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Sentencing: Vermont Bill Lowering Thresholds for Trafficking Charges Advances

A bill that would decrease the amount of drugs like cocaine or heroin necessary for people to be charged as presumptive drug traffickers was unanimously approved by the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday. The vote came two weeks after the same committee voted to lower the criminal penalties for people possessing small amounts of marijuana.

The bill, S-250, would reduce the amount of cocaine necessary to support a trafficking charge from 300 grams to 150 grams and the amount of heroin from seven grams to 3.5 grams. The amounts of the drugs needed to support conspiracy charges would also be halved, from 800 to 400 grams of cocaine and from 20 to 10 grams of heroin. People charged as traffickers would face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), the chairman of the committee, said the bill is aimed at stopping the inflow of hard drugs into Vermont from larger, out-of-state cities in Massachusetts, New York and Canada. He cited violence around the drug trade and reports of drug dealers hooking young women on drugs and forcing them into prostitution.

"The violence we've seen, from the problems in Rutland to the recent slashing in Bennington, reinforces the need for the justice system to have more tools," Sears said. "We are sending a message that we won't have this happening in our communities," Said Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), the bill's sponsor. Anyone possessing the quantities of drugs listed in the bill is probably a dope dealer, he said. "With the amounts that are outlined here, we are still talking about a big business," he explained.

The bill has the strong support of Vermont's drug abuse bureaucracy and law enforcement, and will probably pass. No word yet on what the long-term costs of imprisoning violators for decades will be.

Death Penalty: Vietnam In Death Sentence Frenzy, 35 Condemned for Drugs in Past Two Weeks

A Vietnamese court sentenced eight people to death for smuggling heroin Wednesday, bringing to 35 the number of people sent to death row for drug trafficking offenses in the past two weeks. This week's death sentences came only days after 11 people were sentenced to death November 29 and four more sentenced to death November 30.

In the most recent case, 26 people were convicted of trafficking 50 kilograms of heroin over an eight-year period, and eight, including the ringleader, a 35-year-old woman, were given the ultimate sanction. Eight others received life sentences, and the rest were jailed for between 15 and 20 years.

In the November 29 case, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced 11 people to death for trafficking 440 kilos of heroin in Vietnam and China, while seven more got life in prison. Others got 20-year sentences. In the November 30 case, a court in the central province of Nghe An sentenced four more people to death and three others to life for trafficking an unspecified amount of heroin.

Southeast Asia and the Middle East are the regions where the death penalty is most frequently inflicted for drug trafficking offenses. Now, Vietnam appears to be making a bid to be the undisputed champion in killing drug offenders. (That, however, didn't stop Iran from hanging four this week too.)

Australia: In Desperate Pre-Election Move, Prime Minister Howard Says He Will Take Control of Drug Users' Welfare Payments

As his party appears headed for certain defeat in Saturday's national elections, Australian Prime Minister John Howard is once again playing the drug card. Howard announced late last week a plan to quarantine welfare payments to people convicted of drug crimes, but he isn't finding much support, even from the federal government's drug advisory body.
good riddance (we hope) to the John Howard administration
Under Howard's "zero tolerance" drug policy, people convicted of drug offenses involving heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines would have 100% of their payments quarantined in a bid to prevent public funds from being spent for drugs. Some 6,000 drug offenders could be affected. Their welfare payments would be managed by nonprofit groups for a minimum of a year to ensure the money is spent on rent, food, and clothing.

"We take the view that it's not right that people should have control of taxpayer money when they have been convicted of such offenses," Howard said. "We are the zero-tolerance coalition when it comes to drugs," he added.

The Australian Medical Association, however, did not think seizing welfare payments from drug offenders was a good idea. "I haven't seen the details of this initiative but certainly punitive measures for drug addicts are not really the answer," said Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, president of the association. "People who have drug addictions actually need help, support and assistance," she told the Australia News.

The federal drug agency, the Australian National Council on Drugs, also expressed skepticism. The group's executive director, Gino Vumbaca, said the proposed policy created a risk that drug users would resort to crime to pay for their habits, and that what is really needed is more funding for treatment and rehabilitation.

