The Speakeasy Blog

David in the Liar's Den

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Ever wonder what it's like to watch a drug warrior squirm? I've had the pleasure a few times now, but the discussion I witnessed this afternoon at the Cato Institute was particularly intense.

Today, Matthew B. Robinson and Renee G. Sherlen presented the findings of their new book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Impressively, ONDCP's brave "Chief Scientist" David Murray was on hand to address this particularly comprehensive attack on the credibility of his office.

The authors delivered a tight synopsis of their findings, bashing ONDCP propaganda with charts, graphs, and effects. Dr. Murray made a show of feigned surprise and eye-rolling, but the breadth and substance of the criticism leveled against his work was too substantial to shrug off. It almost felt like a set-up; the dignified Cato equivalent of strapping a mob snitch to a chair and beating him with a blackjack.

In turn, Dr. Murray spat blood on his tormentors, dismissing their analysis as biased and incompetent. Unlike his disciplined performance at last year's medical marijuana debate, Murray was irreverent and visibly angry. From my second row seat I could see his face turn crimson, but his voice never shook. Murray's composure and efficiency is the reason he makes these appearances instead of his boss.

The question of the day among my colleagues was why ONDCP would even respond to such a categorical refutation of its right to exist. As a young reformer, I learned from Eric Sterling that drug warriors typically avoid debate because doing so inherently legitimizes opposing viewpoints. Moreover, the discussion of statistics paints ONDCP into a particularly dark corner by rendering irrelevant the emotional appeals and factually-vacant soundbites that generally dominate their rhetoric.

This level of engagement between ONDCP and its critics is rare if not unprecedented. Hostile as it may have been, today's conversation demonstrates that the federal government no longer perceives itself as impervious to criticism. Murray praised the Cato Institute's work in other areas and was clearly exasperated to find himself in its crosshairs. ONDCP's crumbling monopoly on serious drug policy discussion becomes increasingly vivid when calls for accountability emerge from prestigious think-tanks, Congress, and the GAO.

As the old cliche goes, "First they laugh at you. Then they ignore you. Then they fight you. Then you win." They're fighting back now.

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United States

A New Activist's Tactic Emerges in the Rosenthal Trial

One of the feature stories I'm working on this week is the Ed Rosenthal re-trial on federal marijuana production and distribution charges, which ended yesterday with a split verdict. The trial was a complete waste of time since even if Rosenthal was found guilty, he could not be sentenced to anything more than the one day he had already served, but federal prosecutors were vindictively determined to get their man. Rosenthal's supporters were equally determined not to help the government, and that's where the new tactic emerged: A dozen people in the medical marijuana movement who had been subpoenaed to testify against Rosenthal simply refused. A civil contempt citation is the usual response to such refusals, but as the judge in the case noted, the contempt citation is designed to impel people to testify, not to punish the. When the judge asked if throwing them in jail for the weekend would change their minds, they all said no. Since they convinced the judge they were rock solid in their positions, he decided not to issue the citations and instead dismissed them. He also thanked them for the dignity they displayed in articulating their positions. We should all thank them for taking this courageous stand. Who knows? Maybe we can start a movement. Look for a feature story on the trial and the witness rebellion tomorrow.
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United States

Ed Rosenthal Convicted of Following State Law, Helping Sick People

After five years and enough drama and incompetence to appall even seasoned drug war observers like us, the ridiculous show trial of Ed Rosenthal is finally over.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The self-proclaimed "guru of ganja" was convicted again Wednesday in federal court of illegally growing hundreds of marijuana plants that he said were meant to treat sick people, which state law allows.

Ed Rosenthal was convicted after U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer prohibited the marijuana activist's lawyers from telling the jury he was working for a pot club sanctioned by Oakland government officials. [Star-Telegram]
Rosenthal will now serve one day in jail (time served), for the crime of helping the City of Oakland provide legal medicine to registered patients. Forgive me, but I've already said everything there is to say about this:
That's right, American taxpayers. Behold the glorious retribution of the principled and incorruptible federal prosecutors who've exhausted untold sums and incalculable man-hours to protect you from a safe and effective medicine. Amidst Iraq, Katrina, Medicare, etc. the federal government was trying to save you from Ed Rosenthal by putting him in jail for one goddamn day. And they're still working on it, knowing as they have all along, that this is the best they can hope for.
Today, a new group of jurors is learning that the federal government tricked them into convicting Ed Rosenthal of something that's legal in their state. Like the previous Rosenthal jury before them, they will be robbed of the pride that comes from serving the cause of justice and they may soon stand with him in solidarity as did their predecessors.

Even in victory, our government's campaign against medical marijuana stands naked before us, utterly fraudulent and disgraceful as ever before.

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United States

Testing Positive for Marijuana Doesn't Mean You're High

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For the last time, it doesn’t mean that. Unlike other drugs, marijuana remains detectable in urine for weeks after use. This well-known fact continues to elude reporters, resulting in alarming yet totally meaningless headlines such as this:
Sheriff: Driver in ATV fatality used marijuana

CARROLLTON – Carroll County Sheriff Dale Williams revealed Monday that Dennis Garrison, 37, of Alliance tested positive for marijuana on the day his 6-year-old nephew was killed while riding an ATV with his uncle. [Times-Reporter]
Again and again, we're told about people testing positive for marijuana after accidents with no evidence whatsoever that anyone was high at the time of the accident. In this case, there's even evidence to the contrary:
The deputy at the accident scene reported that Dennis showed no obvious signs of being under the influence.
Of course, this quite instructive fact is buried near the bottom of the story, while the completely meaningless urine test results are reported in the headline. It is simply bad reporting to link marijuana use to a horrible tragedy without noting that such use could likely have taken place weeks before the accident even occurred.

