Thursday, June 29, 2006

Meth addicts reduce drug use with new treatment


New York - A new treatment that can be given on an outpatient basis resulted in a statistically significant reduction in methamphetamine use by addicted individuals, according to the first clinical study of the protocol.

Of the 50 patients who entered the study, 36 men and women completed the study. The subjects reported using meth on 80% of the 90 days prior to treatment, but only 28% were using methamphetamines 84 days following the first day of treatment, representing a 65% reduction in drug use.

"I think we've found the first clinically effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction," the study's lead author, Dr. Harold C. Urschel III, told Reuters Health. Urschel, an addiction psychiatrist, works for Research Across America, a Dallas-based company that performs independent clinical research, reported the findings last week at the annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Previously, he noted, if he had got a 25% to 30% reduction in drug use among meth addicts with treatment, "I'd be just jumping for joy. Urine tests showed that the study participants were telling the truth about their use or abstinence about 85% of the time.

PROMETA consists of a series of intravenous and oral treatments given in a doctor's office over the course of 30 days. Developed by the for-profit company Hythiam, Inc., it consists of FDA-approved drugs used "off-label," meaning the FDA has not approved their use for this condition.

PROMETA consists of an anti-anxiety drug from the class known as benzodiazepine antagonists, and a drug that modulates one of the brain's main signaling systems, GABA. Also included are nutritional supplements.

Among the 31 people who completed a series of questionnaires measuring their drug craving, 30 reported a reduction in craving, while one reported no change.

Meth addicts often drop out of treatment in the first few days, Urschel noted, largely because the drug has damaged their brain so concentration is extremely difficult. But in the current study, he said, "the patients' memory and concentration almost uniformly across the board came back," as soon as the first day of treatment. "That alone allows the people to focus on sitting in intensive outpatient treat and learn the skills necessary to staying sober."

While the mechanism for the protocol's effectiveness is not clear, Urschel said the main hypothesis is that it somehow restores the function of the GABA system, which has been damaged by drug or alcohol use. In healthy people, he noted, the neurotransmitter helps people to stay calm and relaxed. Treatment may restore its function, reducing anxiety.

The current study did not include any psychosocial interventions, which are usually part of the PROMETA protocol. Urschel said that the results would probably be better if the drug compound was given with these interventions.

By Anna Harding

Indians among highest opium users

Times of India

New Delhi - Punjab has emerged as a major transit point for drugs coming in from Afghanistan to India, which has one of the highest numbers of opium users in the world, an UN report said.

The supply of drugs, especially heroin, has increased in India in the recent years even though licit opium cultivation has shown a decline, the 'World Drug Report' released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

The availability and consumption of drugs have increased in Punjab in the recent years with cities like Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Patiala emerging as hotspots, it said.

The arrival of cocaine, a costly drug, in the country has also increased manifold with anti-narcotics sleuths recovering 200 kgs of the contraband so far this year as compared to 14 kgs seized in the last four years, the report said.

The fashion of drug smuggling and supply in India is also changing rapidly, posing a major challenge to authorities and the primary focus now was to understand their fast-changing modus operandi, officials said.

"To grapple with the beast, you need to know its shape and form," said Gary Lewis, the South Asia representative of the UNODC after releasing the report yesterday.

Apart from the Punjab route, drugs reach India from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh through the southern and eastern states.

According to the report, India has 25 million drug users, which makes the country account for 1/10th of the problem drug users in the world.

Opinion: One soccer mom's take on the drug war

The Denver Post

I hope my daughter will never smoke marijuana. Regardless of whether she does one day, I know one thing for sure: Keeping it illegal can only harm her future.

Since 1998, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has spent more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars on twin advertising campaigns seeking to discourage marijuana use. The first speaks to parents, calling them the "Anti-Drug." It fails before it begins. Good parents are going to talk to their children about drugs. All the feel-good ads in the world aren't going to get indifferent parents to engage in such an awkward but essential dialogue.

The second campaign fails as well. In these, youthful but sophisticated graphics tell kids not to use marijuana. If there is one sure way to get adolescents to smoke pot, tell them that the government and their parents don't want them to. In fact, a recently published national study indicates that after viewing commercials for this campaign, young people were more likely to exhibit positive responses about the drug.

Politicians whisper quietly behind closed doors about the insanity of the drug war. Neither party, however, has had the courage to take a stand against prohibition publicly. Just imagine if the $2 billion invested in these ads - or the billions more spent prosecuting peaceful marijuana users every year - had been diverted instead into tuition grants for needy students or back to taxpaying parents who could directly invest in college funds.

Earlier this year, many Colorado Republicans - myself included - expressed outrage against a new statewide smoking ban, saying it runs contrary to our American ethos of individual rights, private property rights, and personal responsibility. But where is the GOP's outrage now as the government spends billions to tell people they can't make the decision to use marijuana, a drug proven to be less harmful than cigarettes?

Democrats are no less guilty. They silently watch as our government's addiction to prohibition becomes a national epidemic, taking money out of the pockets of working families and sending thousands behind bars every year.

Both parties do nothing because they believe in the same urban myth. They know they must get the "soccer mom" vote if they want to win, but they are confused on how to achieve this. Their logic goes like this: Moms don't like drugs. Moms don't want their kids to use drugs. Do not advocate legalization or decriminalization if you want moms to vote for your party.

This strategy is tied to reliable studies demonstrating that women are now the decisionmakers in most American families. Just as mom decides which brand of toilet paper to buy for her family, she increasingly plays decisionmaker when it comes to voting. Democrats and Republicans alike believe they would gain nothing by advocating an end to prohibition, but both have failed to consider that they might just gain votes if they could learn to speak to mothers about drugs in a way that they could relate to.

Parents across America are trying to find a way to fund college. By legalizing marijuana, taxing it, and turning this revenue into college scholarships and treatment programs, the future of every child could be just a little bit brighter.

Compare this with the system we have now. Marijuana prohibition, violated by millions every year, has become the laughing stock of American public policy. Kids have seen first-hand that it's not as damaging as they've been led to believe. In the process, they begin to believe that some laws aren't meant to be obeyed. This is by far prohibition's most damaging side effect and only makes the job of being a mom that much tougher.

When I sit my daughter down to talk about marijuana, I'm not going to sugar-coat the facts. Marijuana can be addictive and destructive - just as alcohol can be - when abused. I'm going to let her know that life is exciting enough without turning to drugs for fun. She will learn that every law should be respected and that she should work to change those she believes are unjust.

At the end of the day, our government knows it cannot enforce marijuana prohibition. In the absence of being able to do so, it sends the damaging message to our young people that marijuana should be illegal simply because "I'm the government, and I said so." Moms know better - and may ultimately be the single key to bringing sanity back to American drug policy.

By Jessica Peck Corry

Review: Through Chong's case, 'a/k/a' examines the drug war

The Boston Globe

In 2003, the comedian Tommy Chong began serving a nine-month sentence for selling bongs over the Internet. In his movies and stand-up routines with Cheech Marin , Chong gave us the archetypal stoner. So prison time for helping other people get stoned has a robust irony. According to `` a/k/a Tommy Chong," Josh Gilbert's occasionally enlightening new documentary that opens today at the Brattle, Chong's arrest was also a Justice Department conspiracy to punish the comedian's on-screen persona. As someone in the film deduces, the war on marijuana was a war on the '60s and its ethos.

The movie, though, is only sort of about the alleged plot against Chong, mixing highlights from his career and snapshots of his seemingly loving and tranquil family life with dismay over federal law enforcement's misplaced priorities. This isn't a great piece of nonfiction filmmaking, but it has its moments. The access to Chong, for one thing, contributes a serene counterpoint to the minor farce Gilbert makes of the Justice Department, which, when Chong was arrested, was run by Attorney General John Ashcroft . (Hilariously, the feds' plan to nab Chong and his family-run bong business was called ``Operation Nice Dream.")

The film spends time with Chong, who was 66 during filming, in the weeks before he went off to a minimum-security California prison. Gilbert visits him as an inmate and is with him and his wife, Shelby , after his release. And throughout `` a/k/a," Chong remains affable and resigned to his bad luck, leaving the conspiracy weaving to Gilbert and the gaggle of talking heads the director rounds up, including the journalist Eric Schlosser , whose book ``Reefer Madness" offers more focused and cogent dissections of the drug war's punitive excesses.

`` a/k/a" isn't sure what to do with its wealth of access. So, amid its jammin' rock-instrumental score, it tries some of everything. There are interviews with Chong celebrity pals and supporters like George Thorogood, Peter Coyote, and Bill Maher. Indeed, Ashcroft's moralistic approach to the drug war seems out of touch here. And Gilbert shows President Bush making his equation of drugs and terrorism -- stoners and dealers are terrorists by association. For the hell of it, there are man-on-the-street interviews, too, with Californians discussing the bliss of their homemade bongs (the potato is a new one for me).

But the movie does succeed in showing us the graying cult star as a gratuitous drug-war casualty -- though not a complete victim. His arrest was a telling blip in his life, where his reputation had gotten him, belatedly, into trouble. Still, his rebellious and rambunctious days seem behind him. He hasn't forsworn pot (when the government staged its major raid on his Pacific Palisades home, all it turned up was a pound of marijuana), but the years, and maybe his recreational pursuits, have conferred upon him a surprising aura of wisdom.

