Friday, September 30, 2005

Canadian Marijuana Surpasses Wheat as Biggest Crop


Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Canada's marijuana dealers are converting suburban homes and abandoned warehouses into pot farms, creating a C$10 billion ($8.5 billion) market that's three times the size of the nation's biggest legal crop, wheat.

Cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto may each have as many as 20,000 pot factories according to some estimates, said Rich Baylin, former national coordinator for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Cultivation is rising because penalties are often one-eighth those in the U.S., and Canadians' acceptance of pot has risen.

``This is a scourge on our communities and a danger to our children,'' Liberal Party lawmaker Jim Karygiannis said following a raid on a so-called grow-operation in a bungalow about 100 meters (109 yards) from a Toronto elementary school.

The ``grow-op'' business has created a rift with the U.S., where police say much of the weed is sold. Efforts by Prime Minister Paul Martin to decriminalize marijuana are a bigger threat to U.S. relations than the softwood-lumber dispute, according to a Compas Research poll of 146 Canadian chief executives in March.

``The U.S. is taking the border a lot more seriously than in the past,'' said Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy. The increase in Canadian marijuana production risks harming all trade between the two countries, he said.

Almost half of all adult Canadians smoked pot at least once in their life, according to a survey last year by Health Canada. The same proportion support decriminalization of possession, compared with a third of their U.S. counterparts, a November Ipsos-Reid poll found.

`Organized Crime'

While U.S. growers who cultivate 1,000 or more plants face a minimum of 10 years in prison, their counterparts in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, get about 18 months, according to government figures.

``We know the volume of these grow operations is growing,'' said Jack Ewatski, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. ``That leads us to believe this is an enterprise that organized crime groups are looking at as very lucrative with very low risk of any meaningful consequences.''

The RCMP's Baylin said estimating the number of grow operations in the country is like ``guessing the unknown.'' Police estimates on the size of the harvest are based solely on seizures, which have risen eightfold since 1993 to about 1.6 million plants this year.

Marc Emery

Pot stories have been a staple of newspapers such as the Toronto's Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun, covering drug busts and the fight by legalization activist Marc Emery to avoid extradition to the U.S. He faces life in prison if convicted after a July arrest for selling marijuana seeds.

Grow operations across the country are producing strains of the drug with two or three times as much THC, a psychoactive chemical, as marijuana from Mexico, the biggest supplier to the U.S., according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Police last year raided a grow op north of Toronto that filled a three-story building once used as a brewery by Molson Inc.

Canada's law-enforcement agencies may have inadvertently helped build the industry by pursuing importers in the 1980s, Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd said in an interview.

``One of the consequences of the success police had is that the import-export nature of the business was replaced by domestic production,'' Boyd said.

`Skunk-Like Smell'

Residential marijuana operations have become so common that real-estate agents offer homebuyers advice on how to avoid them. Tell-tale signs include covered windows, a ``skunk-like'' smell outside and bright lights inside the home, according to a guide from the Winnipeg Real Estate Board. The group posts the addresses of grow op homes on its Web site, and already has identified 49 addresses this year.

Canada's annual pot harvest is as much as 5.3 million pounds, according to the RCMP. Seizures at the U.S. border tripled in two years to 11,183 kilograms in 2003, according to the latest data from the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center.

The merchandise is typically sold in pound blocks for about C$2,500 each, much of it stuffed into duffel bags or loaded onto trucks for export over Canada's 5,525-mile border with the U.S., police say.

The government's legalization bill may be delayed beyond next year's election because parliament may have too much work to do on other legislation, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told reporters on Sept. 27.

The delay suggests Canada's government has grown wary of decriminalizing marijuana possession, White House spokesman Riley said.

``I wonder if more people in Canada are catching up to the reality'' of the dangers of drugs, he said.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Police: Man Set Drug Seeker On Fire

Police say they're looking for a man who allegedly took lighter fluid from a man who wanted cocaine and used the fluid to set him on fire this week.Anthony Eldridge, 22, of Indianapolis, suffered third-degree burns to 50 percent of his body when a man set him on fire on the 4100 block of Brentwood Drive, the Marion County Sheriff's Department said.Eldridge was in serious condition Wednesday at Wishard Memorial Hospital. Authorities said they believe Eldridge was carrying charcoal and lighter fluid on Monday, hoping to exchange the items for crack cocaine. A witness told police that Eldridge approached a man known as "Little Willy" and asked him for the drug.

The witness told police that Little Willy is a drug dealer."Little Willy made the statement that, 'If you let me set you on fire, I'll give you a hit of crack cocaine,' " Marion County sheriff's Capt. Phil Burton said. "Mr. Eldridge stated that, 'No, that's not what I want.' "The witness told authorities that Little Willy took the lighter fluid out of Eldridge's hands, doused him with it and used a lighter to ignite Eldridge's shirt, the sheriff's department said.The witness said he took Eldridge to someone else's apartment, and 911 was called.Police said Little Willy was described as being about 22 years old and about 5 feet 4 inches tall. He weighed about 145 pounds and had a glass eye, police said.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Felafel with side of heroin snuck into Hadera jail

Jerusalem Post

A 28 year-old Nazareth resident tried to find an original way of giving his brother-in-law a special treat - in the form of smuggling heroin into the cell in which he was being held at the Hadera police station.

The man ostensibly brought his brother-in-law a pita filled with felafel and salads but inside police also found a nylon-covered ball containing 17.2 grams of heroin.

The discovery was made after the officer on cell duty at the station late on Sunday night decided to conduct an extensive check of the felafel pitta.

"We have had many cases of people trying to smuggle drugs through various means to suspects who have been remanded in custody awaiting trial," said Ch.-Supt. Moshe Weizman, spokesman for the Coastal District.

"This was an innovative attempt that was picked up by the duty officer but it won't be the first or the last. We learn from every incident and take measures accordingly," he said.

The suspect who tried to smuggle the drugs to his brother-in-law was arrested on the spot and is to be brought to trial.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

First wife tells of violent, cheating Lennon

The Australian

"THE more I got to know him, the more I realised what a hard time he had had as a child."

This is Cynthia Lennon, 66, talking, trying to explain why she put up with years of abuse from her husband, The Beatles' John Lennon.

He was cruel, violent and in the later years of their marriage he was unfaithful, drug-addled or absent - or any combination thereof.

Her book John, to be published in Australia on Saturday, describes how the teenage Lennon hit his then girlfriend Cynthia Powell in a jealous rage, how he largely ignored his family after the birth of their son Julian and how drugs such as cannabis and LSD became a significant factor in the couple's break-up.

"If I had known what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned around and walked away," she writes.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Lennon said she chose to put up with her husband's erratic behaviour before and during their marriage because she knew his unhappy childhood in Liverpool, including the death of his mother and being raised by his Aunt Mimi, had had a troubling effect on him. John Lennon died 25 years ago in New York after being shot outside the Dakota Building, where he lived with his second wife, Yoko Ono, and their son, Sean.

Ono is also criticised in the book, with Cynthia claiming that she was prevented by Ono from taking part in a Lennon tribute concert, and how the musician's affair with the Japanese artist in the late 1960s led to her divorce.

Cynthia met Lennon at Liverpool College of Art and they were married in 1962, a year before Beatlemania began.

It was during their early romance that Lennon hit her, flying into a rage because she had danced with his friend and one-time Beatles bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe.

"Not only was he passionately jealous, but he could turn on me in an instant, belittling or berating me, shooting accusations, cutting remarks or acid wisecracks at me, that left me hurt, frustrated and in tears," she writes.

She describes how she and her son Julian, who later established his own music career, felt neglected by John and describes her feelings of resentment at being almost ignored in the history of the Beatles.

Julian has supported her in a foreword to the book.

Cocaine Blight Spreads in Columbia

Cocaine is killing the great nature parks of Colombia.

Government spraying of coca plant killer is driving growers and traffickers out of their usual territory into national parks where spraying is banned. Here they are burning thousands of acres of virgin rain forest and poisoning rivers with chemicals.

Now the government faces a painful dilemma: to spray weedkiller would be devastating, but the impact of coca-growing is increasingly destructive. The question is, which is worse?

Colombia is home to about 15 percent of all the world's plant species and one of its most diverse arrays of amphibians, mammals and birds. Dozens of species that populate its jungles and Andes mountains exist nowhere else on the planet. One of the richest is the Sierra Macarena National Park, where monkeys clamber across the jungle canopy and seven species of big cat prowl in its shadows.