"What we have to be careful of here is often there are good intentions for policy, but you have to look at potential or unintended consequences," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "What we don't want to do is make a policy change where we end up placing children or families at more risk or the community at more risk from levels of crime," he said. "Australia needs to dramatically introduce its access to treatment so that people with substance abuse can seek assistance."

Greens leader Bob Brown was harshly critical of the proposal, saying it targeted drug users, not traffickers. "This seems to be [going to] cut them off, leave them isolated, leave them more desperate," he said.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who appears well-placed to be the new prime minister, was more equivocal. He said he had not ruled out such a policy, but he questioned Howard's timing on the move. "I'll have a look at it. I always think these things should be treated on their merit," he said. "But I go back to the core proposition: if you're serious about a plan for the nation's future, then if you've been in office for 11 years, what is it that causes Mr. Howard to conclude that these plans could be taken seriously, when they're suddenly put out there, with only a few days to go?"

Prime Minister Howard has been a staunch drug warrior throughout his tenure. Even a mealy-mouthed Laborite like Rudd will doubtless be a great improvement.

Make Heroin Free On Health Service

United Kingdom
Gloucestershire Echo (UK)

Heroin Seizes Turkmenistan, a Nation Ill Equipped to Cope

The New York Times

Europe: Scottish Police Chief Says Time to Consider Prescribing Hard Drugs

A leading Scottish police official has inserted himself into the ongoing debate over drug policy in Scotland by saying that law enforcement alone is not working and that drug courts and even the prescribing of Class A drugs to users should be considered. John Vine, Chief Constable of Tayside Police made the remarks in a Monday interview with BBC Scotland.
John Vine
"I don't think we are winning the war against drugs just by enforcement alone," Vine said. "We need to continue that effort and reassure communities that we are going to be there for them but we also need to talk to politicians and health authorities to see whether we can do something differently to reduce the demand for Class A drugs," he said.

"I would like to see, for example, drugs courts being set up in the area and would also like to see possibly some debate about whether prescribing Class A drugs might be something the health authorities might consider."

Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, magic mushrooms, and injectable amphetamines are all considered Class A (most serious) drugs under the United Kingdom's drug classification scheme. But it is likely Vine is talking about heroin, and possibly cocaine and amphetamines, the illicit drugs that are associated with the greatest social problems in Scotland.

Heroin seizures had tripled in Tayside in recent years, Vine said. While his police force can continue to produce good arrest figures, he added, it is time for a dialogue between law enforcement, health authorities, and politicians to come up with a long-term solution. That may not be a popular notion, he said, but he would be willing to experiment in Tayside.

"There are people who will have a view as to whether this would be socially acceptable or whether this would have any chance of working," Vine told BBC Scotland. "I would like this force and this police area to be a pilot area for any initiative which might be regarded as innovative or risky which could be evaluated by experts to see whether we can reduce demand for acquisitive crime."

Perhaps the Scottish new prime minister of Britain will lend Chief Vine an ear.

Southeast Asia: More Death Sentences for Drug Offenses

Southeast Asia continues its macabre response to drug trafficking and manufacturing, with nine people being sentenced to death in Indonesia this week for manufacturing ecstasy and three more sentenced to death in Vietnam for manufacturing and trafficking in methamphetamines. Another four people were sentenced to death for heroin trafficking in Vietnam the same day. The region, along with China, is responsible for most drug offense death sentences.
Chinese anti-drug poster
In Indonesia, the Indonesian Supreme Court Tuesday pronounced death sentences on a French man, a Dutch man, two Indonesians, and five Chinese men. The Europeans were the manufacturing experts, the Indonesians ran day-to-day manufacturing, and the Chinese funded the whole venture, which produced millions of ecstasy tablets.

