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The Speakeasy Blog

Many Partisans on Both Sides Get Drug Policy Wrong, Blogosphere Shows

Last Friday the blogosphere provided a good example of how readily even political progressives can fail to see the important points in drug policy. A post in Bob Geiger's U.S. Senate Report titled "Bill to Cripple Taliban Drug Trade Passes -- After GOP Tries to Kill It" informs us that Republican senators had unsuccessfully tried to block an amendment by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to put $700 million into the latest defense appropriations bill for suppression of Afghanistan's opium trade. Schumer explained, "The Taliban draws its strength from the drug trade and in order to prevent them from reclaiming the country, we need to crack down the drugs that fuel their regime. We need to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources available to attack this problem before it becomes far worse." Geiger, a partisan whose web site solicits "liberal love" and "conservative castigation" by e-mail, described the Republican effort as "inexplicable," remarks that it "will leave you shaking your head and asking yourself whose side Republicans are really on," and reports that "[f]ortunately... it passed with the support of a handful of Republican votes." Anti-war liberals like Geiger ought to also oppose the Drug War. An article we published in Drug War Chronicle Friday discusses in depth why opium eradication in reality is an extraordinarily bad idea that will strengthen the Taliban mightily by pushing countless poor farmers who are surviving on opium growing into their hands. Opium production is literally the backbone of Afghanistan's economy, and wiping it out at this point, even if that could be accomplished, would plunge the nation into chaos beyond anything before seen. While I doubt Geiger will be moved by the fact that libertarian free-marketeer Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute thinks the only satisfactory way of addressing the situation is through legalization, perhaps he'll pay some attention to the Brookings Institution fellow or the Univ. of Nebraska Afghan scholar we quoted. At a minimum he ought to at least note for his readers that not everyone thinks eradication is a good idea and that a radically different scheme, licensing the opium for the medical market, which stops short of legalization, is being fairly extensively discussed, including by high-level people in our NATO ally countries who are suffering an increasing share of the casualties. This is simply not the cut-and-dried issue Geiger has taken it to be. Geiger's piece was republished in the widely-read Huffington Post blog -- ironically, given Arianna Huffington's own longstanding opposition to the drug war. I don't know that she has specifically written about the Afghan opium conundrum, but in both her conservative past and her liberal present she has been a strong voice on the issue. The summer 2000 "Shadow Conventions" in Philadelphia and LA, in fact, which Arianna spearheaded, adopted opposition to the drug war as one of the three primary issue tracks. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as implying that the Republican Party is good on the drug issue either. Just in case I'm about to get slammed as "right-wing," look a little bit up on this web page in the "Higher Education Act Reform Campaign" block for a photo from the press conference we organized where ten Democratic members of Congress spoke. Or click here for a picture of me and outspokenly liberal Congressman Jim McDermott chatting last year at our Seattle event. And just in case anyone thinks we're soft on the Taliban -- be aware that we condemned them back in 1997, when the UN and the Clinton administration were working on funding them.
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Rest in Peace, John W. Perry

Radley Balko reminds us that John W. Perry lost his life 5 years ago today. Our John W. Perry Fund, which provides scholarships to students who’ve lost financial aid due to drug convictions, is named in his honor:

John William Perry was a New York City police officer and a Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. This scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, is dedicated to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are also an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department.

A tremendous loss indeed. Were he still with us today, I’m sure John W. Perry would be an outspoken leader in the growing movement of police officers opposing the war on drugs. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