Court tosses marshal's claim CIA drugged him with LSD

The Mercury News

San Francisco (AP) - A federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit Monday by a former U.S. marshal who claimed the CIA slipped LSD into his drink in 1957, causing him to act irrationally and rob a bar.

Wayne Ritchie, also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, claimed he was part of a project in which government operatives tested LSD and other psychoactive drugs on unwitting subjects. He sued after reading a 1999 newspaper account about the program.

Ritchie claimed the drug, allegedly given to him at an office Christmas party in the San Francisco federal building, made him feel "overcome by a sense of worthlessness that compelled him to engage knowingly in self-destructive conduct."

After the party, he tried to rob the Shady Grove bar in San Francisco's Fillmore district before getting beat up. He pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and in March 1958, was sentenced to five years' probation and resigned from his job.

On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the July decision by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel, who dismissed the case following a four-day, non-jury trial in April.

Ritchie appealed.

Patel noted the government conceded CIA operatives drugged some individuals without their knowledge in December 1957 during testing of the drug. But she said Ritchie failed to prove the drug was slipped into his drinks or that the robbery was the result of an LSD-induced psychotic disorder.

Judge upholds constitutionality of Tennessee meth law

Jasper, Tenn. (AP) - A judge disagreed with a challenge to Tennessee's methamphetamine law Monday but told attorneys for dozens of people charged with promoting manufacture of the illegal drug that he would listen to other complaints about the law at a July 20 hearing.

The law restricts large purchases of cold and allergy tablets that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making meth, as well as other common products such as coffee filters or matches, if they are knowingly purchased to make the drug.

Circuit Judge Thomas Graham said that provision of the law is not vague and does not violate the due process right of innocent consumers. He said there is a violation of the law if someone buying those products "knew, or should have known this is going to end up in methamphetamine use." After a two-hour hearing he invited attorneys to return July 20.

The judge suggested that additional language in the law allowing charges for such purchases made "with reckless disregard of its intended use" might be subject to questions.

Phil Condra, public defender in the 12th Judicial District, told Graham during the hearing that the vagueness of the March 2005 law puts innocent consumers in jeopardy because it allows law officers too much discretion in making arrests.

"We are asking someone to predict a result," Condra said, speaking on behalf of Gary Kouns. "We are asking police officers in the start to be clairvoyant."

Officials said 80 people charged in a meth sweep with promoting manufacture were arrested after allegedly buying illegal quantities of pseudoephedrine, not coffee filters.

The law's threshold is buying at least 9 grams of pseudoephedrine decongestant - four boxes of 10 tablets that each contain 240 milligrams - or other methamphetamine precursor. Possession of more than 20 grams is considered evidence of intent to violate the law.

Condra did not challenge investigators using pharmacy records to get information on the purchases.

Preston Shipp, an assistant Tennessee attorney general, said in a court filing that there is "no possibility of conviction of an innocent person who purchases, as the defendant suggests, two packages of coffee filters, with neither knowledge that it will be used to produce methamphetamine nor reckless disregard of its intended use."

District Attorney Mike Taylor said questions about the law could possibly delay other similar pending cases.

Editorial: Losing the Drug War -- Decriminalization would be more effective than drug eradication

The Monitor

There is an old saying: “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” which comes to mind when we see news reports about expanding the international drug war. Two stories from Colombia last week support that belief.

The first was a United Nations report that noted that despite record-setting eradication measures in 2005, the country’s coca production increased 8 percent. A day later, Colombian Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said that despite the U.N. report, the aerial spraying campaign is working and should be stepped up.

Aerial spraying to kill coca crops is the cornerstone of the drug war in Colombia, the largest producer of cocaine used in the United States. It allows the Colombian drug warriors, with U.S. support, to reach remote jungle areas. The program is a joint effort between Colombia and the United States and is part of Plan Colombia, a drug interdiction program that has cost U.S. taxpayers $4 billion since 2000.

A report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy in April also found that the area under coca cultivation had grown, despite the spraying. So here we have two reports in recent months clearly showing that what we’re doing in Colombia isn’t working, and Pretelt’s plan is to throw even more of our money at the problem?

Actually, the main problem isn’t that the aerial eradication program isn’t successful. It’s that the drug war itself is failing. Born of the flawed idea that if drug users have trouble obtaining drugs, they’ll stop using, the drug war has been going on for decades with little success. That’s not to say federal and local law enforcement officials haven’t done their jobs. Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that the media don’t report a large bust somewhere in which thousands of dollars of drugs are confiscated. For every pound of illegal drugs they stop, however, you can be sure that many more get through to U.S. users. If they weren’t, the price would be much higher than it is. The police are doing what they’re supposed to, but they’re fighting a losing battle because the drug war ignores economics and common sense.

Making a substance illegal doesn’t make it go away; it merely increases the price. Higher prices mean more profits. Suppliers risk jail and violence to get those profits. Those risks demand even higher prices and profits to make supplying drugs worthwhile.

If officials are serious about lowering the rates of crime and drug use, they should curtail their efforts to keep consumers from getting what they want.

Decriminalization of drugs would remove the risk suppliers now face, which would lower prices. That would, in turn, lead to a decrease in robberies and burglaries because users would not need as much money to buy their drugs. That’s not to say such crimes would disappear; they’ve always been with us because not all crimes are a result of drug use.

The easy availability of illegal drugs in the United States is proof the drug war isn’t working, despite the billions we spend on it every year. That’s a pretty high price tag for a policy that’s not working.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fake cops steal 100 kg of cocaine from Milan lab


Milan - Four thieves disguised as policemen stole 100 kg (220 lb) of cocaine worth some 10 million euros (6.9 million pounds) from a medical laboratory in Milan on Tuesday, Italian police said.

Police said the robbers had pretended to be carabinieri, Italian police, to gain access to the laboratory, then asked two medics to accompany them to the room where the cocaine was stored, wrapped in individual parcels.

There, they tied up the medics with plastic tape, snatched the cocaine parcels and left the laboratory, police said. Police were unable to give details on how the robbers managed to smuggle such a large amount out of the building.

Monday, June 26, 2006

UN sounds alarm over cocaine use in Europe

Cocaine consumption has reached alarming levels in Europe, with an estimated 3.5 million using the drug, a United Nations report warned Monday.

European users accounted for 26 per cent of the worldwide total in 2004, the largest concentration of which is in Western and Central Europe, the UN's 2006 World Drug Report said.

"Demand for cocaine is rising in western Europe to alarming levels," United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said.

"I urge European Union governments not to ignore this peril. Too many professional, educated Europeans use cocaine, often denying their addiction, and drug abuse by celebrities is often presented uncritically by the media, leaving young people confused and vulnerable."

However, the world's largest cocaine market continues to be the Americas, especially North America, which accounts for almost half the global total with its 6.5 million users in 2004.

The annual prevalence of abuse as a percentage of the population aged 15-64 was the highest in the United States with 2.8 per cent in 2004, followed by 2.7 per cent in Spain in 2003. Canada was not far behind with 2.3 per cent of the 15-64 population in 2004.

The report also found that marijuana consumption continued to rise while opium poppy cultivation worldwide was down 22 per cent in 2005.

Cannabis was used by an estimated 162 million people at least once in 2004, equivalent to some four per cent of the global population aged 15 to 64.

Costa warned that it would be complacent to dismiss cannabis as a "soft" and relatively harmless drug.

"Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin," Costa said.

"National policies on cannabis vary and sometimes change from one year to the next. With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government."

The report attributed the decline in opium poppy cultivation to declines in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Laos, the three main source countries of illicit opium.

Laos, which until the mid-1990s was the third largest illicit opium producer in the world, cut opium cultivation by 72 per cent in 2005.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the area under opium poppy cultivation decreased for the first time since 2001.

Still, the UN watchdog pointed out that the war-torn country still accounted for 89 per cent of the worldwide production of opium, which is the main ingredient for heroin.

"Afghanistan's drug situation remains vulnerable to reversal because of mass poverty, lack of security and the fact that the authorities have inadequate control over its territory," Costa cautioned. "This could happen as early as 2006 despite large-scale eradication of opium crops this spring."

The report concluded that drug controls overall appear to be working as levels of cultivation and addiction are much lower than they were 100 years ago.

"Even more importantly, in the past few years, worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have effectively reversed a quarter-century-long rise in drug abuse that, if left unchecked, could have become a global pandemic," Costa said.

However, he stressed that governments need to take action to curb both supply and demand.

"After so many years of drug control experience, we now know that a coherent, long-term strategy can reduce drug supply, demand and trafficking," Costa concluded.

"If this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue sufficiently seriously and pursue inadequate policies. Many countries have the drug problem they deserve."

The UN watchdog also reported that:

  • Some 25 million people used amphetamines at least once in 2004, while some 10 million used ecstasy.
  • The U.S. authorities again busted the largest number of methamphetamine laboratories -- over 17,000 in 2004, more than 90 per cent of the global total.
  • While methamphetamine abuse remained even or declined among secondary students over the last few years, treatment demand for abuse of the drug has risen dramatically in the United States.

Burma junta claims anti-drug success

Bangkok Post

Rangoon - The Burmese military regime - marking International Day Against Drug Abuse on Monday with a 148 million dollar drugs bonfire - claimed that the country was on track to be completely drugs-free by 2014.

