Thursday protesting the raids in front of the building where President Obama happened to be making an appearance. "There were probably 75 of us protesting and handing out literature aimed at alerting Obama to these rogue actions and calling on him to tell these agents to quit going after our patients and providers," he said. "We handed out flyers to everyone in the 1,000-person line waiting to get into the event, and we got considerable press coverage."

The Colorado medical marijuana movement is also gearing up against the looming threat, said Vicente. "We're working with a number of local and national groups to establish a firm emergency response plan like they did in California," he said. "We're somewhat fearful that Colorado may become a new DEA focus, and we want to be an organized presence."

As for grower Bartkowicz, who now faces federal drug dealing charges, his case should be dealt with in the state courts, not the federal courts, said Vicente. "We're not sure if he was or wasn't in compliance with state law, but we think the only place where that question could be fairly litigated is state court. The federal courts don't even recognize medical marijuana and are thus unequipped to determine if someone is in compliance with state law. We are asking them to drop the federal charges and let the state courts sort it out."

"I've seen no evidence of a violation of state law," said Hermes. "If there is no violation of state law, defense attorneys should be able to go to federal court and point to the memo and say the Justice Department should comply. The spirit of the policy is to stay out of enforcement when people are complying with state law. By that token, no federal charges should have been filed."

The war over medical marijuana is far from over. But now, it looks like the new battlefield could be Colorado.

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2. Feature: Chronicle of an Offensive Foretold -- The Occupation of Marja, Afghanistan

America's twin wars without end -- the war on drugs and the war on terror -- continue to play out in the heart of Southwest Asia as the Obama administration beefs up US troop levels, but tries new tactics in its battle against the opium poppy and the Taliban insurgency grown wealthy off the drug trade. Eradication is out -- at least for now -- and interdiction and going after Taliban-linked drug lords is in.

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opium field in Marja (from unodc.org)
The thousands of new troops are to provide the muscle to wrest and hold territory from the Taliban. The new drug strategy is designed to win over Afghan farmers long enough for economic development projects to take hold once the troops and their NATO and Afghan Army counterparts secure key areas.

One of those is Helmand province in the south, producer of more than half of all the opium poppies in Afghanistan. If Helmand were an independent country, it would be the world's largest opium producer. Most of Helmand's opium is produced in the Helmand River valley, whose largest town, Marja (pop. 80,000), is a commercial hub for the opium and heroin trade. It is also the main Taliban stronghold in the province.

The Taliban generates anywhere from $100 million to $450 million a year in revenues with which it can buy lots of shiny new weapons and pay lots of impoverished Afghans to pick up arms against the foreigners and their "puppet regime" in Kabul. (With the total Afghan opium and heroin economy valued at $3 billion to $4 billion a year, clearly, a lot of people other than the Taliban are profiting from the trade as well.)

Because of the weakness of the Afghan state and the relatively small NATO and US military presence in Helmand up until now, the area has been largely under Taliban control for the past several years. Occasional Western military sweeps have driven the Taliban from different locales, but only temporarily. Once the troops pass through and once local inhabitants realize the government and the West have not come through on their promises of assistance and development, let alone a permanent presence, the Taliban reassert control.

The much ballyhooed Marja offensive now underway is designed to be different. This time, commanders say, the military occupation will be followed in short order by a "government in a box," a quick rolling out of Afghan police and officials accompanied by the provision of services and development and economic assistance. Once the military succeeds in driving the Taliban from Marja, the rapid-fire creation of a government presence will ensure that the local population switches loyalties from the insurgents to the national government.

Some 15,000 US, NATO, and Afghan Army forces are now one week into assault on Marja, a According to all accounts, the operation is going as expected, with Western and allied Afghan forces slowly occupying the town block by block. They raised the Afghan flag over Marja's central market Wednesday.

