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Methamphetamine: Feds Make First Cold Medicine Bust Under Combat Meth Act

An Ontario, New York, man last Friday won the dubious distinction of being the first person arrested under the 2005 Combat Meth Epidemic Act. According to a DEA press release, William Fousse was arrested for purchasing cold tablets containing more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine within a one month period.

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Busted for Bronkaid
Under the Combat Meth Act, passed with little scrutiny when it was attached to a bill renewing provisions of the Patriot Act, chemicals widely used as cold remedies or other non-prescription medicines that can also be used in home meth manufacture, such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, are now "scheduled listed chemical products."

Products containing these chemicals are now kept behind the counter. In order to purchase them, one must show identification and sign a log book at pharmacies. DEA and state and local law enforcement monitor those logbooks to see if anyone is buying amounts over the limit.

"This is a first for DEA," crowed DEA Western New York Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride. "DEA's focus is to dismantle clandestine methamphetamine labs and trafficking organizations and to also monitor the products that are illegally used to produce methamphetamine. DEA is committed to keeping our communities safe from the dangers of methamphetamine production and abuse. Today's arrest is a warning to those who violate the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act."

Fousse is alleged to have purchased more than 400 Bronkaid tablets containing a total of more than 29 grams of ephedrine during the month of January -- more than three times the legal limit -- at one pharmacy and to have purchased a like amount at two others. It was a call from the first pharmacist to the DEA's Buffalo office that set the wheels in motion.

DEA agents visited Fousse at his home on February 13. According to a police affidavit, Fousse said he was unaware of the law, was not selling the pills to meth cooks, and was using the stuff himself. That was not good enough for the DEA and federal prosecutors. He faces a May 1 court date.

Methamphetamine: Nevada Governor's Working Group Issues Preliminary Report

A panel appointed by Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons to study responses to methamphetamine use, manufacture, and trafficking in the state called last Friday for more treatment, more prevention, more police, and more laws restricting precursor chemicals, but rejected a bill that would have increased penalties for meth offenses. In its Preliminary Report, the Governor's Working Group on Methamphetamine Use warned that while home meth lab busts are down, Nevada is first in the nation in per capita lifetime meth use, past year meth use, and past month meth use.

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not great, but could have been worse
The Working Group mainly focused on how to allocate some $17 million dollars allocated in the governor's executive budget for addressing amphetamine. It recommended that some of the money go to replace lost federal grants for community anti-drug coalitions and to state education programs, that funding be made available to address substantial waiting lists for drug treatment and to address co-occurring disorders, and "increased funding to hire additional law enforcement officers to be placed on existing and new task forces across the state."

The group also made recommendations about specific methamphetamine-related legislation before the legislature. It supported one bill, AB 148 that would impose state-level restrictions on the sale of meth precursors, but rejected a harsher one, AB 150, that would have required a prescription to obtain cold medications containing drugs like pseudoephedrine. It also rejected two measures that would have ratcheted up sentencing. The first, AB 116, would have reduced the amount of meth needed to trigger trafficking charges from four grams to three, while the other, AB 281 would have made possession of the tiniest trace of any Schedule I drug except marijuana a potential trafficking offense.

While the panel recommended restraining legislators' efforts to pile-on the meth penalties, it did not mention harm reduction and discussion of alternatives to drug prohibition were clearly not on the agenda. That is not surprising, given the panel's make-up, which included seven law enforcement officials, four elected officials, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, a health care executive, a school superintendent, a newspaper publisher, and the governor's wife. No harm reductionists or apparent past or present methamphetamine users were represented.

Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Becomes Twelfth State to Approve It

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) Monday signed into law a bill making the state the 12th to approve the medicinal use of marijuana. Richardson is a candidate for the Democratic Party 2008 presidential nomination. In signing the bill, he becomes the only major contender in either party to publicly endorse the medicinal use of marijuana.

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Gov. Bill Richardson signing a bill into law
The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, named after patients Lynn Pierson and Erin Armstrong, allows people who live with certain serious, chronic conditions to use and possess marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. But in a departure from the normal practice in other states, where patients or designated caregivers are allowed to grow their own medicine, the New Mexico law stipulates that only producers licensed by the state Health Department may grow medical marijuana.