But Sierra Macarena is most threatened by cocaine. A recent flight over part of its 1.6 million acres revealed a trail of ugly gashes and charred trunks of trees felled by coca planters. The intruders also have built dozens of makeshift drug labs in the park and in the nearby village of Puerto Arturo, bringing in tons of gasoline, cement, hydrochloric acid and other toxic chemicals to process the coca leaves into cocaine. All of it pollutes the rivers and soil.

So far only a small fraction of Sierra Macarena has been affected, but the spread of cocaine operations is alarming.

The amount of acreage under coca cultivation has more than tripled to 9,600 acres since 2003, according to the Counternarcotics Police. Overall, 28,000 acres are being cultivated in Colombia's 49 national parks, compared with 11,000 acres only three years ago. But the destruction is worse than the figures would indicate; for every acre of coca planted, an average three acres are torn down.

"The national parks offer perfect havens for traffickers," police Col. Henry Gamboa said as his Black Hawk helicopter swooped over a cocaine lab in the Sierra Macarena. "There is virtually nothing we can do about it. Our hands are tied."

The coca is planted by peasant farmers who process it into paste and sell it to rebels or right-wing paramilitary factions, who refine the paste into cocaine. Both groups have infiltrated Colombia's national parks.

The government says it is studying whether to lift the ban on spraying. If it doesn't, growers are bound to plant more crops in the reserves. But Indian tribes and environmental advocates contend that spraying would be harmful to the animals and their surroundings.

The United States has provided billions of dollars over the past five years for spraying Colombian drug fields, a move the United Nations says helped reduced overall cocaine production in Colombia last year by 13 percent.

Environmentalists insist the solution is for government workers to destroy the crops with machetes — a method that has worked in mountainous areas beyond the spray planes' reach.

But the Sierra Macarena and many other national parks are occupied by rebels who threaten to kill anyone involved in manual eradication, officials say.

The Counternarcotics Police recently took politicians, judges and journalists on a helicopter tour of Sierra Macarena, where Colombia's grasslands meet the Amazon jungle about 90 miles south of the capital, Bogota.

"We would like to carry out manual eradication," Environment Minister Sandra Suarez told The Associated Press. "But in some regions of the park ... access is clearly difficult."

Suarez and other top Colombian officials say aerial spraying may be the only option.

National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, who supports spraying, says "We're waiting for the order" to send in the planes.

If that happens, Indian groups, many whose members live in national parks, vow to hit the streets in protest.

"Fumigation is not the answer to the drug problem in Colombia," said Nilson Zurita of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. "It destroys the environment and sickens animals and people. Another solution must be found."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Marijuana probe a big boo-boo for cops

Chicago Sun Times

BEL AIRE, Kan. -- The police thought they'd
found marijuana plants growing in a former mayor's backyard. They took pictures, got a search warrant and went back for a closer look.

They found sunflowers.

Harold and Carolyn Smith had grown the plants from seeds given to them by their son, a wildlife biologist.

Kansas is known as the Sunflower State -- which made the error even more baffling, the Smiths' attorney said.

''That plant on our state flag is not a marijuana plant, but a sunflower,'' said attorney Dan Monnat.

During the search, Monnat said, at least 10 officers went through the Smiths' house, checking drawers and closets and videotaping everything.

The couple is wondering how such a mistake could happen.

''These are very community-oriented people who have been active in their community affairs for years,'' Monnat said.

Sunday Times Wrong On Mental Health And Cannabis


Sunday Times report on mental health and cannabis a "distortion and factually wrong"

The UK's Sunday Times recently published an article headed "Mental problems soar among children using cannabis" (,,2091-1785546,00.html) which had claimed "THE number of children treated for mental disorders caused by smoking cannabis has quadrupled since the government downgraded the legal status of the drug, according to a leading drug charity [Addaction]."

In fact, as the press release from Addaction (below) makes clear, this is a "distortion and factually wrong".

Furthermore, official figures from the UK Government have confirmed that teenage use of cannabis has DECREASED in the year following the reclassification of cannabis there. (

For more information, please contact NORML NZ or Addaction at the contact details below.

Sunday Times report on mental health and cannabis was a "distortion and factually wrong", says Addaction. Release date: September 19th 2005 Addaction, the national drug and alcohol treatment charity today issued the following statement:

The Sunday Times published a story on September 18th under the heading "Mental Health Problems Soar Among Children Using Cannabis" by Will Iredale and Holly Watt that bore little relation to any information supplied by Addaction, and was, in our view, entirely misleading.

The story has been so structured as to make a case about cannabis-related psychosis based on information the paper claims came from Addaction, but which did not come from the charity.

In 2004-5 Addaction which collects data on numbers of young people seen in its youngaddaction services, saw 1,575 young people who came to Addaction for treatment for drug misuse. Addaction collected data on cannabis use. But Addaction is not a mental health charity and is not qualified to treat psychosis.

Rosie Brocklehurst, Director of Communications at Addaction said: "The subject of cannabis-related psychosis is a very serious subject and the report in the Sunday Times made serious claims, based on no evidence supplied by us. We suspect the story was influenced by the Sunday Times wish to write a piece before the imminent deliberations by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The ACMD will be reviewing the scientific evidence on cannabis use and misuse and will be making recommendations to the Government in the light of those deliberations.

"If Addaction had such evidence we would have been sure to let the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs know about it, " said Rosie Brocklehurst. "If we had such evidence as the paper claims, it would have made the front pages of every national newspaper in the country. But we do not have such evidence," she added. "This report on Page 7 of the paper was a distortion and factually wrong. We have therefore written a letter of complaint to the Sunday Times asking for clarification as to how this story came to appear in the form in which it was published, and to ensure that the truth is given in a correction of the original story.

"Because the story tackled a subject of concern to many, it needed to be sound and properly substantiated," she added. "The very objective of the report which may have been to raise awareness of the issues that lie behind the ACMD review into re-classification, is devalued because it is predicated on a failure to understand drugs treatment, and a conflation of information laced with misinterpretations and untruths about the work we do, and the nature of the problems we treat."

"In those few cases where a worker may suspect a client has any form of mental health problem, including the serious problem of psychosis, we would always refer these clients to the appropriate services.

"Many of the1,575 young people we have seen who used cannabis also used other substances such as alcohol," she added. "It is also the case that young people who do have mental health problems may have them for reasons unrelated to cannabis use.

"The paper also infers that our statistical data within Addaction is comprehensive national data. It is not.

"We collect good data on the numbers of people seen in Addaction's services for drug misuse and dependency and what drugs and alcohol they use. These are our figures only, collected as one charity among several. The Government collects its own data on the prevalence of cannabis use and misuse among the UK population.

"We look to the ACMD to make their recommendations on reclassification based on their evidence. We possess no substantial or new scientific evidence ourselves that will inform the expert views of the ACMD in their forthcoming deliberations."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dutch Talk-Show Host to Take Heroin on Air

Yahoo! News

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - A television presenter on a new Dutch talk show plans to take heroin and other illegal drugs on air in a program intended to reach young audiences on topics that touch their lives, producers said Wednesday.

The show, scheduled to premier on late-night television Oct. 10, is called "Spuiten & Slikken," or the "Shoot Up and Swallow" show.

Even in the liberal Netherlands, where marijuana is sold and used openly, the proposed action by presenter Filemon Wesselink is illegal, and the idea was met with dismay by the governing center-right Christian Democrat party.

"This is dangerous and it sets a bad example," party spokesman Pieter Heerma said. "We're going to ask the justice minister for his view on what the law says about this, and his view on the dangers and risks involved."

Justice Ministry spokesman Ivo Hommes said it was not immediately clear whether Wesselink could be prosecuted. Possession of any amount of heroin is illegal, but in practice police usually do not have resources to chase after people with less than a half a gram of the highly addictive narcotic.

"The actual taking of drugs is a health problem, not a criminal act, though it's obviously hard to take drugs without possessing them first," Hommes said. "In any case it's not something we endorse, and doing it on television is undesirable."

The Shoot Up & Swallow show's main hostess will interview guests about drug use and abuse, while Wesselink and another presenter will carry out in-the-field experiments with sex and drugs.

Wesselink, 26, plans to smoke a heroin pill, said Ingrid Timmer, a spokeswoman for the show's producer BNN.

"It's not our intention to create an outcry. We just want to talk about subjects that are part of young people's lives," Timmer said.

In other segments of the show, Wesselink plans to go on a drinking binge in a series of pubs. He also plans to take the hallucinogenic drug LSD — on his couch under the supervision of his mother.

The Netherlands is known for its marijuana policy, where sale and use of the drug in small quantities are not prosecuted even though technically illegal. Other drugs, including LSD, cocaine, Ecstasy and heroin are outlawed and dealers are prosecuted. The legal age for the consumption of alcohol and tobacco is 16.