While the fighting is going as planned and the immediate result -- driving the Taliban from Marja -- is not in doubt, it hasn't been a cakewalk. While the local Taliban leadership and an unknown number of fighters fled before the fighting began, hundreds of fighters stayed behind to harass the incoming troops. NATO commanders report encountering a town laced with booby traps and bombs (IEDs), and soldiers have come under attack from machine gun and sniper fire. At least nine Western troops have been killed in the fighting so far, with Thursday being the bloodiest yet, with four killed.

And despite US commander Gen. Stanley McCrystal's repeated commitment to avoiding civilian casualties in order to squelch Afghans' anger at the death of their fellow citizens at the hands of foreign invaders, civilian casualties have occurred. At least 15 civilians have been killed, including 12 -- five children, five women, and two men -- were killed early on in a NATO missile strike. Three more died after being shot by NATO forces during an engagement with the Taliban.

Not everyone is buying Western assurances that this time will be any different than before. In an interview with the London newspaper The Independent, Afghanistan's "most famous woman," parliament member Malalai Joya, voiced deep skepticism about the operations aims and its impact on Afghan civilians.

"It is ridiculous," said Joya. "On the one hand they call on Mullah Omar to join the puppet regime. On another hand they launch this attack in which defenseless and poor people will be the prime victims. Like before, they will be killed in the NATO bombings and used as human shields by the Taliban. Helmand's people have suffered for years and thousands of innocent people have been killed so far."

Joya proved prescient on that count, with the NATO missile strike and shootings mentioned above and with repeated press accounts of the Taliban in fact using civilians as human shields. Reports have come of insurgent fighters shooting at troops from the second floor of a building while their family members stand on the third floor in a bid to either prevent retaliation against the shooter or to score propaganda points in the event Western forces kill or injure civilians.

She also scoffed at Allied claims that the West won't abandon Afghan civilians after the military surge. "They have launched such offensives a number of times in the past, but each time after clearing the area, they leave it and the Taliban retake it. This is just a military maneuver and removal of Taliban is not the prime objective."

Analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week provided a decidedly mixed assessment of the offensive and what comes next. "That this is going well tactically is important progress," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on drugs and insurgencies at the Brookings Institution and author of the just published [and soon to be reviewed here] "Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs." "You have to remember that there have been a number of operations in Helmand where even tactically, we were losing because they were so under-resourced. Whether it will be a strategic success remains to be seen."

It isn't all up to the West, she noted. "What complicates things is that a lot of the outcomes aren't necessarily in the hands of NATO or the West, but will instead depend on the quality of the Afghan government," said Felbab-Brown. "This government-in-a-box plan has its drawbacks and flaws, but it is better than nothing. At least now there is some effort."

Watching the offensive unfold, Sanho Tree, international drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies, was reduced to quoting the ultimate realpolitiker, Henry Kissinger, on Vietnam. "As early as 1969, Kissinger wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs: 'We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed as psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose; the conventional army loses if it does not win,'" Tree recited.

"This was a well-publicized invasion," Tree pointed out. "The leadership disappeared, but they'll be back to fight when the odds are better."

The Taliban weren't the only ones to take advantage of the warnings of a coming attack, said Raheem Yaseer of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Afghan Studies. "The drug lords are very efficient," he said. "I'm sure they are all in safe havens now. NATO talked about the attack for so long that they've had time to take care of their commodities and themselves. The war on drugs part of this has not been very successful so far because of these warnings -- and these people are smart."

The offensive could cause some temporary disruptions of the drug trade in the area, Tree said, but was unlikely to make a major dent. "The lesson from the rest of the world is that these things don't really make much difference. Last year, it was a different 'opium capital,' next year, there will be another one."

The drug trade keeps shifting," agreed Yaseer. "When one place comes under attack, they go elsewhere. They buy the people, they buy the police; they will be the last to be affected."

"This won't have a great impact on the drug trade," said Felbab-Brown. "Marja doesn't determine what happens in Afghanistan -- that depends on interdiction and rural development, which is hard and takes a lot of time."