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Money Laundering

This "Prohibition in the Media" post is not tied to a particular article. If you do a Google News search on "drug money laundering," you'll get a list of over 1,400 articles. These are only the ones that the news outlets still have online -- the global financial system is virtually "awash" in illicitly-generated revenues, much of it from the drug trade. Of course, it has to be that way under prohibition -- because we've made drugs illegal, all the money that people spend on them goes into the criminal underground. That's hundreds of billions of dollars per year -- I've seen estimates ranging from $150 billion (the RAND Corporation) to $400 billion (the UN) -- and it has an enormous increasing effect on violence rates. The local dealer protecting his turf, to the vicious source or transit country cartel trying to intimidate press or the authorities, to the terrorist organization using the relatively easy-to-get proceeds of drug sales to augment its budget and be able to kill more innocent people, these are just a few of the ways that prohibition has made our world a more dangeous place in which to live. I've written about that here before. The main point I'd like to make today is the effect of the flow of the money itself. If a drug lord is able to buy or build a city, for example -- it is said that the skyscrapers making up the Bangkok, Thailand skyline were built with drug money -- that gives him an enormous amount of influence going beyond his original illegal business. When our investigators of possible terrorist activity try to track the flow of that kind of money, that must be made more difficult to pinpoint given the ocean of drug money in which it is immersed. And of course anyone happening to stand in the way of some of the money is a potential weak link for corruption. Does drug money have an effect on how some international aid dollars get spent? Probably. I don't say that because of any particular examples to which I have access. It's just that there's so much drug money, in so many places, that it seems like it must have some such impact here and there. We need to drain the flooded basement before we'll have a chance of being able to clean it up. That first means blocking off the pipes that are spilling into it. Which in the case of drug money means... legalization. We are going to say "legalization" over and over until the point sinks in with people. In the meanwhile, we would be most grateful if readers could bring our attention to any particularly interesting money laundering stories you spot, especially stories that involve some additional harm resulting from it. (We'd also appreciate if you have or know of some relevant images that are in the public domain that we could use on our web site.)
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Crossing the Border

I'm off to Spokane, Washington, in a few minutes, which means I will be crossing the US-Canadian border at one of the remote ports of entry above Spokane. I'm coming from BC Bud country, which means the border crossing is always, um, interesting. You never know whether they are going to wave you through in a matter of a few seconds, or tear your vehicle apart, make you empty your pockets, and maybe even do a strip search. It always makes me feel so wanted by my homeland. It helps if you have a reasonable story. It seems like there's nothing to set the border guards off like a little uncertainty or nervousness. Up here, they are mainly looking for pot (and in the other direction, the Canadians are looking for cash, cocaine, and guns). The astounding thing is that they would think anyone would go through the ports of entry with a load of weed, when all you have to do is look around at the wild, pine forest-covered mountains that make up the border around here. There are remote logging roads that bisect the border, there are smuggling trails left over from alcohol Prohibition, there are miles of trackless wilderness where nobody goes except young men with backpacks full of weed who hike, bike, ski, or ride horses to the other side where those American dollars are waiting. Ah, yet another border crossing. Always a thrill.
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Karen Tandy Speaks the Truth...But Doesn't Mean it

USA Today's coverage of DEA's new pain medicine regulations (also blogged here) contains this unbelievable quote from DEA Administrator Karen Tandy:

"The DEA does not belong in the practice of medicine. We want doctors to be able to prescribe drugs when people are in pain. We're trying to give them a comfort level."

Truer words have never been spoken more disingenuously. Tandy has presided over an unprecedented assault on the medical profession. In two years' time, her agency has arbitrarily clarified, revoked, and revised the rules that determine when the most miserable among us will be offered relief. Immobilized by agony, the true victims of DEA's misguided witch-hunt have suffered in silence, some driven to suicide, as fear-stricken pain specialists trade in their Oxy for Advil.

Tandy has played doctor indeed, and she's done so capriciously; perpetrating a shell-game with policies that affect millions, seemingly to convict one doctor who should never have been targeted to begin with.

Nor has Tandy's negligent quackery been confined to the realm of pain-management. For a woman who, by her own account, "doesn't belong in the practice of medicine", Tandy has a lot to say about medical marijuana. And all of it's wrong.

If only she were a doctor...

