Sunday, October 30, 2005

Denver to vote on making pot legal

Chicago-Sun Times

DENVER -- The nickname Mile High City could soon have an entirely new meaning.

Denver voters will decide Tuesday whether to make it legal for adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Seattle, Oakland, Calif., and a few college towns already have laws making possession the lowest law enforcement priority.

Supporters in Denver have launched a ''Make Denver Safer'' campaign that contends that the change will help curb domestic violence.

''There's no doubt that if people choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol we would not have the same number of problems,'' said Mason Tvert, the 23-year-old campaign organizer.

Cops could file under state law

The argument has angered local officials.

''It's a deceptive and deceitful campaign,'' Councilman Charlie Brown said. ''Domestic violence is not on the ballot. Alcohol is not on the ballot. Marijuana is on the ballot.''

A ''yes'' vote probably won't make much difference. The city attorney's office said Denver police will simply file marijuana possession charges under state law, which carries up to a $100 fine and a mandatory $100 drug-offender surcharge.

Critics of the ballot measure are wary of what a ''yes'' vote might do to Denver's reputation.

''People will flock to Denver to use marijuana,'' said Jeffrey Sweetin, head of the Rocky Mountain Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Lack of teddy bear search warrant helps clear accused smuggler


A Rohnert Park man who had been accused of trying to smuggle marijuana inside a teddy bear has been cleared of the charges by a Sonoma County Superior Court judge, who faulted police for not obtaining a search warrant before cutting open the stuffed animal.

Judge Cerena Wong suppressed evidence in the case Thursday against Gilberto Perez Pereira, 43, and also dismissed charges against him in connection with police finding methamphetamine at his apartment.

Pereira and his girlfriend Susan Janette Roark, 48, were arrested Aug. 12 after the owner of a shipping store opened a package Pereira was sending and found a teddy bear with crude stitching covering a cut in the fabric.

Rohnert Park police later opened the stuffed animal and found a ball consisting of 30 feet of cellophane layered with yellow mustard and powdered carpet deodorizer surrounding a heat-sealed package of nearly a pound of marijuana, authorities said.

Police said drug dealers commonly use such packaging to put narcotics- sniffing dogs off the scent.

The owner of the store told police he had grown suspicious of Pereira because he had been sending overnight packages every two weeks for several months to different addresses in Wisconsin.

Drug-related charges also were dropped against Roark.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Herb Alters Reality, But It's Legal

There's a mind-altering drug showing up on Milwaukee-area college campuses that is growing in popularity among students, and it's perfectly legal.

It's an herb in the mint family called salvia divinorum, and it gives users a psychedelic head trip.

WISN 12 News found it in local head shop just off the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.

Nestled among the skateboards and sneakers is the so-called "sacred sage."

The sign advertises salvia as the most potent psychotropic herb on the planet. Prices start at $35 for a few grams and go up to $70 for higher strength.

The clerk said the market is good.

"Kids just want it cause it messes them up," the clerk said.

Clerks at Knuckleheads told 12 News interest in salvia increased after it opened the head shop last spring just off campus. Knuckleheads also sells salvia at its store near University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"So who's buying it?" 12 News investigative reporter Colleen Henry asked.

"College kids. College kids," a store clerk said.

The clerks asked 12 News not to use their names, but said for many kids, salvia is cost-prohibitive.

"They always come in and ask about it, and then they look at the price, and they're like, 'OK, maybe not today." But they do ask about it two or three times a day," a clerk said.

"Is pot cheaper?" Henry asked.

"Yeah," a clerk said.

They even get kids from nearby Riverside High School looking to try it, but the clerks said they won't sell salvia to anyone under 18, even if it is legal.

"We card when you're buying salvia, 'cause, like, better safe than sorry," a clerk said.

The health effects of salvia use are unclear although doctors at Wisconsin's Children's Hospital call it a drug of abuse saying smoking anything is unhealthy.

"The law hasn't caught up to it," University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Professor Stephen Solheim said.

Solheim was an early salvia researcher and was the first to find it in the mountains of Mexico. It is grown by the same Indians famous for growing the psychedelic known as "magic mushrooms."

"People are going to find ways to alter their heads one way or another. People have been doing it for thousands of years, and we're no different," Solheim said.

Solheim said he came down with dysentery while studying in Mexico in a village far from any hospital, so a local woman treated him with salvia divinorum.

"I hallucinated for a few hours. I had giant insects tunneling in my brain for a few hours," Solheim said.

Solheim said in the years since his Mexico research, he's watched the political climate related to hallucinogens change.

In the 1960s, a renowned Harvard botany professor routinely gave students psychedelic plants to try as homework.

"No professor would hand hallucinogens to a student anymore, but think about that, that was only 40 years, that was perfectly acceptable. Then LSD became illegal, and then mushrooms, and now there's a move afoot to make salvia divinorum also illegal,." Solheim said.

The state of Louisiana just outlawed salvia divinorum, and New York and New Jersey have similar bills pending. Congress took up the issue in 2002 after a stabbing involving a 15-year-old Rhode Island boy who reportedly smoked salvia, but that bill failed.

"Just because it's legal doesn't mean something is healthy or safe," Special Agent Chris Hackbarth said.

Hackbarth said the Drug Enforcement Administration supports outlawing salvia, especially because it's popular with kids.

"We can't be proactive because it's not illegal. We can't go out and target the sellers of it because it's not illegal," Hackbarth said.

Back at the head shop, a UW-Milwaukee student doesn't see salvia as a big deal.

"It's an experience. It's nothing too heavy, though, that's for sure. It's not going to be like your heroin or cocaine or even pot or anything. It's not going to compare to it, really," the student said.

Though the staff expect salvia will eventually join the ranks of other illegal psychedelics.

Experts say it's unlikely salvia will ever become a party drug because it tends to make users more introverted.

WISN 12 News surveyed Milwaukee-area police departments.

Some were unfamiliar with it, while others said they don't see it.

At UW-Milwaukee, the police told 12 News that they don't see much Ecstasy either, but they know it's out there, Henry said.

To date, Wisconsin has taken no action to outlaw salvia.

Doctors in Milwaukee told 12 News they know of no medical benefits to using salvia.

Those who sell it actually hand out a fact sheet that warns against using it alone, or while driving.

To be clear, the store where 12 News bought salvia is not doing anything illegal.

The owner told 12 News that he will not sell salvia to anyone under the age of 18.

Elle’s Strange Trip Into Prescription Drug Abuse and Rapid Detox


"The Busy Woman's Detox" is a highly toxic piece of reporting

“The Busy Woman’s Detox,” in Elle’s November issue, purports to explain how growing numbers of professional women are becoming hooked on painkillers and how they might be saved from a lifetime of addiction by a “controversial process of opiate withdrawal” that takes no more than “a few hours of seemingly blissful unconsciousness.”

“Introduced to the Unites States in the mid-‘90s, rapid detox developed a bad reputation early on when seven people, all at one now-defunct clinic in New Jersey, died after undergoing the procedure. In spite of that, as many as a dozen rapid detox facilities have since opened in at least eight states… with no reported fatalities. Their promises are summed up succinctly on the website of a facility in Rochester Hills, Michigan: ‘We can help you detoxify comfortably and rapidly. You can return to your former activities without anyone knowing about the problem you once had.”
As the magazine rightfully notes, that kind of claim is “especially enticing to white-collar addicts who can afford the cost of treatment” – and who can’t afford the professional consequences of drug addiction. And the market for rapid detox is growing due to the “recent explosion of prescription painkiller addiction” part of which, the magazine avers, is a result of legitimate pain victims becoming accidentally addicted to their medicine.

Unfortunately, the idea of rapid detox seems just a little bit too enticing to the editors of Elle. Though there is some measure of skepticism reported about the procedure, it doesn’t come until the end of page three (paragraph number 24); and more importantly, it doesn’t include any mention of the most damning evaluation of the procedure, a controlled-trial study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in August.

This study found that despite the claims made by proponents that rapid detox condenses the opioid withdrawal process from its usual range of three to ten days to just several hours, the expensive procedure was no more effective at producing lasting abstinence or even relieving withdrawal distress than a traditional detox program.

Traditional detox also carries no risk of death: while Elle claimed that the only deaths associated rapid detox occurred among patients of one New Jersey clinic, the procedure, which involves administering massive doses of opioid-blockers and anesthesia, has been linked to roughly a dozen deaths in the U.S., Australia and England. The JAMA study also found that three of the 35 patients given anesthesia-assisted detox had serious complications, at least one of which would likely have been deadly without prompt intervention.