The ability of Western and Afghan government forces to conquer Marja was never in doubt. But the big question is whether they can build on the military success to turn the region into a bastion of support for the government, eliminate the insurgent threat once and for all, and continue to wage war on the opium poppy.

"Time will tell," said Tree. "Sequencing is key to a lot of this, and in terms of the drug stuff, sequencing is everything. That was the big argument with the advocates of eradication. They said eradicate first, then talk, but that was completely backwards. Now, with the hands-off policy for opium cultivation, you need to just let the prices fall, and people will switch to other crops, but that will only work until opium supplies shrink and prices go up again. So there is probably a one- or two-year window of opportunity to roll in infrastructure and install clean governance. You have to thread a lot of needles in a very short time, and the history of US involvement in Afghanistan doesn't suggest the odds are good."

"There will be a real temptation on the part of the West to define good government as suppressing poppies, but that could be just the opposite of how Afghans see it -- they will want to see economic development to replace their losses first," she said. "There will be a temptation for us to go for planting bans and suppression, but I don't think that's a model we should really be after. If a few months from now we decide it has stabilized and we try to prevent the harvest, people will be quite unhappy."

It's not a coincidence that the population is being somewhat receptive to the foreign troops, she said. "The troops are walking through poppy fields, not destroying them. The message is that the US is focusing on interdiction and development. If we eradicate later, that will result in great political destabilization.

"The Taliban have a lot of sympathizers there," said Yaseer. "The people are disillusioned with the government because for so long it couldn't do anything. And a lot of families have people on the payroll of the Quetta Shura [the now Pakistan-based Taliban led by Mullah Omar]. By some accounts, they were paying each household $700 a month. But now the pressure is on them to quit the Taliban."

Rapid economic and security development is key, said the Afghan scholar. "Destroying the poppy fields will help, but then you have to have an alternative ready," he said. "You can distribute food, help them grow wheat, provide fertilizer, things like that."

Taliban hard-liners will leave the area voluntarily to live to fight another day, Yaseer said, but unless an effective state presence is in place, they will come back. "The promises have to be kept and the aid has to move in immediately," he said. "They have to move in humanitarian assistance, reconstruction projects, sustenance for the people. And it has to be isolated from neighboring provinces where the Taliban will infiltrate back in from if those routes are not protected."

The military battle of Marja is winding toward its inevitable conclusion. Now, the battle for the hearts and minds of its residents is about to get underway. Meanwhile, the opium trade hiccups with minor disruptions, but lives on largely untouched, and the West remains mired in a land war in Asia fighting the twin ephemera of a war on an abstraction (terrorism) and a war on an inert substance (opium).

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3. Latin America: Mexico's Drug War Stirs Opposition in the Streets and from the Bishops

As the death toll tops 17,000 since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the so-called drug cartels in December 2006, and with no end to the killing in sight, demonstrators took to the streets of bloody Ciudad Juárez Sunday to denounce the killing and the government's approach. The next day, Calderon's drug policies came under attack from an entirely different direction: the Catholic Church in Mexico.

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Council of Bishops event releasing report
In Juárez, where more than 2,600 people were killed in prohibition-related violence last year and 15 teenagers were gunned down last week in an incident that shocked the nation, more than a thousand people took to the streets Sunday in a "March of Anger" against the drug violence, with some leaders saying the presence of 6,000 federal troops is only making things worse.

"The army's presence is anti-constitutional and violates citizens' rights. That's why we're asking them to withdraw," National Front Against Repression leader Javier Contreras told the crowd.

Human rights and civil society groups in Juárez and, more broadly, across Mexico, have charged that Mexican law enforcement and armed forces have harassed, tortured, kidnapped, "disappeared," and killed innocent people in overzealous prosecution of the drug war. That won't work, said Contreras.

"You can't fight violence with more violence and breaking the laws," he said.

