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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.

Marijuana: Seattle Hempfest Sues City, Art Museum Over Permitting, Access

Who would have thought the organizers of the Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana law reform rally, would have to take legal action against the progressive city of Seattle and one of its art museums? But that's exactly what happened Monday, when Hempfest announced it was suing the city over its failure to process the permit application in a timely manner and its failure to address transportation and access issues caused by construction at Seattle Art Museum.

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2005 Hempfest
The Hempfest takes place each year at Myrtle Edwards Park, a narrow strip of land adjoining Puget Sound just north of downtown Seattle. Access to the park is limited, and the Seattle Art Museum's ongoing construction at its Olympic Sculpture Park leaves only a 14-foot-wide point of access for the estimated 150,000 people that will attend over Hempfest's two-day run.

Hempfest organizers say they are running out of time and cannot wait any longer for permits and resolution of the access issue. The permit application for the event was filed on January 3, and the city should have replied within 60 days, but has yet to do so. Nor has it arrived at a transportation plan that addresses the crucial access issue.

"Since the late fall of 2005, Hempfest has been meeting regularly with Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and city officials to resolve all issues and allow adequate space for pedestrian access, as well as access for police and fire officials. Public safety is a top priority for Hempfest," organizers said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. "Construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park is in risk of jeopardizing public safety and depriving the public use of a major park," said Vivian McPeak, Executive Director of the Seattle Hempfest and plaintiff. "After months of negotiations with the City and SAM, I am confident that there is room for both the Sculpture Park and Hempfest," he added.

Organizers were quick to clarify that Hempfest will take place. Period. This year's event, set for August 19 and 20, features dozens of musical acts and speakers. This year's line up includes former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper and Seattle City Council President Nick Licata (not to mention DRCNet associate director David Guard). Hundreds of exhibitors will sell hemp wares and dozens of organizations, including the ACLU and NORML and DRCNet, will recruit for their organizations and advocate an end to the drug war.

Latin America: New Report Says Colombian Cocaine Production Seriously Underestimated

"For a long time, the statistics on eradication of illicit crops have been mistaken. It's incredible that nobody has realized that Colombia produces much more cocaine than the reports say," said Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos back in June.

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eradication: much pain, no gain
He was responding to the release of report on his country's cocaine production conducted by US, UN, and Colombian experts at the request of the Colombian government. Now, the Colombian newsweekly Cambio has published an article based on that report, and the rest of us get to understand what Santos was talking about.

According to the report, the UN, the US, and the Colombian National Police have all seriously underestimated total cocaine production in the country, currently the world's leading cocaine producer. The Colombian police estimate was 497 tons in 2005, while the US estimated 545 tons, and the UN estimated 640 tons. But the authors of this most recent report estimate that cocaine production last year was actually a staggering 776 tons, or nearly half again as much as the US or Colombian police estimates.

The Colombians undertook the new survey after noticing that despite massive seizures of tons of cocaine, the price of the drug stayed stable. Investigators visited 1,400 coca growers and ran tests at more than 400 plantations. They found that growers had improved their growing techniques and were now able to produce not four harvests per year, but six.

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cocaine bricks (source: US DEA)
According to Cambio, "That explained why the strategies designed to confront the phenomenon have not produced the expected results and the drug trade is flourishing as much or more than before."

The research results raised questions about the effectiveness of the much-criticized aerial fumigation program financed by the United States. Colombian and US officials had suggested the lack of results from spraying herbicides was because traffickers had large stocks of cocaine warehoused. "Without a doubt, that's a big mistake," Colombian anti-drug police subdirector Carlos Medina told Cambio. "The narcos don’t need to store cocaine because the market demands coca and more coca."

The US has about $5 billion invested in this farce so far. One can't help but wonder when the politicians in Washington will notice all those tax dollars going down the rat hole.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another sheriff who couldn't resist temptation, another drug-dealing cop, and something smells mighty bad in a Mississippi anti-drug task force. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In Adel, Iowa, the Dallas County sheriff was charged July 28 with stealing $120,000 in seized drug money. According to WHO-TV in nearby Des Moines, Sheriff Brian Gilbert is accused of pilfering one packet of cash in a $900,000 seizure. Gilbert took the cash from the scene and reportedly detoured to his home on the way to the station. When he got there, Deputy Scott Faiferlick noticed one of the packets was missing and told investigators. Sheriff Gilbert maintains his innocence, but now faces charges of first degree theft.