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Attention Night Owls: Your Editor Will Be on the Radio Sunday Night

Chronicle editor Phil Smith (that's me) will be the guest on Kootenay Co-op Radio's "Fane of the Cosmos" program Sunday night. Based in Nelson, BC, Kootenay Co-op Radio is the independent voice of the Kootenay counterculture. "Fane of the Cosmos" is hosted by local attorney Dustin Cantwell, who is perhaps better known as one of the owners of the Holy Smoke Culture Shop in Nelson, which was raided over alleged marijuana sales earlier this summer. Cantwell will interview me about Afghanistan and the latest atrocities from the American war on drugs (the Canadians really love that stuff), while I will interview Cantwell about the latest on the Holy Smoke situation. The program airs at 10pm Pacific time, 1am on the East Coast and is available over the internet.
Nelson, BC

DEA Feeling the Pain

The DEA’s war on pain doctors got a facelift today as explained in their ironically titled press-release “Working Together: DEA and the Medical Community”.


Today, DEA is unveiling a proposed rule that will make it easier for patients with chronic pain or other chronic conditions, to avoid multiple trips to a physician. It will allow a physician to prescribe up to a 90-day supply of Schedule II controlled substances during a single office visit, where medically appropriate. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is accompanied by a policy statement, “Dispensing Controlled Substances for the Treatment of Pain,” which provides information requested by medical professionals regarding DEA’s position on this important issue.

It’s nice to see the spirit of cooperation take hold at DEA, but recent history tells a different story. I’d bet the average pain management specialist feels less like a partner here and more like the groom at a shotgun wedding.

Indeed, this is a not-so-subtle attempt to smooth over the public relations nightmare that has resulted from the agency’s relentless harassment of pain management doctors:

Also new today, DEA is launching a new page on its website ( called “Cases Against Doctors.” Everyone will be able to see for themselves the criminal acts committed by those few physicians who are subject to prosecution or administrative action each year.

The Cases Against Doctors page reeks of insecurity on DEA’s part, suggesting that widespread criticism may have affected Karen Tandy, who’s usually numb from heavy doses of self-righteousness.

Update: USA Today and Washington Post have the story. Both note the hostile relationship DEA has fostered with the medical community. Washington Post describes the regulations as an unambiguous concession to the medical community, which has generally gotten the cold shoulder from DEA on this issue.

Still, to the extent that DEA has capitulated here, it probably has more to do with last month’s reversal of the Hurwitz conviction than any sudden recognition that maybe doctors have useful ideas about how to define legitimate medical practices.

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Not Asking the Basic Questions

The North Hunterdon district in Clinton Township in southern New Jersey is debating their substance abuse policy, according to the Courier News. The discussion comes amidst recognition that the school has drug use. Senior Jad Walther think it's on the rise; he told the News that "he sees drugs being sold near lockers or in hallways when teachers aren't around." As is the usual, basic questions are not being asked:
  1. Given that there is not a single drug free high school in the country (an exaggeration, perhaps, but not much of one), will North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School succeed where all others have failed?
  2. Why is it that this one vice among all the others in which humans (including young people) are wont to indulge takes the form of a criminal underground trade literally running out of the school, from the lockers?
  3. If it's so easy for kids to get away with not only using but also selling drugs -- merely waiting until a teacher is not around -- is it realistic to think that further crackdowns will do the trick -- if it's that easy?
  4. Won't the drug selling just move somewhere else if they do crack down inside the schools? Perhaps getting taken over by especially dangerous people in especially dangerous places?
The obvious point that drugs are being sold out of school lockers, by kids to other kids, because they are illegal and only because they are illegal. There is not a major, school-locker-based, criminal trade in alcohol, even though it is illegal for minors (and even though many of the under-age manage to get it). Alcohol abuse is an issue, but it is not a cause of black market violence, of criminal economic conduct inside school buildings, or of temptation through the profit motive to get involved in crime. My recommendation to North Hunterdon is, whatever else they attempt with regards to drug policy, they also enact a resolution calling on Congress and the state of New Jersey to legalize drugs. At a minimum they should start asking the basic questions. Letters to the editor go to: [email protected]
Clinton Township, NJ
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Canadian Federal Government Demands More Research on Safe Injection Site, But Won't Pay For It

The Canadian federal government -- relatively hostile to harm reduction measures like safe injection sites since the Conservative Party took power in the last elections -- will not fund further research for Vancouver's InSite safe injection site, Health Ministry spokesman Eric Waddell told the Drug War Chronicle this afternoon. That was news to the site's operator, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, whose spokesperson Viviana Zonacco said she had not been informed of that aspect of the ministry's decision.