The protest came just days after President Calderon visited Ciudad Juárez in a bid to placate angry and frightened citizens. He apologized to the families of the massacred teenagers for initially blaming their deaths on gang warfare, said he was sending in 400 more federal police, and vowed to seek community cooperation in setting a new strategy against crime and violence. Still, he was booed by crowds during that visit. He returned again this week, touting a new security plan.

If Calderon is having a hard time placating angry Juárez residents, he's not having much better luck with the Catholic Church. The day after the Juárez protest, the Mexican Church's Council of Bishops issued a report critical of Calderon's drug policies.

In the report, the bishops said that using thousands of army troops to police Mexican cities raises severe human rights concerns. The bishops also pointed at a corrupt judicial system. They said many suspects are paraded before the media in "perp walks" even before being charged with any crime and called on the government to speed up police reforms so the troops can return to their barracks.

The bishops conceded that Calderon's deployment of the military initially had broad public support, but warned it was eroding. "As time passed, the participation of the armed forces in the fight against organized crime has created uncertainty in the population," the report said. "The armed forces have the obligation to respect human rights."

The bishops also harshly criticized the criminal justice system, saying few criminals are brought to justice because of corruption and inefficiency, while at the same time, innocent people are too often jailed because of police tactics. They noted that many of those people arrested and paraded before the media end up being released or charged with much lesser crimes than those announced at the time of their arrest.

The "perp walks" should stop, the bishops said. Authorities must "respect the judicial principle that someone is innocent until proven otherwise, because now we see that detainees are exhibited before the media before they are brought before judicial authorities."

More than halfway through his six-year term, President Calderon faces the threat of seeing his presidency defined by the bloody drug wars his policies have not only failed to stop, but have exacerbated. He seems to have no response except more of the same.

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4. Medical Marijuana: DEA Raids LA Dispensary, LA City Attorney Moves Against 21 More

Thursday was a day of " target=_blank_>concentrated attack on the thriving Los Angeles-area medical marijuana scene, with the DEA hitting a Culver City dispensary and the LA City Attorney's Office serving eviction notices to 18 dispensaries within the city and filing nuisance abatement lawsuits against three more. One dispensary, the Organica Collective in Culver City, was the object of attention from both the feds and the city, while two Holistic Caregiver dispensaries were the objects of a joint multi-agency investigation including the DEA.

The enforcement actions were undertaken independently, said DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen. "It's a separate thing, but we were aware of each other's operations today," she said, declining to comment further except to say that search warrants were being served.

Early reports had numerous police and DEA vehicles outside the collective and three people in handcuffs outside the building. Local TV station CBS 13 reported Thursday afternoon that Organica owner Jeffrey Joseph had been arrested, apparently on state marijuana distribution charges.

According to a press release from the LA City Attorney's Office, Organica was also one of three dispensaries named in lawsuits filed by the city for violations of narcotics abatement and public nuisance ordinances. The other two were two Holistic Caregivers locations, which the city said were also the object of a joint investigation with the DEA.

All three dispensaries were also accused of violating the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Law, which requires the proper labeling of medicines. The LA City Attorney's Office won the first case applying that law to medical marijuana last month.

The alleged behavior of the dispensaries may not have been prudent, but it's not clear it was unlawful. According to prosecutors, "Organica passed out flyers for the dispensary near Culver City High School as classes were being dismissed. Officers have found students to be in possession of marijuana apparently purchased from Organica. Persons stopped in the vicinity of Organica also admitted supplying the shop with marijuana laced edibles and picking up large quantities of marijuana from Organica for delivery to other dispensaries."

All the prosecutors said about Holistic Caregivers is that "law enforcement officers conducted several undercover buys" there and that they recovered "large quantities" of marijuana at the home of dispensary owner Virgil Grant, who had been convicted in June on federal marijuana charges for his seven-dispensary operation.