According to information from the Netherlands' Trimbos Institute, which monitors international drug use, the Dutch are about average. The institute says 6 percent of Dutch have used marijuana recently, compared with 8 percent in the United States, 9 percent in Britain and 9 percent in France. For cocaine, it was 1.1 percent in Holland — and rising quickly — compared to 1.3 percent in the United States, 1.5. percent in Britain and 0.3 percent in France. Comparable data for heroin use were not available.

BNN has drawn viewer complaints for programs in the past, including a sex education program called "This Is How You Screw." One segment discussed how to have sex in a nightclub and featured life-size mannequins with sex organs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In Deep South Texas, peyote harvest dwindling

The Seattle Times

Enlarge this photo


Salvador Johnson is one of four licensed peyote distributors left in the United States. He has harvested the plant for 47 years.

CITY, Texas — In the heart of Rio Grande brush country, Salvador Johnson works a patch of land just east of the Mexican border that is sacred to Native Americans.

Spade in hand, eyes scanning the earth as he pushes through the spiny brush, Johnson searches the ground carefully. "This is good terrain for peyote," he says. "There's a low hill — the rain starts on top and goes down to water this — and there's a lot of brown ground."

He stops, points the tip of his shovel at a 3-inch spot of green that barely crests the soil under a clump of blackbrush and announces: "This is what you look for. You look for something that is not ordinary on the terrain. I saw that green."

One of the last remaining "peyoteros," Johnson, 58, has been harvesting the small round plant in and around this tiny community for 47 years — long before the hallucinogenic Lophophora williamsii cactus was classified as a narcotic and outlawed by federal and state governments. Then as now, it is for use by Native Americans as the main sacrament in their religious ceremonies.

Johnson is part of a nearly extinct trade of licensed peyote harvesters and distributors, at a time when the supply of the cactus and access to it is dwindling. The plant grows wild only in portions of four southern Texas counties and in the northern Mexico desert just across the Rio Grande.

But some Texas ranch owners have stopped leasing land to peyoteros and now offer their property to deer hunters or oil and gas companies for considerably higher profits. Others have plowed under peyote, and still others have never opened their land.

On the ranchland that is worked by peyoteros, conservationists are concerned about the overharvesting of immature plants as the Native American population and demand for the cactus grows.

"Will there be peyote for my children and my children's children?" asked Adam Nez, 35, a Navajo who had driven 26 hours with his father-in-law from their reservation in Page, Ariz., to stock up on peyote at Johnson's home.

That question and possible solutions to the problem — such as trying to legalize the importation of peyote from Mexico, and creating legal cultivation centers in the United States — are being studied by members of the Native American Church, Indian rights advocates and conservationists.

There are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 members of the church in the United States. Although 90 percent of the peyote in North America grows in Mexico, the number of ceremonial users there — mostly Huichol Indians — is a small fraction of the number in the United States and Canada.

"In effect, you have a whole continent grazing on little pieces of south Texas," said Martin Terry, a botany professor at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, who specializes in the study of peyote.

The church was incorporated in 1918 in Oklahoma to protect the religious use of peyote by indigenous Americans. Its charter was eventually expanded to other states, and in 1965, a federal regulation was approved to protect the ceremonial use of peyote by Indians. In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

But subsequent conflicts between federal policy and state drug laws precipitated the passage of a federal law in 1994 to guarantee the legal use, possession and transportation of peyote "by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion."

The law extends protection against prosecution for the possession and use of peyote only to members of federally recognized tribes.

"Over the last 40 years, there have been lots of equal-protection defenses to criminal prosecution thrown up, with people saying 'my use of this controlled substance is religiously derived,' " said Steve Moore, a senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.

Though not considered addictive, peyote is included in the Drug Enforcement Agency's list of Schedule I controlled substances along with heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana and methaqualone.

Although the DEA acknowledges the importance of the hallucinogenic cactus to the religious rites of Native American peyote users, the agency says the drug has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medicinal purpose in the United States.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has licensed peyote distributors since the mid-1970s, when the number in the state peaked at 27. It dwindled to four last year. State records show that only three distributors have harvested and sold peyote so far this year.

For the past five years, an average of almost 1.9 million peyote buttons have been sold annually, according to state records.

Cannabis advocates rally for rights

The Boston Globe

Group Seeks Lighter Penalties

Under hovering storm clouds, thousands gathered on the Boston Common yesterday to sway to gritty rock music, shop for T-shirts with slogans like ''Thank You for Pot Smoking," and rally against marijuana prohibition.

Police motorcycles were parked seven deep at the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition's 16th Annual Freedom Rally, and uniformed and undercover police trolled the crowd for marijuana smokers. Puffs of smoke hovering over the crowd came mostly from cigarettes, but police made 44 arrests, mostly for drug possession, although there were some distribution charges.

''There is no day off from the law today," said Deputy Superintendent Paul Fitzgerald.

Turnout was smaller than in years past, when the event sometimes drew crowds of 30,000 or 40,000, according to police. Last year, Hurricane Ivan forced the event's cancellation, and this year, Hurricane Ophelia nearly did. But the weather held, and several thousand people were milling about by 2 p.m. yesterday, according to Keith Saunders, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, or Mass Cann.

The theme of this year's rally was ''Secure the Blessings of Liberty," which Saunders described as a call to political action. His group is backing a bill that is before the state Senate and would impose a civil fine of $100 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, rather than a criminal penalty. The Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse heard testimony on the bill in June but has not taken action on it, Saunders said. Though a recent federal study found that the Boston area is the nation's capital of marijuana use, only a handful of people showed up to testify in favor of the bill, according to Mass Cann.

Saunders said that despite his support for decriminalization, he would not encourage anyone to light up on the Common during the protest.

''This is probably the worst place in the city of Boston to be smoking marijuana," he said.

Some were unfazed, though. Wayne Burke, a 53-year-old retired painter, placidly shared a joint on the lawn with two younger friends, Matt Duszak, 19, and Kevin Woods, 20. The three drove to Boston together from Worcester to attend the rally.

''When we're done smoking this bone, we're not going to go rob somebody," Burke said with a shrug. ''We're going to go home and eat a sandwich and watch TV."

A pair of antidrug protesters wended their way through the legions of youth in hooded sweatshirts and faux-cannabis leis yesterday.

Lea Palleria Cox of the Hanover-based Concerned Citizens for Drug Prevention Inc. and Bill Breault of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety in Worcester, who have attended the rally for about a decade, said they were appalled to find vendors selling ceramic pipes this year. They said they were also dismayed to again see so many young people in the crowd.

''Parents have no clue," he said. ''When their kid says 'I'm going to a concert on the Common,' they have no idea what goes on here."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Venezuela no longer U.S. ally in drug war

The Miami Herald

In a move likely to strain ties further with Hugo Chávez's government, the White House took Venezuela off its list of allies in the war on drugs.

President Bush has taken Venezuela off his list of allies in the war on drugs, saying that the government of President Hugo Chávez spurned anti-drug cooperation with U.S. officials and fired its effective law enforcement officers.

But the White House waived the cuts in U.S. foreign aid usually attached to the ''decertification'' so that it can continue to support Venezuelan pro-democracy groups that oppose the leftist Chávez.

Bush's decision is expected to sharply exacerbate already bitter U.S.-Venezuelan relations roiled by Washington's charges that Chávez is promoting subversion around the hemisphere and the Venezuelan president's allegations that Bush is out to kill him.

The U.S. State Department's No. 3 official, Nicholas Burns, announced the Bush administration decision Thursday in New York City around the time Chávez was arriving there for a U.N. summit gathering. The only other nation decertified this year was Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Accompanying Burns, U.S. drug czar John Walters said that in the past Venezuelan cooperation on drugs was ''quite successful and extensive'' but that now it seemed that Chávez ``no longer wants a productive relationship.''

Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel said of the annual certification process required by U.S. law, ``We reject it. . . . it's infantile.''

The White House said Venezuela had ''failed demonstrably'' to stem the flow through its territory of some 150 tons of cocaine and growing amounts of heroin, mostly coming from neighboring Colombia and bound for U.S. and European streets.


Venezuela's national counternarcotics director, chief narcotics prosecutor and head of the financial intelligence unit ''were fired and replaced with Chávez loyalists who lack the necessary training,'' the statement added.

Caracas had failed to eradicate coca and poppy fields near its border with Colombia, it continued, and did little to stop corruption in law enforcement and the military.