Interior Minister Major General Maung Oo, presiding over the destruction of 148.4 million dollars worth of seized opium, heroin, marijuana and other drugs, claimed the regime destroyed 10,250 acres of opium last year and was weaning opium farmers from growing the illicit crop through crop-substitution programmes.

"The whole nation will be drugs-free by 2014 whether foreign assistance is obtained or not," said Maung Oo, presiding over the drugs-destruction ceremony in Rangoon.

Less than a decade ago Burma was the world's largest producer of opium, and the leading exporter of its derivative heroin.

Burma's ruling junta has vowed to eradicate opium cultivation nationwide by the year 2014. A crop-substitution programme, run by the United Nations, is one of the few development programmes to have received foreign assistance in the country, which remains a pariah abroad despite its drug-eradication efforts.

Most international organizations and western democracies ended their aid programmes to Burma in the wake of a bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 that left thousands of protestors dead.

While most anti-narcotics organizations acknowledge that Burma has made progress in cracking down on opium cultivation, the country is still deemed a major producer of methamphetamines.

Maung Oo, who is also chairman of the Central Committee for Drug Control, noted that local heroin prices had jumped 14 times between 2001 and 2006, opium prices had quadrupled while methamphetamine prices have shot up 12 times.

"Prices are high, so public awareness is heightened," said Maung Oo. "With cooperation of neighbouring countries precursor (chemicals) routes have been tightened...The situation is not threatening. It can be kept under control."

Cannabis tea goes on sale in UK

Brand Republic

London - An ice tea containing cannabis extract will go on sale in UK health food shops this week, targeted at the soft drinks market with the tagline 'Refreshment for the enlightened'.

C-Ice Swiss Cannabis Ice Tea, originally from Austria, is already very popular in mainland Europe. The narcotic element of the plant, THC, has been removed from the drink, making the product legal.

The company is marketing the product, first seen at the 2006 Bar Show in London, as a healthy soft drink and with the health benefits associated with the hemp plant, including vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.

Harinder Kohli, C-Ice commercial director, said: "We are not keen to be a brand just based on cannabis.

"Our strapline is 'Refreshment for the enlightened', so if you are enlightened you will know about the health benefits of cannabis."

The £1.29 cans will be sold in health food shops and distributed by Marigold Health Foods and other health food distributors.

Point of sale activity, branded merchandise, promotions in clubs and a revamped website are planned in the near future.

The company currently has no plans to launch an advertising campaign because the PR surrounding the launch had "caught them by surprise and is creating more than enough interest".

By Joanne Oatts

DrugScope: Charity surprised by UN chief's cannabis remarks

Leading UK drugs charity DrugScope today expressed surprise at remarks made by the Executive Director of the UNODC that cocaine and heroin are no more harmful than cannabis. The comments were made at the launch of the 2006 World Drug Report.

"The UK government, education system and charities have worked hard in recent years to ensure our young people are given factual information about the relative harms of drugs. International evidence is clear that cocaine and heroin cause much greater health and social harms than cannabis and it is misleading and irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Cannabis is a harmful substance but the greater harms caused by cocaine and heroin should not be downplayed.

"European evidence shows that although stronger strains of cannabis are available than 20 years ago, there has not been a significant increase overall in the use of more potent forms of the drug."

Responding to other key issues raised by the report, Barnes continued:

"Although we should not be complacent, cocaine use in the UK has remained stable in recent years, with last year's figures showing a slight drop to levels seen in 2000.

"Opium production in Afghanistan continues to be a concern, but it would be unrealistic to expect a significant reduction in levels of production without improvements in the country's infrastructure and better access to alternative sources of income or employment."

Man Says He's on Heroin to Avoid Jury Duty

Fox News

Columbus, Ohio — A man made a mockery of the justice system when he tried to get removed from a jury pool in a death penalty case by claiming he is a heroin addict and a killer, a judge said.

Benjamin Ratliffe, 21, of Columbus, was charged with contempt of court and obstruction of justice and ordered to spend a night in jail.

Ratliffe filled out a questionnaire form for potential jurors and professed to having a"bad jonesin'for heroin."When asked if he had ever fired a weapon, he wrote,"Yes. I killed someone with it, of course. Right."

Ratliffe doesn't believe in the death penalty and wanted to be excused from the trial, said his attorney, Scott Weisman.

The potential jurors were being screened for the trial of Quarran S. Covington, who is charged with aggravated murder in the slayings of two Georgia men in May 2005.

In court, witnesses said, Ratliffe shrugged his shoulders when questioned by Covington's attorney and refused to answer any questions seriously.

On Thursday, Ratliffe apologized to Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Julie M. Lynch, who had ordered him to jail the day before.

"He didn't try to defend his responses, and he lied under oath and he was insubordinate,"said Lynch, who ultimately removed Ratliffe from the jury pool and dismissed the charges against him."You do not make a mockery of the process."

Global Drug War Is Being Won, Illegal Use `Contained,' UN Says


The world is winning the war on drugs, according to a United Nations report that said opium production might soon be eradicated in Asia's notorious ``Golden Triangle'' and coca cultivation in the Andean region of South American has decreased 25 percent since 2000.

``Drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained,'' Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a statement accompanying the release today of the agency's 2006 World Drug Report. ``In the past few years, worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have halted a quarter-century-long rise in drug abuse.''

The report said opium production decreased 5 percent in 2005, and described cocaine production and the global market for amphetamine-type stimulants as ``stable.'' Illegal drug use has been limited to 5 percent of people aged 15 to 64, about 200 million users worldwide in a year, including 25 million addicts, according to the UN.

Continuing concerns include rising global use of marijuana, signs that opium production will increase in Afghanistan this year, cocaine abuse in Western Europe and the manufacture of methamphetamines in Southeast Asia. Marijuana and hashish are the most widely used drugs in the world, by an estimated 162 million people, the UN agency said.


The UN's optimism should be viewed with skepticism, according to Jeffrey Miron, processor of economics at Boston University and a drug policy analyst for the Independent Institute, an Oakland, California-based research organization.

``If you read these reports over time from the UN or the U.S. drug czar, you see a constant up and down, from claims of victory to statements that things are horrible,'' Miron said in an interview. ``You tend to find that a problem that is solved one place shifts to another. There will always be some uses going up and some going down, and these reports don't address issues like the costs of drug use from diseases spread by needles or infringements on civil rights from the drug war.''

Sandeep Chawla, the report's co-author, credited a combination of education, enforcement and eradication programs begun in 1909, when the U.S. organized the first international conference on illegal drugs in Shanghai.

``The drug control system began there,'' Chawla said. ``World opium production was 30,000 tons then; now it's around 5,000 tons. If the drug market had been as unregulated since then as tobacco, it would have spread well beyond 5 percent perhaps to the 30 percent that use tobacco now.''

Opium Production

Opium poppy cultivation decreased 22 percent last year, to 374,634 acres (151,609 hectares), due to lower cultivation in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Laos, the UN said. With an estimated opium production of 14 tons, Laos might soon be ``opium poppy free,'' according to the report.

In Afghanistan, where opium poppy cultivation decreased last year for the first time since 2001, when the radical Islamist Taliban regime was deposed, planting increased early this year.

``Afghanistan's drug situation remains vulnerable to reversal because of mass poverty, lack of security and the fact that the authorities have inadequate control over its territory,'' Costa said.

The area of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru under coca cultivation was unchanged last year, and well below levels recorded in 2000, the UN said. Cultivation decreased 8 percent in Bolivia and 4 percent in Peru last year, while it increased by 8 percent in Colombia.

By Bill Varner

Green Party Connecticut governor hopeful: Let's end drug war

Norwich Bulletin

Colchester - No one will ever accuse Clifford Thornton of shyness.

The 61-year-old retired businessman and Green Party candidate for governor is passionately blunt in describing what he sees as the failure of government -- and unconcerned if some find his sharp and pointed criticisms offensive.

"That's because I'm not a politician," he said during lunch last week at Peg's Vintage Diner in Colchester. "I'm not going to cater to you just to get your vote. I'm going to tell you the truth. And all great truths start as blasphemy.

"What we need are politicians so committed to the job that they're willing to lose it," he said.

Thornton, the first African-American to run for governor, is centerpiecing his gubernatorial bid on what he believes is the single most important issue facing the state -- and the nation. He advocates decriminalizing illegal drugs, and bringing an end to the 40-year war on drugs he said has done nothing to stem the tide of illegal drug sales or use.

"The war on drugs is meant to be waged, not won," he said, adding billions have been spent building prisons and fighting the drug war with no tangible evidence of success. "That's money that could have been spent on education, transportation infrastructure, housing, economic development and myriad other programs."

Decriminalizing illegal drugs, he contends, will have a positive impact on every other problem.

"Do you know what the definition of insanity is?" he said. "It's doing the same thing over and over again, and each time expecting to get a different result. The war on drugs isn't working, but we keep fighting it. That's insanity."

Being the first African-American to run for governor, Thornton said, means nothing unless it serves as motivation to other minorities to seek elected office. Race, however, is something different, and very much a part of his campaign. And he is particularly critical of organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League and black clergy that he claims have sold out their communities by turning a blind eye to the problem.

