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Harm Reduction: New Jersey Needle Exchange, Needle Access Bills Advance

A bill that would allow up to six New Jersey municipalities to set up needle exchange programs and a companion bill that would permit the sale without prescription of up to 10 syringes at pharmacies passed the Assembly Health and Senior Citzens Committee Thursday. After more than a decade of efforts to win legislation that would allow drug users easier access to clean needles, it now appears the bills have momentum.

New Jersey politicians have begun lining up behind the bills. Before testimony at the committee Thursday, Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) said bluntly, "This bill is going to pass." Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts and Gov. Jon Corzine have stated publicly they intended to legalize syringe exchange as soon as possible.

During testimony, state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz told lawmakers they needed to act now. "We should not be delaying another minute in putting life-saving tools such as syringe exchange programs in the hands of communities desperate to stop the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and AIDS," he said. "Syringe exchange programs not only prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases but also help drug addicts get into treatment.''

The Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office has been lobbying for the bills for several years now. "We're incredibly grateful for such a resounding vote of support on the part of the committee members," DPA's Roseanne Scotti told the Associated Press after the vote.

Europe: Italian Government Gives Approval for Marijuana Derivatives for Pain Control

The Italian cabinet gave its approval Thursday for the use of marijuana derivatives, such as the sublingual spray Sativex, in pain relief, the German agency Deutsche Presse Agentur reported. The move reverses the anti-drug policy enforced by the previous government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was defeated by current Prime Minister Romano Prodi earlier this year.

"We are talking about pain relief therapy. This has nothing to do with smoking joints," Health Minister Livia Turco told reporters after the cabinet meeting where the decision was made. "These drugs are already in use in Canada, Switzerland, and Holland," she added.

Although the Prodi government has vowed to relax stiffened drug penalties enacted by the Berlusconi government, this move has nothing to do with that, said Turco. "If someone mentions cannabis then the whole world is in uproar. We're talking about therapies against pain."

Drug Raids: Michigan Judge Rules Flint Rave Raid Arrests Unconstitutional

In March 2005, police in Flint, Michigan, burst into Club What's Next late one Friday night after witnessing a few instances of drug sales in or near the club and marijuana smoking inside the club, which was holding a rave party. Although police found drugs or paraphernalia on only 23 people (despite strip searches and body cavity searches), they arrested all 117 persons present at the scene. The remaining 94 people were charged with "frequenting a drug house," a misdemeanor offense.
2005 rave raid in Utah (courtesy Portland IndyMedia)
Last Friday, a Genesee Circuit Court judge threw out those arrests, holding that Flint police had violated the constitutional rights of the club-goers. In his decision, Judge Joseph Farah held that police lacked probable cause to arrest people merely for being in the club.

"The District Court erred in finding probable cause to arrest these defendants," Farah wrote in his decision. "To allow to stand the arrests of these 94 defendants would be to allow lumping together people who had been at the club for five minutes or five hours, people who never stopped dancing with those who sat next to a drug deal, people who sat at a table facing the wall with those in the middle of the mischief, and charge those dissimilarly present individuals with equal awareness and knowledge of wrongdoing."

The ACLU of Michigan, which represented the 94 people arrested for being present, greeted the decision with pleasure. "The ordinance under which the arrests were made is in place to protect Flint citizens from actual drug houses. It was never intended to be randomly deployed by the police against law-abiding citizens who go out to clubs to hear music and socialize," said Michigan ACLU executive director Kary Moss in a statement issued the same day. "Judge Joseph Farah's decision vindicates the constitutional rights of our clients and sends a strong message to police departments across the country."

"Judge Farah's opinion correctly concludes that the police had no business arresting any of them," said Ken Mogill, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Michigan who argued the case with Elizabeth Jacobs. "This is a gratifying victory for each of those law-abiding, wrongly arrested individuals and for the rule of law in our community."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy. Judges on cocaine, cops dealing cocaine, cops selling ecstasy, Air Force pilots smuggling ecstasy, police chemists pilfering from the evidence pile, and, of course, jail guards smuggling dope into prisons. Let's get to it:

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the state Judicial Standards Commission filed a petition last Friday seeking the removal of a Dona Ana County magistrate on the grounds he tested positive for cocaine, according to the Associated Press. Magistrate Carlos Garza, 42, has denied using drugs and vowed to fight the move. Garza has been suspended by the commission since September 20, when he failed to comply with a commission order he submit to a drug test. According to the commission, he has since failed another drug test. The commission also accused Garza of trying to pressure a Mesilla deputy marshal during a traffic stop where the judge was in a car with a woman "with whom he had a personal relationship" and asking a court clerk to clear the woman's license early in a drunk driving case. He was put on probation by the Judicial Standards Commission earlier this year in that case, and he said the charge he used cocaine was a continuation of a commission vendetta against him. He said the cocaine metabolites found in his system could have been received through "passive exposure." Garza is running unopposed for reelection in next month's elections.

[Ed: Whether to include mere drug use/possession by criminal justice personnel among the examples of corruption is a dilemma Drug War Chronicle routinely faces. We've opted so far to include them, because a judge who uses illegal drugs may also be a judge who presides over trials of, and pronounces sentences on, other drug users who have only done the same thing (hypocrisy); and because the judge is violating a law he has sworn to uphold (it being a law with which we disagree notwithstanding). Still, it bears reminder that there is a difference between drug use even by police or judges vs. profiting from the drug trade or other examples of official misconduct.]

In Durham, North Carolina, a Durham County sheriff's deputy has been arrested in a drug raid at a local bar and two more deputies have been fired for working security there. Deputy Michael Owens, the owner of the raided bar, was charged along with four others with trafficking cocaine and conspiracy to traffic cocaine, and he faces the additional charge of maintaining a building for the purposes of distributing cocaine. Deputies Brad King and Keith Dotson, who worked off-duty as security for the club, were suspended that same night, the Durham Herald Sun reported, and fired early this week. Authorities reported seizing 1.4 ounces of cocaine during the raid.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, a former Biloxi police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to selling ecstasy, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported. Darrell Cvitanovich, who resigned from the force after his arrest, faces up to 30 years in prison after he admitted selling four ecstasy tablets to a friend. Cvitanovich, who is the son of a former Biloxi police chief, was arrested in June 2005 after an investigation into allegations he was involved in drug activities. During a search of his home, police found 11 ecstasy tablets and a small amount of methamphetamine. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and transfer of a controlled substance, but pleaded last week to the single sales charge. Cvitanovich is free on $50,000 bond pending sentencing.

In New York City, a US Air National Guard pilot who took an Air Force jet to Germany and carried back 200,000 ecstasy tablets was sentenced last Friday to 17 ½ years in prison. Capt. Franklin Rodriguez, 36, and his coconspirator, Master Sgt. John Fong, 37, had pleaded guilty in federal court after being busted for the April 2005 flight. Fong awaits sentencing. The pair went down after federal law enforcement agents watched Fong load 28 bags into a BMW sedan and found them filled with ecstasy tablets, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors said Rodriguez had repeatedly flown drugs on military flights, bringing hundreds of thousands of ecstasy tablets to the US. The feds found more than $700,000 cash in his apartment. They have it now.

In Philadelphia, a former civilian chemist for the Philadelphia Police Department was arrested October 11 on charges she stole drugs for her own use, the Associated Press reported. Colleen Brubaker, 30, came under suspicion in April and resigned in May. Authorities now accuse her of grabbing pain-relieving opiates like Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin to feed her own habit. She is charged with drug possession, theft, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence, obstruction, tampering with public records or information, and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. Since Brubaker was the chemist responsible for hundreds of drug cases, public defenders are now looking into the possibility that some of them may have to be dismissed.

In Stillwater, Oklahoma, a Payne County sheriff's deputy has been suspended without pay pending an investigation by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, the Associated Press reported. Local officials are mum about exactly what Deputy Brooke Buchanan, a 13-year veteran of the department, is accused of doing, but they did confirm that a special prosecutor has been named in the investigation. The investigation could take several more weeks before any charges are filed.

In Lubbock, Texas, a Lubbock County jail guard was arrested Sunday night as she arrived at work carrying marijuana, KLBK-CBS 13 TV in Lubbock reported. Renata Hernandez, 26, is charged with introducing a prohibited substance into a correctional facility. She faces between two and ten years in prison. While sheriff's office spokesmen said they believed she was bringing the weed into the jail to sell it, they have not been able to prove that yet.