After all, you would never see this:
Sheriff: Driver in ATV fatality drank alcohol days before accident

CARROLLTON – Carroll County Sheriff Dale Williams revealed Monday that Dennis Garrison, 37, of Alliance drank beer 5 days before his 6-year-old nephew was killed while riding an ATV with him.
The fact here is that a young child was killed. To falsely attribute his death to irrelevant factors is not only shameful and dishonest, but also interferes with the important process of learning from the tragedy.

Many of the most passionate appeals against marijuana use emerge from scenarios such as this in which the drug's role is, in fact, dubious or non-existent. Imagine the good that could be accomplished if well-meaning people stopped grasping at straws and finally put marijuana in perspective.
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United States

Why Does DEA Teach Meth-Cooking to the Public?

This is just bizarre. I swear, every time I think I'm on the verge of understanding what motivates these people, they find increasingly strange ways to waste our money:

Cooking methamphetamine takes only a few hours and requires simple household ingredients, like striker plates from matchbooks, the guts of lithium batteries, drain cleaner.

"It's pretty gross," said Matt Leland, who works in career services at the University of Northern Colorado and who recently helped cook the drug in a lab. "If someone was truly interested in manufacturing meth, it would not be that hard."

The Drug Enforcement Administration invited Leland and other citizens - such as software engineers, a teacher, a pastor and a school principal - to make methamphetamine last week in a lab at Metropolitan State College of Denver. [Denver Post]

Ok. We understand that DEA is teaching private citizens how to manufacture meth, but why? Why the hell would they do that?

The class was held as part of the DEA's first Citizens Academy in order to give the public a close-up view of what the agency does to keep drugs off the street.

That's interesting, and I'm eager to attend, but it doesn't answer the question because cooking meth isn’t part of DEA's job at all. Their job is, of course, to stop people from cooking meth, which has now become the precise opposite of what they're doing.

The whole thing is mindlessly indulgent when you consider that no one really needs a chemistry lesson to infer that the constant explosions at their crazy neighbor's house might explain why he has so many strange visitors.

If you're gonna teach meth-cooking, teach it to immigrant store clerks before you arrest them for naively selling household items to undercover narcs.

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United States

Ponder This Graph for a Moment, Please

(graph from WOLA/AIN memo, link below) This graph shows what about $10 billion in US taxpayer dollars has accomplished. Note that while coca production has shifted within the region, the 1992 levels and the 2005 levels are essentially identical. Why is our coca eradication policy not subjected to cost-benefit analysis? Is there anyone who will argue that it is working? If so, I'd like to hear it. To be fair, that $10 billion has accomplished some things. It has engendered massive social conflict in all three countries, it has led to tens of thousands of peasant farmers being arrested as drug traffickers, it has led to thousands of deaths (especially in Colombia, where the eradication policy is part of the US's broader military intervention in that country's festering civil war). Your tax dollars at work. $10 billion is a lot of money. Heck, we could finance the Iraq war for a few weeks with it! Or we could give $100,000 college scholarships to 10,000 students. Or build $100,000 homes for 10,000 families. Or numerous other programs that, unlike the coca eradication program, might actually accomplish something. By the way, I came across the graph above in a memo from the Andean Information Network and the Washington Office on Latin America. That memo was occasioned by the US government's release of coca cultivation estimates for Bolivia. The US government has for months been complaining that Bolivian President Evo Morales' pro-coca policies were going to lead to a boom in production there. Surprise! It didn't. Read the memo for some juicy analysis.
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United States

New Marijuana Research: Stoned People Aren't Stupid

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Having noted earlier this week that marijuana users sometimes do rather foolish things, I was pleased to find this today:

Experienced marijuana users perform tasks as accurately after having smoked cannabis as they do sober, according to clinical trial data published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.
Investigators at New York State’s Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University assessed the impact of acute cannabis intoxication on the decision-making abilities of 36 subjects, as assessed by the Iowa Gambling Task performance test. [NORML News]

It is an article of faith among those seeking to purge this precious plant from the planet that it shrinks your brain, figuratively if not literally. American tax dollars have paid for announcements that marijuana could cause you to shoot your best friend, run over a toddler on a tricycle, get pregnant at a party, get your hand stuck in your mouth, and on and on.

Of course, Joey Stoner needn't consult peer-reviewed research to confirm that he hasn’t accidentally killed anyone lately. Still, it's powerfully frustrating that marijuana consumers must defend their own competence against baseless and derogatory characterizations issued by sanctimonious bureaucrats who are, themselves, incompetent in every sense of the word.

Having already flunked math, science, history and social studies, it is those who wage endless war on this useful plant that are truly deserving of a scientific performance evaluation.

