Monday, June 30, 2008

United States has highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use... and more

Public Library of Science

United States has highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use... and

United States has highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use

A survey of 17 countries has found that despite its punitive drug policies
the United States has the highest levels of illegal cocaine and cannabis
use. The study, by Louisa Degenhardt (University of New South Wales, Sydney,
Australia) and colleagues, is based on the World Health Organization's
Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) and is published in this
week's PLoS Medicine.

The authors found that 16.2% of people in the United States had used cocaine
in their lifetime, a level much higher than any other country surveyed (the
second highest level of cocaine use was in New Zealand, where 4.3% of people
reported having used cocaine). Cannabis use was highest in the US (42.4%),
followed by New Zealand (41.9%).

In the Americas, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand, alcohol had been used by
the vast majority of survey participants, compared to smaller proportions in
the Middle East, Africa, and China.

The survey found differences in both legal and illegal drug use among
different socioeconomic groups. For example, males were more likely than
females to have used all drug types; younger adults were more likely than
older adults to have used all drugs examined; and higher income was related
to drug use of all kinds. Marital status was found to be related to tobacco,
cannabis, and cocaine use, but not alcohol use (the never married and
previously married having higher odds of lifetime cocaine and cannabis use
than the currently married; tobacco use is more likely in people who have
been previously married while less likely among the never married).

Drug use "does not appear to be simply related to drug policy," say the
authors, "since countries with more stringent policies towards illegal drug
use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more
liberal policies." In the Netherlands, for example, which has more liberal
policies than the US, 1.9% of people reported cocaine use and 19.8% reported
cannabis use.

Data on drug use were available from 54,068 survey participants in 17
countries. The 17 countries were determined by the availability of research
collaborators and on funding for the survey. Trained lay interviewers
carried out face-to-face interviews (except in France where the interviews
were done over the telephone) using a standardized, structured diagnostic
interview for psychiatric conditions and drug use. Participants were asked
if they had ever used alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, or cocaine.

The study's main limitations are that only 17 countries were surveyed,
within these countries there were different rates of participation, and it
is unclear whether people accurately report their drug use when interviewed.
Nevertheless, the findings present comprehensive data on the patterns of
drug use from national samples representing all regions of the world.

Citation: Degenhardt L, Chiu W-T, Sampson N, Kessler RC, Anthony JC, et al.
(2008) Toward a global view of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine use:
Findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. PLoS Med 5(7): e141.



Louisa Degenhardt
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
University of New South Wales
Sydney, New South Wales 2052
+61 2 9385 0230
+61 2 9385 0222 (fax)

David Cameron
Associate Director of Public Affairs
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA 02115
United States of America
+1 671 432 0441

HBO Documentary Films: Ganja Queen (HBO)

HBO: Ganja Queen: Please watch this


Rated TVMA: Adult Language, Adult Content, Mild Violence

Running Time: 91 minutes

Genre: Documentary

Imagine being on vacation and having ten pounds of marijuana found in
one of your bags. For Schapelle Corby, the nightmare became a reality
when she was accused of drug trafficking while in Bali. Proclaiming
her innocence, Corby becomes locked in a life-and-death courtroom
battle that would decide her fate. This harrowing film from director
Janine Hosking serves as a chilling reminder of the risks travelers
face when visiting countries with vastly different criminal justice
systems and cultural mores.

Director: Janine Hosking

New York Times: Your Brain Lies to You


FALSE beliefs are everywhere. Eighteen percent of
Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, one
poll has found. Thus it seems slightly less egregious
that, according to another poll, 10 percent of us
think that Senator Barack Obama, a Christian, is
instead a Muslim. The Obama campaign has created a Web
site to dispel misinformation. But this effort may be
more difficult than it seems, thanks to the quirky way
in which our brains store memories — and mislead us
along the way.

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile
information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are
stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in
the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s
curled pinkie finger. But the information does not
rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes
it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also
reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually
transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated
from the context in which it was originally learned.
For example, you know that the capital of California
is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you
learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also
lead people to forget whether a statement is true.
Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people
often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A
false statement from a noncredible source that is at
first not believed can gain credibility during the
months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term
hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage.
As the source is forgotten, the message and its
implications gain strength. This could explain why,
during the 2004 presidential campaign, it took some
weeks for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign
against Senator John Kerry to have an effect on his
standing in the polls.

Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind
source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to
spread misinformation. They know that if their message
is initially memorable, its impression will persist
long after it is debunked. In repeating a falsehood,
someone may back it up with an opening line like “I
think I read somewhere” or even with a reference to a
specific source.

In one study, a group of Stanford students was exposed
repeatedly to an unsubstantiated claim taken from a
Web site that Coca-Cola is an effective paint thinner.
Students who read the statement five times were nearly
one-third more likely than those who read it only
twice to attribute it to Consumer Reports (rather than
The National Enquirer, their other choice), giving it
a gloss of credibility.

Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we
recall is the way our brains fit facts into
established mental frameworks. We tend to remember
news that accords with our worldview, and discount
statements that contradict it.

In another Stanford study, 48 students, half of whom
said they favored capital punishment and half of whom
said they opposed it, were presented with two pieces
of evidence, one supporting and one contradicting the
claim that capital punishment deters crime. Both
groups were more convinced by the evidence that
supported their initial position.

Psychologists have suggested that legends propagate by
striking an emotional chord. In the same way, ideas
can spread by emotional selection, rather than by
their factual merits, encouraging the persistence of
falsehoods about Coke — or about a presidential

Journalists and campaign workers may think they are
acting to counter misinformation by pointing out that
it is not true. But by repeating a false rumor, they
may inadvertently make it stronger. In its concerted
effort to “stop the smears,” the Obama campaign may
want to keep this in mind. Rather than emphasize that
Mr. Obama is not a Muslim, for instance, it may be
more effective to stress that he embraced Christianity
as a young man.

Consumers of news, for their part, are prone to
selectively accept and remember statements that
reinforce beliefs they already hold. In a replication
of the study of students’ impressions of evidence
about the death penalty, researchers found that even
when subjects were given a specific instruction to be
objective, they were still inclined to reject evidence
that disagreed with their beliefs.

In the same study, however, when subjects were asked
to imagine their reaction if the evidence had pointed
to the opposite conclusion, they were more open-minded
to information that contradicted their beliefs.
Apparently, it pays for consumers of controversial
news to take a moment and consider that the opposite
interpretation may be true.

In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme
Court wrote that “the best test of truth is the power
of the thought to get itself accepted in the
competition of the market.” Holmes erroneously assumed
that ideas are more likely to spread if they are
honest. Our brains do not naturally obey this
admirable dictum, but by better understanding the
mechanisms of memory perhaps we can move closer to
Holmes’s ideal.

Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology
and neuroscience at Princeton, and Sandra Aamodt, a
former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, are the
authors of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your
Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other
Puzzles of Everyday Life.”

New York Times
June 27, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Your Brain Lies to You

Thursday, June 26, 2008


A trickle of rumors that started on anonymous blogs in recent weeks was mostly discounted as a hoax by many of the hundreds of people who commented on the posts' warning that a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency action was on the way.

Tuesday's raids, which brought a small army of federal agents who said they were here to bust a single organized marijuana-growing operation focused mostly in Southern Humboldt, weren't the swarm of agents rumored to have been planning a crackdown on large-scale medical marijuana grow houses and pot dispensaries in Arcata this week.

But it was close.

Wherever the anonymous information on the Humboldt Herald blog came from, the timing and accuracy of the anonymous tips turned out to be surprisingly accurate -- as the federal official who confirmed the operation Tuesday admitted.

"There was some accuracy to the rumors and the dates were pinned down pretty well," said FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler Tuesday.

But as the tempo of the rumors picked up pace last week, an in-depth story effort launched by The Eureka Reporter staff to verify the rumors proved difficult, as many local law enforcement agencies didn't respond to calls and comments from federal agencies left more questions than answers.

Calls to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office were directed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in San Francisco.

On Friday, FBI spokesperson Patti Hansen wouldn't confirm or deny that agents would be in Humboldt County this week, although DEA officials told KMUD radio station that the DEA was planning training exercises in northern Mendocino County set for this week, including flyover missions that might cross over into Humboldt County.

"Our DEA is conducting annual training in the area next week," said DEA spokesperson Casey McEnry in an interview Friday. The DEA regularly comes to the area to train with other agencies.

As to what agencies would participate in the training exercises, McEnry said she wasn't sure which ones planned to attend.