All of which led the editors of JAMA to write an accompanying editorial in which the journal concluded that “anesthesia assisted detox should have no significant role in the treatment of opioid dependence.”

Perhaps the long lead-in time for the magazine’s publication precluded Elle from including mention of this study, which is the kind of embarrassing and unfortunate event that haunts any monthly magazine. On the other hand, criticism of the procedure was not unknown before August: the JAMA study was just the final confirmation. But what is really telling about Elle’s strange trip is not just a failure of skeptical reporting on rapid detox, it is the errors the magazine made along the way.

First, there is the incomplete and, at times, inaccurate picture of the problem which rapid detox is supposed to address – accidental addiction to pain medications.The medical director of the Waismann Institute, a rapid detox program, is quoted by Elle as saying that “Prescription painkillers can be great for short-term problems, but they don’t work in the long term.” Elle also quoted Russell Portenoy, the chair of pain medicine at New York’s Beth Israel Medical center, as saying, “Studies [in the 80’s] seemed to indicate that people could take opiates for a long time without abusing them or developing a resistance. Unfortunately, the perspective was skewed to show that opiates were safe.”

Such comments do not acknowledge the consensus within the medical community on the treatment of chronic pain. A group of the nation’s leading pain physicians (which included Dr. Portenoy), in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Agency, wrote the following about the use of prescription opioids for chronic pain as a guide for doctors: “The consensus now is that some patients with chronic pain should be considered as candidates for long-term opioid therapy, and some will gain great benefit from this approach.” (While the DEA did remove this document from its website when a physician accused of over-prescribing tried to use it in his legal defense, the experts stand by it.)

And Dr. Portenoy himself noted elsewhere that there is no new data to support the claim that opioids are unsafe: his own research, published in major medical journals, shows that they can be used safely in treating chronic pain without producing addiction. In fact, Elle, in a confusing move for the reader, later cites Portenoy as “admitting” that the risk of addiction in the treatment of chronic pain with opioids is “fairly small.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, finds that some 80 percent of those who abuse prescription painkillers have also taken cocaine and psychedelics - a statistic that calls into doubt the idea that there are growing numbers of naïve pain patients succumbing to addiction through carefree prescribing by their doctors.

The “Oxycontin epidemic,” for instance, only took off after the media hyped the drug’s potential for abuse and not when it was introduced as a pain medicine. In 2000, before Oxycontin hit the media’s radar, there were 2,772 “mentions” of the drug in reports from emergency rooms. But in 2001, after dozens of stories and a spate of TV segments during sweeps week (some of which helpfully noted that the drug could be abused by crushing the tablets) there were 9,998.

And there’s more: Elle also manages to get the underlying science on addiction wrong by claiming that researchers “now know that opiates plug into the brain’s endorphin receptors,” thanks to “brain imaging studies.” The implication is one of a recent breakthrough coming after the recent surge in opioid abuse, but in fact, endorphin receptors were discovered in the 1970s and long before the chemicals that activate them the brain.

They actually got their name because scientists had discovered through animal research that morphine kills pain by activating these receptors. They were named “endorphin” receptors for “endogenous” “morphine,” because researchers rightly figured that the brain was not designed to take morphine, but rather that it must have its own “endogenous” and similar substance, which morphine mimics. And this discovery was made long before today’s brain imaging techniques were invented.

Likewise, Elle’s claim that higher doses of opioids produce higher numbers of receptors and therefore, worse withdrawal is also suspect, as no one knows how the severity of withdrawal is correlated with the number of opioid receptors. Researchers do know that some people withdraw from high-dose opioid therapy with very little physical or psychological distress, while others have severe symptoms.

A swift reversal of addiction simply by loading the brain up with opioid blockers also makes little scientific sense to anyone familiar with the research. The problem with addiction is not the persistence of opioids in the brain (which can be reversed by the use of blockers), but the persistence of changes in nerve cells in response to the use of opioids. These nerve changes take weeks to occur — so there was never any reason to believe that they could be undone in hours. And that is one of the reasons why controlled research (unlike the Waismann Institute’s uncontrolled trials cited by Elle) finds that the relapse rate following rapid detox is just as high as that from other detox procedures.

The problem with addiction is craving and relapse despite negative consequences, not physical dependence — and this is of critical importance to consider in the treatment of pain. All pain patients taking opioids long- term will develop physical dependence; but existing research finds that pain patients on opioids are no more likely than the general population to suffer the self-destructive behavior involved with addiction.

In other words, if people don’t have a past history of serious drug abuse, their odds of becoming addicts when exposed to opioids are roughly one percent.

Elle quotes a patient who says that “Rapid detox makes scientific sense to me. It’s like a colonic for the brain.” It’s a pity that something similar happened to Elle’s editors when they decided to publish this article.

Suspect jumps out window -- twice

Chicago-Sun Times

Inside and out, Michael Jones probably feels a little sore right about now.

On Tuesday, while under police custody at Saint Anthony Hospital, the 22-year-old Chicagoan expelled 11 small bags of suspected cocaine he had allegedly swallowed.

And then on Wednesday, Jones -- while barefoot and in leg irons -- allegedly leaped out a sixth-floor window in an attempt to escape from the hospital, said Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff's office.

Jones was in stable condition Wednesday at Mount Sinai Hospital, Cunningham said.

On Tuesday, Jones was being held at Saint Anthony on suspicion of possessing cocaine. The next day, after passing the suspected drugs, Jones went into a bathroom on the hospital's sixth floor, Cunningham said. A Cook County correctional officer assigned to guard him went into the bathroom after hearing a commotion, Cunningham said.

But the officer could only watch as Jones allegedly jumped out of the bathroom window, plummeting to a third-floor landing.

When Jones couldn't get back into the building on that floor, he threw himself off the landing and fell another three floors before hitting the ground, Cunningham said.

Escape charge expected

And then, remarkably, Jones got up and hobbled away. He was arrested less than two blocks away while hiding in a garden, Cunningham said.

Jones is expected to be charged with escape.

"But he did not set the record for floor-jumping," Cunningham said.

In the early 1990s, a Cook County Jail inmate who had been released on electronic home monitoring jumped out a window of his 11th-floor South Side apartment after sheriff's deputies arrived to serve a warrant. That man also survived and, like Jones, was arrested the same day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ohio executes cocaine dealer for killings

LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- A cocaine dealer was executed Tuesday for killing four men in a bid to seize control of the drug trade in a Youngstown housing project.

Willie Williams Jr., 48, died by injection at 10:20 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Saying Williams had shown no remorse for the slayings, Gov. Bob Taft on Monday refused to commute the inmate's sentence to life in prison without parole. Williams did not ask for clemency and the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended against it.

He was the third person to be put to death in Ohio this year and the 18th since the state resumed executions in 1999. Two other inmates are slated for execution next month.

Before Williams died, he winked and blew a kiss to his adult daughter, Jameka, and thanked her and his brother and uncle for being witnesses.

"I'm not going to waste no time talking about my lifestyle, my case, my punishment," he said. "Y'all stick together. Don't worry about me. I'm OK."

Prosecutors, police and court records depicted Williams as a strongman in the Youngstown underworld. When California released him after a five-year sentence for cocaine trafficking, Youngstown officials tried unsuccessfully to block his return by asking that state to limit his probation to the West Coast.

Williams' wanted to be like the dons of the Youngstown underworld who had battled for control of rackets as part of a feud between the Cleveland and Pittsburgh mobs, authorities say.

According to police and prosecutors, he may have killed up to 10 other people but never was charged.

He caught three of his rivals at home in September 1991, authorities said. The fourth victim was visiting two of the others. The victims were variously bound, shot and strangled, a coroner ruled.

Police arrested Williams soon after the slayings but he escaped a month later. He was recaptured three months after that when he took hostages at a juvenile lockup in what authorities said was an attempt to kill three accomplices who had cooperated with police against him.

Williams lost state court appeals in which his lawyers claimed prosecutors were able to stack the jury with people who favored the death penalty. A federal appeals court refused to overturn those rulings last year.

Expert urges: legalise cannabis to cut heroin addiction in Scotland

The debate over drug laws will be reignited next month when one of the world’s leading experts is to argue that Scotland should legalise cannabis to dramatically cut the country’s soaring heroin addiction rates.

Ethan Nadelmann will warn that the current UK drug policy is “damaging” and that the Scots should embrace the Dutch “coffee shop” model, under which cannabis is legally sold over the counter in licensed outlets.

