The Speakeasy Blog

Doing "Katrina Time"

It has been a scandal festering for a year now. Thousands of people being held in the Orleans Parish Prison and other facilities when Hurricana Katrina hit a year ago today are still behind bars. They have never seen a judge or had a hearing. They just sit. While the rest of the local criminal justice apparatus is up and running, the courts remain a mess and most of the public defenders are gone. Last week USA Today ran a story about New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter, a fed-up jurist who was threatening to start setting those prisoners free starting Tuesday. No news yet on whether that occurred--I'll post back later today with a preliminary report. I have been speaking with people in New Orleans about this for a few weeks, including Samantha Hope, a Louisiana harm reductionist who has been in the trenches in New Orleans since well before Katrina. This Friday's Chronicle will quote her extensively, but I thought I'd post a little preview of what I've learned. One thing I've learned that getting out of jail in New Orleans is like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. "These folks coming out of OPP now are really in dire straits," Hope told me. "You've been held for over a year for smoking a joint, and when you get out, everything you know has vanished. The people are gone, the neighborhood is gone, it's all gone." I'm also going to follow-up with Human Rights Watch, which reported just after the hurricane that jail inmates appeared to have been literally abandoned as the waters rose, and hundreds were missing. The ACLU has done a similar report, and I'll be talking to them, too, as well as people involved in the public defender system. But right now New Orleans doesn't feel too responsive; the defenders are way overworked and understaffed, the sheriff's department won't return my calls, and so it goes. But stay tuned, there will be an update later today and a feature article on Friday.
Location: 
New Orleans, LA
United States

Gilberto Gil is Still Making Beautiful Music -- This Time About Drug Legalization

Music lovers have long appreciated Brazilian composer and musician Gilberto Gil's enormous talent and his contributions to bossa nova, tropicalismo, and other uniquely Brazilian music forms. Of course, Gil was never just a musician; he and Caetano Veloso, another giant of Brazilian music, were imprisoned by the military dictatorship in 1969 for "anti-government activities," and the pair went to exile in London and the US after they were released. Gil continued both his musical and political careers in the intervening decades, winning elective office in his home town of Salvador in 1990. When Lula Da Silva and the Workers' Party won power in 2003, Da Silva appointed Gil minister of culture. Now, Gil is speaking out on drug policy, and not for the first time. Last year, he told the newspaper Folha do Sao Paulo that he had been smoking pot for the last 50 years. But in an interview on Sunday with the newspaper O Globo, Gil went further, calling for the legalization of drugs. According to O Globo, Gil wants drug use and the drug trade treated as a public health matter, not a criminal one. "We have to treat cocaine addicts like we treat alcoholics," he said. While he seeks to reduce drug consumption, Gil said there are better ways than prohibition. "The cigarette smoking habit en Brazil is systematically falling not because it has been prohibited, but because it is discouraged, associating the smoking habit with bad health," he said. Gil's remarks came just days after President da Silva signed a new Brazilian drug law that will reduce penalties for consumers, but stiffen them for drug sellers and traffickers. Look for a feature article on the new law on Friday. In the meantime, we can all enjoy Gilberto Gil's beautiful music.
Location: 
Brazil

One BIG step back? (www.hortadacouve.com)

The first and only portuguese site about cannabis growing and anti-prohibicionist activism, had to "redraw" from the german server of OVERGROW, folowing a "menace pression" from the german police, whom acted by request of the portuguese "unknown" authorities. Our german fellows didn´t obbey the "request", as it is ilegal, but the responsables for the portuguese site thought best not to bring problems to whom helped them for so long, and for nothing. They also ashored us that everything is being done in order to restore the site, meanwhile it´s operating on a simple blog. Check it out: http://www.hortadacouve.com Keep the good work!
Location: 
United States

ONDCP Ads Condemned by GAO; Souder Responds by Setting World Record for Unintelligent Talking

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Our friends at SSDP report that the ONDCP has been slammed by the GAO again.

WASHINGTON, DC – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on Friday that the White House’s $1.2 billion anti-drug ad campaign is not only ineffective, but encourages some teens to try drugs. The GAO, Congress’s auditing arm, recommended that funding for the ads be cut despite President Bush’s request for another $120 million to produce more ads next year.

ONDCP’s incompetence has become quite a chore for the folks at the GAO who are responsible for ensuring fiscal responsibility in government.

But hysterical drug warring congressman Mark Souder was quick to defend the program. Maybe a little too quick.

From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:

Souder said it’s always difficult to show a direct consequence of advertising. “It’s very difficult to tell whether Britney Spears bopping around on some Coca-Cola ad actually sold a single bottle of Coca-Cola,” Souder said. But “the groups that promote marijuana wouldn’t be criticizing it so much if they didn’t think it was effective.”

Unbelievable! For starters, I’d bet Coca-Cola could tell you down to the bottle how many cokes get sold each time Britney bops on their behalf. Unlike ONDCP, the cola industry scrupulously monitors its own effectiveness. If Souder wants to make asinine comparisons between the cola war and the drug war, he should do so on his own time.