When asked whether the DEA planned to investigate or conduct raids on "grow houses" in the area, McEnry said it planned to conduct "aerial observation" training exercises.

"Whatever comes of that, I don't know," she said, adding the agency couldn't disclose that kind of information anyway.

In Arcata -- whose marijuana grow houses have been in the spotlight of recent national media attention -- rumors of an impending drug raid spread throughout the community.

At some of the four known medical marijuana dispensaries within Arcata city limits, employees were reluctant to comment to questions about the rumored raid.

A moratorium on marijuana growing prevents the dispensaries from growing their own plants.

The issue of illegal marijuana grow houses in Arcata came to a head in fall 2007, when several house fires were a direct result of indoor marijuana grow scenes.

In subsequent months, the Arcata City Council and its Planning Commission struggled to find remedies that appeased marijuana advocates and opponents.


Feds in Humboldt County -- There's precedent

This week's operation that brought 450 federal officers to the county wasn't the first time federal law enforcement agents made an impressive showing in Humboldt County to target marijuana with large-scale, coordinated operations.

A surprise, nearly two-week-long marijuana eradication raid in July 1990, called "Operation Green Sweep," by an estimated 200 California National Guard soldiers and Bureau of Land Management agents sealed off approximately 640 acres in the King Range National Conservation Area, according to archived Times-Standard articles.

It was reportedly the first operation of its kind in U.S. history in which the military assisted in marijuana eradication.

It was reported that the raids were part of a national effort by then-President George H.W. Bush to convince Colombian leaders -- skeptical of U.S. troops efforts to eradicate drugs in their country - -- that the U.S. was serious about eradicating drugs at home.

Residents who witnessed the raids reportedly reacted with outrage and anger at the armed soldiers who pointed rifles at residents, which led to a lawsuit by the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project that resulted in guidelines for drug eradication in Northern California.

The operation netted 11 arrests and 1,408 marijuana plants worth $4.2 million.

Another visit by the DEA in 2003 as part of "Operation Pipedreams" and "Operation Headhunter" targeted vendors who sold drug paraphernalia across state lines via the Internet, which led to the arrest of three Arcata businessmen who owned 101 North Glass Inc.


Federal laws trump state marijuana laws

Pulling out a 215 card won't protect marijuana growers under the federal government's laws.

When California voters passed Proposition 215 -- also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 -- it allowed medical marijuana patients to use "up to three pounds of marijuana per year" and to grow up to 99 indoor or outdoor plants at one time.

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered setbacks for the state's medical marijuana users in 2001 when it upheld in a ruling that "given the absence of medical usefulness, medical necessity is not a defense to marijuana prosecution" and again in 2005 when it upheld that the federal government can prosecute medical marijuana patients regardless of a state's compassionate use laws.

While marijuana is classified federally as a Schedule I substance, which means it is listed as having high potential for abuse and no medicinal value, the county's lead law enforcement official takes a different stance.

"The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office will not prosecute patients whose use and possession of medical marijuana are within these guidelines," the District Attorney's Office's Health and Safety Code prosecution guidelines state.

But the district attorney's policy does warn about potential consequences from other agencies.

"Persons using or considering the use of marijuana, its possession, transportation or recommendation must be aware that the policies of other counties may differ," the document stated. "More significantly, the federal government and other states criminalize marijuana and all activities associated with its possession, cultivation, use, transportation, distribution and sale."


Grower, landlord find common ground

Although they may have different opinions on the enforcement of marijuana laws, a local landlord and a local marijuana grower have at least one thing in common -- both think grow houses are a big problem in Arcata.

For the landlord just outside Arcata's city limits -- LaVina Collenberg -- the possibility of DEA agents raiding grow houses in Arcata might be a good thing.

She said she had never had any issues with marijuana personally until one day she realized she had been duped.

A house she thought she had rented to be a home for a young couple and their baby was not that at all, but was being used exclusively for growing a large amount of marijuana.

That grow operation caused a fire last September, and since the couple's marijuana 215 cards were taped to a wall in the home, local authorities could not pursue any charges against the renters -- leaving an unsuspecting Collenberg with a bill for $55,000 in damages that her house insurance covered.

But if federal agents had discovered the grow operation first, Collenberg said her former renters would not have gotten away with the damage they caused to her property.