The bill came only after being denied House floor votes in two previous sessions and after apparently being defeated this session. But thanks to strong lobbying by Richardson and groups like the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office, it passed on a second, last-minute vote.

"This law will provide much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases," said Gov.Richardson in a signing statement. "It is the right thing to do. I'm proud to sign legislation that makes patient care an important priority in this state," Richardson said. "It is time for Congress and the federal government to follow our lead and help those forced to endure painful, chronic diseases."

"By signing this bill, Gov. Richardson is showing his compassion for seriously ill people, and he is also reflecting the will of the majority of New Mexicans and the American people," said Reena Szczepanski, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico in a Monday statement. "I hope that other elected officials take note: Americans will stand behind those that believe in compassion and mercy for our most vulnerable, our sick and dying patients struggling for relief."

New Mexico now joins Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington as states that have approved medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction: New Mexico Governor Signs Overdose Death Reduction Measure

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) Wednesday signed innovative legislation that would protect friends or family members who seek medical attention for drug overdose victims. The law is the first of its kind in the country.

Too often, the companions of drug overdose victims fail to seek medical attention for them for fear of being arrested and prosecuted themselves. The 911 Good Samaritan Act (SB 200) seeks to encourage people to get help by providing limited immunity from drug possession charges when an overdose victim or friend seeks emergency medical services.

With nearly an overdose death a day, New Mexico has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. Six years ago, the state passed legislation removing criminal liability from people who prescribe the opiate reversal agent naloxone. That move is credited with saving hundreds of lives. This new law should save even more.

The measure was pushed by the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico affiliate. "By signing this legislation, the Governor is sending a clear message to New Mexicans: don't be afraid to seek medical help. This is definitely the next step in reducing the overwhelming number of preventable overdose deaths in New Mexico," said Reena Szczepanski, the group's New Mexico director in a Wednesday statement.

Marijuana: Cincinnati City Council Votes to Extend Tough Ordinance

The Cincinnati City Council voted Tuesday to renew a tough municipal marijuana ordinance it approved last year despite charges that it had not done what supporters said it would do: reduce violent crime. Thanks to strong local opposition to the ordinance when originally passed, it included a sunset provision and would have expired Friday if the council had not acted.

Under Ohio law, possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana is no more than a ticketable offense with a maximum $100 fine. That was too lenient for the city fathers in Cincinnati, who last year passed a municipal ordinance allowing police to arrest and jail people for up to 30 days for simple pot possession. The measure would reduce crime by removing guns from the streets, allowing police to target dealers, and scaring residents of nearby Kentucky and Indiana away from coming to the city to buy drugs, supporters said at the time.

Cincinnati police testified that marijuana arrests had removed 62 guns from city streets, but opponents, led by a coalition of groups organized as Citizens for a Safer Cincinnati, argued that crime rates had increased since the ordinance was passed. They have the numbers on their side.

As Safer Cincinnati member and Hamilton County Libertarian Party head Paul Green noted in an analysis of crime figures since the ordinance was passed, the ordinance has not succeeded in any of its three goals. There were fewer arrests of out-of-staters, but their total number was small in both years, and the reduction is a measly 0.7%. And while police bragged that they had seized 62 weapons, the number of guns reported to have been used in crimes was up 27%. The number of handguns -- the weapon most commonly carried by drug dealers -- reported to have been used in crimes was up 17%.

Violent crime has also increased since the ordinance has been in place. Murders were up 16% in 2006 compared to 2005, and armed robbery was up a whopping 44%. Overall, the serious crime index showed a 4.4% increase in 2006.

But despite the ordinance's failure to achieve its stated goals, the council reapproved it. That will make the ordinance a campaign issue, Safer Cincinnati warned.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Two cops get busted, a jail guard pleads guilty, a Border Patrol agent is found guilty, and a sheriff's deputy is sent to prison. Just your typical week of drug prohibition-related law enforcement corruption. Let's get to it:

In Indianapolis, an Indianapolis Police reserve officer was arrested for stealing drugs and money from undercover officers. Reserve Officer Chris Spaulding is accused of stealing $7,000 from one undercover officer during a sting and failing to turn in the evidence. He is also charged with using a Hendricks County hotel room to sell drugs, especially marijuana. Spaulding is in jail pending a bail hearing. His trial date is set for May 14.