In addition to the abatement lawsuits against Organica and Holistic Caregivers, the City Attorney's Office sent eviction letters to owners of 18 different dispensaries and owners of the properties engaged in the sale of marijuana by dispensary employees. These actions are not part of LA's new medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, which has not yet taken effect.

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5. 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 16,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 1,000 so far in 2010. 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:

Sunday, February 14

In Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of people participated in a protest against the government. The demonstration, organized by the National Front Against Repression, was protesting against both the drug-related violence in the city and the presence of the army, which is widely seen by locals as exacerbating the violence. (See related story here.)

Monday, February 15

In Guerrero, a a Mexican paratrooper assigned to the elite Presidential Guard in Mexico City was kidnapped and killed while on vacation. The body of the soldier -- Hermelindo Delgado Soto -- was found floating in the Balsas River. He had been kidnapped the previous Friday. It is unclear whether his death was related to his posting serving with the Presidential Guard.

Tuesday, February 16

In Sinaloa five decapitated heads were found next to a primary school in the town of Palmilla. Last week, three heads were found in the same location. Two of the bodies (to which the heads belonged) were found to have the letter Z carved into their back. This suggests that the killing had some relation to the Zetas organization, but it is unclear whether the men were killed by los Zetas or were members.

Wednesday, February 17

Five municipal police officials were among 30 people who were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico. Three of the police officials were murdered after being kidnapped by a group of heavily armed men in Sinaloa. The two other police officials were killed after gunmen attacked the home of a high-ranking police official where the two men stood guard. Another 25 people were killed in various parts of Mexico, seven of them in Ciudad Juárez. In another notable incident, three teenagers kidnapped in Sinaloa were found burned in a car.

In Chiapas 11 individuals were arrested in possession of weapons and drugs. The men were arrested after federal agents raided several locations across the state. They seized 351 grams of cocaine and 408 grams of marijuana, as well as several rifles and pistols, an SUV, $60,000 US dollars and 27,910 pesos (about $2,149). The rather small sums of money and drugs indicate that those captured were low-level operatives for drug-trafficking organizations.

President Calderon visited Ciudad Juárez for the second time in two weeks. He announced a change in strategy, although he said the army troops would remain. He also promised (without saying when) that specialists in solving kidnapping and extortion cases would be brought to the city, and encouraged citizens to pass information to authorities. Additionally, he announced that all cars in the city must have license plates (although technically this was already the law) and tinted windows would no longer be permitted. Several news agencies reported that there were some protests against his presence in the city.

Total Body Count for the Week: 111

Total Body Count for the Year: 1,264

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 17,469

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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

It's prison guards gone wild this week, with 16 going down in one Florida sting alone, and one in New York City busted with a half-pound of smack. A crooked Texas border town cop cops a plea, too. Let's get to it:

In Belle Glade, Florida, 16 Florida state prison guards were among 22 people arrested February 11 in a two-year FBI undercover sting targeting drug smuggling into two Florida prisons. Eleven of the guards worked at the Glades Correctional Institution in Belle Glade. They are charged with attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. The arrests went down after FBI undercover agents told guards they were members of a drug trafficking group and the guards agreed to use their positions to help transport multi-kilo cocaine loads from warehouses in Miami to West Palm Beach. The guards were allegedly paid a total of $145,000 in bribes and transported cocaine on at least nine occasions. Five other guards at Glades and one from South Bay Correctional Facility are charged with bribery for smuggling non-drug contraband into the prisons.

In New York City, a New York City prison guard was arrested Monday after he was stopped for running a red light and police found eight ounces of heroin in his car. Although eight ounces of heroin is by no means a personal use amount, Marco Villacris, 46, is charged only with possession of a controlled substance and two traffic infractions. Villacris has been a guard at Rikers Island since joining the city's Department of Corrections in August 2008. He will be fired, the department said.