"You've got to talk about race," he said. "Seventy percent of the people in jail on drug charges are minorities. And 70 percent of the drug overdoses are white people. The drug problem is in the headlines every day. And where are we seeing the problem? In the poor, mostly minority, inner-city areas.

"Drugs are two degrees from everything in society," he said. "If you don't understand racism, classism, terrorism, white privilege and the war on drugs, then everything else will only confuse you."

Thornton's radical views are not the rantings of a one-issue candidate seeking to shock voters. On the contrary, he is a well-respected authority and drug reform advocate who has lectured extensively across the country and the world. His mother died of a heroin overdose when he was 18, and he now believes if heroin use had been legal and supervised by doctors, she might have been able to lead a safe and healthy life.

He is the founder of Efficacy, a 10-year-old nonprofit Hartford-based group focused on reforming the nation's drug policy, and he taught a graduate level course titled "Illegal Drugs and Public Policy" at Trinity College in 2002.

He hopes his gubernatorial campaign will provide yet a larger platform and broader audience for his message.

"I've been waiting 10 years for someone to step forward, but no one has," he said when asked why he accepted the Green Party nomination for governor. "This is a natural evolution for someone like myself."

By Ray Hackett

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Presbyterians Call for Medical Marijuana

The Presbyterian Church (USA) on Wednesday (June 21) became the seventh major religious organization in the nation to support the use of medical marijuana.

The consensus vote of the church's General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the issue next week.

In explaining its reasoning for the policy shift, a church committee wrote that marijuana may alleviate the pain that some patients who are confined to "ineffective" prescription drugs are forced to endure.

"Medical marijuana is an issue of mercy," said the Rev. Lynn Bledsoe, a Presbyterian minister in Alabama. "It is unconscionable that seriously ill patients can be arrested for making an earnest attempt at healing by using medical marijuana with their doctors' approval."

Eleven states have passed laws allowing medical uses of marijuana following a doctor's prescription, but federal law enforcement officials can arrest people in those states.

A proposal by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., that will be considered next week would prohibit the federal government from using any of its budget money to pursue medical marijuana users who comply with their state laws and doctors' orders.

Similar amendments, including another by Rohrabacher and Hinchey, were defeated twice in the last two years, and a separate bill died in a House committee in 2005.

But Hinchey's chief of staff, Wendy Darwell, is optimistic that the amendment will fare better this year.

"There has been at least one other state that has expanded its own medical marijuana rules," Darwell said. With the growing number of states with provisions for medical marijuana, "that should only draw the support of more members of Congress who represent those states."

In 1982, the Episcopal Church became the first to endorse the use of medical marijuana, according to the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, a Washington-based advocacy group. In more recent years, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the Unitarian Universalist Association have announced similar support.

New lobbying group presses for medical marijuana use

The Hill

On the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision allowing the federal government to overrule state medical-marijuana laws, a new lobbying group is trying to persuade some of the House’s most conservative members to protect the terminally ill’s right to use the drug.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nonprofit group funded by patients, doctors and researchers who support exploring marijuana’s therapeutic potential, opened its Washington office last month and completed its first grassroots lobbying visits yesterday.

ASA’s two lobbyists and seven members, dubbed “citizen experts,” met Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who will offer his traditional medical-marijuana amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill when it hits the floor next week, and 20 more House members, most from the California delegation. California permits cannabis use for medical reasons, but the Supreme Court ruled last year in Gonzales v. Raich that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could legally raid the supply of state-sanctioned users.

“Eventually we do see legislation being put forth” to end the federal ban on marijuana research, said ASA’s government-affairs director, Caren Woodson, “but the first thing we need to happen is that patients and doctors in states with laws stop being harassed by DEA agents.” Hinchey’s amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), would bar Justice from spending federal money on raiding stashes in California and nine other states with legalization laws.

Along with Woodson, a former lobbyist for the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, ASA sent a past president of the American Association of Psychiatric Administrators and Garry Silva, a nerve-damaged California man whose home was raided by the DEA in March, to meet with lawmakers. ASA’s grassroots team met with senior aides to Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), among others.

Though the politically incendiary debate over medical marijuana has made strange bedfellows out of the left-leaning Hinchey and the conservative Rohrabacher, their amendment faces long odds on the House floor. For Woodson, however, the week has been a golden opportunity to position ASA as a new player in the debate dominated by often-stereotyped players like NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and the George Soros-funded Marijuana Policy Project.

“There is a lot of back-and-forth about medical marijuana being a stalking horse for something greater, but what ASA is going to be able to provide is … a fresh perspective,” Woodson said. “We don’t have any mission or scope beyond medicine.”

Hinchey and Rohrabacher already have taken the fight for therapeutic cannabis to the Bush administration. Along with 22 other House members, they wrote to new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Andrew von Eschenbach in April protesting an agency release that said no scientific evidence exists to prove marijuana’s medical value.

By Elana Schor

B.C. pot activist says Conservatives, Liberals want him extradited to U.S.

Yahoo! News

Vancouver (CP) - Mark Emery, Canada's so-called Prince of Pot, says the Conservative government wants him extradited to the United States on marijuana charges so he can languish in an American jail for eternity.

"I'm a menace to the establishment," Emery said outside B.C. Supreme Court, where he'll be returning Aug. 21 to set a date for his extradition hearing.

"Both the (previous) Liberal government and the Conservative government are really opposed to ending prohibition and in the 12 years I've been active in British Columbia in this regard we've made tremendous strides towards legalizing marijuana."

Emery credits his efforts for the legalization of medical marijuana and a positive shift in Canadians' attitudes toward pot. He called himself a leader for the pro-pot movement across North America.

Emery, 48, heads the B.C. Marijuana party and publishes Cannabis Culture magazine.

The pot crusader has mostly been fined after being arrested 21 times in Canada. But in 2004, he spent 62 days in a Saskatoon jail for trafficking after passing a joint at a marijuana rally.

Emery is currently charged with selling marijuana seeds to Americans through the mail, conspiracy to manufacture pot and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

He was arrested last July along with Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek and Greg Williams after police raided Emery's pot paraphernalia store in Vancouver following an 18-month investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Williams will appear in court Aug. 4 for a funding application.

Lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who is representing Rainey-Fenkarek, said Williams's application for legal aid was denied on the basis that he didn't provide adequate information.

The decision was upheld on appeal because Williams's income wasn't low enough, Tousaw said.

The trio's bail conditions, which stipulate they can't associate with each other outside work, were relaxed in court Wednesday so Williams and Rainey-Fenkarek can attend Emery's wedding on July 23.

Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm also allowed Rainey-Fenkarek to attend a three-day Toronto conference that started Wednesday.

Emery said Rainey-Fenkarek would be meeting with former justice minister Irwin Cotler on Thursday.

"Now that he's the justice critic we're going to discuss with him the opportunity to represent us in Parliament on the opposite side of the fence since we hope to impress upon him that what he has originally done is completely wrong," Emery said.

In January, Emery criticized the Liberal government's decision not to proceed with drug charges, clearing the way for his possible extradition to the United States.

That was after the Liberals stayed three conspiracy charges filed against Emery by a private citizen to thwart the United States' efforts to extradite him to that country.

David McCann filed the charges in September 2004, saying it would be hypocritical of Canada to participate in U.S. officials' efforts to prosecute Emery for activities condoned here for years.

At the time, Tousaw said the extradition hearing wouldn't have gone ahead if Emery and his co-accused were prosecuted in Canada.

Emery's fiancee, Jodie Giesz-Ramsey, said she's prepared to marry Emery knowing he may spend years in a U.S. jail.

"It's very scary but I figure being together we might as well get married and enjoy the time we have, however long it is," she said. "And if he goes away, I'll continue to work and do what he does."

Giesz-Ramsey said the two have known each other for years and that she became better acquainted with Emery while she transcribed his blogs from a Saskatoon jail.

Emery said his lawyers have told him he has a 98-per-cent chance of being extradited, adding he's a soldier who's prepared to do battle for others victimized by the American drug war.

"I've never been to the United States so the fact that I'd be taken away to their justice system for delivering seeds in the mail is an absurd infringement of Canadian law and Canadian sovereignty and I think that's the thing that Canadians should focus on - if it can happen to me it can happen to anybody."

Emery also disputed claims that much of the pot seized by police has been laced with crystal meth and other substances.

By Camille Bains

China faces pincer attack of drug from Golden Triangle, Afghanistan

People's Daily Online

China is facing pincer attack of narcotics from neighboring Golden Triangular region and Afghanistan with an increasing inflow of "ice" and heroin from the regions, an anti-drug official said on Thursday.

The northern region of Myanmar at the "Golden Triangle" is still the main source of drugs and poses the biggest menace to China, said Chen Cunyi, deputy secretary-general of the National Narcotics Control Commission.

"Although the planted area of opium poppy in the Golden Triangle has reduced, most of the heroin produced in the region is trafficked to China," Chen said at a press conference of the Information Office of the State Council.

He said the production and smuggling of new drugs such as methamphetamine, or "ice", have been increasing in recent years. Many regions in China have reported finds of "ice" produced in Myanmar.

A total of 2.6 tons of "ice" were seized in southwest China's Yunnan Province in 2005, up 154 percent over the previous year, the highest figure in history, said Chen.

Chen also warned that there is a growing threat of drug trafficking from the Golden Crescent region of central Asia, especially Afghanistan.

