News Brief

RSS Feed for this category

Canada: BC Business-Academic Panel Tells Government to Consider Legalizing Drugs

A very establishment advisory group to British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has advised the Liberal leader that if he wants to deal with crime and illegal drugs in the province, he has two starkly contrasting choices: Legalize it, or unleash an all-out drug war. The panel from the BC Progress Board made the recommendations in a research report released November 15, "Reducing Crime and Improving Criminal Justice in British Columbia: Recommendations for Change."

The BC Progress Board is a group of 18 businessmen and academics selected by the provincial government to provide advice on economic and social issues. Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon, a board member, was the report's primary author.

The report comes as BC grapples with crime rates higher than the Canadian average. The board identified illegal drug use and the drug trade as one of four motors driving crime in the province. The others were deficient child rearing and services, mental illness, and the "impoverished and unstable lifestyles" of many people living in inner urban areas.

In its second recommendation to Premier Campbell, the board said that "the provincial government must address the problem of the illegal trade in drugs in a clear and consistent manner." The first option it listed was to "lobby the federal government to legalize the trade, perhaps limiting access to products to adults in the same way that access to alcohol and tobacco is limited."

That would allow the government to treat drug use and abuse as public health -- not criminal justice -- problems and would allow the government to obtain revenue from taxing the sales of drugs.

But the BC Progress Board was careful to note that it was not endorsing drug legalization, merely providing options for the provincial government. The board's second recommendation on drug policy made that perfectly clear. In the event legalization proves impossible to implement, the board suggested, "the provincial government should provide the resources to eliminate the drug trade entirely in the province." Alternately, the board suggested a combination of recommendations one and two. The province should first spend 10 years trying to wipe out the drug trade, then move to legalization.

While the board's recommendations are not exactly a clarion call for legalization, the panel put the idea squarely on the table.

Europe: Give Addicts Prescription Heroin, Says British Police Commander

Heroin addicts should be prescribed the drug through the National Health Service (NHS) to reduce crime, a senior British police officer told a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) this week. The forthright advice came from Nottinghamshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Howard Roberts, who is vice-chairman of the ACPO drugs committee.

The remarks came as ACPO considers whether to seek changes in British drug policy and amidst news reports that some 150 heroin addicts are already receiving prescription diamorphine (heroin) from NHS. Roberts made clear he was expressing his personal opinion, not speaking for ACPO.

"We should actively consider prescribing diamorphine, pharmaceutical heroin, to those seriously addicted to heroin as part of a treatment program for addiction," he said in comments reported by ITV News. "My motives for making such a statement are frankly this: there is an undeniable link between addicted offenders and appalling levels of criminality, as heroin and crack cocaine addicts commit crime from burglary to robbery, to sometimes murder, to get the money to buy drugs to satisfy their addiction. The resulting misery to society is huge."

According to the Home Office, heroin addicts commit 432 crimes a year, Roberts noted. "Therefore the logic is clear, I suggest, that we take highly addicted offenders out of committing crime to feed their addiction, into closely supervised treatment programs that, as part of the program, can prescribe diamorphine," said Roberts.

Roberts' comments won the immediate support of the think tank DrugScope, whose chief executive, Martin Barnes, said: "We support calls for the extension of heroin prescribing, which for some problem drug users can be an extremely effective form of drug treatment. It can have immediate health benefits for the drug user and can for some be the best route to becoming drug-free. There is compelling evidence that heroin prescribing, although more expensive than some forms of drug treatment, is cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime and other costs to communities."

But there is no word yet on whether the British government or the ACPO will be as enthusiastic.

Europe: British Drug Expert Calls for Downgrade on LSD, Ecstasy

Britain's drug classification scheme is out of whack and should be adjusted, said Dr. David Nutt, head of the British parliament's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in remarks reported by the BBC. Nutt called for ecstasy and LSD to be downgraded from Class A to Class B, while suggesting that barbiturates should be upgraded to Class A.

Grouping ecstasy and LSD with other Class A drugs like heroin is "an anomaly," Nutt said, adding that barbiturates could be "worth moving up to Class A." Nutt was responding to a query from the House of Commons' all-party Science and Technology Committee. "I think 4MTA [a little used relative of Ecstasy], LSD and ecstasy probably shouldn't be Class A," he told the committee.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ukparliament.jpg
British Parliament
In theory, Britain's drug classification scheme reflects the relative dangers of various controlled substances. But the scheme has been under increasing attack from critics -- including a parliamentary committee -- who say it does not accurately reflect the comparative social and personal harms of using various drugs.