"The Supreme Court considers the Frenchman and Dutchman experts," said Justice Djoko Sarwoko. "If we let them be, they would be able to produce in other place, or teach others their skills. This is a threat to the next generation." [Ed: The judge's statement is Orwellian -- even if one were to agree that the defendants should be prevented from manufacturing drugs in the future, that could be accomplished by methods other than execution.]

That same day, the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City pronounced death sentences on three men and a woman for buying methamphetamine powder in neighboring Cambodia, pressing it into pills of various colors and shapes, and selling them to customers in the city. One other man was sentenced to life in prison, while 17 other codefendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 18 years.

"They produced and sold 24,000 pills weighing up to 6 kilograms in the period between 2003 and March 2005, when the ring was busted," said presiding Judge Vu Phi Long said. "This is one of the largest non-heroin drug cases so far."

Meanwhile, in the People's Court of Son La province imposed the death sentence Tuesday on three men for trafficking in less than 35 pounds of heroin. A woman in the case was sentenced to life in prison.

Under Vietnamese sentencing guidelines, possession, distributing, manufacturing, or smuggling more than 600 grams (approximately 1.25 pounds) of heroin or 2500 grams (a little more than five pounds) of synthetic drugs is punishable by death. Vietnam has now sentenced 22 drug offenders to death this year.

Vietnam and the nine other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) have vowed to create a drug-free region by 2015.

Latin America: UN Drug Office Blames Central American Crime and Violence on Drugs, Not Prohibition

Central America's stability and development is being thwarted by crime and violence, much of it caused by the drug trade, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report released Wednesday. However, the report called for an intensification of the prohibitionist policies that helped create the problems in the first place.
global and tunnel vision at the same time
When a multi-billion dollar drug trafficking industry and the violence it generates is added to a witch's brew of social problems, including poverty, income disparity, gang violence, high homicide rates, easy access to firearms, weak political and social institutions, and widespread corruption, the weak Central American nations are under siege, the report warned.

"The warning signs are evident in this report -- gun-related crime, gang violence, kidnapping, the proliferation of private security companies," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa in a press release accompanying the report. "But these problems are in no way inherent to the region. They can be overcome."

Sandwiched between the coca and cocaine producing regions of South America and the insatiable market for cocaine in North America, Central America sees nearly 90% of cocaine headed north. While little of it falls off the truck -- Central American usage rates are low, according to UNODC -- violence and corruption associated with the black market drug trade take their toll.

"Where crime and corruption reign and drug money perverts the economy, the State no longer has a monopoly on the use of force and citizens no longer trust their leaders and public institutions," Mr. Costa said, underscoring that development is stunted where crime and corruption thrive. "As a result, the social contract is in tatters and people take the law into their own hands."

Countries in the region and beyond need to work together to strengthen their criminal justice systems, and break the links between drugs, crime, and underdevelopment, the UNODC advised. "Cooperation is vital," Costa said. "The problems are too big, too inter-linked and too dangerous to be left to individual states."

But rather than revising the global drug prohibition regime that generates the huge black market flows of cash, drugs, and guns at the root of many of Central America's problems, Costa and the UNODC simply call for more of the same. "We have a shared responsibility and common interest in helping the countries of Central America to withstand external pressures and to strengthen their internal resistance to the damaging effects of drugs and crime," Costa said. "Let us unlock the potential of this region."

If Costa and the UNODC suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to drug prohibition, at least they displayed a nuanced understanding of the youth gangs or "maras" that are so quickly demonized in the press. "Heavy-handed crackdowns on gangs alone will not resolve the underlying problem. Indeed, it may exacerbate them," Costa noted. "Gang culture is a symptom of a deeper social malaise that cannot be solved by putting all disaffected street kids behind bars. The future of Central America depends on seeing youth as an asset rather than a liability."

Our view on drugs and terror: A better way to deal with Afghanistan's poppy crop

USA Today

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "The Heroin Solution" by Arnold Trebach (2nd ed., 2006, Unlimited Publishing, 330 pp., $19.99 pb.)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

(Click here to order "The Heroin Solution or other books by Arnold Trebach through DRCNet's latest book offer.)