The acreage sown to poppy in Afghanistan in 2005 was about 104,000 hectares, and the opium yield reached 4,100 tons, accounting for 87 percent of the world total, Chen said.

In China, police in Xinjiang, Beijing, Guangdong and other places have ferreted out trafficking cases involving Afghan heroin, he said.

In addition, ketamine from India and Southeast Asian countries as well as cocaine from South America were seized in China occasionally. About 55 percent of the 2.6 tons of ketamine seized in China last year came from India, Chen said.

In November 2005 and March 2006, more than 300 kilograms and 140 kilograms of cocaine from South America were seized respectively in China, Chen added.

Drug war's 'dirty little secret'

Des Moines Register

Oversight scarce in Dallas County's interstate seizures of $1.75 million

Jesus Quinonez-Jimenez's first encounter with the Dallas County sheriff's department was bathed in flashing red lights as he drove along Interstate Highway 80 in March. His last came a short time later, after he denied ownership of the Illinois-registered 2000 Audi and more than $781,000 was found wrapped in plastic and hidden in secret compartments behind the car's rear wheels.

Quinonez, who gave deputies a California address, was allowed to leave - without the cash; without the car.

He also left state authorities with a slew of questions - about a packet of money that apparently disappeared while in the hands of Dallas County sheriff's deputies, and about whether Iowa needs more oversight of the way police agencies handle seized property and cash.

The Des Moines Sunday Register's three-month review of public documents and about 300 court files shows that Sheriff Brian Gilbert and his deputies seized $1.75 million in cash and vehicles over the past four years, much of it from black and Latino drivers who were stopped for traffic violations in vehicles with out-of-state plates.

The campaign, part of a five-year-old effort to reduce the flow of drugs through suburban Des Moines, has taken hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana off the highway in what is described by lawyers and other police agencies as among the state's most aggressive drug interdiction efforts.

Success has come with little public oversight, however.

The Register's review also found that $1.3 million of the seized money came from cases like Quinonez's, in which suspects relinquished the cash and left town. No court files exist for $380,000 in seized cash, and there are no easily accessible records that document how the money was taken.

Iowa law requires that state authorities track all money and property taken from crime suspects via the courts - nearly $3 million in cash and 221 cars last year - but no one tracks the amount of cash police are handed by suspects who just want to get away.

State authorities say Dallas County's approach is rare but not innovative.

"We don't see very much unclaimed property at the county level that's walked away from," said Andy Nielsen, deputy auditor for the state. "Most of the noninterstate counties, I would bet you wouldn't have very much at all."

In Dallas County, the investigation involves one packet of money taken from Quinonez that disappeared before another 26 bundles were counted. Investigators won't comment on the case, which is now in the hands of Polk County prosecutors. Quinonez apparently is in no danger of criminal charges.

Gilbert, who took a two-month vacation while state agents and auditors searched his home and pored over the department's evidence records, defends his agency's pursuit of narcotics. He acknowledges that Dallas County deputies look for drugs and money every time they stop a driver along I-80. In fact, because traffic duties traditionally fall to state troopers, deputies seldom patrol the interstate unless they are searching for drugs.

"It allows us, we believe, to take ill-gotten proceeds off the street and put our small dent in the illegal drug trade," Gilbert said.

It also has allowed the department to buy laptop computers, stun guns, training classes and repairs to an oversized, inflatable deputy used to entertain children at community parades.

F. Montgomery Brown, a Dallas County lawyer who has both defended accused drug dealers and advised Gilbert during the state investigation, calls such seizures, in Dallas County and elsewhere, "the dirty little secret of the war on drugs."

Money seized and money lost

Law enforcement agencies have taken $2.4 million in cash and property from accused criminals in Dallas County over the past four years. Nearly 90 percent came from a 24-mile stretch of I-80. The total, which also includes seizures by the Iowa State Patrol and eight local police departments, might be higher, since many documents and details don't become public until the final stages of court proceedings.

One statistic is clear - about three-quarters of the take was by Gilbert's deputies.

The list includes:

$197,690 found in the secret compartment of a Hummer driven by Eric Louis Powell. Powell, who claimed he had been paid $2,000 to drive it from Illinois to his home in California, was put on probation for money laundering.

$98,190 found in a van driven by Stacy Alise Hill of Detroit. Hill denied any knowledge of the money and was released without charges.

$74,955 found hidden in a Michigan woman's van driven by Ruben Delgado of Las Vegas. Delgado denied any knowledge of the money and was released without charges.

$40,015 bundled in three duct-taped packages found in the center console of a 1999 Ford Expedition driven by Hoscar Castillo-Rodriguez. Charges against Castillo, of Los Angeles, were dropped due to lack of evidence. But Dallas County kept the cash and the SUV.

Dallas County deputies took a per-stop average of $11,206 in the court files reviewed by the Register. That figure is nearly double the $5,766 average from cases in Polk County, where most of the drug raids were on addresses rather than automobiles.

Recent questions about the missing money began with a March 15 afternoon traffic stop by Deputy Scott Faiferlick, who spotted what he believed to be illegally tinted windows on Quinonez's car.

Faiferlick, according to court documents, found a discrepancy in information provided by the driver and a female passenger. He also smelled fresh paint and body putty near the rear of the car, which convinced him the Audi should be searched.

Faiferlick and Deputy Adam Infante took the car to a nearby Department of Transportation garage, where they removed the wheels and discovered the 27 packages of cash. Gilbert and two other officers arrived to take photographs of the money, which Quinonez and the woman said they knew nothing about.

The money was loaded up for a caravan trip to the sheriff's department, just down U.S. Highway 169 in Adel. Gilbert drove the vehicle with the cash.

According to court records, Gilbert later told investigators that he can see his home from the highway and noticed that his garage door was open. Gilbert said he was concerned that neighborhood dogs would get inside and create a mess, so he stopped at home to shut the door.

His was the last vehicle to arrive at the sheriff's department.

Documents say Faiferlick noted immediately that one of the bundles of cash appeared to be missing, but he didn't press the issue. The money was counted the following afternoon: $781,724.

While doing paperwork three days later, Faiferlick "started to think about different things that took place" after the traffic stop, according to court records. He reviewed photos taken at the garage, then compared them to photos taken the following afternoon.

Faiferlick and two other deputies approached Gilbert on March 21 and asked for an independent examination. Gilbert called the Dallas County attorney, then the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

West Des Moines police were put in control of Dallas County's evidence room. Auditors came in. State agents went to Gilbert's house.

But after eight weeks passed without charges, Gilbert returned to work from his self-imposed vacation. He made the announcement at a news conference, surrounded by cheering supporters.

The state's evidence-room audit likely won't be finished for months.

Waivers keep seizures out of courts

Iowa law allows police agencies to seize property if it's been used in the commission of a crime or purchased with the profits from criminal activity. The law, routinely invoked in drug cases, requires court approval before authorities can legally take ownership of what they seize.

Court documents say some of the property seized in Dallas County - $320,000 in cash and cars - was returned, either because a judge ruled there was no connection to crime, or because authorities cut a deal to keep only a portion.

But records show that many of those involved in high-dollar seizures give up their property long before their cases make it to a courtroom.

In Dallas County, for example, more than $1.3 million became sheriff's department property over the four-year period because motorists such as Quinonez signed waivers and disavowed ownership. The waivers, printed in English and Spanish, allow county authorities to treat the money as abandoned property and bypass the court process.

Instead of a formal hearing, Dallas County deputies simply buy newspaper advertisements that urge people to come forward within a month if they want to claim an unspecified amount of money seized on a particular date. The ads, printed in an Adel paper, have yet to generate a serious inquiry, Gilbert said.

Dallas County officials initially refused to release copies of the waivers, calling them investigative documents. Gilbert subsequently provided them when he returned to duty.

Records show much of the $1.3 million ended up in court cases anyway, apparently as part of efforts to take vehicles when legal owners weren't present to sign the waivers. The Register's review found no court files to account for $380,000, only the waivers and the ads.

"I don't deal with unclaimed property files," Dallas County Attorney Wayne Reisetter said. "We get what we get, and if they don't bring us things, I don't know they exist."

Most of the waivers include no dollar amounts, except those added by Gilbert at the Register's request. Deputies, citing safety concerns, say the documents frequently are signed before the cash is counted.

"You can't expect a deputy to sit out at the side of the interstate counting money," Chief Deputy Kevin Frederick said.

State authorities say the Dallas County investigation has sparked talk among government auditors and lawyers of new statewide rules to require court oversight in every case. Authorities say they have no way to know how many other law enforcement agencies use waivers to pocket seized money.

A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office said any proposal will wait for the outcome of the Dallas County probe. But Nielsen, the deputy state auditor, conceded that "it probably makes sense to have essentially the same kind of controls in place" for both types of seizures.

For Dallas County, it also makes sense to have waiver forms available in two languages.

The Register's review found that most drivers stopped along I-80 were in out-of-state vehicles. More than half were black or Latino.

"That's been going on for years," Polk County Public Defender John Wellman said. "At one point, I was willing to bet that if you took a black or Hispanic guy and put him in a rental car ... he wouldn't make it through Dallas County."

County authorities argue that metropolitan Des Moines is at a major crossroads for the cross-country shipment of drugs and cash, so it's logical that many of the seizures involve vehicles from outside Iowa. Gilbert and his deputies dismiss any suggestion that drivers are targeted by race.