The Health Ministry had funded research on the injection site's efficacy for the past three years to the tune of $500,000 a year. The ministry extended the site's exemption from the country's drug laws for only year instead of three years last Friday—the dead news day before the three-day weekend in Canada—saying that it required further research on how well it worked. But after demanding more research, the Health Ministry doesn't want to pay for it. Go figger.

I learned about this as I was researching an article I will write about the decision for this week's Chronicle. Check it out on Friday.

Vancouver, BC

Home Town Bust

Huron, South Dakota, is nothing special. It's a town of about 12,000 people on the plains of Eastern South Dakota. The biggest employers are the meat packing houses, the railroad, and the hospital. It's nothing special, but it's my home town--as much as anyplace is. I grew up there, I have family there, I own property nearby. I don't spend a lot of time there, bu it's where I register to vote and where I register my vehicle. It's where I was sent to prison for nearly three years over a quarter-pound of marijuana. It holds a special place in my heart.

There was some grim court news out of Huron this week. The local newspaper, the Daily Plainsman, headlined its story Two Found Guilty in Drug Case, but the real story is the absolutely horrendous sentences facing the pair in question. The two got busted for cooking meth in a local residence and were hit with multiple felony counts: possession of meth, manufacture of meth, conspiracy to manufacture meth, as well as a marijuana possession charge thrown in for good measure. One now faces up to 45 years in prison, the other life because of previous offenses. A third woman arrested in the same raids was found guilty last week and faces 55 years. They will undoubtedly be sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

That's the way it happens in Huron. I know one Huron resident who is currently doing a five-year sentence? Was he selling meth? No. Cooking it? No. Conspiring to do the above? No. Holding some in his pocket? No. High on it? No. This guy is sitting in prison for five years because he happened to be in an apartment when it was raided, he was forced to submit a urine sample, and when it came back positive for traces of methamphetamine, he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced for "internal possession."

Meanwhile, the Daily Plainsman regularly runs the outcomes of magistrate court proceedings, where the bad check writers, the drunk drives, and the pot possessors go. I am struck when reading the court cases by the contrast in what happens to drunk drivers and pot smokers. Bizarrely, first time drunk drivers are likely to get 30 days suspended, while pot smokers are likely to get 30 days in jail. Where are the priorities here?This is one small town in the heartland. It's pretty damned harsh on its residents with drug problems, but I fear it is not that unusual. They've been fighting the war on drugs for more than three decades there now. They haven't stopped drug use, of course, but it certainly looks like a nice jobs program for cops, prosecutors, and prison guards.


Huron, SD
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DEA Issues Policy Statements on Pain Management, Prescribing Practices

Here are the links to the two DEA policy statements. I tried pasting them into this blog, but that crashed it. Sorry about that.

Drug Enforcement Administration

Dispensing Controlled Substances for the Treatment of Pain

ACTION: Policy Statement.


Drug Enforcement Administration

Issuance of Multiple Prescriptions for Schedule II Controlled Substances

Washington, DC
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Crafty Smuggler for Hire

What do you do when you’ve been out of the workforce for quite awhile and potential employers won’t stop asking about your massive felony convictions?

Try being upfront about it.

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The Afghanistan Debacle

On Saturday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its estimate of the 2006 Afghan opium crop, and the numbers are astoundingly bad. According to the UNODCO, this year's crop is 60% larger than last year's and will yield an all-time record 6,100 tons of opium. Afghan opium will account for a whopping 92% of global illicit opium production. This report, which must come as a punch in the gut to the US and NATO, strongly suggests that the US/NATO/Karzai strategy of attempting to uproot the opium crop and the opium economy--which is Afghanistan's primary economic motor--is not only failing, it is backfiring. Opium production has now spread to 28 of the country's 34 provinces, and in the restive south, opium profits are helping fuel a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency. It is a situation eerily reminiscent of Peru in the 1980s. Maoist insurgents of the Shining Path were making inroads among Peruvian coca producers, who were being hounded by the Peruvian government at the behest of the United States. Some Peruvian generals got smart and decided to lay off the peasants, ignoring their coca cultivation in a bid to win hearts and minds. The US government got mightily pissed, but in the end, the strategy worked. The Shining Path was not able to bring the coca growers into its insurgency and eventually faded away. There is a lesson here for NATO and American war planners. You can have your war on terror or you can have your war on drugs, but it doesn't seem that you can successfully have both. It's awfully difficult to win hearts and minds when you're burning down farmers' fields and destroying their livelihoods.