When "The Heroin Solution" was first published by Yale University Press a quarter-century ago, it got rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. It was a mindblower. For the vast majority of readers, Arnold Trebach opened a window into an astonishing world they had never before imagined, one where -- gasp! -- doctors, not policemen, dealt with heroin and heroin users.
Trebach, who from his base at American University began influencing a generation of disciples and who founded the Drug Policy Foundation (the progenitor of the Drug Policy Alliance) in 1986, is now known as the grand old man of the American drug reform movement, and the success of "The Heroin Solution," along with his 1987 "The Great Drug War," played a big role in cementing that reputation.

What Trebach did in the "Heroin Solution" was tell three interwoven stories: the story of heroin, the story of the American approach to heroin, and the story of the British approach to heroin. For many, that book was an awakening, a realization that there was an alternative to what by 1982 was already being reviled as an atrocious and failing policy of prohibition and repression. Where the American system denied that heroin had any medical utility whatsoever and jailed physicians, junkies, and hapless pain patients alike, the British system was kinder and gentler, with doctors given considerable latitude to prescribe heroin even -- and especially -- in cases where they knew they were only allowing their patients to maintain their addiction.

Now, "The Heroin Solution" is out in a second edition, the last volume of the "Trebach Trilogy," which also includes the reprinted "The Great Drug War" and last year's "Fatal Distraction." But this edition of "The Heroin Solution" is not a substantive reworking of the material; the only addition to the original volume is a new preface.

It still makes timely and compelling reading, but the reason why is hardly good news. "The Heroin Solution" is still relevant because we have progressed so little since it was written. The issues Trebach addressed in 1982 are, in many cases, the same issues we face today. Much has happened, but little has changed, and much of what has changed has changed for the worse.

In Britain, which Trebach described as a model of an enlightened (if not perfect) approach to heroin, the heavy hand of the state and governing medical bodies has slowly shrunk the space in which doctors may prescribe heroin. When Trebach wrote, probably a few thousand British addicts were being prescribed heroin; in his new preface, he estimates that perhaps 500 are. For all the talk of opiate maintenance in Britain, it seems like for the past quarter-century it seems like it's been one step forward, one step back.
Arnold Trebach at 2003 press conference on which DRCNet collaborated
Trebach decried the cruel and inhumane treatment of physicians and pain patients alike in "The Heroin Solution." If anything, the problem has gotten worse in the intervening quarter-century. One thing the book offers, though, is some perspective. The latest round of pain doctor persecutions smell remarkably similar to those of doctors Trebach mentioned operating back in the 1930s. It's a similarity Trebach notes himself in his preface to the new edition, where he cites the case of Dr. William Hurwitz, who just weeks ago was convicted again on federal drug charges for loose prescribing practices and faces possible decades in prison. (He's already been in for two years.)

Trebach asked in 1982 where America found itself nearly seven decades after passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act, and was not happy with the answer. It's much worse now. Back then, Trebach complained that the federal government spent $6 billion fighting the drug war in the 1970s; now $6 billion would fund the federal drug war for about three months. Since then, the prison population of the United States and the number of drug prisoners has gone through the roof. You know the drug war litany.

Trebach does, too, and that is part of the reason his thinking about drug prohibition has evolved over time. When he wrote "The Heroin Solution" in 1982, he called only for doctors to be allowed to prescribe heroin. Now, he is a full-blown anti-prohibitionist. Lack of progress on reforming US drug policy breeds more radical responses.

A revised and updated "The Heroin Solution" would be nice. There could be new chapters on the cutting-edge work on heroin maintenance going on in Switzerland and Germany, Spain and the Netherlands; the rise of safe injection sites; the trials in Vancouver; the spread of heroin addiction in Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian republics; and contemporary use patterns in the West, among others.

But 25 years after it was first published, "The Heroin Solution" is still relevant, still revelatory, and still a good read. Or, as Publishers Weekly said the first time around, "A blockbuster!"

(Click here to order "The Heroin Solution or other books by Arnold Trebach through DRCNet's latest book offer.)

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