Only last month, Chávez ordered his government officials to stop cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing it of espionage and drug trafficking. U.S. officials denied the charges, and the Venezuelan investigators continued to work with the DEA.

DEA's activities in Caracas turned particularly sensitive last year amid complaints that high-ranking officers of the Venezuelan National Guard are involved in a drugtrafficking ''Sun Cartel'' named after the sun insignia that Venezuelan generals use on their epaulets instead of stars.

Guard officers earlier this year withdrew from an antidrug task force that included the DEA, and took thousands of dollars of U.S. donated surveillance equipment. The equipment was returned later at the behest of the government's principal antidrug office, known as CONACUID. But then the head of CONACUID was fired.

The U.S. government later revoked the visas of three National Guard officers for suspected involvement in drug trafficking, including Gen. Frank Morgado, former head of the Guard's antidrug unit.


Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacón earlier this week proposed formally renewing the partnership with the DEA, and presented a written proposal to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. But he added that the new proposal, among other provisions, prohibits DEA agents from participating in police operations there.

The Bush administration has repeatedly expressed concern about the alleged deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela, citing Chávez's control of the judicial and electoral systems and threats to the independent news media. Chávez insists that he's carrying out a radical but peaceful revolution on behalf of the nation's poor.

The waiver of the decertification sanctions -- officially for national security interests -- will allow the U.S. government to support democratic institutions there and ''strengthen Venezuela's political party system,'' the White House said. The two nations remain dependent on each other since Venezuela provides 12 to 15 percent of U.S. oil imports.

A State Department official said Venezuela's refusal to sign a bilateral data-sharing agreement has made it impossible for Washington to show Caracas evidence that an increasing number of aircraft suspected of carrying drugs were flying in and out of Venezuela.


Venezuela also has long banned U.S. antidrug surveillance overflights of its territory and more recently curtailed military-to-military cooperation on drugs, the White House announcement stated.

In anticipation of the decertification decision, Chacón announced earlier this week that Venezuelan authorities had seized a record 18.7 tons of cocaine in the first eight months of 2005, compared with 19.6 tons throughout 2004. Failure to recognize the government's antidrug efforts showed Washington was acting for political motives, he said.

But U.S. officials told The Herald in Caracas that Chacón's numbers were vastly exaggerated because they included at least four tons seized aboard Venezuelan ships -- by French and Dutch authorities in the Caribbean.

Drug War Fuels Crime

Charlotte Observer

Nation's failed policy subsidizes criminals, boosts `gateway' to use

From Robert Sharpe, policy analyst for the nonprofit organization Common Sense for Drug Policy in Washington, D.C.:

How should North Carolina respond to the growing use of methamphetamine? During the crack epidemic of the '80s, New York City chose the zero tolerance approach, opting to arrest and prosecute as many offenders as possible. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry was smoking crack and America's capital had the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Yet crack use declined in both cities simultaneously.

The decline was not due to a government anti-drug campaign or the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Simply put, the younger generation saw firsthand what crack was doing to their older brothers and sisters and decided for themselves that crack was bad news.

This is not to say nothing can be done about meth. Access to drug treatment is critical for the current generation of users. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.48 in societal costs. Diverting resources away from prisons and into treatment would save both tax dollars and lives. In order to protect future generations from drugs like meth, politicians are going to have to come up with a common sense drug policy that doesn't involve subsidizing organized crime.

Right now we're throwing good money after bad. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains constant only increase the profitability of trafficking. For addictive drugs like meth, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn't fight crime, it fuels crime.

Don't expect a radical drug policy rethink anytime soon. Tough-on-drugs politicians have built careers on confusing drug prohibition's collateral damage with drugs themselves. Hazardous meth labs are reminiscent of the exploding liquor stills that sprang up during alcohol prohibition. Drug policies modeled after alcohol prohibition have given rise to a youth-oriented black market. Drug dealers don't ID for age, but they do recruit minors immune to adult sentences. So much for protecting the children.

Taxing and regulating marijuana, the most popular illicit drug, is a cost-effective alternative to never-ending drug war. As long as marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with addictive drugs like meth. This "gateway" is the direct result of a fundamentally flawed policy.

Given that marijuana is arguably safer than legal alcohol -- the plant has never been shown to cause an overdose death -- it makes no sense to waste tax dollars on failed policies that finance organized crime and facilitate hard drug use.

Drug policy reform may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think the children are more important than the message.

Disrupting Cocaine-memories To Battle Addiction

Science Daily

Addicts crave drugs and suffer relapse not just because of the alluring high of drugs, but also because they are compelled by the powerful, haunting memory associations with the environment surrounding their drug taking. Thus, treatments that could eliminate those memory associations could prove effective in treating addiction, researchers believe.

In two papers in the September 15, 2005, issue of Neuron, two groups of researchers report important progress toward such treatments, showing that they can selectively knock out memory associations connected with receiving cocaine.

In one paper, Jonathan Lee and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge create an animal model of such cocaine memory formation by first teaching rats to associate the poking of their noses into a food bin with an infusion of cocaine into the brain and with the activation of a signal light. They infused cocaine into the amygdala, a brain region involved in forming and processing emotional memories.

The researchers then extinguished the drug-related memory by giving the animals only saline solution when they poked their nose into the bin, activating the light.

In their procedure, the researchers then added a new drug-associated response by requiring the animals to press a lever to obtain cocaine, with the lever also activating the same signal light.

Their purpose was to test the effects of treatment on a memory process called "reconsolidation." The theory underlying reconsolidation is that when memories are recalled they become malleable, subject to disruption.

To discover whether they could disrupt reconsolidation of the drug-related memory, before the animals were exposed to the new lever-pressing task, the researchers injected into the amygdalas of the trained animals a molecule that would effectively shut down the gene that produces a protein called Zif268. This protein is known to be active when cocaine-conditioned memories are created. The injected molecule was "anti-sense" DNA that would attach to the gene, blocking its activation.

The researchers found that such anti-sense DNA treatment disrupted the rats' ability to learn to associate the new lever-pressing behavior with the signal light to obtain cocaine, despite the fact that the animals showed no other differences from a control group in lever-pressing activity or nosepoke response and thus no difference in general motivation or activity.

The researcher wrote that "Drug-associated stimuli are critically important in the acquisition of prolonged periods of drug-seeking behavior, maintenance of this behavior in the absence of reward, and precipitation of relapse to drug seeking in the absence of reward. Therefore, the ability to disrupt retroactively the conditioned reinforcing properties of a drug cue provides a potentially powerful and novel approach to the treatment of drug addiction by diminishing the behavioral impact of drug cues and thereby relapse."

Lee and his colleagues point out that the basic processes of such drug-associated memory reconsolidation are distinct enough from normal memory that "it is possible to manipulate preexisting maladaptive memories in a highly specific manner, without affecting either the reconsolidation of other established memories or the consolidation of new memories."

In a second Neuron paper, Courtney Miller and John Marshall of the University of California, Irvine, explored how another brain region, the nucleus accumbens, operated in cocaine-associated memories. The nucleus accumbens receives neural input from the amygdala and is involved in motivating such reward-related behavior as drug seeking.

In their experiments, the researchers taught rats to associate one of two connected chambers with receiving cocaine and measured how well the rats remembered that association and chose to move to that chamber.

The researchers' analysis of molecular regulatory pathways in the animals' nucleus accumbens revealed that a master neural regulatory pathway, triggered by a molecular switch called ERK, was activated when the trained animals showed a preference for the "cocaine chamber."

What's more, the researchers discovered that drugs that blocked the ERK pathway prevented the trained animals' memory retrieval of their preference for that chamber.

And to their surprise the researchers found that the drugs also blocked memory reconsolidation--significantly reducing the rats' preference for the cocaine chamber even two weeks after being given.

"To our knowledge, the current study is the first to identify a molecular mechanism that blocks both retrieval and reconsolidation of any type of memory," wrote Miller and Marshall.

"While much remains to be understood concerning the cellular processes underlying the effects of ERK in drug-stimulus associations and other types of learning and memory, the present findings offer hope for treating cue-elicited relapse in addicts," concluded Miller and Marshall.

"It is widely accepted that memories for drug-associates stimuli, which are strong and resistant to extinction, are responsible for much of the relapse seen in addicts. The present findings suggest that these highly resistant memories may again be made labile and thus susceptible to disruption by pharmacological or other neurobiological interventions, providing opportunities for new therapies," they concluded.

Kate Moss Admits to Using Cocaine

Supermodel Kate Moss acknowledged to the Hennes & Mauritz clothing chain that tabloid allegations she recently used cocaine are true, an H and M spokeswoman said.

