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Industrial Hemp: California Assembly Passes Hemp Bill, Will Schwarzenegger Sign It?

The California Assembly Monday passed a bill that would allow farmers there to produce hemp oil, seed, and fiber for nutritional and industrial purposes. The bill, AB 1147, was sponsored by Assemblymen Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), and passed by a margin of 43-28. It has already passed the state Senate and now awaits the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

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hemp plants
Hemp is a $270 million industry, but American farmers are at a disadvantage because federal law bans its production -- but not its importation. California law currently mirrors federal law in failing to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana. If signed into law, the California bill would not mean farmers there could begin growing hemp, but it would add pressure on the federal government to revisit the issue.

Both hemp and marijuana are members of the cannabis family, but are different cultivars within that family. Hemp contains only trace levels of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in recreational marijuana, but its fibers are used in paper, clothing, car parts, and building materials, and its seeds and oils are used as food products.

"Hundreds of hemp products are made right here in California, but manufacturers are forced to import hemp seed, oil and fiber from other countries," said Leno during debate on the bill. "When this bill becomes law, it will be an economic bonanza for California."

The bill passed on partisan lines, with only one Republican joining Democrats to vote for it. GOP lawmakers resorted to Reefer Madness-style posturing to explain their opposition. "As a conservative Republican, I can't have my name attached to hemp," said Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia). According to Mountjoy, the bill would make the fight against marijuana cultivation more difficult because hemp "sends off the exact same heat signal that is used to spot marijuana crops." Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) sang the same tune, claiming marijuana and pot plants are "indistinguishable."

But law enforcement officers in the 30 countries where hemp is grown legally seem to be able to tell the difference, a point that Assemblyman Leno made. The differences between marijuana and hemp are such that "a five-year-old could tell the difference... Law enforcement who have the gift of sight would have no trouble."

"We thank legislators from both parties that listened to the facts about industrial hemp and made an historic decision to bring back the crop," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, an advocacy group that supported the bill. "Passage in the California Legislature is a major accomplishment for the authors and sponsors of the bill, as well as for thousands of environmentally-conscious voters, farmers and businesses who wrote California legislators," says Steenstra.

No word yet on whether Schwarzenegger will sign or veto the bill.

Medical Marijuana: No More Prison Threat for Renee Boje After Feds Accept Symbolic Plea

One of the most prominent and poignant cases of federal prosecution of people involved in the medical marijuana movement has come to a relatively good end. Renee Boje, who fled to Canada in 1998 rather than face a 10-year to life mandatory minimum sentence for her peripheral involvement in a Los Angeles medical marijuana research grow, pleaded guilty last week to possession of ½ gram of marijuana, was sentenced to one year of probation and allowed to return to Canada. Boje's good news comes roughly four months after another well-known American medical marijuana refugee in Canada, Steve Kubby, saw his own case resolved with a relatively short amount of jail time.

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Renee Boje
Boje, who did little more than water plants, was arrested when the DEA raided a garden maintained by author and AIDS patient Peter McWilliams and cancer patient and marijuana activist Todd McCormick. McCormick served a five-year federal prison sentence for his role in the operation, but McWilliams never got the chance to. He choked to death on his own vomit after being denied the ability to use marijuana while on probation awaiting trial.

Facing the tender mercies of the US federal criminal justice system, Boje fled to the more cannabis-friendly nation of Canada, where she was embraced by that country's marijuana movement. In 2001, she married activist and author Chris Bennett, and the following year gave birth to a son in Canada. Despite the pleas of people from around the world and her growing links with Canada, the Canadian government rejected all her efforts to stay in the country, and it appeared that she would be deported to face justice American-style.

But federal prosecutors in Los Angeles apparently lost interest in persecuting the young woman and sent word they were interested in resolving the case. On August 10, Boje reentered the United States and on August 14, she pleaded guilty before Judge George King, the same judge who presided over the McWilliams and McCormick hearings. When sentencing Boje to probation, he also gave her permission to return to Canada.

While Canadian border officials had threatened not to allow her back into the country -- after all, she had now pleaded guilty to possessing ½ a gram of marijuana and was thus eligible to be denied entry under Canadian law -- they ultimately granted her a six-month visitor's permit. Boje will use that time to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Asset Forfeiture: Federal Appeal Upholds Seizure of Cash Despite Lack of Drugs

A federal appeals court has held that police acted within the law when they seized nearly $125,000 in cash from a man's car during a traffic stop, even though no drugs were found in the car. A three-judge panel from the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in US v. $124,700 in US Currency that the cash may have been linked to the drug trade, overturning an earlier decision by a US Magistrate Court judge in Nebraska.