Nadelmann, executive director of the US-based Drug Policy Alliance, and who is regarded as one of the most respected advocates of drug reform, will make the arguments at the prestigious Edinburgh Lectures series next month. Previous speakers at the event have included former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev and the scientist Professor Stephen Hawking.

As well as urging the widespread introduction of so-called “brown cafes” in Scottish towns and cities, Nadelmann will also say the government should adopt a policy of “controlled legalisation” for hallucinogens, such as LSD, and an extension to heroin prescribing.

He said: “If you define legalisation as the way we treat alcohol, making it available over the counter to anybody over the age of 18, then my view is that cannabis should be treated in the same way.

“The Dutch coffee shop approach provides a very good model. Cannabis is just as easy to get in Scotland as in the United States. Anyone who wants to obtain it, can obtain it. So why keep the entire thing underground? Why not find a way of bringing it above ground and regulating it?”

In the Netherlands, the sale of small quantities of cannabis for personal use in cafes is permitted. The outlets allow patrons to openly smoke joints without fear of arrest.

With more than 51,500 estimated heroin-users in Scotland and record numbers of pregnant women addicted to class-A drugs, Nadelmann said he believed cannabis legalisation would reduce the number of young Scots indulging in hard drug use.

“When the Dutch adopted the coffee shop system, they found that the percentage of young people using cannabis who went on to use harder drugs declined,” he said.

Under this approach, he claimed, the government would eliminate the prospect of a criminal drug dealer turning a cannabis smoker onto harder drugs. “Most people who use cannabis don’t go on to use other drugs. But obviously if you have the same dealer selling all of these drugs together it increases the chance that people will use them,” he said.

“If you have a regulated system where people are held responsible and will be closed down if they sell any white powder drugs, you can effectively segregate the market.”

While acknowledging recent research linking cannabis to mental illness, Nadelmann added that this was “a reason to make cannabis more regulated”.

The controversial talk comes at a critical point in the UK debate on drugs. Next month, the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is to report to Home Secretary Charles Clarke on whether cannabis should be restored to Class B status. This comes four years after then Home Secretary David Blunkett downgraded cannabis to a Class C drug.

Last night, Nadelmann’s comments prompted anger from drug researchers and politicians. Others, however, said he did not go far enough.

Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Scottish Centre for Drug Misuse Research, said legalising cannabis was “enormously risky”.

He said: “We have a picture of widespread underage drinking and underage smoking in Scotland, and we could see a similar pattern with drugs if these substances were to be legalised. There is no reason on earth if they were legalised that there would be a drop in use .”

Margaret Mitchell, the Conservative deputy justice spokeswoman, described Nadelmann’s comments as “unbelievable”. She said: “If that’s his message, then he’s the last person we want to have here. Zero tolerance is where we should be starting from .”

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP justice spokesman, said: “Rather than making supply easier, I would argue that we need to reduce demand. We should invest in sports and arts, in giving folk, young and old, other outlets than the pub or smoking a spliff.”

Tom Wood, former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police and now chairman of the Action Team on Alcohol and Drugs in Edinburgh, which invited Nadelmann to the capital, said: “The idea to have him over here is to stimulate thought and give us food for thought. It’s healthy to listen to carefully considered views, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.”

Kevin Williamson, the publisher and author whose Edinburgh cannabis cafe was closed down, said: “As long as cannabis is illegal young people will come into contact with heroin.”

Danny Kushlick, director of pro-legalisation group Transform, said: “No drug is made safer in the hands of criminals.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said there were “no plans” to legalise cannabis.

Ethan Nadelmann’s lecture, The Global War On Drugs, takes place on November 1 at 6.30pm in Edinburgh City Chambers.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Coast Guard's record year for cocaine busts


The U.S. Coast Guard seized a record-breaking amount of cocaine from drug smugglers' ships in the past year, the agency said this morning.

The Coast Guard, in cooperation with other federal law enforcement agencies, intercepted 150 tons of cocaine in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, topping the record of 120 tons set in fiscal 2003-04.

The estimated street value of the cocaine seized this year is $9.5 billion, officials said. The amount of cocaine seized could have been divided into more than 100 million hits, they said.

The majority of interdictions took place in the eastern Pacific along the coast of Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

During August and September, officials said, the Coast Guard working with Navy ships stopped 11 attempts to smuggle significant amounts of the drug into the United States through maritime trafficking routes in the eastern Pacific.

The three most recent incidents netted a total of 11.5 tons of cocaine.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Failed War on Pot Users


by Debra J. Saunders

IN 2004, law enforcement officials arrested 771,605 people for marijuana violations, according to federal statistics. Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project was so alarmed he sent out a press release noting that there were more arrests for marijuana charges than all violent crimes combined. The number of arrests for possession alone was 684,319.

Said Mirken of the 771,605 statistic: "This is, in fact, an all-time record. This number of arrests is the equivalent of arresting every man, woman and child in San Francisco." Some 40 percent of Americans say they have used marijuana or hashish in their lifetime, and 34 percent of high-school seniors say they have used marijuana in the last year -- even though the last decade has seen a huge spike in marijuana arrests, according to federal research. When the number of marijuana arrests exceeds the population of some states, the country should be asking: Does it make sense to keep millions of otherwise-law-abiding citizens on the dark side of the law?

A few notes about those numbers. Federal officials told me that they don't track how many of these arrests result in convictions, or how many total drug-possession convictions (including misdemeanors) occur in the United States.

I asked Tom Riley of White House drug czar John Walters' office if he thought the high arrest figure was good. "Yes," Riley responded. "Marijuana is a much more serious drug than most Americans realize. It's a more potent drug than it was in the past."

Riley referred me to material from his office that explained that many first-time users serve no jail time and often see their records expunged if they don't re-offend. He added, "Anybody who has watched 'COPS' knows that the way so much retail-level policing goes -- someone is violent, or causing damage, and they get arrested -- it's hard and complicated to prove a lot of crimes like assault and battery," while it is "easy to prove" marijuana possession.

Indeed, the Marijuana Policy Project referred me to John Elwood of Florida so that he could talk about how an arrest for marijuana possession affected him. Elwood, 34, told me he was charged with possession of marijuana when he was arrested for drunken driving two years ago. Oddly, the marijuana conviction (his second drug offense) has hurt him more. He was charged with a felony for possessing about an ounce of marijuana, he said, while the drunken-driving charge was a misdemeanor. "I was fortunate because I already had a job where people knew me," he noted. Still, the marijuana conviction caused him to split with his fiance, he said, because she wanted to move out of state, but he didn't think he could get another job -- he's a veterinary technician.

OK, Elwood is no poster child. Instead, consider Cal State Fullerton student Marisa Garcia, who in 2000 discovered she couldn't qualify for student aid because of an arrest for possession of a marijuana pipe. I spoke with her in February. If she had been convicted of a violent crime, she could have qualified for federal student aid.

Mirken took issue with Riley's claim that many marijuana arrests signify other crimes. "It is virtually impossible to get accurate descriptions of the number of people locked up on marijuana charges," he rightly noted. And:

"Here's something else, if you look at the surveys going back for many years, rates of marijuana use have not changed that much and they've gone down a bit in the last couple of years. The number of marijuana arrests has roughly tripled. It doesn't make sense that, all of a sudden, three times as many people arrested for something else now have marijuana with them. It doesn't pass the smell test."

Taxpayers for Common Sense commissioned a report on federal drug spending from Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron. Miron also struggled to find a solid methodology to calculate out how much the federal government spends on drug policies. Myriad agencies are involved and there is no set way to compute how much they spend on marijuana. He extrapolated a figure of at least $3.67 billion in federal spending to reduce marijuana use in 2004.

Over the last three decades, Miron figured, the federal government spent a cumulative total of $257 billion (in 2003 dollars) on anti-drug efforts. While marijuana use declined, the decline began during the Carter administration years, before the Reagan "Just Say No" campaign days. Not that those billions make much difference.

As Miron reported, "Marijuana use rates are little different now than in 1975, despite a substantial escalation in federal marijuana spending over this time period." And: "The fact that trends in marijuana use bear no overall relation to federal marijuana spending casts doubt on whether these policies reduce marijuana use."

Mirken noted that, at the very least, taxpayers might want to shift resources and spend federal dollars fighting "drugs that actually kill people."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Marijuana Arrests Set New Record

Marijuana Policy Project

More Americans Arrested on Marijuana Charges in 2004 than for All Violent Crimes Combined

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to figures released today by the FBI, marijuana arrests set a new record in 2004, totaling 771,605. Eighty-nine percent of these arrests were for marijuana possession, not sale or manufacture.