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United States

Goodbye, Dr. Tod

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I am sad to report the passing of Dr. Tod Mikuriya, a leading and long-time advocate for medical marijuana, scientific and historical marijuana researcher, physician and drug policy reformer. Tod was a member of DRCNet's advisory board and a long-time friend. Phil has written a memorial to Tod for this week's Chronicle, and I am also posting it here. Click the "read full post" link below, if you don't already see it, or read it online here. Tod Mikuriya addressing a NORML conference Dr. Tod Hiro Mikuriya, MD, a psychiatrist, prominent researcher, and medical marijuana advocate, died Sunday night at his Berkeley, California, home. He was 73 years of age. Mikuriya, who was a member of DRCNet's Board of Advisors, earned a medical degree at Temple University, then completed a psychiatric residency at Southern Pacific General Hospital in San Francisco before joining the US Army Medical Corps. After military service and serving at state hospitals in California and Oregon, he directed marijuana research at the National Institutes of Mental Health in 1967, but quickly quit, citing political interference with research results. He turned to a private practice in psychiatry, but his clinical interest in marijuana never waned. In 1973, he published the pioneering "Medical Marijuana Papers," an anthology of journal articles on cannabis therapeutics, and he later founded the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. Mikuriya was deeply involved in the campaign for Proposition 215, the groundbreaking 1996 initiative that made California the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. After Prop 215 passed, Mikuriya served as Medical Coordinator of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, the Hayward Hempery, and the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers' Club -- organizations established to provide access to medical marijuana for patients. In 2000, Mikuriya founded the California Cannabis Research Medical Group, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to conducting quality medical marijuana research, to ensuring the safety and confidentiality of all research subjects, and to maintaining the highest quality of standards and risk management." In 2003, Mikuriya was placed on probation by the Medical Board of California after an investigation into allegations of unprofessional conduct in 16 cases since 1998. Mikuriya and his supporters said he was being targeted for his medical marijuana advocacy. He appealed the board ruling, and continued to practice up until his death. Dr. Mikuriya remained an ardent and animated advocate of medical marijuana, and more broadly, social justice, up until the end. His vision, principles, and perseverance are to be emulated. They will certainly be missed. Mikuriya contributed a collection of papers that are available in DRCNet's Drug Library, Schaffer Library section, online here.
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United States

Can You Smell the Meth?

This story might take first prize in a week already marred by frivolous lawsuits and other stupid drug-related news:
A deputy U.S. marshal based in Charleston is suing the makers of the popular cold remedy Zicam over his lost sense of smell, which he says has put him in danger of being unknowingly exposed to methamphetamine labs.


As a federal law enforcement officer, he said his duties sometimes expose him to methamphetamine labs, which are considered dangerous to be in contact with. [Charleston Daily Observer]
Come to think of it, I too am deeply concerned about being exposed to highly-toxic meth labs. Who shall I sue? Perhaps the shortsighted legislators who've created a black market and ensured the continued illicit production of methamphetamine in our communities.

And before we get too excited about this cool drug that prevents cops from smelling things, note that Zicam's manufacturer says this is nonsense. They claim that allegations of smelling-loss occur because Zicam is a cold medicine popular among people with horrible pre-existing respiratory problems.

Sounds plausible enough, but good luck explaining "correlation is not causation" to a drug warrior.

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United States

Attention Marijuana Users: Hershey™ Doesn’t Want Your Business

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I never thought this day would come. But when greed and idiocy converge, the effects can be catastrophic.
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Hershey Co. has sued a Lafayette man who admitted to making marijuana-laced candy and soft drinks, claiming his products violated the company's trademarks.

Kenneth Affolter, 40, was sentenced in March to more than five years in prison for manufacturing forbidden treats with names like Stoney Rancher, Rasta Reese's and Keef Kat. [MSNBC]
I'm not an expert in trademark law, but those don’t sound like Hershey products to me.
Hershey's suit, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in San Jose, accuses Affolter of trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition.
Unfair competition!? To whatever pathetic extent this man actually competed with Hershey, he's now been taken out of commission by the Drug Enforcement Administration. If there's anything unfair going on here, it's the incarceration of a man who provided marijuana edibles to sick people.

So I guess Hershey Co. has nothing better to do than piss off stoners around the world, which is foolish for reasons so obvious they need not be stated. And all they're asking for is $100,000 from a man who is now either destitute due to legal fees and forfeiture, or has buried his assets so deep that neither DEA nor Hershey's will ever see a dollar.

Suddenly those irresistible Hershey's Cookies & Cream™ bars don't sound so good. If Nestle™ has a decent white chocolate product, I can cost Hershey $50 a year on my own. Who's with me?

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United States

Remedial Marijuana Ethics 101: Don't Be An Idiot

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If you work at McDonalds, don’t hide your pot in a Happy Meal. Something bad will happen.

Don't drive drunk if you've got 25 pounds of marijuana in your car. Seriously, you're off the team if you do that. Flex Your Rights will not answer your email.

Also, don't mail 12 pounds of marijuana to a school.

George Michael, who gets arrested frequently for marijuana, now says it should be legal.

Operation Follow Method Man has also produced results this week: the arrest of Method Man for possessing marijuana and driving around super-baked.

In fairness to our cause, I'm not suggesting that marijuana necessarily causes idiocy. But it can become a crutch for the desperate or confused. As for the celebrities, well, it's already clear that celebrities don't exactly need pot to get arrested anyway. Method Man, notwithstanding this unfortunate incident, would probably get arrested more often if not for his frequent relaxation rituals.

Today was a strange day for marijuana news, but tomorrow will tell a different tale. Bad science, violent raids, urine testing, persecuting patients, blocking research, wasting tax dollars, exaggerating harms, and funding the black market; these things -- and so many more -- are the real story and there aren't enough mailing mishaps or celebrity pot busts to distract us from the hideous truth.