Europe: Dutch Appeals Court Rules Medical Marijuana Patient Can Grow His Own

Up until now, it has been illegal to grow marijuana in the Netherlands, but a case decided Tuesday has opened a crack in the dike for patients. Although Holland's famous coffee shops provide retail cannabis sales with the acquiescence of the Dutch state, the country has never made any provision to bring the growers who supply the shops out of the black market. Similarly, although Holland allows for medical marijuana to be purchased at pharmacies, it did not allow patients to grow their own.

Until Tuesday, when, according to Agence France Presse, an appeals court in Leeuwarden in the northern Netherlands ruled that multiple sclerosis patient Wim Moorlag and his wife should not have been prosecuted for growing a crop that would provide him with 20 grams of marijuana a week. Although a lower court had found the Moorlags guilty of illegal cultivation (and fined them $314), the appeals court held that Moorlag's right to try to alleviate pain connected with his disease overrode the state's interest in banning marijuana cultivation.

Moorlag had argued that he could not buy marijuana from coffee shops because it could contain fungi and bacteria especially dangerous for MS sufferers.

Moorlag's attorney, Wim Anker, told the Dutch ANP news agency the decision would have broad ramifications. "This means that other patients can also legally grow their own cannabis, not just MS patients but also people with AIDS," he said.

Dutch prosecutors, however, are not yet throwing in the towel. On Wednesday, they announced they had asked the Dutch Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court decision. "We introduced an appeals motion on Tuesday before the Supreme Court," said Marina Weel, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office in Leeuwaarden.

Canada: Supreme Court Rejects Random Drug Tests of Probationers

In a ruling last week, the Canadian Supreme Court held that the country's Criminal Code does not allow judges to require offenders on probation to submit to drug tests or other demands for a sample of bodily substances. The ruling came in the case of Harjit Singh Shoker, who in 2003 climbed naked into bed with an RCMP officer's wife with rape on his mind in the midst of a methamphetamine binge.

Shoker was convicted of breaking and entering with the intent to commit sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 months in prison and two years probation. His sentencing judge including as conditions of his probation that he must undergo drug treatment, abstain from using alcohol and drugs, and undergo drug tests on demand. He appealed those conditions of his sentence.

In 2004, the British Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge had no authority to order Shoker into treatment without his consent, nor did he have the authority to demand that Shoker submit to drug tests. Since then BC judges have continued to order probationers to avoid drugs and alcohol, but have foregone what had been an almost automatic companion order to submit to drug testing.

The BC Crown Prosecutors Office did not challenge the drug treatment ruling, but did appeal the ruling on drug testing -- even though the province had eliminated funding for the drug testing program in 2003. But BC prosecutors got no solace from the Supreme Court.

Justice Louise Charron, who authored the ruling, called drug testing so "highly intrusive" that it required "stringent standards and safeguards to meet constitutional requirements." Parliament could craft such standards, making a drug testing requirement legal, she noted. "There is no question that a probationer has a lowered expectation of privacy," Charron wrote. "However, it is up to Parliament, not the courts, to balance the probationers' charter rights as against society's interest in effectively monitoring their conduct."

If Parliament wants judges to be able to impose drug testing as a condition of probation, it must address the issue and not leave it to the whim of individual judges. "The establishment of these standards and safeguards cannot be left to the discretion of the sentencing judge in individual cases," Charron wrote. "Those are precisely the kinds of policy decisions for Parliament to make having regard to the limitations contained in the charter."

What a difference a border makes! On the US side, coerced drug treatment and drug testing is the norm. On the Canadian side, it's unconstitutional, at least the way they tried it.

Sentencing: Louisiana Supreme Court Hears Case of Heroin Lifers

In the midst of 1970s-style drug war hysteria, Louisiana legislators passed a law mandating life without parole for people convicted of selling heroin. In 2001, the legislature moved to amend that draconian law, amending it so that heroin distribution sentences ran from five to 50 years in prison. That 2001 law also established a "risk review" process for early release of prisoners sentenced under harsh old laws. In 2003, the legislature specifically included the heroin lifers in the group of convicts who could seek redress via the review process, and in 2005, it amended the law to allow inmates to seek a review after serving seven years of their sentences.

More than 90 heroin lifers remain behind bars, many of them now elderly after having spent the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and half of the 2000s behind bars.