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House of Evil: the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Emilio Gonzolez was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 80 in 2003. Gonzolez told the officer the car he was driving had been rented by someone named Luis, that he had never been arrested, and that he was not carrying drugs, guns, or large sums of money. Gonzolez then consented to a search of the vehicle, which turned up $124,700 in cash in a cooler on the back seat. Police also learned that Gonzolez had been arrested for drunk driving and that the person who rented the car was not named Luis. Police then sicced a drug dog on the vehicle, and the dog alerted on the cash and on the seat where it was sitting.

In court, Gonzolez testified that he had flown from California to Chicago and planned to use the cash to buy a refrigerated truck there, but when he arrived there, the truck had already been sold. He decided to drive back to California, but needed someone to rent a car because he had no credit card, he testified. Gonzolez said he lied about having the money because he feared carrying large amounts of cash could be illegal and he hid it in the cooler because he was afraid it might be stolen. He testified that he didn’t reveal the drunk driving arrest because he didn’t think drunk driving was a crime.

Gonzolez' tale may have been barely credible, but any positive evidence linking his stash of cash to drug trafficking was hard to come by. Still, the appeals court overturned the original decision. "We believe that the evidence as a whole demonstrates... that there was a substantial connection between the currency and a drug trafficking offense," the court wrote. "We have adopted the commonsense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and drug trafficking."

That wasn’t good enough for dissenting Judge Donald Lay, who argued that there was no evidence linking the cash to drug trafficking. "At most, the evidence presented suggests the money seized may have been involved in some illegal activity -- activity that is incapable of being ascertained on the record before us," Lay wrote.

But what about the drug dog alerting on the cash and the car seat? "Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance offense," Lay reasoned.

San Diego attorney Donald Yates, who represents Gonzolez, told the Associated Press they would appeal the decision. People who do not have credit or bank accounts and who must do business in cash are being treated unfairly, he said. "They do not allow for anybody to have a lifestyle different from the average person in Nebraska."

Latin America: US Feds Bust Major Mexican Trafficker, Expect Violence, Continued Drug Trafficking as Result

Javier Arellano-Felix, a major player in one of Mexico's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, was arrested by the US Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of Mexico's Baja California. But even as federal law enforcement officials risked serious injury from all the back-patting going on at their celebratory press conference Thursday, they acknowledged that his arrest would amount to little.

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DEA poster
The Arellano-Felix organization controls the Tijuana drug trade franchise, or "plaza" as it's called in Mexican slang. It grew in the 1980s into a major cocaine trafficking group, but was dealt a harsh blow in 2002 when one older Arellano-Felix brother was killed and another arrested. In the past two years, since the most recent disruptions of the Mexican cartel structure, the Arellano-Felix organization has been a key player in the bloody vendettas among traffickers that have left more than 1,500 people dead.

"El Tigrillo" ("The Little Tiger"), as he is known in Mexico, was one of several organization members indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2003 on charges they conspired to smuggle tons of cocaine into the US. He faces life in prison here.

"In the world of drug law enforcement, it doesn't get any better," John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, sat a mobbed news conference. "This is huge. The opportunity to capture a drug lord the caliber of Javier Arellano Felix is a unique event." His capture marks "the end of two decades of the most... powerful and violent drug-trafficking organization," he added.

And what that means in Mexico is a new round of violence as competing trafficking organizations fight to take advantage of the opening. Fernandes acknowledged as much, saying that violent jockeying for power is the likely result of Arellano's arrest.

Nor do authorities expect his arrest to make any significant difference. "In drug trafficking we're not naive enough to think that drug trafficking is going to stop," said FBI Daniel R. Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI's local office.

Still, it was a nice photo-op.

Harm Reduction: Global Harm Reductionists Issue Urgent Declaration Calling for Action on Drug Use and HIV

Representatives of 19 international and regional harm reduction organizations meeting in Toronto this week have issued a declaration calling for immediate action to address the spread of HIV through injection drug use. Known as the Declaration of Unity, the statement demands that governments and international anti-drug organizations stop impeding the adoption of harm reduction measures proven to reduce the spread of disease, such as needle exchanges and safe injection sites.

The groups urged governments to:

  • provide adequate coverage and low threshold access, including in correctional settings, to sterile injection equipment, condoms, methadone and buprenorphine as essential components of comprehensive HIV prevention and care;
  • ensure that drug users and all marginalized populations have equitable access to quality HIV prevention, medical care, and highly active antiretroviral treatment, that concrete country-level and global targets be established, and that progress be monitored;
  • provide meaningful involvement of drug users at all levels of planning and policy, and financial support for their organizations; and
  • put an end to disenfranchisement and human rights violations of drug users including mass imprisonment, punitive and degrading drug treatment programs, and the widespread use of withdrawal as a form of coercion.