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United States

Remedial Psychedelic Ethics 101: Don't Dose People

You wouldn’t think people who are prominent members of the psychedelic community would need a reminder about elementary decency, but, sadly, that appears to be the case. Psychedelic drugs, like mushrooms, peyote, and LSD, are not candy. They can be deeply disorienting and disturbing, even for veteran psychonauts, and for people with no experience with or knowledge of them, they can be absolutely terrifying. It would seem to be a fundamental of psychedelic ethics that you do not inflict the experience on people against their will or without their knowledge. To do so is not only disrespectful of the consciousness of the victim of such a stunt, it is also disrespectful of the psychedelic substance that inner consciousness explorers claim to hold in such reverence. But some people just don't get it. Last night, I received a call from an old friend who reported being dosed by someone who was part of the entourage of an elite clique who were putting on an event in a large Eastern city. Now, my friend was fortunate enough to have some experience with psychedelics, so the experience was not absolutely terrifying. But it was most unpleasant. And that's should be no surprise. For at least 40 years, people have been talking about the importance of "set and setting" in determining how a person will respond to psychedelics. Set refers to the person's mental state—what the person knows and expects of psychedelics, whether that person has underlying psychiatric problems, whether that person is prepared for the experience. Setting refers to the physical/notional location of the experience—is it a soothing place, does it take place within some ritual or another, is it loud and noisy and chaotic?—that, along with set, has an impact on the psychedelic experience. Dosing someone with psychedelics without his or her knowledge wreaks havoc with set. People need to prepare themselves for taking drugs like these; to have them inflicted on you even if you like them is unethical. Being dosed also prevents the victim from having any say in setting—here you are, your mind is melting, and that's that. Dosing people is thus double-plus ungood. No names are being named at this point. There are efforts afoot to see if the perpetrators will make proper amends. The most positive outcome is that the people involved will be educated about things they should already know and understand intuitively. For the rest of us who are inclined to dabble with such substances, let's try extra hard to be respectful of each other and these very special substances.
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United States

More Reefer Madness Yellow Journalism in Australia

More Australian Reefer Madness Journalism Yesterday, we published a newsbrief about the Australian media frenzy over "super dope", but the yellow journalism about marijuana coming from Down Under just keeps coming. Early in the week, it was the "super dope" scare, where the Aussies whipped themselves into a frenzy over kind bud. By late in the week, there was a new wave of hysterical marijuana reporting, this time centering on people who have both indoor marijuana grow operations and children. "Children in Drug Den Danger!" screamed the Daily Telegraph in an article about raids on two Sydney homes where parents were growing pot:
SIX children aged as young as five have been forced to live and sleep within metres of toxic chemicals and cancer-causing cannabis plants - all because their parents wanted a quick dollar.
Whoa! "Cancer-causing cannabis plants"!?!?!? This is just simply absurd. As far as I know, no one, not even Harry Anslinger, has ever claimed that a growing marijuana plant is carcinogenic. I suspect this is merely bad reporting; as the Australian AP reported in its account of the raids, the equally silly Kids Allegedly Forced to Sleep Near Mum's Toxic Pot:
South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Acting Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli, said the raids followed tip-offs from the public. "Hydro houses pose significant risk and it appalls me that anyone would have such a disregard for safety that they would jeopardise the lives of children," Mr Mennilli said. "We've gone into some of these homes where young children – one even on a ventilator – are sleeping only metres away from these plants and carcinogenic contaminants. "In all these homes the electricity supplies have been illegally and dangerously diverted, posing a huge risk of fire – endangering the lives of those inside and people living in neighbouring homes."
Ah, it's not the plants that are carcinogenic; it's those darned "contaminants." It appears the "contaminants" referred to here are nothing more than the chemical fertilizers used to make the plants grow faster. As Mennilli put it in the Daily Telegraph story, "So not only do you have the odour from the plants but also you have the chemicals used in relation to the growth of these plants. The "highly toxic" chemical fertilizers are so dangerous they are sold in nurseries and greenhouses and Walmarts and K-Marts across the land. They are so dangerous, they are used by millions of little old gardeners without a second thought. Now, you probably don't want your kid drinking the stuff or making Kool-Aid out of powdered fertilizer, but fertilizer is fertilizer. It's no more dangerous when used to grow marijuana than it is when used to grow tomatoes. The Australian media should be ashamed of itself. It not only uncritically accepts police statements at face value; it then runs with them to the point of simply making shit up. "Cancer-causing cannabis plants," indeed! "Toxic chemicals," oh my! I will give Mennilli and the media accounts props for mentioning the risk of fire from improperly wired, illegally obtained electricity. You can start a fire trying to do that. But even the fire hazard is a function of prohibition, not marijuana. People steal electricity not because it's cheaper, but because they wish to avoid being busted by cops monitoring their electrical use.
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United States