But then he goes and tries to confuse us about who issued the report. It was from the GAO! Not an advocacy group. Finally, he concludes that the ads must work because people are saying they don’t, which assumes that reformers (or does he mean GAO?) are only interested in maximizing illegal drug use. Quite a mouthful, even from a notorious blow-hard like Souder.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette accepts letters here.

And speaking of incompetence at ONDCP, Tom Angell just gave me this Senate Appropriations Committee report released last month (sorry, no link):

The Committee is extremely displeased with the performance of ONDCP staff regarding their communication with the Committee and their responsiveness to congressional inquiries. ONDCP's lethargy and the inadequate information provided severely impacts the ability of the Committee to conduct its oversight and make budgetary decisions in a timely manner. This kind of unresponsiveness on the part of ONDCP results in an unnecessary waste of time and energy; numerous follow up communications are required in almost every instance. The Committee is particularly concerned that ONDCP has attempted to prevent the Committee from meeting with the directors of ONDCP programs. Therefore the Committee has reduced the salaries and expenses budget to more closely reflect actual performance.

It’s a rogue agency! They answer to no one. But hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, apply for their internship program. Your job will be to make up excuses for why John Walters can’t come to the phone when Congress calls.

Location: 
United States

Fall is On the Way: It's Time for Football, the Changing of the Leaves, and...

helicopters over America. Yes, the time for the annual outdoor marijuana harvest draws near, and newspapers from Kentucky to California are full of stories about cops flying out to spy out the pot fields, rip up the crops, and bust the farmers. It is, of course, an exercise in futility. Massive outdoor eradication programs have been funded for the past two decades--can anyone point to a reduction in the availability of marijuana? Officials in California have been crowing lately about how they destroyed $40 million worth of marijuana in recent days. Well, that's $40 million that will not make it's way into the state's economy, will not have a multiplier effect on local businesses, will not increase local economic activity. Thanks, guys. These annual eradication campaigns are nothing more than a jobs program for cops who would otherwise have to earn an honest living and a price support program for the majority of farmers who don't get busted. Personally, I'd rather have cheaper pot and smaller law enforcement budgets.
Location: 
United States

Hemp: The Anti-Drug

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In discussing the bill to legalize industrial hemp cultivation in California, the New York Times hits the nail on the head. Responding to complaints from law-enforcement agencies and ONDCP officials that hemp fields would provide a hiding place for commercial marijuana plants, the Times throws it back at ‘em:

To some people intimate with the nuances of marijuana, however, the idea of hiding marijuana in a hemp field, where the plants would cross-pollinate, provokes amusement. "It would be the end of outdoors marijuana," said Jack [Herer], 67, a marijuana historian and author who runs a group called Help End Marijuana Prohibition, or HEMP. "If it gets mixed with that crop, it's a disaster."

Once again, the drug warriors have followed their own ignorance into a counter-intuitive position that contradicts their stated goals. Widespread hemp cultivation could leave huge portions of the state unsuitable for commercial outdoor marijuana growing, a result they’ve been quite unable to achieve by conventional means.

Further proof that the drug warriors in Washington, D.C. don’t have a clue.

Honestly, I’m surprised they don’t just start claiming it gets you high. It would be our word against theirs. But I guess if they said that, then it would be their fault when some hippie asphyxiates from trying to smoke his pants.

Update: Months later, they're still trying the same line.

Location: 
United States

Harvest Season Hijinks

Every year in August, we see a flurry of marijuana eradication stories in local papers, as police target outdoor plants ripening for the fall harvest. Nowhere is this phenomenon more visible than in California where the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) makes Federal dollars available to local police departments wishing to send their officers on a treasure hunt in the forest.

Local papers have become shameless cheerleaders for this annual ritual, seeking to amaze the public with sexy photos of heavily armed cops repelling into dangerous terrain from helicopters alongside boastful headlines touting seizures in the millions.

Of course, for all the fanfare, many people will notice that there’s no shortage of high-grade marijuana in California. So police use deception to keep the reporters and the public interested.

Here’s how they do it:

Deception #1: Claim a “record” number of seizures every year.

Setting records implies that progress is being made. Every article on outdoor eradication efforts includes a quote like this:

From the Daily Democrat in Woodland, CA:

"I expect this year to be another big year," said [Officer] Resendez. "If we continue on the same pace, we'll exceed the number of plants eradicated last year."

Police are basically competing with themselves here, so they can’t lose. If the numbers go down, they’ll say it’s because last year’s effort intimidated the growers.

Of course record seizures are meaningless if you don’t compare them to an estimate of the overall crop size. A 10% increase in eradication is a failure if the total crop has increased by 20%, but you never get that type of analysis.

There are other factors at play as well. From the Union Democrat in Tuolumne County, CA:

"The increase in plant count is because the gardens are bigger," said Tuolumne County Sheriff Lt. Dan Bressler. "The gardens are bigger because there was so much rain this past year. Streams are full and a lot of water runoff means they're better able to supply their gardens."