Moss, who is to model one of H and M's upcoming clothing lines, apologized for her drug use and promised in writing to abide by a company policy that models be "healthy, wholesome and sound," spokeswoman Liv Asarnoj said. H and M decided to keep Moss on, Asarnoj told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the company's headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. "We strongly disapprove of her action," Asarnoj said Saturday. "We feel that this is very unfortunate."

Asarnoj said Moss had acknowledged the allegations of drug use were true. "That's why she was so regretful," Asarnoj said. "We are giving her a second chance."

Noelle Doukas, who answered the phone at the Storm modeling agency in London, which represents Moss, 31, said no one there was available to comment on the allegations.

The Daily Mirror tabloid printed images from a video which it said showed the model doing five lines of cocaine in 40 minutes at a late-night music recording session.

Her lawyer Gerard Tyrrell did not return a message left at his office Saturday.

What is probable cause? Cocaine seizure by Winona police appealed to state Supreme Court

Winona Daily News

A Winona cocaine case before the Minnesota Supreme Court challenges probable cause by Winona police to search a vehicle and emphasizes state constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Richmond H. McCluer and John P. Plachecki, Winona attorneys representing 43-year-old Peggy Louise Burbach of Winona, convinced a judge in Winona County District Court to suppress evidence collected during a traffic stop and dismiss the case.

However, Winona County Attorney Chuck MacLean asked the state Court of Appeals to reverse the decision, which it did in February.

McCluer and Plachecki countered with a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court, asking it to review the lower court's decision. The court agreed to hear the case.

The arrest

On Feb. 8, 2004, Winona police stopped a car for speeding. Officer Adam Brommerich noticed its license plate matched a vehicle that narcotics officers believed was transporting cocaine, court documents said.

Brommerich approached Burbach, who was driving, and recognized her name as a person mentioned in the tip.

Brommerich smelled alcohol. Burbach said she was not drinking. However, the 42-year-old passenger, Michael Joseph Meilinger, said he had been drinking. Burbach passed field sobriety tests, but Brommerich reported she acted nervous and had constricted pupils.

Brommerich asked Burbach to empty her pockets onto the hood of the squad car, and found a burnt scouring pad, commonly used as a filter in crack cocaine pipes. Brommerich also got Burbach's permission to search the vehicle. Another officer on scene saw three plastic bags of white powder on the passenger seat.

They arrested Burbach and Meilinger on suspicion of possessing cocaine, impounded the vehicle and searched it more thoroughly.

Police gave Burbach an Intoxilyzer test at the jail, which showed zero blood-alcohol content. A deputy searched Burbach and found a pipe and piece of crack cocaine.

The Winona County Attorney's Office charged Burbach with fifth-degree cocaine possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, two counts of fourth-degree driving under the influence and two traffic tickets. It also charged Meilinger with fifth-degree cocaine possession.

Court battle

McCluer and Plachecki filed a motion in Winona County District Court to suppress evidence used by police to bring charges against Burbach.

In court, Brommerich said he was eager to search the vehicle based on the narcotics tip and said the search was unrelated to the speeding stop, court documents said. Judge James A. Fabian dismissed all charges except a speeding and insurance violation.

Fabian said Burbach's passage of field sobriety tests should have dispelled suspicion of impairment and that Brommerich unlawfully expanded the allowable scope of a speeding stop into a search for drugs. There was no clear proof that Brommerich knew Burbach's car had cocaine, Fabian ruled.

The appeal

On MacLean's request, the Court of Appeals reversed Fabian's order.

The appeals court said suppression of evidence hampered prosecution of Burbach. The principles of Terry v. Ohio lay out reasonable causes to seize property during a traffic stop for even a minor violation, it said.

Much of the Burbach case focuses on a 1983 Minnesota case, State v. Schinzing. MacLean argued that Schinzing shows alcohol odor alone is probable cause to search anywhere inside the vehicle for open containers of alcohol.

Appeals court Judge Randolph W. Peterson ruled each increment of searching by police was justified, and that Judge Fabian erred in dismissing the charges. He reversed Fabian's decision.

After the Supreme Court received briefs outlining each side's case, Plachecki and MacLean gave oral arguments Sept. 7. The Supreme Court has three months to make a ruling.

In Praise of Cannabis

International News Alliance

According to archaeologists, evidence exists proving that hemp has been cultivated since about 8,000 BC: it was used for human consumption, and for making fabrics. About 2700 BC we find the first written reference to the use of cannabis in the work of Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine.

Almost a decade ago the first cannabis-derivatives fair was held in Germany; since then many such fairs have emerged, based on cannabis in all its uses, be they direct or derivative. In the last two years there have been two Spannabis fairs in Barcelona, and a few days ago, for the first time, the La Cubierta cultural center in the southern Madrid district of Leganés hosted Expocannabis, a trade exhibition aimed at bringing the public closer to the world of cannabis and alternative technologies. Gathered in Leganés were almost 100 national and foreign exhibitors: from cultivation-based product manufacturers, to firms that supply products derived from the plant: food, clothing, footwear, cosmetics, furniture, construction materials.

One aim of the fair is to become a forum for reflection about cannabis. A group of noted cannabis activists and medical and legal experts debated themes such as therapeutic uses, new home-growing methods and the present legal situation regarding cannabis, in an attempt to encourage the legalization of its social use, as well as more active participation in the development of a prosperous industry exploiting all the possible uses of the plant. Expocannabis enjoys the precedent of the two previous fairs held in Barcelona, in the Palau Sant Jordi, which were attended by about 15,000 people - a success which suggests the social and economic potential of this plant in the 21st century.

The medicinal and therapeutic properties of marijuana, which have been employed for thousands of years, are now being rediscovered. In 10 US states the law now permits its medicinal use for those in a "debilitated clinical situation," which includes cases of cancer, glaucoma and AIDS. But at the same time there has been an increase in the orchestration of campaigns against the use of cannabis by the ill. In April 2005, Canada became the first country to approve the use of Sativex, a cannabis extract, which has been available there since June 20, under medical prescription, for the treatment of neurological pain in adults with multiple sclerosis. In Spain, the Health Department of the regional government of Catalonia, with the approval of the Spanish Health Ministry, will be the first official agency to try a pilot plan of treatment with cannabis, using a spray containing extracts of the plant, made by GW Pharmaceuticals and distributed by the firm Bayer.

Apart from the therapeutic uses of cannabis, a revolutionary plastic is now being made of hemp and of recycled materials, as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics - hemp based products tend to be stronger and lighter, with a renewable annual harvest and a more sustainable future. This plastic is already used, for example, to make biodegradable cases for CDs and DVDs. Hemp oil, too, is used in diet and cosmetic products, in energy drinks, wines and beers, and in food products such as pasta, candies, cookies and chocolate. Hemp can be used to make paper, furniture, cloth, shoes, bags, wallets, bracelets and other complements. That is, hemp is an interesting and necessary alternative solution to a number of ecological problems.

But we cannot ignore the fact that its use as a recreational substance is extremely widespread and normal in society. The law should recognize this, and cease to harass its cultivation and consumption. You can see how widespread its use is in virtually any bar or at any meeting of people of any class, or at any party. Princess Margaret, the sister of Elizabeth II, who died in 2001, liked to smoke joints. The de-criminalization of its use would merely lift the flimsy veil of a useless and outmoded hypocrisy.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Oxycontin: America's Hidden Drug Epidemic

The Cud

By Evan Kanarakis

Perhaps one of the most devastating drug epidemics gripping America in recent years has been abuse of the prescription drug Oxycontin, manufactured by the Conneticut-based company Purdue Pharmaceuticals L.P ('Purdue Pharma').

Derived from opium, and containing the active ingredient of what is known as 'oxycodone', Oxycontin was, and indeed still is, hailed as something of a 'miracle drug' for those whom it was originally intended for, that being primarily terminal cancer patients and chronic pain sufferers. Taken as a tablet, the drug is designed for slow release over a twelve-hour period, so that a patient is only required to take two doses a day, offering relief and a high similar to morphine. Given the strength of the medication, however, a full 100% of all users become physically dependent, and it has been estimated in some quarters that addiction rates to the drug run as high as 30%.