In contrast, arrests for all violent crimes combined totalled 590,258—a decline from 2003.

"It's important to remember that each of these statistics represents a human being, and in many cases, a preventable tragedy," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "One of those marijuana arrests in 2004 was Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who died in the Washington, D.C., city jail while serving a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession. Had Congress not blocked the district's medical marijuana law from taking effect, Jonathan Magbie would almost certainly be alive today.

"Over the weekend, Melissa Etheridge became the latest celebrity to acknowledge using medical marijuana, using it to treat the nausea and pain she experienced while undergoing cancer chemotherapy. Etheridge is a hero to many, and for good reason. But for every Melissa Etheridge or Montel Williams, there are hundreds of thousands more Americans whom most of us will never hear of—ordinary Americans who live in fear, suffer and, yes, sometimes die because of our irrational marijuana laws. It is time for Congress to end this cruel war on the sick and enact marijuana laws based on science and common sense."

With more than 18,000 members and 120,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana—both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. For more information, please visit

Cannabis smoke less carcinogenic than tobacco smoke

Cannabis smoke is less likely to cause cancer than tobacco smoke, although both are similar chemically, researchers said.

Previous studies linked cannabis with mental health issues and breathing disorders, but scientists recently said cannabis can be beneficial in treating certain serious illnesses.

Cannabis has been associated with an increased risk of psychosis and Schizophrenia among the population.

But cannabis has also been used to treat certain serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and Alzheimer's disease.

Cannabis smoke is not as carcinogenic (cancer causing) as cigarette smoke, according to a review by Dr. Robert Melamede from the University of Colorado in the US. The review was published in the Harm Reduction journal.

Dr. Melamede said although cannabis and tobacco smoke were chemically similar, their effects were different. Cannabis smoke was less carcinogenic than tobacco smoke.

He said the different pharmacological effects of tobacco and cannabis smoke are mainly due to the presence of nicotine in tobacco smoke and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis.

The difference, he explained, is that nicotine increased the cancer-promoting effects of smoke while THC reduced the risk.

Many governments do not allow medicinal use of cannabis because evidence suggests the risk of cannabis outweighs the benefits.

Monday, October 17, 2005

New cannabis drug target found

CBC News

Scientists in Alberta have discovered a second receptor for cannabis, a finding that could one day help to harness the benefits of the drug without the side-effects.

Cannabinoids are chemicals that are responsible for the psychoactive properties of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

One cannabinoid receptor is found mainly in the brain. Drugs that target it reduce nausea and vomiting from treatments for cancer and AIDS, but are also mind altering.

Scientists have been looking for a new receptor in the brain for years, said Keith Sharkey, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Calgary. Sharkey and his colleagues in the U.S. and Italy are the first to identify the second potential drug target in laboratory animals.

The early-stage research shows the second receptor is found throughout the body's central nervous system. The spleen, part of the immune system, contains high levels of the receptor.

Lab tests showed the second receptor works in the brains of rats and ferrets, and levels can be manipulated.

The results suggest that nausea could be treated by turning on both receptors in local regions of the brain, the team reports in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"This discovery has changed the way we think about the flow of information within the brain, and how the brain communicates with other parts of the body," said Raphael Mechoulam, a cannabinoid scientist and professor of medicinal chemistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a release.

The research was sponsored by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National Institutes of Health, and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

'Cannabis' acts as antidepressant

BBC News

A chemical found in cannabis can act like an antidepressant, researchers have found.

A team from Canada's University of Saskatchewan suggest the compound causes nerve cells to regenerate.

The Journal of Clinical Investigation study showed rats given a cannabinoid were less anxious and less depressed.

But UK experts warned other conflicting research had linked cannabis, and other cannabinoids, to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

They suggested this could be because different cannabinoids acting at different levels have contradictory effects.

Cannabinoids have been shown to relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and pain relief in humans.

They are naturally present in the body, as well as being found in cannabis.

'Complicated effects'

The Canadian researchers gave rats injections of high levels of one artificial cannabinoid, HU210, for a month.

The animals were seen to have nerve cell regeneration in the hippocampus, which is linked to memory and emotions.

The hippocampus has been shown to generate new nerve cells throughout a person's or an animal's life, but this ability is reduced if cells are engineered to lack a cannabinoid receptor protein called CB-1.

In the Canadian study, rats given the cannabinoid were also found to be less anxious, and more willing to eat food in new environments - a change which would normally frighten them.

However, research has previously linked use of the drug cannabis to long-term damage to mental health, and to increase the risk of mental illness in those who are already genetically susceptible.

In addition, short-term high doses of cannabinoids had also been shown to produce anxiety-like effects in rats and depression-like effects in mice.

But other studies had found that low-doses of cannabinoids helped to reduce anxiety in rodents.

The Canadian team said: "These complicated effects of high and low doses of acute and chronic exposure to cannabinoids may explain the seemingly conflicting results observed in clinical studies regarding the effects of cannabinoid on anxiety and depression."

'Raw cannabis is risky'

Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry, questioned whether the anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects seen in the animals would be replicated in humans.

He said: "This is a very big leap of faith as they have no data on humans, and the supposed animals' models of anxiety and depression that they use don't have much in common with the human conditions."

Paul Corry, Director of campaigns and communication at Rethink said: "Cannabinoids are an exciting new area for medical research, but it is important to recognise that there are over 60 active ingredients in cannabis - synthetic cannabinoid may be showing evidence of nerve regeneration.

"But as also pointed out in this study, the effects of cannabis on the brain are complex and produce conflicting evidence.

"For most people with severe mental illness, raw cannabis remains a risky substance.

"All medical research needs to be checked before it would make a difference to the hundreds of thousands of people living with severe mental illness in the UK."

High-dose cannabis stimulates growth of brain cells in rats

Cannabis, the third most popular recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco, yesterday won an unlikely accolade from scientists who said that it could boost brain power. Experiments on rats given a potent cannabinoid have shown the drug stimulates the growth of new brain cells. Canadian researchers found that the drug caused neurons to regenerate in the hippocampus, an area that controls mood and emotions, after one month of treatment. Its effect was similar to that of the antidepressant drug Prozac, which also stimulates nerve growth in the hippocampus. The rats were less anxious and more willing to eat in a novel environment that would normally make them fearful.

Source: Belfast Telegraph

Friday, October 14, 2005

Vets Against the (Drug) War

FW Weekly

This is your society. This is your society on an endless, losing campaign against drugs. NOW DO YOU GET IT?

By Peter Gorman

Howard Woolridge is outside of Utica, N.Y., heading east on horseback on a beautiful late summer day. He’s wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Cops Say Legalize Drugs. Ask Me Why.” For the last 3,000 miles, he’s been switching off between his two horses, Misty and Sam. But the t-shirt slogan has stayed the same.

The rangy, good-looking guy is also talking on the cell phone to a reporter back in North Texas. But he interrupts that conversation to speak to someone who pulls up next to him in a car. “That’s right — cops say legalize,” he tells the newcomer in a deep voice. “Why? Because if we do, we just might be able to keep drugs out of the hands of your 14-year old.”

“Right on!” the motorist shouts, and drives off.

Woolridge is not a lunatic, and he hasn’t been out in the sun too long, even if he did cross the United States on horseback in the summer heat. He’s a retired law enforcement officer with 18 years on the job who finally decided that the war on drugs was more of a problem than the illicit drugs it was purporting to fight.

He’s also a serious long-distance horseman, on the road this time since March 4, when he left Los Angeles on the 3,400-mile ride to the New York City harbor. It’s the second time Woolridge has crossed the United States to publicize the campaign to repeal most of the drug laws in this country. In 2003 he rode from Georgia to Oregon. When he finishes this trip on Oct. 5, looking out at the Statue of Liberty, he will be honored by the Long Riders’ Guild as only the second person known to have ridden horseback all the way across the country in both directions. And he’ll still be wearing one of the “Ask Me Why” t-shirts he’s been wearing for six years.

“When I first started wearing it,” he says, “people in Texas thought I was crazy. They thought my idea would destroy Texas and America. They believed the government propaganda that millions of people would pick up heroin or methamphetamines and become junkies overnight if you legalized it.” But in the last two to three years, he’s seen a sea change in the attitude of the American public regarding the War on Drugs. “At any given Arby’s, McDonald’s, Rotary Club, or veterans hall, people are overwhelmingly in favor of calling a halt to drug prohibition. Overwhelmingly.”