Out of a dozen articles on marijuana eradication in California I’ve skimmed this week, only this one mentioned increased rain. Every other article praised record seizures, allowing readers to infer that good police work was the sole factor. It’s a notable omission since rain, unlike police, will find every plant in the forest. If anything, we should be expecting an impressive crop come October.

Deception #2:Dramatically overestimate crop values.

Big numbers get headlines and police will say anything. Here’s a typical quote from KATU News in Oregon:

The plants were four to six feet tall, growing in scattered gardens on three acres of Bureau of Land Management property near Hyatt Lake. Plants of that size can produce about a pound of marijuana each - worth about five-thousand dollars on the street.

I emailed Chris Conrad, court-qualified cannabis expert, to see what he thinks about these numbers. Here’s what Conrad has to say:

After decades of proclaiming "a pound of bud per plant" as being the average harvest, the DEA and DoJ had the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) do an actual study at their experimental marijuana garden at the University of Mississippi. The result: A typical mature female cannabis plant growing outdoors puts out 4 ounces of bud, that is 25% of their claimed yield, and it can be calculated by taking the square foot of the canopy and multiplying it by 1/2 ounce per square foot of area covered by the plant's canopy. The result, published in Cannabis Yields, 1992, notes that "a survey" of police came to a pound per plant, and that is clarified that drug police "estimate" a pound of bud per plant, but it is clear that there is absolutely no data to back that up, it is a made up number used by police to exaggerate crop values.

According to Conrad, police tend to exaggerate crop values within a range of “anywhere from 4 to 1 to 400 to 1.” Of course, with newspapers reporting that you can make $5,000 per plant, it’s no wonder so many people are out in the woods planting the stuff.

Deception #3 Pretend that marijuana eradication is dangerous.

Articles about marijuana eradication always claim the work is hazardous, citing difficult terrain and armed criminals. Again from the Daily Democrat:

[Resendez] added that there are several hazards to law enforcement officials, including the rocky terrain and the suspects. "It's pretty dangerous," Resendez said. "You'll encounter a suspect and they'll be armed. Not so much to protect themselves from law enforcement but from criminals who are trying to steal their plants."

At least he admits that growers arm themselves to protect the crop from thieves and not police. Still, the perception that growers might attack officers has continually driven a militarized approach to eradication. In his book The Great Drug War, Professor Arnold S. Trebach describes how “sensational journalism” in the early 1980s fueled a widespread perception that marijuana growers were armed and dangerous. CAMP officers have been armed to the teeth ever since.

Deception #4: Blame the Mexicans.

Every article on outdoor marijuana growing in CA must have an obligatory reference to the Mexican gangs that are supposedly behind it all. We’ve come full-circle here, since racial animosity towards Mexicans was originally used as leverage in the first efforts to criminalize marijuana.

From the Crestline Courier-News in Lake Arrowhead, CA:

“Ninety-nine percent of the plants seized in the national forests,” [Special Agent] Stokes said, “were planted by members of the Mexican National Cartel which has a huge network throughout California and the west.”

99%!? It’s a convenient generalization, since most such articles note that the growers are rarely seen or apprehended. But I’ll bet if you’re a Mexican walking around a remote California forest in August, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to get questioned by the park police.

To the extent that Mexican gangs are getting involved in outdoor marijuana cultivation, it’s entirely due to prohibition. But it also reflects poorly on CAMP, which has dedicated 20 years to fighting marijuana in California’s forests, only to find that the business is still attracting new participants. If they exist, these gangs are the best evidence that CAMP has failed.

Regardless, I believe the role of Mexican crime syndicates has been dramatically overstated. Let’s face it, the upper half of California is crawling with white people that absolutely love planting pot in the woods. They’ve been there for decades.

For more on the history of CAMP, read Martin Targoff’s excellent book Can’t Find My Way Home. And if you’re ever accused of attempting to grow $50 million worth of marijuana, make sure your lawyer calls Chris Conrad to the stand.