"You get dark-tinted windows on a car, you can't tell if they're white, black, green, brown or red," Frederick said.

"I wouldn't say one way or the other" whether racial profiling is at work, said Des Moines attorney Alfredo Parrish, who represented Powell. "We just don't know how many of these people, they don't find anything, and they just keep going."

Dallas County statistics show nonwhites received 14.5 percent of the 1,703 traffic citations and written warnings issued on I-80 in 2004. For 2005, the number was 15.8 percent of 1,490 citations and warnings.

Gilbert estimates that seizures result from 1 in every 100 traffic stops.

Forfeited money used for equipment

State auditors say they raised questions for at least four years about how Dallas County handles forfeited drug money. In 2003, then-Sheriff Art Johnson agreed to move the cash into a publicly controlled account instead of a private checkbook maintained at the sheriff's department.

Gilbert says a department checkbook is still used, but only as a temporary means to transfer money to the county treasury.

Nielsen called the arrangement unusual and described transferring the money via checkbook as "an extra step that probably shouldn't have been taken. It belongs in the county treasury."

However, state audit reports have voiced no qualms about Dallas County's practices since 2003. Nor do they raise any doubts about how the money was spent.

Financial records show a long list of equipment purchases from the account: squad-car computers, video cameras for the sheriff's department, vehicle expenses, food for the county's two drug dogs, and maintenance on Deputy Dallas, an inflatable mascot that apparently sprang several leaks over the past few years.

Cases reviewed by the Register also show that nearly four of five people suspected of drug trafficking on I-80 eventually face criminal charges, although most see charges reduced. Fewer than one in four of those cases have ended with motorists behind bars for any substantial amount of time.

Drug forfeiture laws have created problems for law enforcement agencies throughout history, said Cecil Greek, an associate professor at the University of South Florida College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The problem comes, he said, when police start to depend on seized cash.

"You go after the money instead of the criminals ... because people start putting line items in their budgets," Greek said.

Gilbert contends that grabbing the cash is sometimes the only thing authorities can do. In cases where deputies find money but no drugs, there can be scant evidence on which to base a charge.

"We have to investigate with whatever tools we've got," he said. "Oftentimes, we're left with little or nothing at all."

Gilbert said he welcomes any new oversight from the state. But Dallas County has no plans to back away from what he considers a valuable law enforcement tool.

"There are some areas that we probably could use some guidance on," Gilbert said. "But I will stand at the mountaintop and say that we've done the best we can with the situation that we've been given. Ultimately, our efforts are going toward doing the best we can to put a dent in the drug trade."

Repeated attempts by reporters to contact Quinonez and his relatives were unsuccessful. The registered owner of the Audi, Uriel Ochog of Chicago, also could not be reached.

In May, Dallas County authorities filed court papers to formally take ownership of the car and the $781,724. As of Friday, court records contained no indication that anyone had objected.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Beijing curbs disco to cramp "crazy" drug takers

Yahoo! News

Beijing (Reuters) - Beijing has banned disco and other dance music in private rooms of nightclubs and karaoke bars to curb the flood of illegal drugs into the capital's entertainment venues, Chinese newspapers reported Friday.

"Because many drug takers regularly dance and go crazy to upbeat 'disco' music in private rooms, police have specially requested karaoke machines not have this music," the Beijing Times newspaper said.

Club owners were now expected to delete disco and "other forms of vulgar entertainment" from karaoke machines in private rooms, the Beijing News said, as part of a "responsibility agreement" written up by police.

The agreement, signed by more than 1,100 club owners, is the latest in a general crackdown on crime in nightlife venues launched this month, prompted by a sharp rise in drug trafficking and violence involving customers and staff.

The Beijing News said Thursday police were planning random urine tests for employees at Beijing's clubs, citing employees' "addiction" as a major source of drug trafficking.

Vietnam sentences two men to death for heroin dealing

Mainichi Daily News

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) - A court in northern Vietnam sentenced two men to death for selling 5.3 kilograms of heroin, a court official said Friday.

Bui Xuan Thai and Nguyen Van Chinh were given the death penalty after being convicted in a one-day trial Thursday in Thai Binh province, about 100 kilometers southeast of Hanoi, said presiding judge Tran Van Loan.

Two other men received life imprisonment and another was given 20 years in jail for involvement in the ring, he said.

Loan said Thai and Chinh were arrested in January while transporting 1.4 kilograms of heroin in Thai Binh's Dong Hung District.

The five confessed to the court that they had traded a total of 5.3 kilograms of heroin from last September until their arrests, the judge said.

Separately, two American citizens of Vietnamese origin were sentenced to 20 years in jail each for selling the party drug Ecstasy, Friday's Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reported.

The two men from Texas identified as Quach Phan Phuoc and Le Dinh Duy were convicted of selling 3,800 Ecstasy tablets last year, it said, adding that three other Vietnamese men were sentenced to between eight years and 15 years in prison for involvement in the case.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Possessing, trading or trafficking more than 600 grams of heroin or 20 kilograms of opium are punishable by the firing squad.

About 100 people are sentenced to death each year in Vietnam for drug-related offenses.

Cannabis farming plan scuppered by minister

The Guardian Unlimited

Amsterdam (AP) - The Netherlands' justice minister yesterday fended off further liberalisation of the country's cannabis policy. Under Dutch law, "coffee shops" sell cannabis, but police crack down on growers. In December the minister, Piet Hein Donner, reluctantly agreed to MPs' requests to consider allowing the large-scale farming of cannabis in a pilot project near Maastricht. But yesterday he told MPs that if they wanted to allow cultivation, "then you need to find a different kind of justice minister". The key coalition party VVD appeared to swing behind him in order to avert a cabinet crisis.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Court: Drivers with marijuana in body can be charged


Lansing, Mich. (AP) - The state Supreme Court has made it easier to prosecute people who drive after smoking marijuana.

The court says drivers with a long-lasting chemical found in the body after marijuana use can be charged with driving while intoxicated.It came in a 4-to-3 decision released yesterday.The ruling says that a chemical that is released when the body breaks down the marijuana's active ingredient T-H-C is a schedule one controlled substance.

It also says that prosecutors don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is intoxicated, only that the chemical is in the body.

Jury deadlocks in baby's breast milk meth poisoning case


Corona, Calif. (AP) -
A judge declared a mistrial Thursday after jurors said they were deadlocked in the case of a woman accused of killing her baby by nursing with methamphetamine-laced breast milk, a district attorney's spokeswoman said.

The jury deadlocked 6-6 in the case against the baby's mother, Amy Leanne Prien, which has drawn national attention for its unusual circumstances, said Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for the Riverside County district attorney's office.

"It's certainly a disappointment. The goal is always to try and get a verdict in any case," she said. "It was a very difficult case with complicated issues involved."

Prien had faced 15 years to life if she had been convicted.

The district attorney's office has until July 11 to decide on retrying the case, which began when Prien was arrested in January 2002 and was charged with murdering 3-month-old Jacob Wesley Smith.

Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in 2003, but an appeals court overturned the conviction in September, citing flawed jury instructions from the trial judge.

The prosecution was believed to be the first of its kind in California.

Prien said she woke up and found her son dead in her bed on Jan. 19, 2002. The prosecution argued during the trial that Prien, who had smoked meth for 10 to 15 years, would breast feed her child after smoking even though she knew it could damage him.

"She continued to breast feed that baby because she didn't care," Supervising Deputy District Attorney Allison Nelson argued during last week's closing arguments. "She was responsible to protect him, to protect him. The choices the defendant made cost him his life."

When Prien was arrested, blood tests showed the methamphetamine levels in her blood were within a potentially lethal range, but police never tested her breast milk.

Her attorney, Los Angeles-based Joe Reichmann, argued that the charges were based on "make believe science" because authorities never knew how much of the drugs were in her milk.

"A really vital piece of evidence was not taken — preventing the defendant from really getting a fair trial," Reichmann said during his closing argument.

The jury began deliberating on June 15 after a 2 1/2-month trial.

Reichmann did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.

Police Beheadings Reflect Drug War

The Los Angeles Times

Tijuana, Mexico - The caller painted an ominous scene: A convoy of 40 vehicles filled with 70 heavily armed and masked men, witnesses said, was prowling the streets of Rosarito Beach. Three police officers responded to the quiet neighborhood and were quickly abducted. A day later, their mutilated bodies turned up in an empty lot.

Their heads were found in the Tijuana River.

The attack was the latest in a series of paramilitary-style operations that have plagued Mexican cities as warring drug cartels escalate their battles to control key smuggling routes.

With Mexican authorities relying more heavily on the military to combat drug smuggling, traffickers have responded in kind, forming large forces of assailants and arming them with frightening arrays of weaponry.

Nearly two dozen heavily armed gunmen in April tried to assassinate Baja California's top-ranking public safety official in a wild shootout on a Mexicali street. The attackers launched grenades and fired more than 600 rounds, wounding three bodyguards.

Over the past year, commando-style raids have been regular occurrences in Tijuana, with convoys of masked gunmen snatching victims from restaurants and street corners in brazen daylight raids.

"It's a disturbing manifestation of latest drug war frenzy. ... The militarization of the drug war in many ways on the side of law enforcement has corresponded with the militarization of tactics and personnel on the criminal side," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.