Under Britain's classification scheme, possession of Class A drugs carries a maximum sentence of seven years, compared to five for Class B drugs. Sales of Class A drugs can bring a maximum of life in prison, compared to 14 years for Class B drugs.

While other committee members confirmed that ecstasy's status is under review, British drugs minister Vernon Croaker told the BBC he would listen to the ACMD's recommendations, but would not be bound by them. "If the ACMD look at a drug and come to us with a recommendation of course we will look at it," he said. "Whether we then act on it will be a matter of political judgment."

This isn't the first time a move to downgrade ecstasy -- which is used by an estimated half-million Britons each weekend -- has been bruited. In 2002, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended lowering the penalties for ecstasy, but that suggestion was dismissed by then Home Secretary David Blunkett. Last month, current Home Secretary John Reid said he would not revise the classification system despite rising criticism.

Harm Reduction: Yet Another Study Finds Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Benefits Users Without Harming Community

Canada's only safe injection site, Insite, located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, has not led to increased crime or drug use despite the fears of detractors, but has reduced the risk of overdoses and encouraged more users to seek drug treatment, according to the latest study of the publicly-funded harm reduction program. The study, published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is only the latest to find that the experimental program is benefiting hard drug users while not harming the community.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/insitebrochure.jpg
Insite brochure
In a one-year period in 2004 and 2005, some 320 clients were referred for drug treatment, the report found. Some 600 clients use the site every day to inject drugs under medical supervision. According to the report, 197 drug overdoses occurred at the site, but none of them were fatal.

Despite a raft of studies demonstrating that Insite is doing what is was supposed to do (and not doing what it wasn't), the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper remains opposed to further funding the site or allowing the project to expand to other cities. Last summer, in the face of a strong, community-based campaign to support Insite, Health Canada grudgingly agreed to extend funding through the end of 2007. But supporters had sought a three-year extension.

"By all criteria, the Vancouver facility has both saved lives and contributed toward the decreased use of illicit drugs and the reduced spread of HIV infection and other blood-borne infections," Mark Wainberg, the director of the McGill University AIDS Centre in Montreal, wrote in a commentary published alongside the study.

"We've demonstrated numerous benefits associated with the site and we've also ruled out negative impacts," said Dr. Thomas Kerr of the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, a lead researcher on the safe injection site. "Drug use patterns didn't get worse. Crime didn't go up. People thought it would encourage drug use and enable drug use when in fact, we found there has been a large entry of people into detox programs."

The Harper government has been wrongheaded in opposing the safe injection site, moving to cut funding when it should be expanding the program, the report said. "The federal governments should draft legislation to allow other such facilities to operate elsewhere in Canada," the researchers concluded.

Europe: Italian Government Loosens Marijuana Possession Limits

Acting on one of its springtime campaign pledges, the Italian government last week acted administratively to double the amount of marijuana one can possess without penalty. The change in the official interpretation of the law is expected to come into effect in a matter of weeks, and when it does, Italians will be able to possess roughly an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The law actually specifies quantities of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Until now, one could possess only one-half gram of THC, or about a half-ounce of mediocre potency marijuana. Now, Italian tokers will be able to possess up to one gram of THC. (How this will work in practice is something of a mystery. Will people be able to possess more schwag than kind bud because the schwag contains less THC? What about hash, which is widely used in Italy? Will police officers carry portable chemical assay kits to assess potency?)

"I intervened so thousands of young people will not have to go to jail or suffer a criminal proceeding for smoking a joint," said Health Minister Livia Turco in remarks reported by Reuters. "This will not liberalize drugs but prevent and deal with those who use drugs. You can only fight drugs effectively by taking on the dealers and the traffickers and making an example of them."