Location: 
United States

Don't Blame Medical Marijuana for State Park/Wildlife Harm from Illegal Grow-Ops

Earlier this month Mexico's El Universal paper reported on the <?php print l('drug trade harming Mexican environmental efforts', 'speakeasy/prohibition/posts/2006/aug/02/drug_trade_hurting_mexic', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?>. An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle made the same lament about Bay Area marijuana growing in state parks. Henry Coe State Park supervising ranger Mike Ferry told the Chronicle:
"At these gardens, we've found dead animals and birds, ammonia sulfate, pesticides and herbicides, ponds and creeks lined with plastics, and garbage all over the place," he said. "The environmental damage is huge."
El Universal's article made the key point, that the Chronicle article and few articles in US media yet make:
If narcotics are decriminalized, then the black market might cave in, and along with it the smuggling relationships that undermine conservation efforts.
So it would. And that's what has to happen here too. There is nothing intrinsic to marijuana growing that it should have this kind of effect on our national parks -- if people were illegally growing broccoli or tomatoes in the parks for the mass commercial market they would undoubtedly create the same kind of pollution that is hurting the animals. The problem is prohibition. The solution is: legalization. Unfortunately, while Mr. Ferry certainly seems to care about the environment and to be working hard on its behalf, he also has some ideas about drug policy that don't seem well thought out:
One dilemma "that is really throwing us," Ferry said, is the wide-scale acceptance of medical marijuana and the perception that casual marijuana use hurts nothing. But if marijuana smokers saw the carcasses of deer, squirrels, songbirds, owls and other wildlife shot or poisoned at the illegal groves, as Ferry has, perhaps they would understand the price wildlife pays for their next toke.
Blaming it on medical marijuana?!?!?!?!? No. Never mind that federal surveys found no increase in marijuana use in states that passed medical marijuana initiatives. (Could someone send in a link for this? I am having trouble finding it. I think it was part of a Monitoring the Future study one year.) Tell the feds and their ideological allies in certain cities and counties to stop shutting down coops who are in a position to contract with responsible growers. Hmm, I didn't set out to pick two SF Chronicle stories two days in a row. Maybe that's good. Again, here is their letter to the editor information. And again, please send us copies of your letters through our <?php print l('contact form', 'contact', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?> -- select the "Copies of Letter You've Sent" option -- or post a copy in the comments here below.
Location: 
CA
United States

Oakland Officials Fooling Themselves If They Think Drug Crackdown Will Curb Violence for Long

The San Franciso Chronicle has reported that 30 suspected drug dealers were arrested in a crackdown on drug hot spots on Thursday. More arrests are planned as the sweep continues. Mayor Jerry Brown explained the reason for doing the sweeps:
"This violent subculture is very much connected to the sale of drugs in the same locations, year after year.''
Talking tough for the media, Brown continued:
"Oakland is not the place to do criminal business."
Captain Dave Kozicki added to the tough talk:
"Every drug dealer out there should be looking over their shoulder, wondering whether or not they, in fact, sold to an undercover officer."
Maybe some Oaklanders will be impressed, but I'm not. Frankly, I think comments like Brown's and Kozicki's are pretty silly. Clearly Oakland is a place to do drug dealing, or the drug dealers wouldn't be there. Do they seriously believe the drug trade isn't going to continue, in basically the same form, with at most an extremely brief (probably already over) and highly partial reduction? Or just moving to different locations? Obviously these are not the first drug arrests Oakland police have made during the "year after year" to which Brown referred. While I didn't look at all the details, a search of the SF Chronicle's archives going back to 1995 on the words "Oakland Drug Sweep" pulled up 130 listings -- I'm sure they weren't all really about drug sweeps, but a lot of them clearly were. Guys, the drugs are still there from after the last time you did this, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that... The way to make Oakland -- and all of our cities -- no longer places to do criminal business is to end prohibition. Sweeps and busts only move the trade from place to place or hand the business from one seller to another. Only drug legalization can actually make that kind of crime not pay. Let the Chronicle know what you think by sending them a letter to the editor. Send us a copy using our new <?php print l('contact form', 'contact', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?> -- select the "Copies of Letter You've Sent" option -- or post a copy in the comments here below.
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

We Told Them So...

Two weeks ago we <?php print l('reported in Drug War Chronicle', 'chronicle/448/south_dakota_medical_marijuana_lawsuit'); ?> that South Dakota medical marijuana patient Valerie Hanna had sued state attorney general Larry Long over a misleading (dishonest?) ballot summary of the state's upcoming initiative, charging the attorney general had violated state law. Yesterday Judge Max Gors opined in favor of Hanna -- and the rule of law -- according to the Associated Press:
"The whole impression leads one to believe that the attorney general wants voters to reject the initiative. The attorney general should confine his politicking to the stump and leave his bias out of the ballot statement that is supposed to be objective," Gors wrote.
The state is not appealing the decision because doing so would prevent them from meeting their ballot printing deadline of September 1. The AP story can be read for free on the web site of the Yankton Press & Dakotan, though you have to register first to get through. Score for our side! We told them so...
Location: 
Pierre, SD
United States

Poppy Scare in New Mexico!!

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There was a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican this morning titled "Seized Poppies Perplex Officials" in which police raiding a marijuana plantation discoverd a tub full of poppies in the middle of the pot field. Despite a lack of clarity about whether the poppies in question were actually opium poppies (papaver somniferum), the cops consulted by the newspaper were ready to declare that the end times are upon us. From the article: Capt. Gary Johnson, head of criminal investigations at the Santa Fe Police Department, said he'd never heard of poppies being grown in New Mexico and called the implications of such cultivation ``enormous.'' ``Now heroin has to be shipped in (to the U.S.),'' he said. ``If it is able to be grown here -- man, I can't even fathom the depth of death and destruction.'' A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official in New Mexico who is not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity, said not only is it rare to find poppies in New Mexico, it is rare to find them within the borders of the United States. Most heroin comes from Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia, the official said. ``Not only is it uncommon, but if it's true, it raises a serious concern ... that there could actively be a heroin conversion lab operating in the United States,'' the official said. ``That is over the top.'' Hyperventilating cops notwithstanding, this discovery probably does not represent the Afghanistanization of New Mexico. First, we're not even sure if they were opium poppies. Second, opium poppies are grown legally all over the US. My mother has some in her yard. So do lots of other old ladies. Third, the 90 poppy plants would have produced about an ounce and a half of opium or--if converted into heroin through a complicated chemical process--would produce about 4 grams of smack. Come to think of it, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the US produced its own opium supply. Then we wouldn't have to give our money to Colombian drug lords, Mexican mafiosos, or Mullah Omar. Just a thought.
Location: 
NM
United States