Mexican Drug Trade Violence Approaching "Record Levels"

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Sunday saw another article on the worrisome level of drug trade violence plaguing Mexico. (The link is to the Arizona Daily Star -- the web page attributes to the Dallas Morning News, but I could not find it on the DMN web site -- let us know if you spot it there.) The tone was ominous:
The scale of the lawlessness, its geographical reach, and the apparent inability of the government to keep it in check threaten Mexico's political stability, some analysts warn.
Analyst Javier Ibarrola of the Milenio newspaper says it is worse than it has ever been:
"I have never seen anything like this, ever," Ibarrola said. "The (narcos) have the field wide open to them."
Danger existing to judges and politicians evokes memories of Pablo Escobar's reign of terror in Colombia in the 1990s. The article did not mention prohibition or the many Mexican leaders and intellectuals who believe legalization is necessary to stop the violence of the drug trade and the corrupting effect it has on the nation's institutions. Click on the letter to the editor link at the bottom of the article's web page -- please send us a copy too.

What's a Guy Gotta Do to Get Some Justice Around Here?

In 2003, Harrison County (Mississippi) Sheriff George Payne got a tip from a confidential informant (that's law-speak for "snitch") that marijuana plants were being grown on land leased to the Boarhog Hunting Club. Payne led a crew of lawman onto the property and chopped them all down, even though a field test on a sample plant didn't identify it as marijuana. The property owner, Marion Waltman, said he only found out about the raid when he turned on the local news and saw inmates chopping down the plants at the sheriff's direction. Waltman was first puzzled, then outraged--the sheriff and his crew had just destroyed $225,000 worth of kenaf (hibiscus cannabinus), a plant Waltman was growing as deer feed. So, the sheriff errantly raids private property and destroys a healthy amount of goods belonging to the property owner. He should pay up, right? Wrong. At least according to US District Judge Louis Guirola, who dismissed Waltman's civil lawsuit against Sheriff Payne in May 2005. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. in May 2005 dismissed Waltman's civil lawsuit against Payne. Waltman had claimed the sheriff violated his rights by destroying more than 500 kenaf plants grown as deer food. But Judge Guirola rule that Sheriff Payne was protected by qualified immunity since he was acting in his official capacity and his conduct was "objectively reasonable." Now, Waltman is appealing.
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Karen Tandy Retaliates Against DEA Whistle-blower

This ugly story provides a frightening example of the sordid relationships our government maintains when conducting international narcotics investigations.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez was shown the door after submitting a memo implicating a U.S. Government informant in several murders in Mexico.

From WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX:

Gonzalez began in early 2004 to question the U.S. government's role in allowing an informant to commit possible crimes, even murder. Twelve bodies had been uncovered in a small duplex in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico - a short drive from Gonzalez’s El Paso office. Gonzalez, however, became shocked when he began to review government reports, including a report saying a paid U.S. informant supervised and participated in at least one murder at the cartel-operated house.

I guess even a high-ranking DEA agent has to draw the line somewhere. But Gonzalez’s superiors in Washington, D.C. didn’t appreciate his principled stand:

Troubled by what he found, Gonzalez ultimately wrote a memo to his ICE counterpart in El Paso, and sent a copy to the Justice Department. That was the beginning of the end of his career. “It was a classic case of shooting the messenger,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez got a bad job review from DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, his boss. And felt pressure to retire early.

A more detailed account available at The Narcosphere, is quite a read. Still, this mess has largely escaped the headlines, surely to the satisfaction of Karen Tandy and her colleagues.