In Laredo, Texas, a Laredo police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to escorting cars he believed were loaded with cocaine through the city. Pedro Martinez III pleaded guilty to one federal count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Martinez admitted meeting with an undercover FBI officer posing as a drug dealer and agreeing to escort two loads of cocaine through town, including one while he was in uniform and driving a marked police vehicle. He faces a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison and up to life. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

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7. Medical Marijuana: Iowa Pharmacy Board Recommends State Legalize It for Therapeutic Use

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that state lawmakers reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance and set up a task force to study how to create a medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana bills have previously failed to move in the state legislature, but the board's action could help spur forward momentum.

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Carl Olsen
Similarly to the federal Controlled Substances Act, Iowa law currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no proven medical use and a high potential for abuse. By recommending that marijuana be rescheduled to Schedule II -- a potential for abuse, but with accepted medical use -- the board acknowledged the herb's medical efficacy.

Given the board's initial reluctance to take up the issue, the unanimous vote comes as something as a pleasant surprise to advocates. In May 2008, Iowans for Medical Marijuana founder Carl Olsen petitioned the board to reschedule marijuana, arguing that the evidence did not support its classification as Schedule I.

The board rejected that request, and Olsen, three plaintiffs, and the ACLU of Iowa sued to force it to reconsider. (See the filings in the case here). Last year, a Polk County judge ordered the board to take another look at the matter. The board again declined to reclassify marijuana, but did agree to a series of four public hearings.

It was after those hearings, which were packed with medical marijuana supporters, and after a scientific review of the literature, that the board acted this week. In doing so, it becomes the first state pharmacy board in the nation to take such a step before voters or lawmakers have legalized medical marijuana.

The board's action also puts it squarely in line with popular sentiment in the Hawkeye State. According to an Iowa Poll released Tuesday, 64% of Iowans want medical marijuana to be legal. Now, if only the legislature will act on the recommendation of the board and the will of the voters.

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8. Decriminalization: New Hampshire Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for House Floor

The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted February 11 to approve House Bill 1653, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana. The measure passed on a 16-2 vote.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/new-hampshire-statehouse.jpg
New Hampshire Statehouse
The bill now heads for the House floor. It is scheduled for action on March 3.

Under current New Hampshire law, possession of up to a quarter-ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Under the bill, possession of that amount would be a non-criminal infraction punishable by a $200 fine.

Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston) told the Eagle Tribune the bill would probably pass the House. Continuing to spend law enforcement resources on pot smokers "seems foolish," he said. "It's no worse than tobacco and possibly not as bad."

The measure is supported by the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. Coalition executive director Matt Simon told the Eagle Tribune he was pleasantly surprised by the victory. Similar legislation died two years ago, but now committee members are more comfortable, he said.

"In two years, much has changed," Simon said. "The committee has become much more knowledgeable about decriminalization and heard from constituents."

If the bill passes the House, it still must get through the Senate, and even then, it faces a probable veto from Gov. John Lynch (D) who opposes decriminalization. Lynch vetoed a medical marijuana bill last year. The House voted to override that veto, but the effort fell two votes short in the Senate.

Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession. The most recent was neighboring Massachusetts, which did so last November via the initiative process.

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9. Tainted Supply: Cocaine Laced With Levamisole Keeps Turning Up

Back in September, we reported on the appearance of cocaine cut with levamisole, a veterinary de-worming agent, and its links to at least three deaths in the US and Canada from a disease caused by levamisole, agranulocytosis. At that time, the DEA reported that levamisole was turning up in about 30% of the cocaine it sampled.

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DEA levamisole findings
Now, the DEA says that figure is up to 70%. While the number of fatalities has remained unchanged since last fall, new cases of agranulocystosis continue to appear in North American drug users. Earlier this month, authorities in Winnipeg, Manitoba, reported that two cocaine users contracted the disease there and that additional cases had been reported in neighboring Alberta.