Many of the houses Woolridge is riding past carry plaques attesting to the Utica area’s involvement in the Underground Railroad that once funneled runaway slaves from the south up to Canada. It makes him think about Bernie Ellis, a fellow soldier in the war against the drug war, who has lost his own freedom.

“For 10 years he provided free medical marijuana to three oncologists in the Nashville, Tenn., area for their patients undergoing chemotherapy. He never once met the doctors, of course; it was all cloak and dagger. He’d bring the marijuana to an office worker who’d get it to the patient.

“Well, he finally got busted last year. Now he’s looking at five years mandatory federal prison time, though that might go up to 10 because he had a shotgun on his farm when he got busted. And of course his million-dollar farm has been forfeited because he grew the medical marijuana there.”

The phone goes quiet for a minute, and there’s the sound of a strangled sob. “Sorry. Got a little choked up for a second,” he says. He pauses to explain his t-shirt to a motorist, then he’s back on the phone talking about Bernie. “This is a guy who broke the law to help people and is now facing the consequences of that. Poor son of a bitch. Next time I see him he’ll be in prison.”

Woolridge is not a lone ranger in the fight to legalize drugs. He’s a founding member of an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or LEAP, an organization made up entirely of current and former members of law enforcement who feel the drug war’s a failure and believe legalization and regulation are preferable to the incarceration of drug users and control of the drug market by organized crime.

Started in March 2002 by five police officers, LEAP now counts about 3,000 members, from the ranks of policemen, prison guards, DEA agents, judges, and even prosecutors in 48 states and 45 foreign countries. The idea behind LEAP is that, as with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the call for an end to the drug war carries more weight when it comes from folks who have been in the trenches.

“We’re the ones who fought the war,” said Jack Cole, LEAP’s executive director, who retired from the New Jersey state police as a detective lieutenant after 26 years, including 14 in their narcotics bureau, mostly undercover. “And I bear witness to the abject failure of the U.S. war on drugs and to the horrors these prohibitionist policies have produced.”

The LEAP web site provides the statistical backup for that argument. “After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, our confined population has quadrupled,” it says. “More than 2.2 million of our citizens are currently incarcerated, and every year we arrest an additional 1.6 million for nonviolent drug offenses — more per capita than any country in the world. ... Meanwhile, people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer.”

To get that message out, LEAP members have given nearly 1,500 speeches since 2003. And they don’t preach to the choir. “We don’t do hemp rallies or Million Man Marijuana Marches,” said Woolridge. “We do Kiwanis Clubs and PTA meetings and cop conventions. That’s where the people we’ve got to reach go.”

To parents and teachers and Rotarians and other cops, LEAP members tell their own stories, about their work and about how they came to feel the drug war was not the answer.

Woolridge, for instance, was a street cop in Michigan for 15 of his 18 years of service, before moving up to the rank of detective. “I didn’t work directly with the drug war, in that I wasn’t in narcotics,” he said. “Still, as a detective I was constantly working with felonies that touched on the drug war. Eight of 10 burglary suspects I dealt with were on crack at the time. They were stealing for drug money.”

The burglary victims “were all in real pain,” he said. “And I got so fed up with it I began saying ‘Why not let these guys have all the crack they want until they die?’ Now I’d say ‘Have all you want for a dollar.’ That makes it their choice to live or die. Either way you don’t have people breaking into houses for drug money anymore.”

To Cole, who did work directly in narcotics, the whole concept of the war on drugs is wrong. “You declare war, you need soldiers. You have soldiers, they need an enemy. So we’ve effectively taken a peacekeeping force — the police — and turned them into soldiers whose enemies are the 110 million people who have tried illegal substances in the U.S.”

To be an effective soldier, you’ve got to dehumanize your enemy. “When I started out in narcotics I believed everything they told me,” said Cole, a no-BS kind of guy. “Drugs were bad. The people who did them were less than human. I was all for locking them up.”

Worse, he said, he and others often applied what they called a little “street justice” to the people they were arresting. “In our training we were taught to believe that drug users were the worst people in the world and whatever we did to them to try to stop their drug use was justified.”

What they did was kick in home or apartment doors and have every man, woman, and child inside lie on the floor. If people didn’t cooperate immediately, they were thrown to the floor. Then the place was ransacked. “When we searched for drugs, we pretty much did as much damage as possible. We’d break bureaus, turn over beds, smash mirrors, throw things on the floor. Didn’t matter because the people there weren’t humans, right? And then if we did find any drugs we’d arrest everyone in the house: parents, sisters, brothers. And since we’d already kicked the door down when we came in, it would be left open, and anyone who wanted to enter could steal what they wanted. We never cared about that.”

Street justice didn’t stop there, said Cole. In court, he said, officers routinely changed testimony to ensure convictions — times, locations, amounts of drugs — “anything that couldn’t be checked to catch the officer in a lie.”

It didn’t take long for Cole to reach the conclusion that the drug war and its street justice weren’t for him. He was mostly going after small-timers, and his job, he came to feel, was to insert himself into voluntary, private business transactions. “To do that I had to become someone’s confidant, their best friend. And once I was, I would bust them.”

But he too got hooked — on the adrenaline high of the game. “By the time I came to my senses, I was working on big-timers, and pitting your mind against theirs was a great rush,” he said. “Also it was hard to quit because we were considered by the public and our peers as heroes. And then, given that I’d worked with a lot of cops who applied bad street justice, I let myself believe that at least if I was the one catching [the dopers], they’d be legally caught, and I’d tell the truth, and justice would prevail.”

He laughed. “Know what was the worst? When I realized that I liked and respected a lot of the bad guys much more than I liked or respected the guys I was working with.”

The stated goals of the war on drugs are to lower drug consumption, reduce addiction and dependence, and decrease the quality and quantity of illegal drugs available on American streets. Those have been the goals since Richard Nixon first declared the war as part of his attempt to look tough on crime during the presidential election in 1968.

Since then, the strategy of prohibition has been ramped up by every succeeding administration. Few people in this country — or anywhere —have escaped the effects of the U.S. drug war, from the toll of burglaries and car thefts committed to pay for drugs, to the tax bills for prisons to hold the increasing numbers of citizens locked up for non-violent drug-related crimes, to the millions of kids who’ve grown up without one or both parents as a result of drug convictions and drug addictions. Drug-related murders reach into the tens of thousands in this country, and the toll is much higher in drug-producing and shipping nations from Colombia to Afghanistan to Jamaica. Thousands of peace officers have died fighting the drug war. Whole countries have found themselves under the boot of the illegal drug industry, their leaders controlled or intimidated by drug cartels, their governments and police forces infiltrated, and honest public servants assassinated.

The assumption in American drug policy has always been that those are the impacts of illegal drugs themselves. But LEAP members have come to believe those are the wages not of drugs but of the War on Drugs. And they want the rest of the country to look closely at the costs of that strategy and what they see as its failures.

Despite the billions of dollars spent on the fight in nearly 40 years, LEAP members point out, the drug war has failed on every one of its stated goals.

Drug consumption, for instance, shows little sign of dropping. Whereas in 1965, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fewer than 4 million Americans had ever tried an illegal drug, the figure is now more than 110 million. In 2000, the federal government estimated that there were about 33 million people in this country who had used cocaine at least once — an 800 percent increase over the total number of people 37 years ago who had used any illegal drug.

Dependence and addiction? According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the federal agency that sets and administers U.S. drug policy, in 2002 more than 7 million Americans were either dependent on or abusing illegal substances — nearly double the number of people who had even tried such drugs when Nixon declared his war. The ranks of heroin addicts have jumped from a few hundred thousand in the 1960s to between 750,000 and one million today, according to the ONDCP.

Attempts to decrease the quality of available drugs also have failed. In 1970, average street heroin in this country had a potency of 1 to 2 percent. In 2000, according to the DEA, that purity figure was 36.8 percent — although U.S. drug czar John Walters did praise anti-drug forces recently for reducing the strength of street heroin coming from South America to 32.1 percent. Similarly, street cocaine was roughly 2 to 4 percent pure in 1968 — and a whopping 56 percent pure in 2001, according to the ONDCP. The average strength of the active ingredient THC in marijuana sold in this country more than doubled between the late 1970s and 2001.