Turco is a member of the largest party in the government, the Left Democrats. The previous, right-leaning government of Silvio Berlusconi had moved late in its tenure to stiffen Italy's drug laws, and the new government's move to loosen the marijuana law is part of what it has announced will be a major overhaul of the drug laws.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A couple of unusual ones this week. We've got a coke-dealing former fire chief in Connecticut and a Texas cop whose wife has a bad passport and some very shady connections. Let's get to it:

In Dallas, a Dallas police officer is out on a personal recognizance bond after being arrested last week for conspiring to commit passport fraud with his wife, who is allegedly tied to Mexican drug traffickers. Senior Corporal Jose Luis Cabrera was indicted by a federal grand jury that accused him of helping his Mexican-born wife, Moraima Cabrera, commit passport fraud so she could she could stay in the US. According to FBI testimony at a Monday hearing, Mrs. Cabrera had "cooperated" with North Texas prosecutors in at least one drug case, and in April 2005, Cabrera offered her services to the DEA in a bid to help her remain in the country. He told the DEA his wife had worked for drug traffickers and could share information about them. But testimony also showed that another informant had warned the DEA there was "drug trafficking activity" at the Cabrera house months earlier. Although prosecutors say more charges and arrests are pending, neither Cabrera currently faces a drug charge. The two were charged for an incident when Mrs. Cabrera used a fake passport to carry more than $50,000 cash across the border to Mexico. She told agents at the time the money belonged to someone else and she was merely delivering it.

In Easton, Connecticut, a former fire chief was busted November 16 for running a drug-dealing operation out of his home. Former Chief Ernest Ross, 60, was allegedly packaging cocaine for sale at his home and, with the help of a 24-year-old housemate, peddling it in bars in Bridgeport and Fairfield. He was charged with operating a drug factory, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1,500 of a school, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell. After a two-month investigation by state authorities, Ross went down when police stopped him driving away from his home and found four bags of cocaine and $240 in cash. They then searched his home, found his young roommate's multi-container stash of weed and mushrooms, and then found a scale and "cocaine-processing material" in an office. Ross admitted having cocaine, but said it was for his personal use. He liked to do it when he went out to bars, he said.

Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

Despite seven years of reforms aimed at eradicating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, the practice continues unabated and has even gotten worse. That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union study that found 30% of drivers stopped on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were black while African-Americans comprised only 18% of the population.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/njturnpike.jpg
New Jersey Turnpike entrance
The ACLU of New Jersey used a Tuesday hearing of the Advisory Committee on Police Standards to submit its findings as it urged continued monitoring of state troopers to prevent racial profiling. The Tuesday meeting was the last of four set to study the problem. The panel was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to decide whether court-ordered monitoring of the state police should continue.

The state agreed to a consent decree aimed at reforming State Police practices following the shooting of three unarmed young people of color on the Turnpike in 1998. In recent years, court-appointed monitors have found the agency is complying with the decree, and the federal government has offered to lift it.

But State Police continue to stop black drivers at "greatly disproportionate" rates on the southern part of the turnpike, ACLU legal director Edward Barocas told the committee. "Profiling continues unabated," Barocas testified. "African-Americans now make up a higher percentage of stops than they did before the consent decree began."

State Police spokesmen said they were aware that black drivers were being stopped disproportionately, but claimed it did not result from racial profiling. "We've been assured by the independent monitoring team that they have seen no indication of troopers performing unconstitutional actions or any sign of disparate treatment," said Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert.

While Gilbert played defense, State Troopers Fraternal Association president David Jones went on the attack. The ACLU study, in which an outside consultant measured the number of black, brown, and white drivers on the southern Turnpike and compared it with the number of traffic stops, was "junk science" designed to protect the "cottage industry" of defense lawyers who sue the State Police, he claimed. "Everybody there (at the Moorestown Station) from the very top on down has been changed a multitude of times," Jones said, explaining about transfers. "The anomaly exists because sometimes a violator is a violator."

State Police head Rick Fuentes wants to replace the court-appointed monitors with an academic panel, but racial profiling expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha said stronger monitoring was needed. "External, independent oversight -- a different set of eyes and ears -- is extremely important for maintaining professional standards," said Walker. "You've got reforms in place. The real important issue is maintaining them... and it requires continuous attention."

The committee will decide on a recommendation to the governor, but there is no word yet on when that will happen.

Click here to view large portions of the historic 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive, released by the state attorney general's office in November 2000 and made available on the Internet by DRCNet.

Election 2006: Arizona Voters Take a Step Backwards on Sentencing Reform

Arizona voters Tuesday approved Proposition 301, which rolls back a decade-old sentencing reform when it comes to methamphetamine offenders, by a margin of 58% to 42%. Under the state's reformed sentencing structure, people convicted for first- or second-offense drug possession cannot be sentenced to jail or prison. Tuesday's vote means that Arizona voters have now singled out meth users as eligible for jail or prison for first- or second-offense possession.