Levamisole suppresses immune function and the body's ability to fight off even minor infections, and people who ingest levamisole-tainted cocaine can be faced with quickly-developing, life-threatening infections. Agranulocytosis is a condition of suppressed immune systems. Its symptoms include chills or high fever, weakness, swollen glands, painful sores, sudden or lingering infections, skin infections, abscesses, thrush, and pneumonia.

Cocaine contaminated with levamisole, although not users with agranulocytosis, has also popped up in the last few days in Maine and Ohio. Samples of crack cocaine in Mansfield, Ohio, tested positive late last month. And public health officials reported Tuesday that 30% to 50% of Maine cocaine samples tested positive.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) put out an alert late in September warning of the tainted cocaine, but federal authorities have done little publicly since then.

Given the geographically widespread reports of cocaine contaminated with the veterinary drug, it is assumed that levamisole is being added as a cutting agent either in source countries or in transit countries, not by local dealers.

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10. Weekly: This Week in History

February 23, 1887: The 49th Congress of the United States enacts legislation that provides a misdemeanor fine of between $50 and $500 ($1,100-$11,000 in today's dollars) for any US or Chinese citizen found guilty of violating the ban on opium.

February 21, 1971: The United States joins with other countries in signing the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances, in Vienna, Austria.

February 20, 1997: CNN reports that a prestigious panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health said there is promising evidence that smoking marijuana may ease the suffering of some seriously ill patients.

February 25, 1997: President Bill Clinton proposes spending $175 million for a national television blitz targeting drug use by America's youth. Matching funds from the private sector would be sought. Clinton says, "If a child does watch television -- and what child doesn't -- he or she should not be able to escape these messages."

February 22, 2000: Due to drug-related violence, the US State Department issues a traveler's advisory warning for Tijuana, Mexico City, and Ciudad Juárez, which are labeled as "dangerous." Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo protests to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

February 24, 2000: Members of the Belgian Parliament make a proposal to modify their laws in order to partially decriminalize the possession of cannabis and its derivatives. Simple marijuana possession is effectively decriminalized three years later.

February 21, 2001: The New York Times reports that a recent study released at a World Health Organization meeting found that American teens are more likely to smoke marijuana and use other illicit drugs than their European counterparts. While they are more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, only 17 percent of European 10th graders reported marijuana use, compared to 41 percent of American 10th graders. The study is interesting considering the US implements a zero-tolerance approach while many European countries tend to employ harm-reduction strategies and are generally more tolerant.

February 19, 2004: Veterans and medical marijuana activists in San Francisco hold a protest/rally in front of San Francisco's Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic and ask doctors working for the Veteran's Administration to help provide better access to medical marijuana.

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11. Did You Know? Laws, Fees and Possession Limits in the 14 Medical Marijuana States, on ProCon.org

Are you familiar with the laws, fees, and possession limits established in the various jurisdictions around the country that have legal medical marijuana?

See 14 Medical Marijuana States, on the web site medicalmarijuana.procon.org, part of the ProCon family.

Follow Drug War Chronicle for more important facts from ProCon.org over the next several weeks, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. To read last week's ProCon "Did You Know" blurb, click here.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

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12. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet also provides daily content in the way of blogging in the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy -- huge numbers of people have been reading it recently -- as well as Latest News links (upper right-hand corner of most web pages), event listings (lower right-hand corner) and other info. Check out DRCNet every day to stay on top of the drug reform game! Check out the Speakeasy main page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy.

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

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "Dallas Police Plan Widespread Warrantless Drug Searches," "Synthetic Marijuana: Let's Try Regulation Instead of Prohibition," "DEA Backs Down After Threatening Colorado Dispensaries," "Retirement Home Fires Staffer for Medical Marijuana Use," "Angry Man Says Potheads Should be Kicked in the Nuts."

Phil Smith posts early copies of Drug War Chronicle articles.

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

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 please join us on the comment boards.

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13. 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 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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