More Reports from Warsaw

Allan Clear continues his reporting from the International Harm Reduction Association conference in Warsaw, this time covering days two and three. Click the "read full post" link below or here to read the whole thing. Day 2 On the morning plenary, Fabio Mesquita provided two case studies of the national responses to HIV among injectors in Brazil and Indonesia. Fabio was instrumental in altering the landscape for drug injectors in Sao Paolo and Brazil as whole. He now works in Indonesia. A couple of notable points were that 28% of the population of Brazil have taken an HIV test and the phenomenal scale up of syringe exchange in Indonesia, from 17 to 129 over two years. The INPUD drug user session was extremely well attended. Bijay Pandey talked about his organizing in Nepal. As NDRI's Sam Friedman pointed out it's hard enough to organize around user's lives in general. To do so during a civil war is particularly impressive. Like all specific user organizing the future of the work is in jeopardy but the effort has been put in. Perhaps there's no more supportive drug researcher than Sam Friedman. A tireless advocate for drug users, Sam provided a Marxist Leninist dialectical critique of global socio-economic substructural micro organized community ventures that help diffuse the totalitarian oppression we all live under in this post soviet imperialistic world. User dominated of course. Alexander Rumyanzev talked about the way drugs are used to affect social movements and oppress drug users. There has been a long line of very articulate drug user activists in the history of harm reduction - John Mordaunt, Matt Southwell, Annie Madden, Jude Byrne, Louis Jones, Bill Nelles, for example – and one of the most articulate drug user activists for the last decade has been the USA's Paul Cherashore so it was good to see him back on form. He urged drug users to strike back at the system. He wasn't clear on a strategy for doing so but made valid comparisons between gay rights and drug user rights using the San Francisco gay community's response to the murder of Harvey Milk and later talked about the Stonewall riots as flashpoints that eventually changed policy and society as a whole. more... I wandered from a fairly boring HCV session to a next-door session on law enforcement that turned out to be very good for me. I caught Prevention Point Philadelphia's Corey Davis's presentation. He talked about the importance of harm reduction training for the police. "Well duh" thinks I until Corey pointed out that it's the minority of programs in the US that actually meet with the police. I'm well aware of programs (in Los Angeles and New York for example) that do meet with the police over law enforcement issues because they're squeaky wheels. We all met with high up police officers in NYC a couple of years ago and have stayed on top of the NY State Department of Health and are now working with the NY City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to follow up. Was I being naïve to think that everyone else in the country was also meeting with the police? According to Corey yes, I've missed the boat completely. What the hell are we thinking? Apart from syringe exchange folks, the other professionals drug users interact with are the police. If we want to consolidate our programs, relationships with our local precincts no matter how antagonistic are vital. Another flashbulb that went off is that for programs in New York City, law enforcement training is now conducted by the State Health Department. Programs also need to maintain on-going relationships with local police. We can't cede this role to health departments. When there is a community problem involving drugs, the local needle exchange has to be a recognizable entity to resolve problems. Just for example when I worked at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center we brokered meetings between the police and sex workers to help catch a violent john. Hopefully Corey is wrong in his information but he convinced me he's not. So get on it folks. A fairly intriguing session on risk environments attracted me next. There was a nice sociological overview of drug dealing situations from Australia and a critique of the word 'chaotic' when attached the word 'drug use'. Yes ho hum very interesting. Ok let's be thoughtful about the narratives we buy into. If only we all could spend our time googling the word 'chaotic'. There was also a presentation on the safe injection site in Vancouver. However I must been in a blackout because I can't remember one thing about it. Barbara Tempalski from NDRI looked at factors influencing the development of syringe exchange in the United States. The primary influencing factors were the presence of a university and activism from the gay community. Another researcher rather unsubtly promoting the homosexual agenda. Take home message is if we want to get more programs throughout the States, recruit, recruit, recruit. Had a delicious plate of deep fried cheese in breadcrumbs over wonderbread on jam for dinner. Had a candy made from cocaine for dessert. It was supposed to be the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee. Must admit that I noticed no psychoactive effect although I haven't been to sleep since and I seem to be talking really intelligently about the CIA. Hang on, someone's knocking on my door again. Let me hide…… Paul Cherashore Day 3 The hump is on and we're sliding towards the finish of the conference….. Today there was an ibogaine session that was unconnected to the main conference for which I had agreed to provide opening remarks. My interest in ibogaine goes back about 17 years to the Lower East Side in New York and really doesn't seem to move out of the neighborhood. There was a guy called Fred Gotbetter who participated in the Lower East Side Needle Exchange Program. He was a fixture - smart, good company and often annoying as he made demands that were either not realistic, totally doable but I didn't want to support or things we should be doing but had refused to do. He was frequently right and frequently wrong. However he did talk about ibogaine and how great it worked for eliminating withdrawal from drugs and he touted it as a cure. However he had taken it 6 times and was still a mess. However there was usually something to what Fred said. Others thought so too and so ICARE, the Lower East Side user group, invited Howard Lotsof to attend one of its meetings and let more people know about ibogaine. Howard is generally credited with the African alkaloid's discovery as an addiction interrupter and for bringing it back to the States. Howard explained that treatments were available but one had to travel to Holland and a treatment cost $20,000. Thus endeth that. A few years later, Dana Beal (see travel section of this blog) randomly added me to cc list on a ranting e-mail. Another cc was a guy called Patrick Kroupa who was another LESNEP participant and knew me back in the day. He lives in Miami and had used ibogaine and now worked on off shore trials of the drug. We got together and he explained his journey. Not long after, Dana showed up in HRC's office with Dimitri Mugianis in tow. Again I hadn't seen Dimitri for many years but if you check out HRC's heroin brochure, he's the guy chasing the dragon and I was the photographer. Again he'd used ibogaine and it had worked for him too. What intrigues me now is that underground ibogaine treatments are taking place in the USA now. Folks realized that to bring attention to the efficacy of ibogaine it needed a core of successful patients who had been treated locally. Which brings us pretty much up to date. I was the opening speaker and after my remarks I headed back to the main conference. Unfortunately the plenary presentation I was looking forward to "The History of Collaboration between Drug Users, PLWHAs, gay men and women around HIV/AIDS" by Gregg Gonsalves had already occurred. Gregg's a longtime AIDS activist who moved to South Africa and is now causing waves down there. He always has something sensible to say and as we talked in the corridor after his presentation it seems he'd laid into the conference organizers for failing to meet the needs of drug users. Always causing trouble is Gregg. The afternoon drug user involvement panel was disappointing. But HRC's Hilary McQuie proved herself to be an excellent host during a Living Room session as she talked about the federal ban on the funding of needle exchange. However there was only one thing on my mind at that moment. Luciano Colonna and myself were excited about visiting the urinetherapy center next door to the hotel. The "Source of Life" urinetherapy center is one of a set of centers located in this part of Warsaw known for its waters. Visitors are shown to a pretty solarium and a menu of "teas" is brought to each table. Admittedly we were not very brave and passed over the bull juice and the 10 year old fermented banker water and ultimately plumped to self-serve and after a visit to the bathroom to fill the teapot we returned to the solarium. Our teapots were infused with fine herbs and returned to us. Surprisingly invigorating and refreshing we prepared for the evening's party with a massage of a special butter made from the urine of former KGB officers. An excellent way to round off the afternoon. One thing the conference has always delivered on is an end of conference party. This year the event was held at an old factory somewhere on the edge of town. The main attraction was the Harm Reduction Allstars a band made up of er self-styled harm reduction all stars. And if one enjoys sixties soul and 12 bar blues, they were a lot of fun. Luciano Colonna Pablo Cymerman & Allan Clear at the party The Harm Reduction Allstars -- Patric O'Hare, Franz Trautmann & Jimmy Dorabchee Sangeeta Sran & Palani Nararayan at the party
Location: 
Warsaw
Poland