In Deerfield Beach, Florida, a patrol deputy was arrested Tuesday for taking cocaine and prescription drugs from what he thought was an abandoned automobile. Patrol Deputy Robert Delaney is charged with possession of cocaine and oxycodone. Delanay came to the attention of superiors when a confidential informant reported that he bought and used cocaine. That led the sheriff's office to set up a sting, leaving four grams of cocaine and six oxycodone tablets in a vehicle, then calling Delaney to investigate. As officers watched, Delaney took the drugs for himself. He also admitted snorting some of the cocaine while on duty.

In White Plains, New York, a Westchester County corrections officer pled guilty March 21 for his role in a drug distribution network. Jail guard Michael Gray, 43, pled guilty to attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance and promoting prison contraband for selling cocaine to another jail guard and bringing the drug into the jail in August 2005. He was part of a trafficking ring operating in the Bronx and Westchester County that was busted in a series of raids in December 2005. He will be sentenced in June.

In Tucson, a former Border Patrol agent has been found guilty of making off with a 22-pound brick of marijuana during a border bust. Former Agent Michael Carlos Gonzalez, 34, was convicted by a federal jury March 20 of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. Gonzalez went down after a December 2005 traffic stop. An Arizona state trooper stopped a pickup, the passenger and driver fled into the desert, and the trooper pursued them. Gonzalez arrived on the scene, grabbed one of the numerous bricks of weed in the truck, moved the remaining bricks to cover up his theft, and put the brick in his vehicle. Unfortunately for him, the trooper's patrol car camera caught it all. Gonzalez is looking at up to 10 years in federal prison, five on each count.

In Winchester, Kentucky, a former Clark County deputy sheriff has been sentenced to prison on firearms and drug charges. Former Deputy Brad Myers was originally charged with two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance and two counts of carrying a firearm during the offense, but pled guilty to one count of distributing Lortab pills and one count of carrying a semiautomatic pistol. Myers' attorney argued that he developed an addiction to pain pills after being injured on the job, but he's still going to prison for three years.

Middle East: Marijuana Not Kosher for Passover, Says Green Leaf Party

Israel's Green Leaf Party, the country's leading marijuana reform advocacy organization, warned Wednesday that marijuana is not kosher for Passover. Jews who observe the week-long holiday's dietary laws should lay off the weed, the group said.

According to Green Leaf, rabbis have grouped marijuana products along with a family of foods including peas, beans, and lentils that are forbidden to observant Jews during Passover according to the European tradition of rabbinic interpretation. Passover begins on Monday.

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Passover ritual 'seder plate' (courtesy Wikimedia)
"We are warning our people not to eat anything with hemp products if they follow the practice of kitniyot on Pesach," said party spokesperson Michelle Levine. "We are considering announcing a ban on everything containing hemp just to be on the safe side. We are going with the rabbis on this. People should remove all cannabis and hemp from their homes."

The Orthodox Anarchist blog disagreed, calling the rulings relating to separation of grains outdated and urging Ale Yarok to instead focus on highlighting halakhic (Jewish religious statutory interpretation) moral arguments such as those supporting medical marijuana or the Orthodox Union's support for religious ayahuasca use rights.

There is an upside to the rabbinical ban during Passover, said Levine. "Logic dictates that if the rabbis say cannabis is non-kosher for Passover, it is apparently kosher during the rest of the year."

Marijuana: Bob Barr to Lobby for Marijuana Policy Project

My, how times have changed. Less than a decade ago, former Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr was the bete noire of the marijuana reform movement. Now, he works for it. That's right, Bob Barr, the man who single-handedly derailed medical marijuana in Washington, DC, has been hired as a lobbyist by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

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Jim and the late Cheryl Miller, with Gary Storck and Jacki Rickert, outside Bob Barr's office (
Ironically, Barr will now lobby for the rights of states to set their own medical marijuana policies without interference from the federal government. It was his 1998 "Barr Amendment" to the annual DC appropriations vote that blocked DC officials from counting the votes in that year's medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote.