"I don't think we can handle it ourselves; it's not being done," Collenberg said. "I'm not against anyone smoking marijuana, but when they do it for profit and hurt people, it's horrible. It's all about greed and money and they don't care who they hurt."

An Arcata marijuana grower -- who wished to remain anonymous for legal reasons -- agreed that grow houses are a problem, but not one that the DEA should stick its nose in.

"The DEA going around busting people for small marijuana grows is not different than the government busting people for making liquor in the 1920s," the grower said. "It's not working; it's making no productive change. It's not the gateway drug to the problems it is proposed to cause."

The grower, who is also a 215 card holder, said she was not worried about being targeted by a raid, since she grows a small number of plants in a 10-by-6-foot room in her home and sells excess plants to a medical marijuana dispensary for approximately $1,000 per month.

"There's nothing about my situation that would cause a person to wonder what's going on," she said of the grow inside her residence. "If I were in a position that the PG&E bill was astronomical, the windows were covered and the neighbors were irritated -- which I know to be the case to many in Arcata -- I think it would lead the DEA to your door."

Ultimately, the grower said she thought the local community could figure out its troubles with marijuana itself and that if marijuana were legal, there would be no need for the DEA to come for a visit in the first place.

"Maybe I'm old fashioned," Collenberg said about her stance on grow houses. "I just don't think it's right."


Burning down the houses

John McFarland, Arcata Fire Protection District chief, poses just one question with regard to the issue: If growing marijuana is so legitimate, why is it done so sneakily?

"Everyone knows if you want a 215 card which doctor you go to," McFarland said. "The issue of medical marijuana is controversial, but we're looking at the safety standpoint of it."

Residential fires in which marijuana grows were contributing factor or were present have been on the rise in the past two to three years, McFarland said.

"We are trying to build realistic statistics," he said. "It's easily half of our structural fires, but our intentions are to come up with realistic numbers instead of wild guesses."

McFarland says he doesn't have an issue with medical marijuana, but when his firefighters' safety is at risk due to the conditions of the home, he's not so easygoing.

In some cases, firefighters' efforts have been obstructed by "severe locks, and even concealed or secret doors," McFarland said. "We've had to take out a window, only to find that six inches behind the drapes is another wall," he said. "The alterations are done behind the scenes and not appropriately -- it's just flat luck that they don't burn the house down the first day."

In two home fires this year, McFarland said propane and butane canisters were present.

"If it was to detonate, it's going to level the structure and severely damage and harm the neighbors' homes," McFarland said. "And it has implications of a fatal outcome for the firefighters -- this is where the fire chief gets concerned."


An 'Eye' on growing marijuana

Like many Humboldt County residents who have watched the blogs, Arcata Eye Publisher and Editor Kevin Hoover said last week he was "waiting for the big bust-olla to happen."

Hoover, who runs Arcata's weekly newspaper, has felt the brunt of some residents' anger recently, as he has given considerable coverage to the pot issues over the past year -- even sending letters to homeowners of suspected illegal grow houses.

"This has put the fear of God into the existing paradigm here," he said.

Since Hoover started sending "Dear Growhouse Owner" letters in mid-May, he's received both praise and death threats. In the past two weeks, four local businesses pulled their advertisements from the paper.

But Hoover, who showed a New York Times reporter a suspected grow house and was interviewed by various national media outlets, said he's simply doing what he loves -- his job.

"I'm just asking questions," he said. "This has predictably been misconstrued and interpreted."

The letter informs the recipient that their house may be a grow house and that neighbors are concerned, Hoover said. "They give me an address, I look up the property owner and I send the property owner a letter," he said. "I simply report a fact -- your neighbors are worried about pot."

Hoover has received mixed reactions, but most homeowners have been thankful, he said. "Three-fourths of the people who own the houses have called me and said thanks," he said. "I've heard from three people who are very unhappy with me."

The national media attention has put him in the spotlight and angered some, but Hoover said he just did what he'd want his sources to do -- talk.

"When I call somebody in my job as a reporter, I'd like them to answer my questions," he said.

As far as pot smoking, Hoover could care less.

"We all just wish it was legalized," he said.

But when marijuana cultivation, under the guise of the 215 law, brings crime into neighborhoods, Hoover's had enough.