Nor is there much good news on drug quantities and availability, at least not judging by the numbers of users and the prices on the street. The ONDCP estimates that Americans’ use of cocaine and crack has dropped from 447 tons in 1990 to 259 tons in 2000. But the price of cocaine dropped from $100 per gram in 1970 to $25 to $50 per gram in 2002 — for cocaine that was many times stronger. At the wholesale level, a kilogram of cocaine (2.2 pounds at roughly 25 percent purity) cost $45,000 in New York City in 1970. Today, in any large city in the US it costs less than $15,000, and it’s about 65 percent pure.

Only marijuana showed a price increase. In 1970, a bag of Mexican ditchweed (roughly an ounce) cost $20. In 2005, that same bag costs nearly $50. But most Americans who can afford it don’t smoke Mexican ditchweed. They smoke US-grown sinsemilla, which runs up to $400 per ounce.

With availability, price, and quality making drugs as attractive as ever, the only other barometer of the success of the drug war might be whether it has stopped anyone from trying drugs — an area where programs like DARE, a huge effort targeted at school kids, have had a noted lack of success. “It didn’t stop George Bush, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or me from smoking pot,” said Woolridge. “I don’t think it probably ever stopped anyone.”

The cops and prosecutors and judges who belong to LEAP think the bad results of the drug war go beyond its policy failures, even beyond the lives lost to drug violence and incarceration.

“Let’s be honest,” Cole said. “The war on drugs has taken an incredible toll in terms of the loss of our civil liberties, particularly in terms of the Fourth Amendment, from property forfeiture laws that fund law enforcement agencies to warrantless searches. It’s promoted institutionalized racism, and it’s created a systemic level of corruption among law enforcement unheard of prior to its initiation.”

Law enforcement veterans like Cole and Woolridge believe the increase in institutional racism is one of the deepest wounds. They point out, for instance, that crack users — generally inner-city blacks — are subject to mandatory minimum sentences of five years for possession of five grams of crack, while powder cocaine users — generally middle-class whites — have to be caught with 500 grams to get the same mandatory sentence.

While ONDCP statistics show that whites use more than 70 percent of all illegal drugs, blacks are sentenced to prison for drug crimes seven times more often than whites.

“Imagine,” said Cole, “one of the most racist places in the world: South Africa, 1993. At that time the South African government was incarcerating black males at the rate of 859 per 100,000 population.” And yet in 2004 in the United States — with a higher percent of its population in prison than any country in the world — the incarceration rate for black males was 4,919 per 100,000 (compared to 726 overall).

He pointed to an FBI estimate that one in three black male babies born in the U.S. in 2004 has an expectation of going to prison during his lifetime. “That just blows my mind,” he said.

LEAP members believe that a large percentage of the corruption found in U.S. police agencies is tied to drugs. Recent local drug-related scandals include the Dallas fake-drugs operation, in which a snitch was paid more than $200,000 over a two-year period to identify drug dealers. The “dealers” turned out to be nearly all illegal immigrants; their “drugs” turned out to be crushed sheetrock and pool chalk. And then there was Tulia, in the Texas Panhandle, in which a multi-county drug task force hired a corrupt deputy sheriff to rid the town of its drug problem; when it turned out there wasn’t one, the deputy created one, and more than 40 people wound up arrested.

LEAP spokesmen see both those high-profile Texas drug corruption cases as indicative of a much wider problem: officers cutting corners to get the arrest numbers that will keep federal and state anti-drug funds flowing. And those scandals don’t begin to touch on the border patrol agents, police, and other law enforcement officials who have been corrupted because the drug money is so readily available.

Rusty White, another LEAP member, is a self-described redneck who grew up hard in East Texas and Arizona. Now, after many stops in other states and countries, he lives just north of Fort Worth. At 13 he saw a friend shoot up black tar heroin and decided he didn’t like hard drugs. But by 16, he was running with a badass crowd. He got into trouble with the law, punched a teacher, and was kicked out of school.

In quick succession, he married, became a father, joined the army, and got divorced. After a second tour with the army, he ended up in Florence, Ariz., where he went to work at the state pen, which was, he said, “one of the most violent prisons in the United States at that time.”

From 1973 to 1978, he worked as a guard on maximum security, death row, and administrative segregation cellblocks, dealing with horrors daily. “Life meant very little to those inside the walls,” he said, noting that two prison guards were killed and mutilated by inmates in 1973. “Drugs were one of the biggest problems we had. They were the cause of most of the deaths and power struggles.” And most of the drugs were brought in by prison workers. “I got fed up with the corruption and left to go into the oil drilling business in 1979,” he said.

After working overseas for several years, White moved to Oklahoma. And there, he said, he got to see the war on drugs from a very different vantage point. “The county I lived in had a sheriff who controlled the drug market. And he did so with force. It was common knowledge that if you crossed him he could be — and had been — deadly.”

But the same sheriff regularly flew around the county in National Guard helicopters, providing photo ops for news crews to show how tough he was on drugs. “The only thing he was getting rid of was the competition,” said White, disgustedly.

His only personal encounter with the sheriff and his machine occurred when White’s brother-in-law, a small-time pot dealer, was busted. “He was poor, didn’t have a car that ran, and was living off [government] commodities. Yet he was going to be played by the sheriff as a drug-dealing kingpin,” the former prison guard said.

“He’s the father of three little ones, all younger than six, and when the police arrived, he offered to go with them willingly. But he asked that his kids be allowed to stay with an uncle who was there rather than dragging them down to the station. Well, you know how people feel about ‘drug dealers’; the police said no, the kids were coming to the station to watch their father get busted, and then they’d be released to the uncle.”

When the man’s trial came up, White said, it turned out the district attorney didn’t have any evidence against him as a big-time dealer. Nonetheless, he was offered a plea deal: Admit to being a big dealer and get a one- to three-year sentence. If he insisted on a trial, however, the prosecutor promised to ask for a full 10 years.

“He copped to the plea. But to see him struggle with having to lie in front of his kids and admit to something he hadn’t done — well, I sort of snapped and screamed at the prosecutor and asked him if he thought he’d earned his money that day and why was he playing God. And he looked at me and answered, ‘Because in this county, I am God.’”

A couple of years later, White said, the DA went back into private practice and shortly thereafter was arrested and convicted for dealing methamphetamines. “How the sheriff escaped that net I don’t know,” White said. “But the thing to remember is that ... this sort of thing is happening every day in the war on drugs, all over the country. And that abuse of trust and power is far more harmful to Americans than drugs could ever be.”

Shortly after his brother-in-law’s conviction, White went back to work in the prison system and became a drug-dog trainer and handler. It was the sort of work White said he was meant to do. “I tracked several escapees from the prison and even some cop killers using my track K-9s. We helped departments all over the state. I’d be sent to prisons to look for drugs — I had no problem with that. But the more we were used with other police organizations the more my conscience started to become a problem.”

Two incidents stick in White’s mind. Once while his partner was helping another officer, part of a joint was discovered in the ashtray of an old pickup belonging to an elderly man. The dogs were brought in, and in the camper shell on the back of the truck in which the old man lived, the dogs sniffed out a briefcase with more than $9,000 in it. Because it was a drug dog that had alerted on it, the money was confiscated. “And they just stood around laughing as the old man begged them not to take his life savings. It just made me sick and ashamed. Heck, it’s common knowledge that over 90 percent of the paper money in this country is tainted with a drug scent a dog can find. But using that to rob our people disgusts me. Heck, if you walk any K-9 into a bank vault the dog will mark on that money too. How come that money isn’t confiscated?”

The second incident occurred one night when White and his drug dog were called to help a local police department search a house for drugs. When he pulled up to the house, he asked to see the warrant. The officer told him it wasn’t there yet but to go ahead and start the search, and it would be there shortly. “I told him that’s just not how it works. I needed the warrant for the search to be legal. So I put my K-9 back into the truck and brought him back to the kennel. And then I got called on the carpet for refusing to assist.”

White thought getting into trouble for following the law he’d sworn to uphold was just too much, so he quit. “Heck, there was so much corruption, even among K-9 handlers. If they didn’t want someone with drugs caught they’d say the dog didn’t mark. If they did, well, we heard of cases where guys went so far as to ‘salt’ the areas their dogs were searching to make sure someone got busted. It was so bad that, being honest, you couldn’t do it. .. I don’t think anyone with a conscience can be part of law enforcement anymore.”

Richard Watkins saw the same corruption inside prison that White did, but from a unique perspective. A decorated Vietnam veteran with a Ph.D. in education, Watkins worked at Texas’ Huntsville prison for 20 years, the last several as warden of Holiday Unit, a 2,100-bed facility housing a range of criminals from non-violent to violent/maximum security.