Noting that UNAIDS cannot effectively slow the spread of HIV when forces within the UN system are creating obstacles to effective harm reduction measures, the groups demanded that:

  • the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as the UN agency tasked with leadership on HIV prevention among drug users, ensure that effective community protection against HIV is not ignored in the name of drug control and law enforcement;
  • the International Narcotics Control Board, as the body charged with responsibility for monitoring implementation of the drug treaties, publicly and unambiguously endorse and promote harm reduction as an approach consistent with those treaties and monitor global delivery of substitution treatment and HIV prevention measures for drug users;
  • the international community and all major UN bodies involved in drugs and HIV approach drug use as a health and social matter which also requires some law enforcement interventions rather than being primarily a matter of criminal justice.

The harm reductionists from around the globe were in Toronto for the International AIDS 2006 conference. "HIV is being spread increasingly -- in some parts of the world, chiefly-through the sharing of injecting equipment, said Dr. Diane Riley, who signed the declaration on behalf of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy and the Youth Network for Harm Reduction International. "Considerable evidence exists that harm reduction strategies such as needle exchange programs can effectively, safely and cheaply reduce the spread of HIV; yet very few such programs are in place. Governments are in effect spreading infection through their own drug control and enforcement policies which encourage use of non-sterile equipment, and marginalization and incarceration of users," Riley added in a press release announcing the declaration.

"The United States, the world's most important donor of international aid, restricts implementation of harm reduction strategies," Riley charged. "Political and social commitment, including commitment of the necessary resources, and an end to the US administration's embargo on harm reduction are needed now," Riley said. "If we fail to do this, further catastrophe is inevitable and the global economy will simply not be able to cope with the resultant burden."

Europe: British Public Supports More Rational Drug Policies, Survey Says

A survey of British attitudes toward drug policy has found that a majority of people are ready to decriminalize marijuana or make it an offense equivalent to a parking fine. But the poll also found that a solid majority draws a distinction between "soft" drugs like marijuana and "hard" drugs like cocaine and heroin. Most people do not want to see any lessening of restrictions on the use or sale of hard drugs.

The survey's release this week comes with Britain in the midst of a battle over redefining its largely drug war-style drug policies. Just two weeks ago, a parliamentary committee studying drug policy released a report calling Britain's drug classification scheme unscientific. Marijuana policy continues to bedevil the British, as does rising cocaine use and high levels of use of other drugs. The government is also discussing drug policy now because in two years it must evaluate its current 10-year strategy.

Marijuana is currently a Class C drug -- the least serious drug category -- and possession offenders are typical ticketed, while marijuana sales remains a serious crime punishable by up to seven years in prison. Only 38% wanted both possession and sales to remain criminal offenses, while 30% wanted lesser criminal penalties for possession only, 13% wanted simple possession totally decriminalized, and another 15% wanted to see both sales and possession treated as not a crime. In other words, 58% of respondents favored marijuana policies more lenient than current policies.

Attitudes were much tougher toward "hard" drugs, with 73% of respondents favoring the status quo. Only 17% favored lesser criminal penalties for simple possession and only 6% favored entirely decriminalizing possession. The poll didn’t even ask whether anyone would favor legalizing the hard drug trade.

Respondents also broadly agreed that a new drug classification scheme, perhaps containing a Class D for drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, would be a good thing by a margin of 56% to 30%. When it comes to comparing the harms of various drugs -- licit and illicit -- respondents ranked heroin as worst, followed closely by cocaine, solvents, ecstasy, and tobacco in descending order. Marijuana was rated as less harmful than any drugs except prescribed tranquilizers and coffee.

The British citizenry also displayed an awareness of the notion of harm reduction, with a whopping 89% agreeing that: "Whether we like it or not, there will always be people who use drugs and the aims should be to reduce the harm they cause themselves and others."

If this survey is any indicator, it looks like the British public is ready for some more rational drug policies. The question is: Is the British political class ready?

Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps to Record Level

Unnamed "Western officials" in Afghanistan are saying that the country's opium crop has increased by a whopping 40% over last year despite hundreds of millions of dollars in counter-narcotics funding and thousands of NATO and American troops in the zones of cultivation, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Given what they were telling the AP, it is understandable why no one wanted to be named.