Grave Injustice from the Eighth Circuit

This week’s most depressing story is that of Emiliano Gonzolez, an immigrant who consented to a police search only to have his life savings confiscated. The Eighth Circuit upheld the seizure even though Gonzolez was never even charged with a crime:

From TheNewspaper.com:

On May 28, 2003, a Nebraska state trooper signaled Gonzolez to pull over his rented Ford Taurus on Interstate 80. The trooper intended to issue a speeding ticket, but noticed the Gonzolez's name was not on the rental contract. The trooper then proceeded to question Gonzolez -- who did not speak English well -- and search the car. The trooper found a cooler containing $124,700 in cash, which he confiscated. A trained drug sniffing dog barked at the rental car and the cash. For the police, this was all the evidence needed to establish a drug crime that allows the force to keep the seized money.

Gonzolez’s behavior sounds suspicious until you give him a chance to explain it:

Associates of Gonzolez testified in court that they had pooled their life savings to purchase a refrigerated truck to start a produce business. Gonzolez flew on a one-way ticket to Chicago to buy a truck, but it had sold by the time he had arrived. Without a credit card of his own, he had a third-party rent one for him. Gonzolez hid the money in a cooler to keep it from being noticed and stolen. He was scared when the troopers began questioning him about it. There was no evidence disputing Gonzolez's story.

Only by reading the ruling itself can you fully appreciate the amount of evidence the court ignored before upholding the seizure. The court even admits that the testimony of Gonzolez and his witnesses is “plausible and consistent”, but nonetheless concludes that:

"...while an innocent traveler might theoretically carry more than $100,000 in cash across country and seek to conceal funds from would-be thieves on the highway, we have adopted the common-sense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and drug trafficking."

The problem here is that forfeiture laws target the money directly, without addressing the guilt or innocence of the suspect. This case, for example, is bizarrely titled United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency. Forfeiture cases require a mere "preponderance of the evidence", which means that the court only has to be 51% sure you did something wrong in order to take everything you own.

Yet even this government-friendly standard appears unmet here. Gonzolez’s evasive answers during the traffic stop are easily attributable to his difficulty with English and his obviously valid concern that police might confiscate his money if they knew about it. The fact that a drug dog alerted on the money is insignificant since 80% of U.S. currency contains drug traces. He had a one-way ticket because he intended to drive home in a truck, and he had someone else rent the car because he couldn’t rent without a credit card.

A policy that ignores reason condemns itself to the inevitability of injustice against the innocent. Even if the Eighth Circuit truly disbelieves Gonzolez, these judges must surely recognize the ease with which law-abiding citizens could be rendered helpless under this doctrine.

The truth won’t always help in court, but Flex Your Rights helps prepare you for traffic stops. If Gonzolez had known to refuse the police search and keep quiet instead of lying, he might have avoided this mess entirely.

Good additional coverage at The Agitator and Crime & Federalism.

Location: 
United States

New Trial for Martyred Pain Doctor William Hurwitz

Dr. William Hurwitz, whose case we’ve reported on extensively, has been granted a new trial.

From the Washington Post:

A federal appeals court threw out the conviction of William E. Hurwitz yesterday, granting the prominent former Northern Virginia pain-management doctor a new trial because jurors were not allowed to consider whether he prescribed drugs in good faith. The decision again galvanized the national debate that the Hurwitz case had come to symbolize: whether fully licensed doctors prescribing legal medication to patients in chronic pain should be subject to prosecution if their patients abuse or sell the drugs. Patient advocate groups strongly supported Hurwitz and expressed concern that his conviction would have a chilling effect on pain doctors.

This is fantastic news. It’s been over a year and half since Hurwitz’s conviction, during which time we’ve seen a dramatic increase in media attention to the misguided war on pain management doctors and their patients. The controversy surrounding Richard Paey’s case in Florida has brought this issue into the mainstream, ensuring that a second Hurwitz trial will be a tougher sell for prosecutors.

Dr. Hurwitz was manipulated by deceptive patients, then convicted by deceptive prosecutors who lied to the jury and mischaracterized his career-long commitment to effective pain-management. Let’s hope he finally gets the justice he deserves.

Location: 
United States

Drug War Grandstanding: A Bridge to Nowhere

Another prohibitionist politician has been ousted by voters:

From CBS NEWS:

Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, stung by accusations of arrogance and stubbornness, lost his bid for a second term Tuesday after polling last in a three-way GOP primary.

Arrogant and Stubborn indeed, Murkowski has repeatedly disregarded Alaskan Supreme Court precedent, and public opinion, in his effort to re-criminalize private marijuana possession in his state.