The situation, Shirk added, "has heightened the competition and raised the stakes in a way that has led to extreme violence, at a level we have not seen before in Mexico."

In Nuevo Laredo, on the Texas border, a raging turf war between the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa drug gangs has killed more than 230 people in the last 18 months.

The defection of a military commando unit, the Zetas, to the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s became the model for military-style assaults, experts say. Federal officials say they killed or captured the original group, but they say they believe jailed Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas still had at least 120 cadres trained by the Zetas at his command as recently as last August, and was using them increasingly to battle the rival cartel led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

But the violence is not limited to cities along the U.S.-Mexico order. In Apatzingan, in the central state of Michoacan, last Aug. 18, four men were killed and a policeman and four bystanders wounded in a shootout between rival drug gangs that involved dozens of paramilitary gunmen in 10 vehicles.

Two weeks earlier, police in nearby Uruapan, also in Michoacan, had arrested a group of 10 alleged drug gang members armed with 50-millimeter rifles, AK-47s and AR-15s.

Cartels also are using increasingly brutal methods to intimidate their enemies. The Rosarito Beach beheadings followed the decapitation in April of a police commander in Acapulco, whose head was found in a public plaza.

Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the top organized crime prosecutor in the Mexican attorney general's office, has taken over the investigation of the Baja California beheadings. In an interview for Friday's editions of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, Santiago said the abductions and beheadings were characteristic of the brutal Central America-based Mara Salvatrucha gang, which has become increasingly involved in the Mexican drug trade in recent years.

"Acts like the ones we have just seen are manifestations of groups related to the Maras," he said. "We have seen the phenomenon of decapitation in El Salvador, a brutal act of intimidation that is occurring here as (Mexican) drug gangs are worn down and resort to recruiting this kind of group."

Jeffrey McIllwain, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Diego, who studies border security issues, believes the violence is a sign that pressure from law enforcement is affecting the cartels' bottom line.

"The fact is that it has hurt operations, severely in some cases ... so it makes sense that the cartels would step up their game," McIllwain said.

In Baja California, the crime wave could signal an escalation of the fierce war to control the lucrative Tijuana smuggling corridor, which has been traditionally controlled by the Arellano-Felix Cartel. Several top-ranking members of the cartel have been killed or arrested in recent years, and other cartels may be sensing weakness, say experts.

Some recent attacks were shocking for their audacity, say experts. Last month, three men armed with AK-47s stormed into an office of the Mexican Federal Attorney's office in Tijuana and shot two agents, killing one. In December, assailants attacked the Tijuana home of a state police commander, killing two of his bodyguards. In October, Tijuana's chief of homicides narrowly escaped an attack by assailants who fired more than 50 bullets at his car.

"It's a more aggressive form of violence, with new ingredients," said Victor Clark, a border expert and director of Tijuana's Binational Center for Human Rights.

By Richard Marosi

Thousands arrested in drug war

China Daily

Despite police arresting 58,000 suspected traffickers and seizing 6.9 tons of heroin last year, China's drug situation remains grave.

Chen Cunyi, deputy secretary-general of the National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), yesterday said the war on drugs faced expanding drug sources as well as a rising number of addicts.

While the Golden Triangle especially the northern part of Myanmar remains the main source of heroin, the Golden Crescent area in Central Asian, particularly Afghanistan, is now supplying the drug trade in China with an increasing flow of "ice," or methamphetamine, and heroin, Chen told a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office.

There were only two or three cases involving heroin from the Golden Crescent several years ago, but last year saw nine, he said.

He said in 2005 about 104,000 hectares of Afghanistan was sown with poppies, with an opium yield of 4,100 tons, or 87 per cent of the world total.

Police last year cracked cases involving Afghan heroin in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, South China's Guangdong Province and even in Beijing, said Chen.

In addition, ketamine from India and Southeast Asia, as well as cocaine from South America were seized in China.

About 55 per cent of the 2.6 tons of ketamine seized in China last year came from India.

In November 2005 and March 2006, more than 440 kilograms of cocaine from South America was seized, said Chen.

Also, "new types of drugs are found to have been trafficked from European countries," he added.

In one case Chinese police seized 463 kilograms of ecstasy from the Netherlands.

"Suspects from home and abroad have colluded with each other, with drug lords running operations from other countries," said Liu Yuejin, deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

"This is the distinct character of cross-border drug trafficking."

Liu noted that foreign drug lords were behind every one of the eight major drug cases handled by the MPS last year.

He said the drug lords provided funds as well as organizing smuggling and sales rings in China.

Moreover, weapons are becoming more prominent in drugs cases, added Chen.

In April 2005 China's top leadership declared a "people's war on drugs," asking the public to help the fight against addiction.

Chen said enthusiasm for the campaign has been extremely high, with some 250,000 tips on drug activity pouring in.

China recorded 785,000 drug addicts at the end of 2005, about 700,000, or 89 per cent, of whom were addicted to heroin.

Police across the country have vowed to step up the fight against drugs, following a recent series of drug seizures and arrests.

In Guangdong Province, police yesterday announced the smashing of a big cross-border drug manufacturing and trafficking gang in Shenzhen early last week.

A total of four Hong Kong residents were detained for further investigation after a secret drug production base was discovered in Shenzhen's Luohu District on June 11.

More than 36 kilograms of methamphetamine, or Ice, plus raw materials and production equipment were seized.

Yang Jianghua, director of Drug Crime Investigation Department under Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Public Security, said the crackdown has demonstrated the police's determination to fight drug crimes and bring illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking under control in the province.

Yang promised to further expand co-operation with Hong Kong and Macao counterparts, other international anti-drug organizations and customs departments in fighting drug related crimes in the coming months.

Guangdong police have uncovered more than 2,200 drug-related cases in the first five months this year.

More than 2,900 suspects, including a large number of foreigners and Hong Kong and Macao residents, have been detained or arrested, up 16.8 per cent year-on-year. Another 24,000 drug addicts were sent to drug rehabilitation centres, a 17 per cent increase year-on-year.

In Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, anti-drug officials have expressed concerns about drug use among white-collar workers and young people.

In the city's Nanjing-1912 entertainment area, drug dealing or use was discovered in 12 of the 22 bars and clubs during a recent check-up.

According to Teng Jianmin, a member of the city's anti-drug team, white-collar workers under 35-years-old and teenagers from well-off families are the main drug users in the bars.

"Most of them are not fully aware of the harm that the drugs might do to them. They said they took soft drugs just for fun and relaxation," said Teng. "But they usually lose self-discipline after taking drugs, which might harm both themselves and society."

During the past six months, the team has arrested 300 drug abusers and dealers, confiscated 5,000 ecstasy pills, and 3.2 kilograms of soft drugs like Ice from public entertainment venues across the city.

In Beijing, police said they are taking firm measures against the problem of drug use in entertainment venues.

Bars, KTV and disco venues are attractive destinations for a growing number of new types of drugs, Fu Zhenghua, deputy director of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, told an anti-drug working conference yesterday.

He revealed that while trafficking and use of conventional drugs like heroin has been controlled, the abuse of ice and ecstasy pills in some entertainment venues is rampant.

"The new types of drugs are becoming our chief concern in our unremitting fight against drugs," Fu said.

Statistics show about 40 kilograms of Ice and ecstasy pills were confiscated last year in Beijing, more than half of the total amount of seized drugs.

By Jiang Zhuqing

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fallon newspaper endorses Nevada marijuana initiative

Las Vegas Sun

Nev. (AP) - A newspaper in rural northern Nevada has given a surprising endorsement to a ballot measure to decriminalize adult possession of limited amounts of marijuana through regulation and taxation.

"In a state where prostitution is legal in certain counties, bars are not required to close and children can legally possess and use tobacco, objections to marijuana legalization on a moral basis seem hypocritical," the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard said in a Tuesday editorial.

"Those who view marijuana as a blight on society have yet to offer an effective solution of how to stop its spread through society or better fund law enforcement. Continuation of the ill-funded, halfhearted campaigns of the past is little more than veiled acceptance of its current widespread and illegal use."

State Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said he was surprised by newspaper's support for the Nov. 7 ballot question.

"It surprised me that a rural newspaper would do that," he said, noting northern Nevada's typical conservative political leanings.

But Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said rural Nevada often shows its independent backbone.

"I wouldn't have predicted it, but it's not one where I'm shocked," he said.

"Rural Nevada, while often thought to be conservative, is often more libertarian. They don't like government intervention," Herzik said.

"They're not endorsing the use of marijuana, but instead saying 'Why don't we treat this as we do many other vices in Nevada' - which is to accept them," Herzik said.

Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing marijuana use for medical purposes in 1998 and 2000. Two years later, they rejected efforts by national advocates to allow adult possession of up to 3 ounces for non-medical use.

The latest proposal would allow adults to possession up to 1 ounce.

The newspaper's endorsement was hailed by the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, which was thwarted in a first attempt for a constitutional amendment by not gathering enough signatures to qualify for the 2004 ballot.

After that, the organization took another route, gathering enough signatures to present the issue to the 2005 Legislature. The measure automatically qualified for this year's ballot after lawmakers failed to act within 40 days.