"I don't see how protecting this organized crime business protects medical marijuana," Hoover said. "It's corporate now; it's big business."


Politics of marijuana

Arcata City Councilmember Harmony Groves supported Proposition 215 when it appeared on the ballot in 1999 and said she doesn't think the federal government should regulate marijuana grows in Arcata.

But Groves said she recognizes that marijuana cultivation in Arcata is a problem and that she knows of residential neighborhoods where there are no houses available to rent because they are used to grow marijuana.

She said she doesn't think that's a good thing, but she doesn't want the federal government to roll into town and uproot people's lives either.

For her, the pot dispensaries and the grow houses are the responsibility of Arcata and Humboldt County, not the federal government.

"It will be unfortunate if the DEA comes into town," she said.

Arcata City Councilmember Paul Pitino, who said the city is making progress addressing the grow house issue, thinks the number of grow houses being circulated by officials and media is exaggerated.

"A sheet covers a window," he said, "and then you have a grow house."

Councilmember Michael Machi said he doesn't have a problem with 215 patients converting small sections of homes to grow medical marijuana, but he does take issue with houses that are used for growing and selling.

"It ruins the housing market," he said, and takes away housing for students.

Machi agreed the numbers of grow houses in the city may not be accurate, but said he doesn't want to downplay the severity of the situation.

"It's an issue that we can deal with through our zoning regulations," he said. "Even if it's only a few hundred of them -- which is a lot - -- it's going to take awhile to clean up that mess."

Machi said he wants people to come to Arcata for what the city has done for the Arcata Marsh, the community forest or the trail system.

"I don't want Arcata to be famous for supposedly being taken over for marijuana grows," he said.


PG&E not lighting up grow houses for feds

Among the speculations circulating ahead of the raids was that Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which supplies power to the homes suspected of growing marijuana, tipped off the police to which houses held the biggest grows.

A PG&E official said last week that short of a court order, the utility company would not go out of its way to provide information to anyone or to police.

PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said she was unaware of the Arcata grow house controversy that had attracted national media attention until she received an unusual flurry of Humboldt County media inquiries last week.

Morris said PG&E is not a law enforcement agency and it doesn't investigate a customer's unusual or increased electricity usage, and she was adamant that the company doesn't share its customer information with the public.

"We truly respect our customers' privacy," Morris said. "We take that very seriously."

While it wouldn't volunteer customer usage information to another person or police, Morris said, PG&E is required under state and federal laws to cooperate with law enforcement agencies if the utility company is subpoenaed or a search warrant is served.

Morris said she hadn't heard anything about any such a subpoena related to Arcata's grow houses, but acknowledged that information wouldn't necessarily be known or available for release.

But with the increased focus by the media, and the considerable misinformation propagating on area Internet blogs, Morris said there are concerns at PG&E over the safety of its workers who live in the community and are responsible for walking door to door to read residences' meters.

"Our first concern is our employees," Morris said.

Rate this article Votes: 0
Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jun 2008
Source: Eureka Reporter, The (CA)
Copyright: 2008 The Eureka Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008



Agents Sweep SoHum Commercial Grows

Motorcades of government SUVs poured through Humboldt County communities Tuesday as hundreds of federal and state agents began their search for commercial marijuana growing operations in a multi-day investigation the FBI has dubbed "Operation Southern Sweep."

The bureau's spokesman Joseph Schadler reported 450 agents with several federal agencies would be serving search warrants and collecting evidence on properties where "corporate marijuana growing operations" were suspected.

On Tuesday morning, at the operation's command center in Fortuna's River Lodge parking lot, Schadler said 27 search warrants would be executed over the course of the day, and two more are expected later this week.

He said he could not discuss what properties agents raided Tuesday, or which they had yet to investigate.

Medical marijuana dispensaries and 215 patients would not be targeted by the investigation, Schadler said. The Humboldt Cooperative, a medical marijuana dispensary in Arcata, said Tuesday evening that federal agents had not interfered with business.

"We're not here to set policy or interfere with California's compassionate use laws," Schadler said. The FBI is investigating "for-profit and corporate grow operations beyond the scope of 215."

Those alleged for-profit growing operations total some 2,000 acres of outdoor cultivation, spread across Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino counties, Schadler Advertisement said. Additionally, at least one home in Arcata was raided.