Votes for Prop. 301 came primarily from the metropolitan Phoenix area, which supported the rollback by 60%, compared to only 52% in Tucson, the state's other significant metropolitan area.

Under the sentencing reform, the 1996 Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act, which was approved by two-thirds of the voters, while drug possession offenders could not be sentenced to jail or prison, they could be subjected to mandatory probation and drug treatment. Now, methamphetamine possession offenders will not be eligible for this program.

Although the proposition was opposed by prominent Arizona jurists and a coalition of community-based activists organized as Meth-Free Arizona -- No On Proposition 301, voters chose to go back to the bad old days when it comes to the demon drug du jour and its users.

Election 2006: Massachusetts Voters in Four More Districts Continue the Clamor for Marijuana Law Reform

Since 2000, marijuana reform activists associated with MassCann, the Bay State NORML affiliate, and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have sponsored advisory marijuana reform questions in state representative and senate districts and have won every one. The trend continued this year, with reform questions in four more districts being approved by voters.

According to DPFMA board member John Leonard, a question asking whether representatives in the 1st and 12th Plymouth Representative Districts should be instructed to support marijuana decriminalization passed in both, with margins of 61% and 60% respectively. In the 3rd Middlesex Senate District and the 7th Norfolk Representative District, voters were asked to vote on questions asking whether to instruct their representatives to support medical marijuana legislation. Those questions won with 67% in Middlesex and 64% in Norfolk.

According to MassCann, more than 420,000 Massachusetts residents in 110 communities had voted to urge their legislators to embrace either decriminalization or medical marijuana before Election Day. We can now add another 63,000 pro-reform votes and four more communities to the tally.

In a debate last month, newly elected Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said he's "very comfortable" with the idea of marijuana legalization but would veto a decriminalization bill if it came to his desk because "I just don't think it ought to be our priority." Hopefully the legislature will give him the opportunity to change his mind.

Sentencing: US Supreme Court to Try to Clean Up Post-Booker Ruling Issues

Early last year, the Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the federal criminal justice system when, in its decision in the Booker and Fan Fan cases, it threw out mandatory federal sentencing guidelines, instead making them merely advisory. Since then, federal district and appeals courts have struggled to interpret just what that means. Last Friday, the high court agreed to hear two cases, Claiborne v. US and Rita v. US, from a pile of pending appeals in an effort to provide greater clarity for jurists, prosecutors, and defendants.

Mario Claiborne is a 21-year-old first offender who was convicted of possessing a small amount of crack cocaine. Although the now advisory sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 37 to 46 months, a federal district court judge in St. Louis was persuaded to sentence him to only 15 months. Federal prosecutors appealed, and the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned the lenient sentence. Noting that it was an "extraordinary" departure from the guidelines, the appeals court held that "an extraordinary reduction must be supported by extraordinary circumstances."

As the Supreme Court noted when it accepted the case, it must answer two questions: "1) Was the district court's choice of below-Guidelines sentence reasonable? 2) In making that determination, is it consistent with United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), to require that a sentence which constitutes a substantial variance from the Guidelines be justified by extraordinary circumstances?"

The second case, that of Victor Rita, raises sentencing issues that are the flip-side of the Claiborne case. Rita, a retired Marine and former federal worker, was convicted of making false statements in a federal investigation of the sale of machine gun kits. His sentence, 33 months, was within the range recommended by the sentencing guidelines, but he appealed, saying it was unreasonably long given his poor health and unblemished record. But the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, denied his appeal, holding that sentences within the guidelines must be presumed to be reasonable.

In the Rita case, the Supreme Court noted it will consider three questions: "1) Was the district court's choice of within-Guidelines sentence reasonable? 2) In making that determination, is it consistent with United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), to accord a presumption of reasonableness to within-Guidelines sentences? 3) If so, can that presumption justify a sentence imposed without an explicit analysis by the district court of the 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) factors and any other factors that might justify a lesser sentence?"

The Booker and Fan Fan cases were decided by a divided Supreme Court that did not include Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, and it is unclear how they will attempt to interpret it. But the two cases taken together have the potential to further open the door to more just and reasonable sentencing in the federal courts.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School