We’ve reported on Murkowski several times, and we look forward to never mentioning his name again.

Location: 
United States

Intern at ONDCP

The Office of National Drug Control Policy looking for interns for the spring semester.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Student Internship Program is structured to challenge and reward a select number of students from across the country. The goal of the program is to allow students to gain an outstanding educational and work experience within various components of ONDCP. The program is intended to provide the students with knowledge, tools, skills, and real life work experiences that they can readily apply to future challenges and professional pursuits.

Anyone interested in drug policy ought to find this pretty exciting. But they’re a bit picky about the applicants:

All students tentatively selected are required to submit to urinalysis to screen for illegal drug use prior to appointment. A security background name check will be conducted and favorable results must be received to establish a report for duty date.

You might also want to avoid mentioning any expertise you may have regarding drug policy, or for that matter science, medicine, economics, or criminal justice policy. They’re looking for smart people, but you don’t want to overwhelm them.

Keep in mind that ONDCP is not a very prestigious organization. You don’t have to knock their socks off. As Tom Angell notes at Dare Generation Diary, their staffers sometimes have trouble spelling one syllable words. As an ONDCP intern, you can help these staffers draft public correspondences that the American tax-payer can be proud of.

Unfortunately these are unpaid positions, but I will buy you dinner every Friday for the duration of your internship with ONDCP.

Afterthought: If you’d rather intern with us, email [email protected].

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United States

Myanmar Drug Trade May Be Fueling Sri Lankan Civil War and Terrorism

A conflict that doesn't make the US radar screen as often as it merits is the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers are a nasty group that among other abuses uses children as soldiers. I don't know enough about Sri Lanka's government to venture an opinion on its own human rights record, though a quick web search did not turn up anything quite so obvious or outrageous. I'm not too familiar with the causes of the conflict or issues that are driving it. Regardless of that, the Tigers are bad. Naturally, press living closer to the conflict cover it much more prominently. An article the Asia Times today reported in detail on the buildup of arms on both sides and predicted intense resumed fighting. The drug trade came up:
The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly charged that the Tigers' ships transported illegal drugs from Myanmar, though no concrete evidence of this has been presented. However, the Tigers do seem to have close links to organized criminal groups in Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, as well as foreign terrorist groups. Whatever their source, the Tamil Tigers appear to have ample funds to acquire weapons from anywhere and everywhere. Modern assault rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and even man-pack SA-7 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, China and Europe.
Without concrete evidence, one should never fully trust any government's accusations of drug trafficking made against its opponents -- not only because the government has an incentive to make its opponents look as awful as possible, but because there are drug-fighters within the government who want the money and crave the attention, and because it is a tactic governments use to try and get the international community and the US in particular more involved with their fights. That said, it could certainly be true -- John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think-tank concerned with organized violence and political instability, discussed the issue of terrorist groups using the drug trade to finance their activities in an interview with us in October 2001 -- it is a substantial factor for many such organizations, also one that tends to keep them around as mere criminal organizations once the political issues have faded. This is a reason for legalization -- it is only because of drug prohibition that the illicit trade is of such a size that it can help terrorist groups so much -- that it can literally cause civil wars to escalate, a phenomenon that is by no means limited to Sri Lanka (e.g. Colombia). Go and click on the letter to the editor link to speak out.
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Sri Lanka

My South Dakota Medical Marijuana Lawsuit Research

Our article about the South Dakota medical marijuana initiative and the likely lawsuit against state Attorney General Larry Long over what initiative supporters contend is his biased and possibly illegal description of the initiative that will appear on the ballot, got bumped this week, but we expect it to happen next week. I held off for a couple of reasons: First, the lawsuit has yet to actually be filed. Second, I couldn't manage to make contact with South Dakotans for Safe Access sole spokeswoman Valerie Hannah until Friday morning. Hannah, a Gulf War veteran who suffers from nerve gas exposure, will fill me in on what's going on Monday. We published the first story about the pending lawsuit last issue, beating the Associated Press, which came out with its own story Tuesday. While the AP explained that initiative supporters faulted the AG for his ballot language about doctors possibly losing their DEA prescribing licenses, it failed to mention the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Conant v. Ashcroft, where the court ruled quite clearly that physicians have a First Amendment right to recommend medical marijuana without administrative penalty. Conant is a precedent, but it is not controlling in other circuits since the US Supreme Court refused the Justice Department's appeal of the decision. That is the only possibly out for Long--his ballot language says "doctors may" face problems with the DEA. Yes, and monkeys may fly out my butt.
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United States

Don't Go to Indiana

From the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Indiana:
The Vigo County prosecutor’s office, the Terre Haute Police Department and Vigo County Sheriff’s Department will be conducting intermittent driver’s license checks at an undisclosed location in Vigo County.

When I hear that Indiana police are conducting “driver’s license checks”, my constitutional spidey-sense goes off. Afterall, these are the folks who brought us the drug checkpoint. And when that got overruled by the Supreme Court, they came out with the similar, but more sinister “fake drug checkpoint.”