Last year, trial court judges in Orleans and St. Tammany parishes, frustrated with the glacial pace at which the reviews were moving, revised downward the sentences of a pair of heroin lifers and ordered their immediate release. The state of Louisiana appealed the decision, and this week the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that the heroin lifers must go through an arduous and extensive review process controlled by the Department of Corrections to seek a sentence reduction and the freedom it would deliver. The trial judges who ordered prisoners released exceeded their jurisdiction, said Graham Bosworth of the New Orleans district attorney's office.

But attorneys representing the heroin lifers argued that recent legislative changes made the old sentences patently illegal and that judges have the authority to resentence those prisoners. "We have to trust people we have on the district court benches to exercise their jurisdiction wisely," said attorney Dwight Doskey.

The two men whose cases are being appealed are Melvin Smith, who was convicted in 1977 and recently ordered released by Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson, who had resentenced him to 28 years -- essentially time served; and Wesley Dick, who was sentenced to life in 2001 just before the law changed. District Judge Patricia Hedges freed him in July after cutting his sentence to 10 years.

In a sign of prosecutorial vindictiveness, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan blocked Smith's release. The elderly Smith remains wheelchair-bound at the Orleans Parish House of Detention pending the Supreme Court decision regarding his fate.

Paraphernalia: Florida County Approves Tough New Ordinance

Head shop and paraphernalia store owners in Pinellas County, Florida, are in for a rough ride after the county commission Wednesday gave final approval to a new drug paraphernalia ordinance that will make it easier to win convictions than current Florida law. Under state law, people can only be found guilty of paraphernalia sales if it can be proven they knew the product they sold would be used to ingest drugs. The new county ordinance lowers the bar, requiring only that the seller should reasonably have known such use would occur.

Those convicted under the new county ordinance face up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500. Repeat offenders could see their business licenses jerked.
The new law is the result of a county Drug Paraphernalia Abatement Task Force organized by County Commission Chairman Ken Welch last year. The ordinance follows almost letter by letter the recommendations of the task force's report issued in June, which claimed that drug paraphernalia "enabled" drug use.

Opponents of the ordinance showed up at the commission's Wednesday meeting to no avail. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, among those protesting the ordinance was Kurt Donely, executive director of the Florida NORML chapter. He said the proposed 60-day penalty was too extreme. "I would lose my house, my car," Donely said. "Something would happen to my pets."

Another opponent was Tamara Pare, 23, an employee of Purple Haze Tobacco & Accessories in St. Petersburg. She arrived dressed as a hooker, wearing red heels, a short skirt, and a halter top. Her attire, she said, was "a visual metaphor" that underscored the silliness of the "reasonably should know" standard. "Many reasonable people today might see me dressed like this and think I'm a prostitute," Pare told the board.

Her boss, Leo Calzadilla, spoke via videotape from his store, with shelves of water pipes on display behind him. The ordinance would be aimed at specialty shops like his when items that could be used as drug paraphernalia can be found almost anywhere he said. "This ordinance is going to do nothing but tie up our local courts system," Calzadilla warned.

But commission head Welch was unswayed, although he acknowledged the ordinance would not stop drug use. "It's not going to solve the entire problem," he said. "It's a step in the right direction."

Perhaps Welch and the county commission should be stepping over toward the county attorney's office because it appears it will be busy fending off challenges. "I'm still confused," Alan Berger, 51, co-owner of Balls of Steel in Gulfport, said after the vote. "Should I pull everything off the shelves? I guarantee you, we will fight."

Pain Medicine: Dr. Hurwitz Denied Bail, to Sit in Prison Pending New Trial

Nationally-known pain treatment specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was denied bail pending retrial Wednesday. Hurwitz has been in prison since he was convicted in November 2004 on drug trafficking charges over his prescribing of large quantities of opioid pain relievers to patients, some of whom later admitted abusing and/or selling them. Hurwitz' conviction was thrown out on appeal, and he sought his freedom pending a new trial.
Dr. Hurwitz in 1996 (photo courtesy Skip Baker)
Although Hurwitz had posted a $2 million bond to get out of jail after his arrest and complied with all its conditions, US District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, the same judge whose deficient instructions to the jury resulted in the verdict being thrown out, rejected a motion by Hurwitz' attorneys to free him. Judge Wexler said he was concerned Hurwitz might flee.