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Afghan opium
According to one "Western anti-narcotics official" citing preliminary crop projections, Afghanistan will top the previous record of 324,000 acres under cultivation in 2004 with more than 370,000 acres planted this year. That is up from 257,000 acres planted last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's annual report on Afghan opium production. This year's UN report is expected in September.

Afghanistan already accounts for almost 90% of total global opium production. Profits from the crop and the trade are widely viewed as helping fund Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents, who, along with drug lords threatened by eradication, are fighting Afghan, US, and NATO forces in an increasingly bloody campaign centered in the opium-growing southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Eradication efforts are also emerging as a double-edged sword: Wiping out the crop advances the aims of the drug war, but pushes peasants into the willing arms of the rebels. According to the UN, opium accounted for 52% of Afghanistan's gross domestic product last year.

"We know that if we start eradicating the whole surface of poppy cultivation in Helmand, we will increase the activity of the insurgency and increase the number of insurgents," said Tom Koenigs, the top UN official in Afghanistan, and about the only person willing to go on the record. He said the international community needs to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers, but warned against expecting quick results. "The problem has increased, and the remedy has to adjust," he said.

"It is a significant increase from last year... unfortunately, it is a record year," "a senior US government official based in Kabul" told the AP. "Now what they have is a narco-economy. If they do not get corruption sorted they can slip into being a narco-state," he warned. "We expected a large number (crop) this year but Helmand unfortunately exceeded even our predictions."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's not your typical week of corrupt cops this week. We've got the usual prison guard in trouble, but not in the usual way; we've got an LAPD officer arrested for making bad arrests; we've got an Alabama narc busted for stealing; and we've got an Alabama judge with an apparent bad habit. In regard to the judge, we don't typically run stories of cops facing simple drug possession charges, but when it's a judge who regularly sentences drug offenders, we think it's worth notice. Also this week, a pair of links to longer investigative pieces down by local newspapers about festering local corruption scandals. Let's get to it:

In Lowndes County, Mississippi, an Alabama judge has been arrested on methamphetamine possession charges, the Tuscaloosa News reported. Pickens County District Judge Ira Colvin was arrested Monday by Lowndes County sheriff's deputies at the same time they arrested a 36-year-old woman (not his wife) on the same charges, but in a separate vehicle. According to the Associated Press, Colvin was arrested as deputies investigated people driving from store to store to buy meth precursor materials. Precursors, a gram of powder meth, and two syringes filled with liquid meth were allegedly found in his car. Colvin's wife, Christy Colvin, was arrested on meth possession charges four months ago in Columbus, Mississippi, as she drove around town purchasing ingredients that could be used to make meth. Judge Colvin, who was appointed to the bench in December 2002 to replace a judge who resigned after being accused of improper contact with females involved in cases before his court, was indicted on federal bankruptcy fraud charges in May 2004 for allegedly hiding assets for a client in 2001, but those charges were dropped after Colvin apologized. He was awaiting a bail hearing Wednesday.

In Dothan, Alabama, a former Houston County narcotics officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he stole property. Former Houston County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Ducker was accused of stealing up to $30,000 worth of hunting equipment and accessories from Southern Outdoor Sports, where he once worked. Ducker pleaded guilty to first degree theft of property and faces from two to 20 years in prison when sentenced in October. According to WTVY-News 4, Ducker, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff's office, "hid behind his attorneys" as he entered the court house and "ran out of the courtroom after entering his guilty plea."

In Los Angeles, a veteran Ramparts Division LAPD officer was charged last Friday with making false arrests, the Los Angeles Times reported. Officer Edward Beltran Zamora was busted after he was caught in a sting by the LAPD Ethics Enforcement Section. The department says it has videotape of Zamora arresting two undercover officers posing as suspects on suspicion of drug possession when they did not possess drugs. Zamora, 44, has previously been accused of making false arrests, and the city of Los Angeles has already paid out $520,000 to settle two civil lawsuits filed against him. In one case, Zamora was accused of planting a rifle on a suspect, in the other, he was accused of planting drugs and a rifle. Zamora faces up to three years in prison on a felony count of filing a false police report. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of false arrest and false imprisonment. The 16-year LAPD veteran is free on bail.

In Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, a Texas jail guard was arrested Monday morning with 30 pounds of cocaine. According to KGBT-4 TV in Brownsville, Texas, Hidalgo County detention officer Pedro Longoria was arrested by Louisiana State Troopers and now faces charges of transporting cocaine. Longoria has now been fired from his job and is jailed pending a bond hearing.