A former prosecutor in the Atlanta suburbs, Barr was always "tough on drugs," but otherwise showed civil libertarian tendencies. After being defeated in 2002 in a campaign that featured attack ads using medical marijuana patients, Barr parted ways with the Republican Party, joining the Libertarians in 2006. He also became a lobbyist for his former arch-rival, the American Civil Liberties Union.

In an interview this week with The Politico, the former arch-drug warrior explained that times have changed. "I, over the years, have taken a very strong stand on drug issues, but in light of the tremendous growth of government power since 9/11, it has forced me and other conservatives to go back and take a renewed look at how big and powerful we want the government to be in people's lives," Barr said.

Barr brings a "great deal of credibility, particularly among people on the Republican side of the aisle," MPP government relations director Aaron Houston told The Politico. "He certainly would not have been the first person I would have expected to sign off to us, but I'm very pleased that he has," Houston said. "I'm very pleased that he has come around, and I hope he serves as an example to his former colleagues."

As a newly christened MPP lobbyist, Barr is already talking the talk. There might be "legitimate medical uses of marijuana and we ought not have this knee-jerk reaction against it, and people ought to be allowed to explore," he said.

He will also lobby to kill the Office of National Drug Control Policy's youth anti-drug media campaign, which repeated studies have shown to be ineffective. "A lot of conservatives have expressed great concern over the taxpayer money that is being wasted on this poorly run advertising campaign," said Barr, who left Congress in 2003.

Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Narrowly Defeated

A bill that would have allowed ill New Hampshire residents to use medical marijuana was narrowly defeated Wednesday. The bill, HB 774, was killed on a 186-177 vote in the House.

Supporters of the bill argued that marijuana can be the only drug that works for patients with some conditions. Rep. Evelyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), who has suffered from cancer, said the treatments can be worse than the disease. "How many others must we allow to suffer needlessly?" she asked her colleagues.

But Rep. Joseph Miller (D-Durham), a retired doctor, and Rep. William Butynski (D-Hinsdale) scoffed at marijuana as medicine. "There is no such thing as medical marijuana," said Butynsk, who also worried aloud about allowing people to grow it.

Real medicine is injected, taken in pill form, or sprayed under the tongue -- not smoked -- said Miller. Besides, he added, it isn't needed. "We have ample therapeutic equivalents legally available," he said.

But while the arguments of opponents prevailed this year, chances are good that proponents of cannabis as medical will be back next year. Given the close vote this year and polling showing two-thirds support for medical marijuana in the state, the prospects are promising, said Stuart Cooper of the New Hampshire Marijuana Policy Initiative.

"This is sensible, compassionate legislation that protects our most vulnerable citizens," Cooper said in a statement after the vote. "But the close vote proves that it's only a matter of time before our elected officials give their constituents what they've asked for: an effective medical marijuana law that ensures nobody gets arrested just for battling life-threatening conditions."

South America: Bolivia Moves to Block Coca Crop Expansion

The Bolivian government announced Tuesday a new plan to confront the expansion of coca farming in national parks and areas protected under national law. Under the plan, aimed at growers in the traditional coca-producing Yungas area near La Paz, local coca grower unions will be responsible for ensuring that production does not spread.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare
According to the Bolivian Information Agency, government officials had been visiting the Yungas since last month to announce the changes, which include banning new planting in fields that have been abandoned for two years or more.

The government of President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, has made progress in reducing conflict between coca growers and the government in the Chapare, his native region, but tensions have been rising in the Yungas. While Morales has expanded the amount of coca that can be grown in the Chapare, that has not been the case in the Yungas.

Under Morales' "coca, yes; cocaine, no" policy, the Bolivian government is seeking to end forced eradication of coca crops and replace it with "rationalization," or negotiated eradication of excess crops. The idea is to reduce social conflict by bringing coca growers into the decision-making process rather than imposing eradication on them.

"The farmers' unions, as the smallest units of social organization in the tropics of Cochabamba (Chapare) and the Yungas of La Paz, assume direct responsibility for preventing the cultivation of coca leaf in fields that have been abandoned by their owners for more than two years," said the proposal from the Deputy Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, Felipe Caceres.

The plan also includes marketing the coca crop for licit uses and support for interdiction work aimed at disrupting the cocaine traffic.

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