And just when I’m getting ready to connect the dots, the Tribune-Star does it for me:

The checkpoint is also known as a highway interdiction operation, something that has been challenged in courts on the grounds that it may violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure.

So at least we can agree that this is about drug interdiction rather than driver’s licenses. But the Tribune-Star is a bit off on the caselaw. The above quote should read:

The checkpoint is also known as a highway interdiction operation, something that has been overruled by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it does violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure.

Though technically a win for the 4th Amendment, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond has a loophole in that it only prohibits checkpoints implemented for the “primary purpose” of drug interdiction. That’s why police can set up checkpoints on the pretext of checking driver’s licenses, and then proceed to march drug-sniffing dogs around your car in circles as you fumble for your documents.

Thanks to the Court’s recent decision in Illinois v. Caballes, dog-sniffs are impossible to challenge on 4th Amendment grounds if administered during the course of an otherwise legitimate law-enforcement activity, so these thinly-veiled drug checkpoints will be hard to challenge.

For that matter, I’m not sure we should even push this issue given our current Court’s attitude towards the 4th Amendment.

Instead, let’s just stay the hell out of Indiana.

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United States

Trouble in Paradises

Posted in:
The last week of June saw grizzly news from the popular Mexican resort town of Acapulco, according to Reuters, severed heads found in garbage bags near the US border and in front of government offices, and the police chief gunned down, all believed to be related to the drug trade. Violence including ambushes and executions of police officers has become routine in Tijuana as well, the article reported. This week turf war violence has marred the part towns of Ibiza and Cancun. In Ibiza, various British News outlets are reporting, a British drug gang has long dominated the trade, but is now being challenged. On Monday, as a result, a "street in downtown San Antonio became the setting for a shoot-out between Liverpool and Newcastle gangs." In Cancun, Mexico, a federal official named Sam Rodriguez was assassinated, presumably because of his efforts to expose the activities of the region's drug cartels. Drug prohibition makes the world more dangerous for everybody, even partiers. Legalization would put these gangs out of business -- at a minimum it would put them out of the drug business, which would decimate their profits and turn them into much smaller organizations with less at stake to fight over.
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United States

No Honor for Last Holdout State Against Needle Exchange

A few weeks we reported in Drug War Chronicle that New Jersey had become the only state in the nation not allowing needle exchange programs in some form or at least syringe purchase without a prescription -- the second to last state, Delaware, passed a needle exchange law last month. The Times of New Jersey opined on the matter this morning in an opinion piece titled, "The Last One Standing." The Times writes:
After 13 years of debate without action, New Jersey is now the only state without a needle-exchange program -- a title the state should be embarrassed to hold, especially since its accompanying titles include fifth highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS cases in the nation and double the national percentage of cases caused by injection.
Having observed the issue in New Jersey for most of those years -- I well remember the days when Diana McCague and New Brunswick's The Chai Project mounted their open challenge to New Jersey's needle exchange prohibition -- and being originally from New Jersey myself, I am glad to see a major paper speak up again. According to the editorial there are "only a few loud legislators who are fundamentally opposed" to two state senate bills that would legalize needle exchange and permit prescriptionless syringe sales. In my view, those "loud legislators" have committed a monstrous crime against humanity -- really -- and so did the attorney general who squelched the newer programs opened by city emergency order through the courts. Former governor Whitman was maybe the worst villain in this. Large numbers of New Jerseyans are contracting AIDS and Hepatitis C through needle sharing, are dying from those diseases and spreading them to others. The scientific evidence supporting needle exchange programs is absolutely overwhelming. Talk about moral confusion! There should be new Chai Projects, in all the cities around the state, law or now law. Then let the legislators catch up and the opponents fall behind into history's dustbin where they belong.
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NJ
United States

It's Aghanistan and England in the featured stories tomorrow

I wanted to do South Dakota and the lawsuit over the the medical marijuana initiative ballot language, but the lawsuit hasn't happened, and the appointed spokeswoman for the initiative hasn't returned my calls. I contacted the Senlis Council for some comment about increasing support for their opium licensing initiative. No response. Nada. I find these guys increasingly insufferable.
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United States

New "Meth Gun" Not as Cool as it Sounds

Courtesy of Pete Guither at DrugWarRant comes this terrifying story.

From CNET News:

A new "meth gun," in development by Maryland-based CDEX, enables police to use ultraviolet light to detect trace amounts of chemicals left by methamphetamines and other illegal drugs.

Civil libertarians have been concerned for some time that drug war profiteers would begin marketing something like this. Of course, the obvious problem with this type of technology is that it will inevitably be wrong sometimes.

More likely, it will be right way too often. Drug molecules are ubiquitous. Take for example the rumor that 80% of U.S. currency contains cocaine residue. It’s actually true.

So if your lifestyle involves touching money periodically, the "meth gun" might catch you red-handed.