For those interested in a more in-depth look at drug war-related police corruption at the local level, two recent newspaper articles are worth a read. In North Carolina, the Fayetteville Observer has a lengthy piece on "Operation Tarnished Badge," a federal investigation that has roiled Robeson County for the past few years, resulting in convictions of several officers and the dismissal or reversal of hundreds of drug cases. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the Laurel Leader-Call has published an update on the ongoing investigation of the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task Force, which was shut down in April amid concern over "irregularities," with its story "Task Force Probe Nearly Complete".

Methamphetamine: One Month in One Texas County Courthouse Opens a Window on the Drug War Version 2.006

If you want a snapshot of the current state of the drug war in the American heartland, Grayson County, Texas, is as good a place as any. Grayson County lies about an hour north of Dallas on US Highway 75 just south of the Oklahoma border. According to the US Census of 2000, the county has a population of 110,000, with some 35,000 people in Sherman, the county seat and largest town. The local economy is dependent on agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly, the county's role as a drug distribution hub for the Texoma border region of which it is a part. And if last month's 336th District Court case dispositions are any indication, it either has a big methamphetamine problem or a law enforcement apparatus obsessed with finding one.

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quiet street but busy courthouse, thanks to the drug war
According to a list of case dispositions for the month of July compiled by Grayson County Attorney Joe Brown and published in the Sherman Herald-Democrat, 15 of the 31 defendants whose cases were resolved during that period faced methamphetamine charges. One case was a marijuana case, while three others involved cocaine possession or distribution. Of the methamphetamine cases, 11 were for simple possession, three for possession or transport of chemicals used in the manufacture of meth, and one for meth manufacture itself. Of all 19 drug cases, none was for drug sales and only one was for possession with intent to distribute.

336th District Court judges generally came down hard on meth offenders. Of the 11 simple meth possession cases, four got probated prison sentences, three got state jail time (up to two years), and four got sent to prison for sentences ranging from thee to six years and averaging 4 ½ years. The courts were especially tough on people seeking to buy chemicals to home-cook meth, handing out sentences of four, seven, and 10 years. The sole meth manufacturer got only 10 years probation, but he also got a two-year prison sentence for child endangerment.

The judges were also fairly tough on other drug offenders. The one gentlemen charged with marijuana possession in a drug free zone got two years in state jail, while one person convicted of cocaine possession got six years and the other got probation. The sole case of cocaine possession with intent to distribute garnered 10 years for the defendant.

The non-drug cases were a motley crew: One aggravated sexual assault of a child (15 years), one burglary of a habitation (nine years), one boating while intoxicated (three years), one credit card abuse (16 months), one endangering a child (two years), three evading arrest with a motor vehicle (two got two years each, one got probation), one failure to appear (three years), one forgery (two years), one retaliation (probation), and one theft over $1500 (15 months).

Without all those meth cases, the Grayson County Courthouse would be a lot quieter. In 13 of the 15 meth-related cases, there were no other non-drug-related charges, just people choosing an unpopular drug to ingest or try to make at home. Likewise with the other drug cases. Like good burghers everyone in America, the citizens of Grayson County are paying a lot of money to arrest, jail, convict, and imprison a lot of people who weren't doing anything to anybody.

Methamphetamine: Third Murder Trial For Woman in California Meth Poisoning Infant Death Case

A California woman whose infant son died with methamphetamine in his system will face a third murder trial, a Riverside County Judge ruled Monday. Amy Leanne Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in her son's death in 2003, but that conviction was overturned by an appeals court citing flawed jury instructions. A retrial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors deadlocked 6-6.

After the mistrial, Prien's lawyers moved to dismiss the charge, but Judge Patrick Magers declined. "It is abundantly clear to the court that the cause of death of the victim was methamphetamine intoxication," he said from the bench as he rejected the motion.

What is not so clear is where the meth in the child's system came from. Prosecutors have argued that Prien, an admitted long-time meth user, caused her child's death by feeding him her breast milk when she was using the popular stimulant. They argued that Prien continued smoking meth while breast-feeding, a charge she has consistently denied. She has suggested that a male guest in her home may have provided the drug to the baby.

A major problem for the prosecution is that the bottle of milk found beside the dead baby was misplaced by law enforcement and never tested for the presence of methamphetamine. And while Prien was tested and came back positive for meth, police never tested her breast milk. Los Angeles attorney Joe Reichmann, who is representing Prien, argued futilely that the charge should be dropped because it was based on "make-believe science" since prosecutors had no way of knowing the meth levels in her breast milk.

California prosecutors have repeatedly proven unable to make meth mother murder cases stick, and it is unclear why they are pursuing Prien with such a vengeance. It's not like she got off scot-free. In addition to losing her child, she is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for felony child endangerment in the same case.

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