Controversially, many argue that Purdue Pharma over-marketed the product upon its release in 1995. When over-prescription of the drug by doctors combined with word of Oxycontin's powerful effects, demand on the streets began to grow at a rapid pace. So as to avoid the controlled-release mechanism of the pill, chewing, crushing, snorting or, dissolving in water and then injecting the drug was found to offer a concentrated high comparable to top grade heroin but with the FDA approved reliability of coming in a pure, same-size dose every time. Legal, covered by most health insurance plans, with patients of both legitimate and phoney claims receiving prescriptions for the pill, and many packets of the drug stolen from medical practices and family medicine cabinets alike, a drug problem soon emerged across social and economic classes in America unlike anything that had been seen before. From rural areas to the suburbs, offices to high schools, Oxycontin had taken grip. Indeed, regardless of whatever mark-up dealers put on the drug at the street level, in 2002 7 million prescriptions had been written for Oxycontin, generating sales for Purdue of a truly staggering $1.5 billion.

And so it is that today in many parts of the country Oxycontin has become 'the new Valium' for homemakers in suburbia, and there's been a proliferation of so-called 'pill parties' among teenagers where participants meet to try a variety of prescription drugs including Oxycontin. Naturally, taking the medication in combination with other drugs and alcohol (also known as 'polypharmacy') and broken down into a concentrated form is incredibly dangerous, and perhaps far more dangerous than these unsuspecting teenagers might realise. One 80mg dose of Oxycontin, for instance, is the equivalent of taking 16 pills of the well-known painkiller Percocet (also a target for drug abusers). Given this kind of potency, overdose from Oxycontin can occur easily. Though it can take many forms, the most common result is a state of respiratory depression leading to potential complete respiratory failure. To date, while the official figures vary widely, several hundred deaths related to Oxycontin use have been confirmed, although some circles argue that the true extent of overdoses is impossible to calculate because so many deaths, particularly among those from the white middle-class sector of users have been spared 'official victim' status so as to remove the potential stigma of being labelled an Oxycontin abuser.

Indeed, that the drug has afflicted such a socio-economic class is one of the main reasons that it is an epidemic so often unheard of outside certain circles and in the mainstream media. Perhaps the most significant scandal involving Oxycontin to hit the headlines was the 2003 discovery that right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh was addicted to Oxycontin and may well have acquired the drug on the illegal black market. This was after Limbaugh had angrily asserted on a number of occasions on his nationally–syndicated radio-show that drug users deserved harsh prison penalties over expensive treatment programmes. In 1995 he declared:

'There's nothing good about drug use… Drug use destroys societies… And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.'

He concluded by adding:

'What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use… The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river (to prison) too.'

Hypocritically, Limbaugh was of course not, as per his own harsh assessment of the drug use problem in America, convicted, and still hosts his radio show despite the fact it was alleged his housekeeper acted as his drug buyer for years prior to his addiction becoming public.

And yet it is arguably this kind of soft-treatment of Oxycontin that has allowed the issue to linger relatively unabated for years. Responding to pressure and a number of lawsuits, Purdue Pharma embarked upon a public service announcement campaign in 2003 saying that 4 million Americans were abusing or misusing prescription drugs each month, and also reported that it was working toward developing a so-called 'smart pill' which loses its painkilling properties if crushed and snorted, however such technology is years away, and at present, with those billions of dollars of profit at stake, Oxycontin is still available to be prescribed, stolen, dealt and misused by Purdue Pharma regardless.

On the other side of the debate, of course, are the thousands of very real victims of terminal cancer and chronic pain who look to Oxycontin for relief every day, and depend upon the pill to sustain the quality of their lives. They are, quite understandably, staunch opponents of any move that might outright ban the availability of the drug, and yet there isn't a happy balance to be found in a situation where 'any availability' equates to 'any available drugs might be abused'. Complicating the matter further have been reputed allegations of journalists, politicians and medical practitioners receiving financial and other incentives from Purdue Pharma.

While it would be unfair to accuse Oxycontin solely of all of the recorded deaths related to the drug where victims have been engaged in polypharmacy, many lobby groups arguing in defence of the drug may have financial interests at stake as well. Indeed, for all the beneficial and long-overdue public service announcements, community awareness campaigns and community grants initiated by Purdue Pharma in recent years, it is well-worth recognising the significant disparity which no doubt exists between the cost of such initiatives and the company's overall annual profit results.

And so the epidemic continues. Many rural and smaller communities across America such as Maine and Virginia that had been unfamiliar with regular occurrences of crime have recently seen Oxycontin-attributed incidents triple in number. In areas like Massachusetts, efforts to curb the availability of the drug have pushed pill prices as high as $80 and $90 each, pushing many addicts –several teenagers among them- to find more affordable hits in equally dangerous and addictive $4 or $5 bags of heroin. The answer to abating the problem no doubt lies in encouraging further education and awareness of the risks of Oxycontin abuse, however resolving the issue of availability when so many ill Americans genuinely depend upon the drug is an altogether more complicated matter whose resolution, with extended delay, is only serving to broaden the potential number of victims affected.

Nicole Richie's Drug Charges Dismissed

Drug charges against Nicole Richie have been dismissed, after the TV personality successfully completed the terms of her probation.

The star, daughter of soul veteran Lionel Richie, learned on Friday that a Malibu, California judge had dismissed the charges, which stem from her 2003 arrest for heroin possession.

According to the ruling, the socialite, a former close pal of Paris Hilton, is no longer required to report for periodic drug tests.

Creativity rules drug trafficking

Kansas City Star

BOGOTA, Colombia — The six puppies looked fine at first. But when Colombian police gave them a closer look, they found fresh scars on their bellies that told a different story.

The tiny Labradors and Rottweillers had been surgically converted into drug couriers: cut open, with several plastic packets of heroin stitched into their abdomens.

Even the hardened Colombian police, who discovered the puppies at an abandoned house in a rural area outside Medellin, had never seen anything like it. Traffickers were apparently going to ship the dogs to the United States saying they were pets. It is almost certain they would have been discarded as soon as their cargo was removed.

“The better we get at catching them, the more creative they get,” said Mark Styron, supervisor of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Heroin Group in Bogota. “That’s always the problem.”

Much of the cocaine and heroin that ends up for sale on street corners in the United States begins in the rich soil of this conflict-ridden South American country. Staying ahead of the smugglers is expensive. Since 2000, the United States has sent $4.5 billion to Colombia to help battle drug trafficking.

That six-year program is set to expire at the end of this year.

Although the Bush administration and Congress have signaled a willingness to continue funding at current levels for at least another year, some are questioning whether the money has been effective in stemming the tide of drugs to the United States.

Colombians point with pride to the hundreds of thousands of acres of coca and poppy fields they have destroyed and the tons of drugs seized at their airports and borders. Kidnappings and murders are down.

But a report from the United Nations showed that while coca cultivation in Colombia is down, it has risen in nearby Peru and Bolivia.

The Justice Department’s National Drug Threat Assessment for 2005 found that heroin and cocaine were readily available throughout the United States.


The Mirror

KATE Moss slipped into a semi-conscious daze after smoking too much "skunk" cannabis during a drugs session on the holiday island of Ibiza.

The 31-year-old model told friends she suffered a "whitey" - the sick and paranoid state brought on by the super-strong weed - last month.

During a night snorting cocaine and inhaling cannabis, mum-of-one Kate dismissed traditional dope as a feeble drug and confessed the effects of skunk on the mind were shocking.

In further startling revelations about the catwalk queen's life, our undercover team listened as she told how her former dealer has been sectioned for life after raping women while high on skunk.

The Croydon-born star said: "Weed isn't worth anything. Skunk is the worst. It turns you.

"Too much and you start seeing the Devil and everything.

"I tried it in Ibiza...I tried it in Ibiza...blimey, I hadn't had a whitey in years. I can't do skunk."

Kate, exposed as a cocaine abuser by the Mirror yesterday, blurted out details of her drug experiences as she chatted with boyfriend Pete Doherty and friends during a recording session of his Babyshambles band in a West London studio.

In between hoovering up lines of the white powder off a CD cover, she told of her teenage dealer's rape attacks. With a tightly rolled up £5 in her hand and her nostrils just inches away from the cocaine, Kate said: "Two of my friends have been sectioned...three of them. One of them for ever."

The band's drummer Adam Ficek asked: "F*** me. What did he do?"

Explaining how the youngster: was out of his mind on skunk - which is at least 10 times stronger than conventional cannabis - Kate replied: "He raped his sister. He was f*****g...."

Stunned Adam said: "If he'd a spliff he wouldn't have done that."

Kate: "No, not a spliff. Idiot. He tried to rape his sister, then they put him in a home and then he did rape two girls."

Adam: "Skunk can't make you do that." Kate: "Too much skunk can do that."

Adams: "Silly to put someone like that in a mixed ward."

Kate: "It's awful. He's only 17. I've known him since he was six. He used to come and deal with his sister."