Czar Wars

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The nomination of Gen. Douglas E. Lute as the new White House "war czar" raises the old question of what a "czar" is and why they are needed.

According to Wikipedia, a "czar" (sometimes "tsar") is basically an emperor:

Originally, and indeed during most of its history, the title tsar meant Emperor in the European medieval sense of the term, i.e., a ruler who has the same rank as a Roman or Byzantine emperor due to recognition by another emperor or a supreme ecclesiastical official (the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch).
Ralph Peters at The New York Post explores the latter question, arguing that the appointment of various "czars" is an indulgent and frivolous exercise. Unfortunately, just as I'm nodding in agreement, Peters' train of logic leaps the tracks and nosedives into a perplexing abyss:
I worked for the most effective "czar" of the past half-century. As director of the Office for National Drug Control Policy, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey did a remarkable job of getting the government's cats and dogs (and not a few monkeys) to work together for the common good.

But the major players could blow off even McCaffrey. The general could beat our nation's deadly enemies, but not the Washington bureaucracy.
Here we go again. Drug war supporters talk about Barry McCaffrey like conservatives talk about Ronald Reagan, an unfortunate but necessary absurdity now that the name John Walters has become highly toxic even within Congress and the anti-drug community.

Apparently, it really is necessary to point out that America wasn't drug-free from 1996-2001 and that Barry McCaffrey's legacy would be considered disastrous outside the accountability-free sphere of revisionist drug war history.

Of course, it's also possible that Peters knows "our nation's deadly enemies" are far from beaten and is merely shielding himself from the wrath of accused war criminal Barry McCaffrey. In either case, this article, which questions the efficacy of appointing various war czars, while simultaneously casting Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey as a glorious hero, is a confusing thing to have bothered writing.

Location: 
United States

New Jersey Lightening Up on Lawyers

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According to the New Jersey Law Journal, via Law.com, the NJ Supreme Court has shifted away from a 20-year-old policy of suspending lawyers convicted of cocaine possession, instead merely censuring a Wayne-based workers compensation and personal injury attorney for it:
The court, in an order made public on Tuesday, took one step further a recommendation for lenience made by the Disciplinary Review Board, which suggested a "suspended" three-month suspension for the lawyer, Wayne, N.J., solo Anthony Filomeno, in view of his demonstrated remorse, rehabilitation and early release from a year-long pretrial intervention program.
Now maybe they'll go a little softer on the rest of the drug-using public...
Location: 
United States

Hinchey-Rohrabacher

Alex Coolman has a nice summary of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and its history over at Drug Law Blog. I haven't heard yet about this year, but will let you all know when I do... Read our '06 Hinchey-Rohrabacher coverage here and here.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Christiania is under threat again...

Read about it courtesy Kerry Howley, at Reason. We reported on a previous flare-up back in '04.
Location: 
Christiania
Denmark

Conferences...

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NORML just announced its annual conference, October 12-13, in LA this year. DPA's conference is December 5-8 in New Orleans.
Location: 
United States

Australia: Better Bud Prompts Proposed Bong Ban

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The only thing more misguided and pointless than obsessing over pot potency is banning bongs:
As reports have surfaced that potent marijuana could be introduced into Australia, state lawmakers have talked about banning drug paraphernalia.

At a ministerial council on drugs strategy meeting in Adelaide, officials discussed the merits of banning instruments such as bongs and pipes that are used to smoke illegal cannabis. [AHN]
A report in The Herald-Sun prompted helpful comments from readers:
"The way the government is going, there wont be any water for bongs."

"I can't stand the smell of the stuff, leave alone stuffing it in a pipe and trying to smoke it. Rather have a good Aussie Beer instead of a dozzy intoduced Weed. Yuk Duck as they say."
I don’t speak Australian, but I think what they're saying is that trying to prevent marijuana use by banning bongs is like trying to prevent drinking by banning pint glasses.

Location: 
United States

Narc Team Rams Suspect's House With Vehicle, Finds Marijuana

This raises more questions than it answers:
TRAVERSE CITY — Joseph Giganti's life and home recently took a hit when Traverse Narcotics Team officers allegedly rammed into his rented residence, then seized property during a drug raid.