It’s no secret that our government frequently hires criminals to do its dirty work in the drug war, but condoning murder is a questionable sacrifice even by the drug war’s flimsy moral standards.

Seeing Karen Tandy take a stand against whistle-blowing at DEA is alarming given her agency’s vulnerability to internal corruption. It makes you wonder what else these guys are up to when they’re not busy interfering with the democratic process.

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It Can't be Stopped

As police departments around the country struggle to eradicate outdoor marijuana crops before the fall harvest, rogue cannabis plants are fighting back.

From All Headline News:

West Duluth, MN (AHN) - At least 12 marijuana trees were discovered growing outside the front door of West Duluth police station in Minnesota.


West Duluth police Lt. John Beyer said they were unaware of the marijuana plants growing outside their precinct because they seldom use the front door. He said most officers use the backdoor entrance to the police station. He said, "The only thing I can say is somebody has a sense of humor. Now they'll read about it in the paper and say,'Yeah, that was me.'"

I would encourage whoever did this not to say “yeah, that was me.” Afterall, considering the tendency of police to estimate per-plant yields at over a pound and to assume a $5,000 per pound retail, you might get accused of growing $60,000 worth of marijuana in the front yard of the police station.

Here’s another good one from

PRESCOTT - A Yavapai County sheriff's deputy patrolling a senior housing development outside Prescott Wednesday spotted a 5-foot-tall marijuana plant growing between two residents' driveways. Deputy Justin Dwyer got out, identified the plant and interviewed the residents, spokeswoman Susan Quayle said. They told the deputy they thought the plant was "just an attractive weed, and they had been watering it because it looked so nice."

That’s a new one. I hope I live long enough to see people growing cannabis purely for its aesthetic value.

As for these particular old folks, I can’t tell if they’re incredibly stupid or surprisingly clever.

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Lobbyes and paranóia.

Somehow, We managed to scare them heavely... troughout the entire world, the lobbys of Prohibition, as them action shows lately, are in a unspeakable state of sheer panic. We have being winning some big battles, and theyr forming ranks to overthrow us back "down the hatch". Yes, is a magnific picture to look at, as we know that the new generations wont be so easely subdued and kept ignorant, or accept the idea of "one" imposed on many...nor they will be misleded as our parentes wore (and still are), of the dangers of this or the goodness of that. Today, people start to see things clearly, and thats why our beloved fascist industrial entrepeneur friends are so scared about, so scared that they re-started or are triyng to bring back to life the more than dead ideas about how to deal with the drug ishue, an ishue that is only an ISHUE due to PROHIBITION, and nothing else. The "flagelation" is not the drugs, wich have been used since we were in caves and clearly took us out of them, but the PROHIBITION started 60 years ago by the lobbyes of fabric, farmacie and oils, just to name a few, to erradicate cannabis in all forms, industrial or recreational...those same people are now battling desasperately, and with tons of reason. We wont stand back, we are not afraid of you, and you and your ideas and politics and state and mass manipulation are dying and putrifying as fast as an rotten apple on august. As you "attack" "harm redution" affairs as if it was some kind of crime, and as if the drugs didn´t existed the same, and as if it wasn´t so, so, so much more worse, for ALL, as you do that, you are not beying heard as you once were, or believed in a single word you spell...PROHIBITION is bad, prohibition is deadly, unhumanly distorced on any "truths", it does´nt adresses the ishue in any way what so ever and as YOU KNOW BY NOW, PROHIBITION IS DEAD! Please, stand back now. It is time to change. It has been more than enough, WE ashore you. Y, ashore you, that everybody ashores you, THAT IT IS ENOUGH! Markus Freemind (Free yourself. Do you think that the north-american politics of war throughout the world because of OIL are fine? So why do you listen to them about what you should do or what it is right or wrong? They are killing and terrifying women, old people and children on theyre own country, due to medical marijuana, in States (California, etc...) where it is legal to do so. ps- WTC was self inflictec. Thats the kind of people bulling the world today. How can Iran not resist? It´s the Bush administration who wants war from the beginning and for shore not the iranians. It makes me sick. Markus Freemind
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Looking at Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