Medical research has revealed Skunk can trigger serious psychotic episodes, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

Kate then snorted another line of coke - just 30 seconds after her last one. As she carefully cut lines of the Class A drug with a credit card from a stash in her handbag, cannabis was passed around the group.

Perched on the edge of a black leather sofa, the £30million model cheerfully chatted about her two-year-old daughter Lila Grace.

Wearing high-heeled black boots, blue denim shorts and a low cut vest top, she laughed and joked on the sofa with one of 26-year-old Doherty's trusted friends, known only as Ali.

The pair talked about drugs. Ali was first in the queue for the cocaine and snorted at least four lines before passing the CD back to Kate.

Another of Doherty's oldest friends, Aki, drunkenly downed bottles of Stella in a back room of the studio.

The atmosphere became relaxed as the effects of a long night of drinking and drugs took hold.

Kate then spoke to former Clash guitarist Mick Jones - producer of the Babyshambles album - who was out of earshot.

She chopped more lines from her large stash of cocaine and shouted: "Mick, do you want one?"

With the drug now coursing through her body, Kate began laughing more and more raucously.

She joked with Adam about track seven on the group's demo album being the best - because the next line of coke to be snorted off the CD lies over the title of that song.

Giggling Kate said: "Track seven it will be on."

She creased up with laughter as Adam replied: "Track seven has got to be the strongest track."

Kate took more drags of her cigarette. When the CD was passed back to her she was delighted not all the cocaine was used. She said: "Oh yeah. There's more on there."

The model arranged another meeting with the group on her return from New York.

As they mulled over the details, she excitedly nodded her head, swaying to music belting out around the studio, and said: "I'm so up for it. I'm like the Queen... seriously when I get back from New York."

As the party went on late into the night, Kate and Adam were joined by a scruffy-looking Doherty, who was slurring his words following his drink and drugs binge.

Adam tried to convince Kate he used human skulls as percussion instruments on the new album.

Doherty joined in the ruse, and told his lover: "It's going on the album cover, 'skulls by Adam'."

Stunned Kate replied: "Human skulls? Human skulls? What do you mean, human skulls?"

Adam calmly explained: "We went to the cemetery over the road. Yeah, we dug them up."

Kate is now deeply shocked. She said: "What do you mean, you dug the skulls up? How did you get them?" Doherty chipped in: "Years ago. We took rings off their dead bodies."

Confused Kate slowly got to grips with the joke being played on her. She retorted: "You can't dig up... Such a liar."

Kate laughed at being the butt of their joke but quickly wanted to get back to the cocaine. She said: "Do you want me to do it for you?"

Yet again she started to carefully undo the wrap of powder which she kept tucked in her handbag.

She scooped the drug on to the CD cover using a corner of the credit card before returning the wrap to her bag.

During the frenzied 40-minute session - revealed in yesterday's Mirror - Kate snorted cocaine as she cut and chopped up to 20 lines of it.

DNA research uncovers new cannabis strain

ABC News Online

Researchers in the ACT appear to have found a previously unidentified type of cannabis plant which they have dubbed 'rasta'.

There are currently thought to be only two types of cannabis, one prized for its rope-making qualities, the other cultivated for its drug properties.

New Scientist reports that Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) scientists categorised almost 200 cannabis plants according to their DNA.

CIT spokesman Simon Gilmore says he and colleagues at the institute's Centre for Forensic Science appear to have uncovered another sub-species of the plant.

'Rasta' is not dissimilar to the sativa sub-species but New Scientist reports that it contains more THC, certainly more than the indica sub-species that is used for rope-making.

Mr Gilmore says it could be an ancient line they have identified through DNA.

"What we might be uncovering is really an ancient relationship," he said.

"Cannabis has been used a lot by humans in the last few thousand years and while we have a signature that there might have been three different types of cannabis, what could have happened with human cross-breeding [is] that those distinctions could have been lost by now.

"Three different mitochondrial DNA types in the cannabis that's grown these days, it might imply that cannabis had been domesticated on three separate occasions.

"It seems the first use was for food - cannabis seeds are highly nutritious apparently but not all that tasty."

Mr Gilmore says the object of studying 200 plants was to find markers to track the origins of illegal cannabis.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Coca fields may reemerge as battleground

Miami Herald

A truce between Bolivian troops and farmers who grow coca is set to expire Oct. 1, and many in the Chapare region wonder if violence will return. Coca growing is likely to be a major issue in December's presidential election.

Knight Ridder News Service

From his quiet corner of Bolivia's Chapare region, Egberto Chipana recalled the day three years ago when government soldiers invaded the radio station he now manages because it was championing the cause of farmers who grow coca, the plant whose leaves are the raw material for cocaine.

On that day, with battles raging between growers and troops, the soldiers seized the station's transmitter, and its directors were threatened with prosecution for instigating unrest. Growers responded by blocking roads and staging protests, demanding that the station be reopened. ''The government eventually returned everything,'' Chipana said on a recent sweltering afternoon. Drying coca leaves covered the earth outside the station building. ``The outcry was too great, and the government couldn't ignore it.''

The Chapare, a tropical region of mountains and plains in central Bolivia, has been a battleground for the past decade between coca growers and government troops. Sometimes the face-off has had deadly results, but an uneasy peace now prevails, thanks to a one-year truce signed by growers and the administration of since-ousted President Carlos Mesa that allows limited cultivation of coca.

But with the agreement set to end Oct. 1 and Bolivians scheduled to elect a new president in December, these could be the last days of peace, some Chapare residents fear.

''If the government doesn't respect our right to determine our own livelihood, we will organize and we will fight,'' said Gabina Contreras, a 54-year-old mother of 11 from the growers' collective Sindicato Esteban Arce, named for a Bolivian independence hero.

``Coca is like father and mother to us. We can't live without coca.''


Despite the truce, U.S. and Bolivian officials say this Andean nation's laws forbid the cultivation of coca and allege that coca grown in the Chapare is ending up as cocaine elsewhere.

According to the U.S. State Department, Bolivia is the world's third-largest producer of cocaine. The United States has poured more than $150 million in military and social aid into the country annually over the past four years, in part to fight coca cultivation.

Although eradication of coca in excess of that permitted by the truce continues, the days of widespread military action against coca growers are over for now, said Luz Mendoza, a spokeswoman for the country's Ministry of Social Defense.

So far this year, the government has destroyed about 16 square miles of coca nationwide, almost all of it in the Chapare, government figures show. In comparison, it eradicated about 46 square miles during all of 2002, nearly half of the 110 square miles believed under cultivation.

''We have a temporary situation there now,'' she said. ``People who are directly involved in the planting of coca are still disobeying laws, and we're not going to ignore that.''


Kathryn Ledebur, director of the human-rights group Andean Information Network, sees the coca issue heating up as the election approaches.

Presidential candidates Evo Morales, himself a coca grower, and former President Jorge Quiroga, who oversaw the country's coca eradication effort in 2001 and 2002, were running neck-and-neck in a recent poll.

Morales has said in interviews that he plans to promote the growth of coca for uses other than cocaine production. As one of the country's main coca-producing areas, the Chapare is also the heart of Morales' political support.

Quiroga has been a longtime champion of coca eradication and the development of programs that promote the cultivation of crops such as bananas and oranges in its place.

''Both of the key players in this election built their platforms on the coca issue,'' Ledebur said.


Growers argue that they cultivate and use coca for traditional purposes such as tea making and chewing to stave off hunger while working.

Selling the crop in government-approved markets, a family working the maximum area of coca crop permitted by the truce can earn between $60 and $80 a month, Ledebur estimated.

Where the coca goes after the markets, however, is a question growers don't have answers for.

''We are just following the legal procedures,'' Chipana said. ``Maybe some of the coca is going to drug production, but that's out of our control.''

Jorge Azad, the country's vice minister of alternative development, said he believes much of it is going to drug production. The amount of coca coming out of the Chapare far exceeds what's needed for traditional use, and that demands government action, he said.

''The eradication campaign will continue,'' Azad said. ``I don't know if it will widen after the elections or what will happen, but it will continue.''

Cannabis against Cancer

Israel Today

While there is still no real cure for cancer, every day researchers move a step closer to finding that cure. Twenty-five-year old Natalya Kogan, a Ph.D. candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working under the supervision of Prof. Raphael Meshulam, recently proved that extract from the cannabis plant is able to help heal cancer within the organism.

Kogan, who immigrated from the Ukraine 10 years ago, developed a new compound known as guinniodic cannabinoids, which is similar to several anti-cancer medications such as Daunomycin. Whereas Daunomycin produces negative side effects in the heart, Kogan’s tests have proven the new compound to be much less harmful, even reducing the volume of cancer, which it did during animal testing.