The Traverse City businessman is suing the state police agency for a $2,700 security deposit he forfeited after a TNT vehicle allegedly collided with his rented residence during the April 5 drug raid, according to Giganti's lawsuit. [Traverse City Record-Eagle]
What's going on here? Radley Balko has noted how SWAT teams are stocking up on large attack vehicles, which will inevitably be used for something. We don’t know what type of vehicle was involved, or why it collided with the suspect's residence, but I'm not expecting a perfectly logical explanation to emerge.

If this was an accident, it is a troubling one, in that it requires particularly reckless driving in order to collide with a house. If, on the other hand, this was done deliberately to disorient the suspect, it should be unnecessary to explain how intolerably excessive such tactics are.

So what was this guy doing that necessitated such aggression?
Officers found about a half-ounce of marijuana and a water pipe in the raid, but no evidence of drug dealing, [attorney Michael] Stepka said. Giganti has not been charged with a crime, court records show.
Once again folks, when we talk about legalizing marijuana – and other drugs, for that matter – it isn't because we want to get stoned on the sidewalk. It's because we don't want public safety officers to protect people from themselves by ramming houses with police vehicles.

Location: 
United States

Fighting Meth With Misinformation in Idaho

There is no question that methamphetamine is a potentially dangerous drug. Communities that take steps to prevent people from starting to use it in the first place are to be lauded. But if such efforts are to be credible with their target audiences, they need to include accurate information, not scary, demonizing distortions. Unfortunately, Blaine County, Idaho, is not doing that. In a new brochure from the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and the Community Drug Coalition written by a sheriff's office employee, comes the following amazing claim:
"One of the biggest dangers of meth is how quickly people can become addicted to it," the brochure says. "The National Methamphetamine Awareness Campaign says that 99 percent of people are hooked on meth after using it the first time."
Oh, come on. Yes, people can become dependent on meth. Yes, it is a drug whose biopharmacological effects make people want to binge on it. But no, 99% of people who try meth once are not hooked on it. And spewing such garbage—at taxpayer expense, no less!—is counterproductive at best. Here's what the federal government's meth resources web page has to say about methamphetamine addiction: "Long-term methamphetamine abuse results in many damaging effects, including addiction." Note that the site says long-term use, not one-time use. Neither do other federal government statistics back up the 99% claim. The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the most recent available, notes that 10.4 million people over the age of 12 reported using meth at least once in their lives, but only 512,000 reported current (last month) use. Even if we assume that everyone who reported using within the last month is an addict (and that's not a very reasonable assumption), we find that only about 5% of people who ever used meth are currently addicted. It is possible, I suppose, that the remaining 93% of all meth users ever got strung out on their first line, but have since managed to beat the addiction. If that's the case, which I doubt, they didn't get the monkey off their backs through drug treatment. In 1992, 21,000 were admitted for meth treatment; by 2004, that number was up to 150,000. But the number of people reporting using meth that year was 1.3 million. Of past year meth users, a little more than 10% got treatment in 2004, whether they sought it themselves or were forced into it. If you want to discourage people from using meth, you need to be believable. Unfortunately for Blaine County, Idaho, it has produced an anti-meth brochure that is more laughable than believable. Next they'll be telling me meth will make hair grow on the palms of my hands.
Location: 
ID
United States