During the research I did for Friday's feature article on the prisoners doing "Katrina time", two of the of the people I talked to implored to look into the plight of another set of victims of the Louisiana criminal justice system: the "heroin lifers." The "heroin lifers" are a group of prisoners, many now aged, who were arrested under a draconian state law enacted in 1973 that mandated life in prison without parole for the sale of any amount of heroin or possession with intent to sell. Some were released on appeal beginning in the 1980s, but others linger in prison. At this point, I'm a little unclear on the numbers and the exact situation. The tough heroin law may have changed in the 1980s--I'm not sure yet--and the state dramatically reformed its sentencing practices in 2001. So why are the good citizens of Louisiana paying to keep a bunch of non-violent old men on the geriatric ward? I just did an initial Google search, and it revealed very little: Two links to a Louisiana blog that linked to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story that can no longer be found, and a five year old plea on a prison justice mailing list for help in the case of one of the lifers, then 53-year-old Earnest Perique, who was trying to get out after serving 26 years. I'll be looking into this for another feature story next week.
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Baking and Entering

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Delightfully smug sex columnist Dan Savage got stoned and walked into Seattle’s City Hall with a fake gun and bag full of pot cookies. For all the right reasons.

It all started when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed a wildly impractical ordinance which would hold nightclub owners responsible for any drug possession on their premises:

From The Stranger:

If the mayor's proposed regulations are adopted, club owners would be required to prevent patrons from carrying drugs into their place of business—prevent. Not attempt to prevent, not do their best to prevent, but prevent—period, full stop. If drugs are found on someone inside a club, the club would be shut down.

Savage was incredulous:

If the mayor expects club owners to keep drugs and weapons out of their clubs, it seemed reasonable to expect that he would be able to keep drugs and weapons out of City Hall.

So he had a friend whip up some pot cookies, tucked a fake gun into his shorts, and walked right past security and into the building. Once inside, he found his way into the Mayor’s office where he admitted to being stoned and offered pot cookies to several mayoral staffers.

No one accepted his offer, but Savage’s exploits have generated quite a buzz nonetheless. Check out Savage’s post at The Stranger Blog for pics and a slew of comments from shocked Seattleites.

Sigh…David Borden never makes us do cool stuff like that.

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Jacob Sullum on the Hurwitz Case

Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine has opined once again on the Hurwitz pain case in The Accidental Drug Trafficker: A repudiation of prosecutions that treat doctors’ errors in judgment as felonies. If you haven't already, check out our news feature on this story <?php print l('here', 'chronicle/450/hurwitz_drug_convictions_overturned', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?>.
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Dammit Bobby, You're a Prosecutor Not a Scientist!

For a quick laugh check out “Report Shows Marijuana Users Growing Older” from the Salem News in Ohio. (Update:  now removed, hopefully for the reasons listed below. Full article appears in the comments section of this post).

The story caught my attention because marijuana users are rarely studied in the U.S. I thought it odd that the Salem News would have the scoop on new marijuana research.

Turns out all they’ve got is the talkative County Prosecutor Robert Herron who read toxicology results from the coroner’s office and got upset that middle-aged dead people were testing positive for marijuana.

He thinks it’s a sign of moral decay:

"These are people who have kids, and I think that's significant," he said. Herron referred to a section in the recently released annual report of county Coroner Dr. William Graham which highlighted positive toxicology results by age. The report said 75 percent of cannabinoid (marijuana) users were males in their early 40's, and out of 17 positive tests for drugs, 16 cases involved people ranging in age from 20 years old to 48 years old.

But um…dead people are more likely to be old, silly. They’re also more likely to have been sick, in which case their marijuana use may have been medical.

I’m not surprised to see a drug warrior drawing asinine conclusions from an autopsy report. It’s happened before. But I’m disappointed that the reporter missed these obvious flaws in his logic.

Send your feedback here.

I think County Prosecutor Robert Herron is just pissed that he never got a chance to put these folks in jail.

Update:  The article was suddenly removed from the Salem News website 

United States

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.
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.

One BIG step back? (

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: Keep the good work!
United States

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