He was originally hired to revamp and professionalize the correctional officers training program — something the prison system was forced to do by federal mandate and that Watkins said was badly needed. “It was just horrible. Corrupt, bad, just plain horrible,” he said.

Watkins had always had reservations about the war on drugs. He figured the drug dealers wouldn’t go away as long as there was a market. And looking at this country’s experience with Prohibition, “and how that created mobsters and criminal gangs,” he figured that legalizing drugs made more sense. When selling and drinking booze became legal in this country again, he said, “you had so much more control of it. You had supporting laws that managed the use of alcohol.”

Watkins was first exposed to drugs in Vietnam. He didn’t use them — he preferred alcohol — but he saw a lot of other guys getting high on marijuana and other drugs. Many of those men wound up in prison when they came home with addiction problems. “And in prison, you could always get whatever drugs you wanted. Heck, we arrested a mom one time who was putting a lip-lock on her son to pass him a balloon full of heroin. But most of the drugs came in through the guards. Drugs are packaged so small, it’s almost impossible to keep them out. Think about that: If you can’t keep drugs out of a maximum security prison, you can’t keep them out of schools or anywhere else.”

Once drugs land someone in prison in Texas, he said, life’s prospects get a lot dimmer. “We’ve got these minor players put in with professional criminals. If they weren’t criminals going in, they damn sure are when they get out. Imagine a system where we put people into a society that’s really a training ground for criminals, then don’t provide them with either schooling or treatment, then put them back on the streets where they came from. Do you really expect them to be reformed? Life doesn’t work that way.”

He wishes people wouldn’t make the decision to use drugs. “But if they did use them, I wouldn’t put them in prison. I’d rather see the money we spend on prisons going to give these kids the tools they need to make better choices.”

You might imagine that it would be easy to find law enforcement agencies and personnel who oppose LEAP’s call for legalization and regulation as an alternative to the war on drugs. But neither the FBI nor the DEA would discuss the subject.

“Our job is to stop the flow of illegal drugs both at home and abroad, as well as to stop our citizens from wanting to use them through education and prevention methods,” said an ONDCP representative. “We will not discuss legalization or any organization which thinks that would be a solution.”

Jack Cole wasn’t surprised. “They’re good soldiers,” he said. “They’re not allowed to question their commands. Our job is to simply have their commanders change their marching orders.”

Mike Smithson, the Fort Worth native who runs LEAP’s speakers bureau, said he’s made more than 100 attempts to get law enforcement and drug policy officials to come out and debate LEAP, “and we’ve only been taken up on it five times. Policymakers generally say that debating us will lend us credence. We think they’re just afraid. How can they defend a policy that is already being defended by every major drug dealer, cartel, and drug-producing government worldwide?”

Woolridge says that on his entire ride from Los Angeles he’s talked to only two officers who disagreed with LEAP’s point of view. “One guy thought we’d destroy America if we legalized drugs. He was so angry when he couldn’t find anything to write me a ticket for that he gave me the finger as he drove away. And there was a state trooper with 22 years on the job who told me to take off my shirt because it said “Cops say legalize drugs,” and he didn’t agree with that. I told him go make up his own shirt.”

One person who did agree to discuss his opposition to LEAP’s stand was Sheriff John Cooke of Wells County in Colorado. Cooke is a member of a Rotary Club at which Howard Woolridge spoke. He was so taken aback by the idea of legalizing drugs that he demanded equal time and recently spoke to the Rotary Club himself.

“In my opinion, there are several reasons not to legalize drugs,” Cooke told Fort Worth Weekly. “First of all, when people say you’re going to eliminate the black market, does that mean you’re going to sell drugs to 12- and 15-year-olds? Because if you don’t, someone will. Law enforcement surely hasn’t done a good job at keeping alcohol and cigarettes out of the hands of kids, so what makes them think they’ll do any better with drugs? And if you don’t sell drugs to them, there will be a black market created to sell to them. So I don’t buy the end-of-the-black-market theory.

“Secondly, we already have social ills from the legal use of alcohol and tobacco. Why on earth would we want to turn other addictive substances loose on the public?

“Thirdly, these LEAP folks want to throw in the towel, say we’ve lost the drug war. But the thing is that I think we’re winning the war on drugs. I think drug use is down. I think if we keep at it, we will win.

“Then there’s the question of use. Right now, I believe that the threat of the hammer of law enforcement is keeping a great many people from doing drugs. The threat of prison time is a big hammer. I think if we legalized you’d see the number of people doing drugs in this country skyrocket. I believe we’d have a drug-dependent society... and I don’t want to see America as a drug-dependent country.”

Michael Gilbert, chairman of the criminal justice department in the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas in San Antonio, said he doubts that there would be any sizable black market aimed at teens if drugs were legalized. Gilbert is a LEAP member who worked in prisons — including Leavenworth — and with Justice Department agencies for more than 20 years.

“The reason there’s so much money in the black market is not because of the small portion of destabilized street addicts we have, or even kids experimenting with drugs. It’s because you have long-time productive millions [of people] who regularly purchase small quantities of the drugs of their choice, but they don’t use them in a way that becomes destructive to their lives,” he said. “They’re working, paying their taxes, and so forth. The real money is from the enormous number of middle-class people who use drugs. So while you might still have a small market of teens purchasing drugs, it wouldn’t be large enough to fund criminal enterprises as it does today.”

While few current policy-makers will discuss the benefits of drug prohibition, several well-known former policy-makers have come out against it. Among them are Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, a former member of President Reagan’s Economic Advisory Board; former Secretary of State (under Ronald Reagan) George P. Shultz; former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson; former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a former presidential candidate.

None of the LEAP members interviewed for this story believes abusing drugs is a good choice. But that’s different, they say, from the legal system further ruining people’s lives because of that bad choice.

They also figure that, like yard care, hair color decisions, and bad marriages, drug use is a choice that society should only care about when it hurts other people. In town, running around in your yard naked and screaming at 4 a.m. breaks the social contract. On a ranch where no one else can see or hear, few people would care. Likewise, LEAP members figure, if you can do drugs and not break the social contract, go ahead. And in fact, the federal government figures that 72 percent of chronic drug users continue to function well in society without harming others.

Even considering the harm that drugs can cause, however, LEAP members believe that the war on drugs is even more harmful. Legalizing drugs, on the other hand, would take profits out of the hands of criminals and hugely reduce the need for people to commit crime to pay for drugs, they say. Regulation would take drug manufacture out of the hands of bathtub chemists and put it into the hands of real chemists, eliminating many of the deaths from bad drugs — much like the end of Prohibition did for deaths from homemade booze. HIV and hepatitis C, rampant among needle-sharing junkies, could be significantly reduced with the availability of clean needles, reducing a major health care burden for the country.

“Don’t forget my favorite,” Woolridge said. “If, as Bush said, drug money funds terrorists, [then] legalizing drugs would take half a billion dollars a day out of Afghanistan alone, much of which is going to al Qaeda to buy weapons to be used to kill our boys. We could eliminate that overnight.”

Legalization, in fact, would probably not increase drug use long-term, many believe — especially since nearly half the population has already tried it. “In all likelihood,” Watkins said, “you would see a spike in use as we did with the end of alcohol prohibition. But that normalized pretty quickly, and it would probably be the same with drugs. There would be a period of experimentation that would level out, and we’d be left with all the benefits and none of the negatives.”

It was Sunday afternoon and Howard Woolridge and Misty were still in upstate New York, having made it from Utica to a ghetto in Schenectady. Woolridge was back on the phone again, when a woman approached him.

“What do you mean cops say legalize drugs?” she could be heard asking.

“Just that. Let’s legalize drugs, take them off the street corner.”

“What kind of drugs?”

“Heroin, crack, methamphetamine, anything you can think of.”

“Are you crazy? I don’t want my kids doing those drugs!”

“Neither do I,” he told her. “They’re no good. But that doesn’t keep them from being sold on the corner in this very neighborhood, does it? I’d legalize them and get them into pharmacies. Keep your kids from being shot while walking down the street.”

There was a pause and then she laughed. “I never thought of it that way before. You’re making me think now.”

Hostage Mom Exposes Drug War Double Standard


The woman who traded meth for freedom is an example of how our drug policy has failed.

Last March, Atlanta hostage Ashley Smith got a rousing cheer from public officials, law enforcement, and much of the media for cajoling accused rampage shooter Brian Nichols to give himself up. Smith deserved the praise. It took courage, compassion, and good sense to do what she did. But it also took something else, drugs. In her recently released tell all book, Unlikely Angel, Smith admits that she got Nichols to give up by plying him from her stash of Methamphetamine. Meth is deadly, destructive, and, of course, patently illegal.