What makes guinniodic cannabinoids compound so different is that it forms a complex with the enzyme Topoisomerase II, which is responsible for mitosis (when two new nuclei form with the same number of chromosomes as the nucleus from which they’re formed). This specifically stops the division of cells and growth of the tissues, as compared to most of today’s anti-cancer substances that are less selective in their action. These substances also reduce the blood supply to the cancer tissue.

While Kogan continues her research to discover mechanisms and modes of action for these substances, in the interim the substances themselves have a high potential for future anticancer medications. Kogan received the Kaye-Innovation Prize from the university for her research.

Lawyers ask that medical pot case be overturned

Attorneys for Oakland pot advocate Ed Rosenthal asked a panel of federal judges Tuesday to overturn his 2003 conviction for growing medical marijuana, while the prosecutors sought to have his one-day prison sentence thrown out because they thought it wasn't long enough.

Rosenthal, 60, was arrested in 2002 for growing marijuana for the Harm Reduction Center, a San Francisco dispensary for medical patients. Rosenthal, who is well-known for his "Ask Ed" advice column for cannabis growers, was convicted a year later on federal cultivation and conspiracy charges.

But in his trial U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer forbid Rosenthal and his attorney from mentioning that he was growing cannabis for medical users. Breyer ruled that because medical use is not allowed under federal law, that evidence was irrelevant to his guilt or innocence.

Breyer then imposed the lightest possible sentence -- one day -- which Rosenthal had already served the night of his arrest, saying that "extraordinary, unique circumstances of this case" justified an exemption from the usual five-year minimum term and federal sentencing guidelines. Breyer concluded Rosenthal had "reasonably" but erroneously believed that he was acting legally because of his support from local officials.

Nine of 12 of the jurors who voted to convict Rosenthal have since disavowed their guilty verdict after learning that Rosenthal was growing medical marijuana.

Attorneys Dennis Riordan and Joe Elford argued Tuesday that Breyer should have allowed Rosenthal to present a defense that he grew the marijuana solely for medical use with the permission of Oakland city officials, who were acting within the parameters of the state's medical marijuana law.

"It's an affirmative defense based on the conclusion that somebody was reasonably misled by public officials," Riordan said. "He had a Sixth Amendment right to present that defense to a jury."

They also argued that Breyer improperly restricted the jury's options by urging jurors to follow the law and not bring their own "sense of justice" into their deliberations.

Rosenthal said his actions were authorized by California's medical marijuana law and also said he had been deputized by the city of Oakland to supply marijuana to a city-endorsed patient cooperative.

Supporters of medical marijuana see the case as perhaps the most important court battle for their movement since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government has the authority to prosecute medical cannabis growers who act under the auspices of California's medical marijuana law. That case also involved an Oakland resident, brain cancer patient Angel Raich.

Riordan told the three-judge panel that Rosenthal had been denied a fair trial because he could not introduce that defense. Rosenthal's appeal also argues that he was not allowed to rebut the government's charges that he cultivated cannabis for profit.

Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amber Rosen argued that Rosenthal's conviction should remain in place, but that Breyer should have sentenced Rosenthal from two to five years in prison under federal guidelines. Rosen said the one-day sentence "was an abuse of judicial discretion."

Judge Marsha Berzon interrupted Rosen's argument noting that under a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the guidelines were not mandatory.

But Rosen insisted that the one-day sentence was not reasonable in light of the crime. Congress intended that large-scale cultivation should be treated as a serious offense, she said.

Rosen said Breyer had followed the law correctly by excluding medicinal claims.

In addition to arguing that Rosenthal's medicinal marijuana defense was unfairly excluded, his attorneys said the conviction should be overturned for several other reasons. They claimed that federal prosecutors falsely told the grand jury that law enforcement agencies were not singling out medical marijuana clubs.

They also alleged that two jurors committed misconduct by voting to convict Rosenthal after receiving advice from a lawyer friend who said they could get in trouble if they ignored the judge's instructions. Jurors are not supposed to discuss a case with anyone but other jurors until after a verdict is reached.

Rosen acknowledged that the outside advice was inappropriate but said it might not have swayed the jurors' decision to convict. The friend merely told the juror that "you need to follow the court's instructions," and that is not enough reason to overturn a conviction, she said.

Berzon, Judge Betty Fletcher and Judge John Gibson took the case under submission and gave no indication how soon they would rule.

Rosenthal said outside court that he was more than happy to risk possible prison time if a new trial is ordered and he is convicted. It is more important to keep fighting to clear his name and support the cause of "sick and dying people who need marijuana," he said.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Using chili peppers to burn drug abusers

Harvard Gazette

Two years ago, Clifford Woolf and some colleagues discovered that chili peppers and the burning pain of arthritis have something in common. Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the "hot" in peppers, acts on a protein that also responds to the heat and high acidity associated with painful inflammation in the joints and skin.

Recently, the Richard J. Kitz Professor of Anesthesia Research at Harvard Medical School hit on the idea of using the same irritating chemical to "burn" people who illegally use pain medications. When an abuser of a medication like OxyContin snorts, chews, or injects the drug, he or she would get intense hot pain instead of an expected happy high. A patient taking the same capsaicin-laced pill could get needed relief and avoid unpleasant sensations simply by swallowing the pills whole, as directed.

"If a formulation containing capsaicin is swallowed whole, release of the irritant in the stomach and small intestine would not cause discomfort," Woolf maintains. "The majority of the capsaicin would be cleared by the liver on first pass."

Those who obtain opium-based drugs, including morphine and methadone, by theft or subterfuge usually crush the pills and snort or chew the powder to get "high." Laced with capsaicin, such a snort or chew would produce intense pain.

"Imagine snorting an extract of 50 jalapeno peppers and you get the idea," Woolf says. "On a one to 10 scale, the pain is about a thousand. It feels like a mininuclear explosion in your mouth. It does not harm you, but you never want to experience that feeling again."

"Moreover," Woolf adds, "inhalation of the capsaicin elicits a powerful cough reflex and severe pain if it leaks into certain tissues after an intravenous injection. In human volunteers, intravenous administration of capsaicin produces a widespread burning feeling of the chest, face, rectum and extremities as well as paroxysmal coughing." Otherwise, capsaicin appears to be safe.

Woolf thus sees capsaicin as one possible way to stem the rising tide of abuse of opium-based painkillers. "Such abuse is now a major societal problem, with an incidence that appears to exceed the use of street narcotics such as heroin and cocaine," he told a meeting called the Research and Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 15.

Turning off pain

Capsaicin works by hitting on a protein known as TRPV1, which transports its fiery message into the nervous system via sensory nerves in the mouth and other areas. TRPV1 also is activated by the heat and acidity produced by arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

"Finding this out helps us to understand why these inflammatory conditions increase pain and sensitivity to heat," Woolf says.

Production of TRPV1 is controlled by an enzyme called p38, located within the sensory nerves. p38 acts like a faucet - turn it on and it can cause a 20-fold increase in the amount of TRPV1 in the skin. That's the kind of increase that will get anyone's attention.

It immediately became obvious to Woolf and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital that finding a compound to turn off the p38 faucet would block any increase in TRPV1 and turn down the sensitivity to pain. In other words, this could be a new way to treat the pain felt by people who suffer from arthritis and many other diseases and conditions that involve inflammation.

Other approaches are also available. Drugs might be developed to block TRPV1, the capsaicin receiver, and several pharmaceutical companies are looking into this possibility.

Curbing abuse

Woolf has also had discussions with drug-makers about developing capsaicin-based compounds to deter the abuse of pain relievers. "It is only a relatively trivial task to formulate a product that would not release active capsaicin to patients taking the drug legally, that is, swallowed whole," he notes. "But the capsaicin would be released if the drug is crushed, injected, or chewed."

This same approach, Woolf points out, could be used for curbing the abuse of stimulants, such as amphetamines or Ritalin. The later drug is used legitimately for treating attention deficient disorder.

There is one thorny issue to deal with, however. Who would bear the cost of developing a drug that has no benefit to a legitimate user? Patients who take a drug like morphine in the prescribed fashion for relief of pain would get no benefit from the capsaicin. Therefore, development might have to be done by a government agency, such as the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

"Doing this could result in a large indirect benefit to patients," Woolf points out. "The stigma of taking narcotic drugs would be removed. It should be easier to get such medications prescribed by doctors who are currently terrified of being accused of over prescribing narcotics. And, pharmacies would be at a lower risk of theft and robbery.

"The biggest benefit, though, will be to society as a whole, because pain medicine abuse now is such a massive epidemic."