Here's a hilarious example of the uselessness of this technology:

From BBC News last year:
A Welsh assembly member who called for his colleagues to volunteer to try out a new drug detection machine has tested "positive" for cannabis himself. Swabs taken from Conservative AM William Graham's hands at the Welsh assembly building revealed traces of the drug, probably from a door handle.

I think that pretty much says it all. It should be obvious to anyone who isn’t drunk on drug war hysteria that this technology can’t reasonably be used as a means of establishing probable cause to search people.

But alas, it would be foolish to expect that logic will prevail over insanity among those who build and operate creepy drug war machines that spot meth with ultraviolet lasers. Inevitably, police agencies will stock up on "meth guns," and it will be up to the courts to decide whether the device passes constitutional muster.

It might destroy the 4th Amendment forever, but there’s no question the "meth gun" would make a totally sweet membership gift.

Afterthought: remember the "meth rocket"?

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United States

Drug Trade Hurting Mexican Environmental Efforts -- Prohibition to Blame

A piece in Mexico's El Universal called illegal drugs the "root of evil for conservationists." From deforestation in Chihuahua's Copper Canyon by marijuana and opium growers to make way for their crops, to cocaine dumping near the fragile reef nurseries in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico by traffickers, writer Talli Nauman laments:
The black market in narcotics wreaks havoc with the ecosystem. This happens wherever illegal substances are produced, where they are processed, along their shipping routes, in the drug-money laundering process, and in the operations to squelch the underground economy. Not to mention the establishment of furtive channels for species trafficking along the way.
Drug traffickers are even diversifying into the illegal wildlife trade in protected species, and using legally traded animals to hide opium and cocaine, sometimes resulting in the animal's death. You think I'm about to complain that the article made no mention of the idea that legalization could end these problems or at least seriously mitigate them by subjecting the trade to regulation. The growers cut down forests because they've been chased away from other places by the authorities. Shippers dump cocaine, presumably, because they are about to get caught and imprisoned if they don't. Drug traffickers have the money to invest in other businesses like wildlife trafficking because they made so much money selling drugs. These are all consequences of prohibition and the war on drugs in its current form. I'm not going to complain, though, because Nauman actually raised the issue, albeit briefly near the end:
If narcotics are decriminalized, then the black market might cave in, and along with it the smuggling relationships that undermine conservation efforts.
She then goes on to make some suggestions about things to do in the meanwhile. But she mentioned the idea. Perhaps it's because she is Mexican and Latin America has far more people who are rational about the drug issue and willing to speak publicly about legalization. See our Out from the Shadows conference archive for reporting, interviews and video from some of them. How especially embarassing, then, the reaction in the US to Mexico's attempt to do so low-level decriminalization of drug use earlier this year, that President Fox was going to sign until the US pressured him not to. US cable mouthpieces like Lou Dobbs ridiculed the move as outrageous and actually seemed to believe what they were saying -- how very, very embarassing.
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Mexico

The Ever-Changing Coming In the Chronicle This Week

So it goes. No word yet on either the South Dakota medical marijuana lawsuit or whether the Portland initiative made the ballot (although I'm hearing disquieting rumblings on the latter), which were going to be some of my features this week. So I'm now shifting gears and attempting to pull enough material together for two more probable features: The NATO takeover in southern Afghanistan (European politicians are beginning to murmur about the Senlis proposal as NATO troops start getting killed in larger numbers) and the call for a rational drug classification system in Britain. Corrupt cops is written, but waiting for last minute additions. I've also finished a short piece about providing heroin users with prescription Narcan to prevent ODs. The drug czar's office doesn't like it; it might make people think heroin is safe, they say.
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United States

Mother Nature Implicated in Massive Marijuana Grow-Op

Your tax dollars at work:

From the The Norman Transcript
A call from a concerned farmer in southeast Norman led Cleveland County Sheriff's Department deputies and Norman police officers to a field of 8,889 "wild" marijuana plants growing on private property early Monday morning. The plants ranged in size from 3 feet to 9 feet tall and would have a street value of up to $1,000 each, or around $8 million total, if allowed to grow and be harvested in the coming months, said Captain Doug Blaine, of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department.

Now I’m not surprised about the plants. Feral hemp, also known as ditchweed, is indigenous to the region. The shocker here is that these officers, in a fit of unbelievable idiocy, actually attempted to place a street value on it. Ditchweed doesn’t get you high! It’s as worthless as the dirt it was yanked from.

And so it appears we may have stumbled upon the most absurd over-estimation of a marijuana crop’s value in the whole stupid history of bored police officers over-estimating the value of marijuana crops.

But you can’t fault the “concerned farmer” who called it in. With Captain Doug Blaine calling the shots, I’d kill every plant in my yard just to be on the safe side.

Yet despite its abundance of ill-informed sensationalism, this article ironically fails to mention the real danger posed by the feral hemp plant. Any commercial marijuana growing in proximity to such a sizable crop of ditchweed stands a strong chance of becoming pollinated by its impotent cousin. The result would be hybridized marijuana of extremely poor quality.

Thankfully, marijuana enthusiasts and bored Oklahoma police can agree on one thing: the ditchweed’s gotta go.

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United States

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