Allan Clear Reports from the International Harm Reduction Conference in Warsaw

(DRCNet is pleased to welcome Allan Clear, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, as a special guest correspondent for the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy. Allan is currently in Warsaw, Poland, attending the 18th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, and has graciously agreed to report for us on the proceedings. He has come through with photos and all. Because I was offline most of the last few days, Allan's first few posts are all coming out together in one. Any subsequent posts from the conference will come out one by one. Here Allan writes about getting to the place, the place, pre-conference meetings of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs and various satellite groups, and the conference's first day. - DB) Allan Clear Stijn Goossens & Luiz Paolo Guanabara, at the conference (Click the "read full post" link below or here to read Allan's full reports, with more pictures.) It's the Journey, not the destination Ah Poland! Who wouldn't want to travel to Europe to attend a conference at a hotel isolated out at the airport? It's reminiscent of a certain drug policy conference that took place at Newark airport a few years ago. At least I didn't have to sleep at that hotel. The beds sag, the lights don't work but the boiled cabbage is delicious. However this is the country of Jan Tomaszewski. I knew I was blessed when I found myself traveling on the ibogaine flight to Warsaw. If the plane lost altitude, a quick sprinkling of the magic alkaloid would resurrect us. Sadly, as luck would have it, Dana Beal accidentally walked through passport control in Munich and wasn't seen again for a few days. Rumors abounded that there was something evil living in his cowboy boots and it got released when he passed through the x-ray. The Germans went on high alert to track the evil down. Fortunately after a nap on a park bench Dana made it to Warsaw. Dana Beal Saturday network meeting The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) hosted a meeting of regional and disciplinary networks. IHRA's relationship differs from network to network, from having informal ties to North American groups to actually funding and starting a network in Africa. IHRA's staff has grown over the last year and is now in a position to put some heft behind their desires. IHRA is planning on issuing a state of the universe policy document on global harm reduction activity sometime over the next year and will be soliciting information from the regional networks. The networks in attendance agreed to remain in contact and act together around international events such as the International Day on Drugs, next year's UNGASS review, the International AIDS Conference and the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting. The international conference on drug related harm will go onto a two-year schedule but not anytime soon. As well as the usual networks such as the Central and Eastern European Harm Reduction Network and the Asian Harm Reduction Network, it was good to have the presence of Marcus Day from the Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition, Caitlin Padgett from the International Youth and Harm Reduction Initiative and Stijn Goossens from the International Network of People who Use Drugs. Apparently the Swiss are substantially funding a newish Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Network. And the African network has been resurrected. The biscuits were excellent and pierogies for dinner. Sunday Many satellite meetings took place on the day before the start of the conference – Eastern European networking, prisons, nurses – and the inaugural day long meeting of the International Network of People who Use Drugs. A year's planning coming out of last year's Vancouver meeting went into today's symposium. A truly international line up of global drug user activists enthralled the packed to overflowing congressional hall. Veteran Brazilian activist Luiz Paolo Guanabara provided a view of drug war oppression in the favelas of Rio and legalization efforts from Latin America and announced the formation of a Latin American Network of People who Use Drugs. Matt Curtis of OSI, Ann Livingston from VANDU and Stijn Goossens of INPUD opened up discussion on the international version of the draft manifesto by people who use illegal drugs "Nothing About Us Without Us". The manifesto was drafted in collaboration with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and International Harm Reduction Development and is heavily weighted towards HIV and HCV services. Users at the forum immediately felt this weakened the document. A lively debate ensued that settled on developing a stronger guiding document that talked more about civil rights, human rights and prohibition. The document can be commented on at the INPUD website http://www.inpud.org/ until June 30th. Grant McNally provided a fabulous presentation on the history of international drug user organizing. He's provided an excellent platform to build upon. Similarly the meeting set an excellent tone for the rest of the conference. The only thing missing was Andria giving birth at the back of the room. Can't have everything though. First Day Does jet lag get worse with old age? Not a bad day overall. Usual whining on my part but some of the same criticisms I have of the international conference are the same as I'd direct at our own US National Harm Reduction Conference. A unique feature of the international conference is how much they kowtow to politicians and "influential" guest speakers who don't really have a depth of experience in the field. The morning plenary featured a Baroness from the UK House of Lords. An anti prison campaigner who is right-on in her attitudes but had to beg off when someone asked why people can't get more than 40 mg of methadone in British prisons. The question was too technical for her. The representative from the International Red Cross who spoke about HIV in prisons stated that prison officials still think that sex in prison only occurs among "homosexuals" and had faith in education campaigns as a way of stopping HIV. However plenaries are really only scene setters and a doctor from Holland I spoke to told me that she found the plenary session to be very helpful. Can't argue with the Dutch after all. Also can't argue with the stellar lineup of day two's plenary either. The INPUD HCV session was very good although there is very little focus on viral hepatitis at this conference. Also no workshops and very little training are on offer here. Kudos to the user network for putting this together. Which brings me to my second gripe that the conference has a pronounced HIV bent. Ours does too but it's a few degrees worse here. We might as well be at an HIV conference. Back to the session. Our own Tracy Swan was her usual brilliant, comprehensive self and Grant McNally from the UK was excellent and passionate. The session covered drug user's needs, data and strategies on how drug users can access treatment and then personal experience on living with HCV. Mauro Guarinieri provided commentary. Ok I have a bias. I feel that beyond academic thinking and research, harm reduction efforts in the States have been undervalued at these conferences. In the same way that lay HIV+ activists from the US became the voice of authority globally, I've yet to see anyone from outside the US that compares with our own HCV activists. A panel on ethics was amusing but not particularly useful. Take home message was harm reduction is a good thing to do. Some people are just too clever for anyone's good. Outside of safe injection spaces, US activists and programs have introduced more interesting solutions to drug overdose than anywhere else in the world. It was nice to hear some recognition of this influence. Someone from Wiltshire, England credited Dan Bigg for getting their program off the ground and I was told that HRC's overdose materials are used by trainers in Asia and in particular China. At the conference overdose session in the afternoon Traci Craig Green from Yale presented the results of her evaluation of naloxone programs in the US. We talked afterwards and she explained how clear cut the data was from her study. Those users trained in overdose prevention are heads and shoulders more effective at recognizing and responding to an overdose situation than untrained users. The clear message is expand naloxone programs, and education and training works. Nab Dasgupta from UNC provided a blindingly good breakdown on opiate overdose deaths related to prescription drugs in the US. Dave Marsh from Vancouver covered the need to effectively publicize to drug users when strong, bad, contaminated drugs hit the street. Most intriguingly he talked about recent deaths related to powdered methadone being sold as heroin in Vancouver. Police working with users communicated to the dealer the problem. The police promised not to prosecute the dealer for dealing, dead users or thieving from a pharmacy as long as he returned the rest of the stolen methadone. They retrieved 2/3 of the stolen methadone. This international ligger ended the evening at a lovely OSI reception before heading downtown to watch harm reductionists experiment with vodka consumption at an outdoor consumption space. Nab Dasgupta in training Walter Cavalieri & Don Young
Location: 
Warsaw
Poland

Big News: Sentencing Commission Crack Cocaine Sentencing Report is Out

This issue has dragged on for too long -- I've been working on it since 1994, and that wasn't the beginning of it. Hopefully this new report from the US Sentencing Commission will help bring about some change, even if still woefully insufficient. Commentary I have seen online at the time of this writing:
Prof. Doug Berman on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog Alex Coolman on Drug Law Blog Jeralyn Merritt on TalkLeft Families Against Mandatory Minimums press release
Also our feature story on USSC's recommendations to Congress on the issue, effective unless Congress votes to block them, Drug War Chronicle issue before last. Talk amongst yourselves... :)
Location: 
United States

Gaia-Murdering Psychopath

Peter Guither of Drug WarRant explains to drug czar John Walters why it is his prohibitionist policies that bear the root blame for endangering a rare hummingbird species in the Andes, not the coca growers as Walters' agency claims on their own blog.
Location: 
United States

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