A month before Smith publicly announced she's a former drug user at the launch of her national book promo tour; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called Meth a scourge that devastates families and communities. Gonzales, Bush drug czar, John Walters, and Mike Leavitt, Health and Human Services Secretary met in Nashville, Tennessee in August. They announced that the feds would pour more resources into drug prevention and treatment, but they also promised a big crack down on Meth sale and use.

Gonzales claimed that the Justice Department had more than quadrupled the number of cases filed during the past decade. The DEA has aggressively targeted Meth producers and traffickers, resulting in the initiation of nearly 3000 criminal cases related to Meth production, distribution, or diversion of ingredient chemicals in 2004.

But Smith didn't have to worry about being one those prosecuted. Police didn't catch her with the dope in her apartment and prosecutors quickly made it clear that they wouldn't file charges. And they shouldn't. Smith is a victim, and needs counseling and treatment, not jail. Smith, however, is white, middle class, and a former housewife, and she would likely get the help she needed anyway without risk of a prison sentence. Yet Smith, far more than her captor Nichols, fit the profile of a Meth user, as well as the profile of the majority of America's drug users. Surveys have repeatedly shown that middle-income young whites use drugs more frequently than blacks or Latinos.

The drug pass that Smith got, and thousands of low level, war mostly, poor, and desperate small time black drug offenders don't get, once again exposed the glaring racial hypocrisy and double standard in America's drug war. That double standard has been enshrined in the popular culture. The entertainment magazines, scandal tabloids, and TV talk shows are crammed with legions of articles, and news features on and interviews with high-profile white stars, starlets, and athletes who openly brag or cry about their drug escapades. They are not vilified or stereotyped. They are the object of public pity for their heroic battles against addiction. Hollywood celebrities such as Robert Downey, Jr., and conservative talk show mouthpiece, Rush Limbaugh continued their careers even after they had been convicted or accused of drug offenses.

Newly turned celebrity Smith got the same royal treatment. An exuberant Oprah shouted to her audience, "Jesus loves you girl, during Smith's appearance on her TV show as part of her national book tour. She was publicly praised for her heroic fight against drug addiction. While the lop-sided Meth use by middle-income whites, such as Smith, ignites no public outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions, and tough prison sentences, the consequences to society are just as disastrous as heroin or crack cocaine use.

Meth manufacture and use is blamed for automobile accidents; explosions and fires environmental contamination; increased criminal activity, including domestic violence; emergency room and other medical costs; spread of infectious disease, including HIV, AIDS and hepatitis; and lost worker productivity.

The penalties for use and sale are every bit as severe as crack cocaine sale and use. The basic mandatory minimum sentences under federal law are 5 to 10 years in prison. Lawmakers even talk of dropping the amount of Meth that an individual caught with can be prosecuted for. It's not clear just how much Meth Smith had in her illegal stash, but presumably if police found even a small amount she could have been prosecuted.

If whites such as Smith, though, were jailed and prosecuted for their criminal drug use, it would radically change the complexion of the nearly two million prisoners that now jam America's jails and prisons. At present, nearly half of them are black. The overwhelming majority of them are there for petty crimes, and drug offenses.

The Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 mandated seizures of chemicals, the destruction of Meth labs, and longer prison sentences. That was supposed to be a major step toward preventing Meth from becoming the next crisis in drug abuse. A decade later, Smith is glaring proof that the act didn't do much to stop that from happening. Smith was declared a hero for getting Nichols to surrender. She is not a hero for using or kicking her Meth habit. If the public and law enforcement praised her for her action, thousands of others who aren't heroes but are drug addicted should get help, not jail. After all, Jesus loves them too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of 'The Crisis in Black and Black' (Middle Passage Press).

Boy George busted over blow

Seattle PI

Oh, Boy, what's going on? Boy George was arrested Friday for drug possession and filing a fake police report. But, the former Culture Club crooner denies that the small amount of cocaine found in his New York digs is his. The singer's lawyer told the New York Post, "He does not know where it came from. He's had a lot of people in his house." Boy, real name George O'Dowd, called police to say his place had been burglarized, but when police arrived, they found the blow. In 1986, he was convicted of heroin possession before entering rehab.

Etheridge: I Used Medicinal Marijuana


Melissa Etheridge says she smoked medicinal marijuana to help with the side effects of chemotherapy during her treatment for breast cancer.

The 44-year-old singer, who was diagnosed over a year ago, is now cancer-free.

"Instead of taking five or six of the prescriptions, I decided to go a natural route and smoke marijuana," Etheridge says in an interview to air Sunday on "Dateline NBC" (7 p.m. EDT).

When asked how her doctors reacted, Etheridge says, "Every single one was, `Oh, yeah. That's the best help for the effects of chemotherapy.'"

The singer said she smoked marijuana every day for her pain and symptoms and "the minute I didn't feel it, I stopped."

The use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation is legal in California and nine other states, but is against federal law. Asked if she was concerned about federal prosecution, Etheridge replied, "No, I didn't worry. But it was worth it."

She recently released a new greatest hits album, "The Road Less Traveled," including the new song "I Run for Life," which is dedicated to the fight against breast cancer.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

DEA Nabs 28 Suspects in Atlanta Drug Bust


Federal agents arrested 28 suspects and seized 592 kilograms of cocaine during an overnight raid in Atlanta that dismantled one of the largest drug trafficking cells on the East Coast, the Drug Enforcement Administration said Thursday.

The raid, known as Operation Long Whine, also netted 40 pounds of methamphetamines and $8 million in cash. It was the second major seizure in the agency's four-month-old "Money Trail" initiative to monitor drug money that passes between the United States and Mexico; The first came through arrests made in Denver and Detroit.

Among those arrested late Wednesday and early Thursday was the suspected leader of the Atlanta organization, known to law enforcement officials only as "Gotti." DEA accuses him of orchestrating shipments from major East Coast cities to Atlanta, then back to Mexico.

Nearly $5 million in cocaine was believed to have changed hands each week, usually in small containers to avoid detection. In at least one case, DEA said, the drugs were hidden in a tractor trailer carrying pork and livestock portions.

"For drug traffickers, it's all about the money," DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said in a statement. "To decimate the drug trade, we are following drug money back to its sources, targeting the laundering networks and eliminating the profits that fuel drug trafficking gangs."

The suspects were arrested throughout the Atlanta area, but the agency didn't immediately disclose where. Nineteen of them were illegal Mexican immgriants, DEA said.

Twenty-two suspected members of the cell were indicted Oct. 11, although officials don't know most of their real names. Many are listed only with aliases, such as Cauliflower, Gordo, Yoli, Sope and El Sobrino. Of the 28 arrested, 19 were illegal Mexcian immigrants, DEA said.

About 200 law enforcement officers participated in the operation, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

FBI: Lennon too stoned to be a threat

This is London

John Lennon was dismissed as a Communist threat to the US only because he was always stoned, secret FBI papers revealed yesterday.

The ex-Beatles singer was thought to be a ringleader of revolutionaries plotting to hijack a Republican conference, the documents show.

But his drug-taking - which in the early 1970s included heroin, cocaine and marijuana - ultimately ruled him out of FBI inquiries.

Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Albert Einstein were also investigated as suspected Communists, according to the files, published for the first time.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the FBI kept many celebrities under close watch for links to radical politics, the mob, gambling, drink or drug abuse.

After seeming undecided about radicalism in his 1968 Beatles song Revolution, Lennon became more politically active after moving to New York in the early 1970s.

He hung out with activists such as Jerry Rubin and Abbey Hoffman, and recorded songs and joined marches for jailed drug offender John Sinclair and 'Black Panther' supporter Angela Davis. He also complained about having his phone tapped, as he struggled to win a US green card despite a British drug conviction.

Lennon was being watched shortly before the Republican National Covention of 1972, when Richard Nixon was approved as presidential candidate.

The ex-Beatle was hoping to extend his travel visa so he could 'engage in disruptive activities surrounding RNC', an agent claimed in the reports.

But while Lennon 'appears to be radically orientated', he 'does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist, since he is constantly under the influence of narcotics', the report says.

Monroe was investigated after rumours she might have applied for a visa to visit Russia.

Einstein was ruled out as a Communist but alarmed FBI agents because of his younger, more suspicious associates.

The Doors were investigated because so many people wrote to the FBI complaining about the band's 'filthy and vulgar' music.