In Henrico, Virginia, a former city police officer is on the lam after police went public with two arrest warrants for him Monday. Former Officer Charles Harpster faces charges of obtaining drugs by fraud and marijuana distribution, Henrico police told WRIC-TV8 in Richmond. Police have released little other information, except to neither confirm nor deny allegations he took drugs from the police evidence room.

In Ellisville, Mississippi, prosecutors have dismissed at least three dozen drug cases because of an ongoing investigation into "questionable activities" by the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task force, according to a July 26 report by WDAM-TV7 in Hattiesburg. Jones County Assistant District Attorney Ronald Parrish told the station a number of other cases will not be presented to a grand jury. No specifics of the alleged police wrongdoing have been made public, but it must be pretty serious if prosecutors are already dismissing cases.

Harm Reduction: Drug Czar's Office Opposes Letting Heroin Users Have Easy Access to Overdose Antidote

When heroin users around Philadelphia started overdosing on junk laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate, a local harm reduction group began working with a sympathetic physician to provide addicts prescriptions to naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Office of National Drug Control Policy thinks that's a bad idea.

In many cities, paramedics carry Narcan with them, but by the time they arrive on the scene, it can be too late, explained Casey Cook, executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, the group that runs the city's needle exchange program. "If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for people to get there," she told the Associated Press in an interview last Friday.

But the drug czar's office is worried that providing addicts with the means to survive an overdose would prove "disinhibiting," much the same way social conservatives argue that providing teenagers with condoms to prevent pregnancy and disease "disinhibits" them from remaining abstinent. ONDCP doesn't want to appear to condone drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," said Jennifer DeVallance, an ONDCP spokesperson told the AP.

There were some 16,000 drug-related deaths reported in 2002, the vast majority of them involving either heroin or prescription opiates, and at least 400 people have died in the wave of fentanyl-related heroin ODs in the past few months. Better they should die than people think heroin is safe, huh?

In Memoriam: Methadone Pioneer Vincent P. Dole

(This memorial piece for a great pioneer in addiction treatment was written and distributed by his friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Newman.)

Dr. Vincent Dole (an internist) and his late wife, Marie Nyswander, MD (a psychiatrist), began their collaborative research with methadone with a handful of long-term heroin-dependent individuals in 1964. They did so in the face of overt threats of harsh criminal and civil action by federal narcotics agents. Their courageous, pioneering work demonstrated that methadone maintenance is a medical treatment of unparalleled effectiveness -- a superlative description that is as applicable today as it was four decades ago. As a result, well over three-quarters of a million people throughout the world are able to lead healthy, productive, self-fulfilling lives - over 200,000 in the United States, an estimated 530,000 in Western Europe, and many tens of thousands more in Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, Far East, Australia and New Zealand.

After the remarkable transformation they observed in their first few patients, Dr. Dole and Dr. Nyswander went on to provide direct supervision of the first methadone maintenance treatment program at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. In so doing they demonstrated that it was possible to replicate on a large scale the therapeutic success they achieved in the small, controlled, research environment of the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University). Dr. Dole was also responsible in the early 1970s for convincing the New York City Department of Corrections (at the time headed by Commissioner Ben Malcolm) that detoxification of heroin-dependent inmates in the city's main detention facility at Rikers Island was imperative to save lives and lessen suffering (there had been a wave of suicides at the time that had been attributed to severe opiate withdrawal). The detoxification program continues to this day, and has become a model for enlightened corrections officials in other countries.

Dr. Dole and Dr. Nyswander's contributions, however, transcend the life-saving clinical impact on patients and the enormous associated benefits to the community as a whole. They had prescience to hypothesize, years before the discovery of the morphine-like endorphine system in the human body, that addiction is a metabolic disorder, a disease, and one that can and must be treated like any other chronic illness. What was at the time brilliant insight on their part is today almost universally accepted by scientists and clinicians alike, and remains the foundation upon which all rational policies and practices in the field rest.

In his mid-80s Dr. Dole traveled to Hamburg to be present at the naming ceremony of the Marie Nyswander Street; in less than ten years Germany moved from methadone being illegal to having over 60,000 patients in treatment! His efforts during recent years were devoted to fighting the stigma that, tragically, remains so widespread against the illness of addiction, the patients and the treatment.

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