"Rather than spending millions of taxpayer dollars arresting marijuana users, the state of Nevada should instead generate millions of dollars by taxing and regulating marijuana, and earmark part of these revenues to prevent and treat the abuse of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs," the initiative says.

The state would license wholesalers and retailers to sell the drug. Each would pay $1,000 for an initial license and $1,000 annually for the permit.

It also would increase penalties for driving under the influence and restrict where pot could be sold.

Neal Levine, campaign manager for the sponsoring committee, said if approved by voters, Nevada would be the first to tax and regulate marijuana statewide.

"What we're proposing is really sort of a mainstream, common sense policy," Levine said, adding that the endorsement supports the group's argument that prosecuting pot smokers doesn't work and is a waste of police resources.

McGinness said he opposes the idea, and thinks most rural voters will too. He said he believes marijuana is an entry drug that leads some people to other drugs with harsher consequences, like cocaine and methamphetamine.

"I know there are people out there who scoff at the idea that one leads to another," McGinness said.

The editorial dismissed the argument.

"The same could be said of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, sex or any other activity that stimulates the brain's pleasure zones," it said. "Some of the above mentioned activities are legal and regulated in Nevada. In fact, the state's most powerful industry caters to those same visceral pleasures."

By Sandra Chereb

Hit the books for opium-like high: study

The Discovery Channel

What do a heroin user and a library-bound scholar have in common (other than bleary eyes)? According to a University of Southern California neuroscientist, both are just trying to satisfy the craving for a very similar 'fix.'

Lead researcher Irving Biederman admits that "trying to understand a difficult not fun," but says, "Once you get it, you just feel fabulous."

This "A-ha!" moment - when a complicated concept finally makes sense - releases a natural biochemical cascade in your brain similar to that released by opiate drugs.

Once you've experienced this pleasure, your brain is motivated to maximize the rate at which it absorbs knowledge.

Perhaps, at this point the learning spirals "out of control." You're lost to the library and the influences of other scholars and information - addicts trying to feed the need to understand increasingly complex theorems.

Having smarts is cool

Your need to be accepted - especially by the opposite sex - may be the reason for your determined drive to learn. Researchers theorize that this intense motivation to make it all "click" is just evolution at work, as intelligence influences mate selection.

Only the more pressing necessities - like the quest for food - trump the need for knowledge, Biederman says.

Repeated doses not enough

This research is closely linked to Neural Darwinism: the concept that after repeated exposure to information that at one time caused a lot of excitement in your brain, neurons eventually adapt, making the concept less interesting.

Biederman used fMRI technology to test this idea. He exposed a group of volunteers to a number of images and observed that neurons initially engaged by certain compelling images were eventually "freed up" upon repeated exposure, allowing these parts of the brain to pursue other challenging or stimulating concepts.

"The system is essentially designed to maximize the rate at which you acquire new but interpretable [understandable] information. Once you have acquired the information, you best spend your time learning something else," Biederman says.

The theory is presented in an article in the latest issue of American Scientist

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No fines for motorists using ecstasy

The Advertiser

Australia - Motorists testing positive to ecstasy will escape penalty when the state's new drug-driving laws come into effect on July 1.

This is despite the fact equipment to be used by South Australian police can detect ecstasy and that Victorian police will begin random testing for the party drug on July 1.

Under the SA testing regime, drivers pulled over for a random test will have their saliva tested but will be charged only for driving under the influence of cannabis (THC) and methamphetamine.

This fact was detailed in a pamphlet circulated to more than 400,000 homes yesterday.

The Opposition yesterday warned the new laws were an incentive for drivers to use ecstasy rather than other illegal drugs.

The outcry comes after a national survey released today by insurance group AAMI found one in four men aged 25 years and under admitted to having driven while under the influence of recreational drugs, including ecstasy.

A recent report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre shows ecstasy is killing more than one person every fortnight across Australia, with almost a third of the deaths caused by car crashes.

Opposition police spokesman Rob Lucas said ecstasy could be detected in the on-the-spot saliva tests with positive results being recorded by police but no penalties involved.

"What this bizarre policy means is that for those people who use illicit drugs there will be a clear incentive to use ecstasy rather than speed or marijuana," he said. Mr Lucas said it would be simple to change the laws to include ecstasy.

Legislation clarifying police powers to prevent drivers continuing to drive after testing positive should pass Parliament this week.

Road Safety Minister Carmel Zollo slammed the Opposition comments as irresponsible for "eagerly promoting the use of an illicit substance to avoid a law designed to save lives".

"Roadside testing will be carefully monitored over the initial 12-month trial period which targets the two most commonly used illegal drugs THC (found in cannabis) and methamphetamine," she said.

Ms Zollo said methamphetamine was a common ingredient in street-grade ecstasy and police said the detection of pure ecstasy was extremely rare.

A Government source said the aim of the new laws was to target the most common drugs found in the systems of drivers and eventually would be followed by other drugs.

The source said the most common drugs were cannabis and amphetamines and "we want to make sure we get it right with these two first and as technology advances others can be included".

Under the new laws, motorists would be hit with on-the-spot fines of $300 and the loss of three demerit points for a first offence. Refusal to take a drug test would result in a $700 penalty with the loss of three demerit points.

Mr Lucas accused Transport Minister Patrick Conlon of "another stuff-up" for not being aware of what drugs would be detected. He said Mr Conlon had been asked last week if ecstasy would be detected and the minister had answered he was not an expert on recreational drugs and police should be asked about the actual scientific basis of the tests.

Mr Lucas said Mr Conlon needed to explain urgently why drivers detected with ecstasy would not face the same penalties as those detected with marijuana and speed. A spokesman for Mr Conlon referred questions about the drug testing to Ms Zollo as she was responsible for the operation of the new laws.

By Greg Kelton

Lines drawn in drug war

The Washington Post

Mexico City (AP) - The main candidates in Mexico's presi- dential election in two weeks are trying to look tough on the drug war, a central issue in the race, though they disagree whether U.S.-style solutions are needed.

The candidate who speaks most closely to Washington's concerns is conservative Felipe Calderon. He advocates extraditing more drug lords to the United States and replacing Mexico's secretive court system with open, U.S.-style trials.

Roberto Madrazo of the former ruling party claims the toughest law-and-order platform. One of his campaign ads depicts a criminal wetting his pants out of fear of Mr. Madrazo's proposals for stiffer sentencing. "Criminals can't play around with me," the candidate tells voters.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a liberal running neck and neck with Mr. Calderon in the polls, has broken with the left's anti-military tradition by suggesting a bigger role for the army in fighting the drug trade. But he says poverty reduction is the only real way to fight crime, and remains largely silent about U.S.-style trials and extradition.

Taking on the cartels, even in campaign rhetoric, is a risky business in Mexico. With shootouts, executions and beheadings becoming more common in border cities such as Nuevo Laredo and resort areas such as Acapulco, candidates have to watch their backs.

Ana Maria Salazar, a former Pentagon counternarcotics official, noted that the candidates have refrained from singling out any cartels by name.

"There's a certain amount of reluctance to talk about drug-trafficking organizations," she said. In part, she said, that is because by talking about them "you increase the threat level against the candidate enormously."

U.S. border communities have been caught up in the war with Mexican cartels, as well as the booming industries of migrant-smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. All this has led the Bush administration to accuse Mexico's government of not fighting back hard enough.

Mr. Calderon, of the ruling National Action Party, seems to speak to those concerns. He also advocates a more unified police command and increased investigation and intelligence work, like police in the United States.

"We can free cities like Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo or Acapulco from this cancer before it eats away our society," he said during a televised debate on June 6.

Mr. Calderon urged life sentences for kidnappers. Mexico currently does not impose life sentences for any crime.

Mr. Madrazo of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, running third in polls, echoes Mr. Calderon's call for changing the trial system so attorneys can argue cases in open court.

Under the current system, attorneys submit documents to a judge who reads them and reaches a verdict behind closed doors. The secrecy is prone to corruption and bungling, and doesn't inspire public confidence.

Mr. Lopez Obrador, candidate of the Democratic Revolution Party, argues for creating jobs, reducing poverty and sending more Mexicans to college to reduce the lure of crime.

"I don't think you can make much progress with prisons or threats of heavy-handed approaches and tougher laws," he said. He adds that the drug cartels are so well-armed that the army is the only force that can handle traffickers.

In April, suspected drug hit men in Acapulco decapitated two police officers who had participated in a shootout with traffickers, and left the severed heads at the scene with a note saying: "So that you learn some respect."

The most recent police figures for federal crimes show that drug trafficking and weapons possession rose 12 percent between 2001 and 2004. Police are widely perceived to be ineffective and corrupt.

When Mexico City businessman Hugo Alberto Wallace was kidnapped last July, it was his mother, Maria Isabel Miranda, who led the investigation into his disappearance, frustrated with the slow pace of the official search. She even led police to suspects.

Analysts say the main problem is disorganization and lack of investigative powers among Mexico's municipal, state and federal police agencies, most of which are ill-trained and uncoordinated.

Genaro Garcia, head of the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, highlighted the problem last month in a book sarcastically titled "Why 1,661 Police Forces Are Not Enough."

Mr. Madrazo and Mr. Calderon have floated proposals to unify police forces and create intelligence centers. Outgoing President Vicente Fox made a similar promise while campaigning for office six years ago, but made little progress.

By Mark Stevenson