"Things have changed with respect to flight," Wexler said as he rejected the motion. "A jury has found him guilty of 50 counts... I think there is a risk of flight."

Hurwitz is probably the most prominent physician to be prosecuted in an ongoing federal crackdown on what authorities call prescription drug abuse and the over-prescribing of drugs such as Oxycontin and other pain relievers. His case mobilized more interest and support in the media and the medical community than any of the dozens of other cases of doctors prosecuted in the federal campaign.

He was convicted after Judge Wexler instructed jurors that they could not consider whether Hurwitz acted "in good faith" when prescribing. Hurwitz and his attorneys argued that the "good faith" defense was crucial to proving his innocence because he believed he was helping his patients by prescribing large amounts of pain relievers.

Prosecutors urged that Hurwitz remain jailed pending trial, saying he had reason to flee. "At least one jury found him guilty 50 times over," said Assistant US Attorney Gene Rossi. "He's about 60 years old, and the sentence that was imposed, 25 years, is essentially a life sentence. That is a strong incentive."

But Hurwitz' attorneys said he had not fled when out on bail before and he had a good chance of winning in the new trial. "He faithfully abided by every condition of his release," said defense attorney Lawrence Robbins.

The Robing Room, a web site that allows criminal justice professionals to rate judges, gives Wexler a mediocre 3.5 out of 10, though the sample size (only nine people, mostly criminal defense lawyers) is limited. Among the comments:

"This is one of the most mean spirited individuals I have ever met... He lacks judicial temperament and is not remotely as smart as he thinks he is, plus he does not listen."

"He is, quite simply, a terrible judge... A yeller, a browbeater, a one-sided unabashed prosecution lover... Doesn't pay much attention to legal citations that are clearly relevant procedurally... Mean and nasty, not very intelligent."

"Doesn't know the law and doesn't care."

Read David Borden's letter to Judge Wexler about evident flaws in the trial, sent prior to the original sentencing of Dr. Hurwitz, here.

Get further information about the Hurwitz case on the web site of the Pain Relief Network.

Latin America: Tijuana Mayor Vows to Investigate Entire Police Force for Links to Drug Trade

The mayor of the Mexican border city of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, announced over the weekend that the entire municipal police force is to be investigated for involvement in the drug trade. The city is home to the Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization, one of the most powerful in Mexico. The group is locked in a bloody battle with the competing "Juarez cartel," led by the criminal heirs of the legendary Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies" before his death in 1997. Dozens of people have been killed this year in Tijuana in battles between the rival groups.
Tijuana police logo (courtesy
Tensions have worsened in the city since the August arrest of Francisco Javier Arellano Felix by US authorities off the Baja California coast in August. Since then, violence has escalated, and the dead include at least five police officers from city, state, or federal agencies, including assistant Tijuana police chief Arturo Rivas Vaca, who was gunned down in his patrol car in mid-September.

After that incident, Tijuana officials accused federal law enforcement officials of not doing enough to help fight the traffickers, which prompted an unusually testy response from the federal attorney general's office. In a communiqué issued in late September, the office accused Mayor Rhon and Tijuana secretary of public safety Luis Javier Algorri Franco of "complacency or direct complicity" with the drug traffic.

Rhon was also facing pressure from powerful Tijuana business interests worried that the corruption and violence could affect their bottom lines. The major business group in the city, the Entrepreneurial Coordinating Council, had announced last month it was boycotting public functions until local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began working together, and last week, it threatened to move businesses from the city unless something was done.

That is apparently what prompted Rhon's weekend call for a mass investigation of the municipal police. While police corruption in Tijuana has been endemic for years -- local police report 66 of their own arrested in the past six months -- it is the open political spat between Rhon and Mexico City that greased the wheels for the investigation and the pressure from business that made it happen.

"Everyone from the policeman on the beat to the state police superintendent will be subject to this investigation," Rhon told a weekend press conference.

"We haven't waited for anyone to come from outside to help us with the theme of corruption," Algorri said in the weekend press conference announcing the mass investigation of Tijuana's 2,300 police. Algorri added that it was unfair to single out the city police. "The problem of corruption in police agencies is a reality, and all of the police agencies have problems with corruption," he said.

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