Federal agents on the scene of the stings were tight-lipped about their work and would not answer media questions; however the agents were observed searching properties throughout the county.

Early Tuesday, Arcata police stood ready to assist as federal agents served one search warrant at a house on Virginia Way in Sunny Brae. The federal agents carried grow lights and other equipment, as well as boxes and bags filled with evidence, into the front yard.

In Shelter Cove, at least two homes were broken into by authorities - -- the damaged front doors scarred by police battering rams.

In the front yard of a house outside Whitethorn, a pile of uprooted marijuana plants was stacked next to rows of grow lights, a computer and an assortment of growing equipment. One agent stood in the doorway of the house, holding a clear plastic bag filled with cash, as other agents scoured the house for other evidence.

Schadler said investigators would be taking DNA evidence, seizing weapons and chopping plants as part of their evidence gathering.

Individuals suspected of involvement in the alleged growing operations were not part of Tuesday's sting, as the agencies were focused on collecting evidence and building cases against possible growers, Schadler said. But he anticipates "seeing charges later on down the line."

Although Schadler said agents were not interested in making arrests, one man was taken into police custody after reportedly assaulting an officer. Schadler said he did not know if charges would be filed.

The operation -- a result of a two-year-long investigation instigated by the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement -- started around 7 a.m. Tuesday when convoys of SUVs left the hotel parking lot.

The parking lot was transformed into a make-shift mission control center for the teams. A gray RV-sized vehicle, adorned with a radio tower and satellite, was parked in front of the hotel, and fed information to personnel on laptops and satellite phones inside.

The River Lodge was off-limits to the public, and inside numerous government agents could be seen circulating through the building throughout the day.

Schadler said agents would be in the area for "a couple days," and a hotel clerk reported their rooms have been booked through Friday.

The personnel involved are part of an alphabet soup of government agencies, which include the Bureau of Narcotics, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Local authorities like California Highway Patrol and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office also aided in the investigation.

Sheriff Lt. George Cavinta said six deputies assisted federal agents, providing logistical information.

"It's a very rural country that they're into," he said. "You're taking a large amount of metropolitan agents and getting them adjusted to the setting in Humboldt County."

The Sheriff's Office reported it was not involved with any of the 29 warrants issued for the operation.

Schadler said he could not discuss what evidence allowed them to attain the search warrants.

In some cases, warrants have been obtained by local law enforcement using Pacific Gas and Electric Co. records to find the houses drawing noticeably more electricity off the grid, which often indicates marijuana grows.

PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said the company never volunteers records of any customers, but it must cooperate if authorities present search warrants.

Major sting targets commercial grow op

Article Launched: 06/24/2008 10:08:38 AM PDT

More than 400 federal and state agents executed search warrants in Southern
Humboldt and Arcata today, part of an investigation into what the FBI
described as a major commercial marijuana operation.

About eight FBI agents serving a search warrant at a house on Virginia Way
just outside Arcata this morning were looking through apparent grow lights,
tubing, boxes and bags. They refused to talk to the media.

Several warrants were also served in Southern Humboldt, including on
Briceland Thorne Road. A checkpoint staffed with assault-rifle toting agents
was reportedly set up at Alderpoint and Harris roads. Convoys of agency
vehicles poured through several communities in Southern Humboldt.

The agencies were staging out of the River Lodge in Fortuna.

FBI spokesman Joseph Schadler said that agents with the FBI and the state
were collecting evidence through 27 federal and two state warrants as part
of a two-year investigation into a major marijuana cultivation and
distribution operation.

"We're looking at a single group of folks," Schadler said.

Schadler said that the operation is not targeting at medical marijuana

Warrants were being served on both indoor and outdoor growing operations,
Schadler said, and the outdoor operations totaled some 2,000 acres. The U.S.
Postal Service and Internal Revenue Service were also participating. Law
enforcement does not plan to file charges against anyone at this stage, he
said. Agents will continue to search the properties for hours or even days,
he said.

Asked if agents had encountered resistance from the targets of the
investigation, Schadler said he believed "everything went off without a

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jim Webb Questions Drug War

The US Congress Joint Economic Committee yesterday held a historic
hearing on the economic costs of US drug policy. The hearing, titled
Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses, was
called at the request of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his opening
remarks described the all-too-familiar failure of US drug policy to
accomplish the goals it has set for itself. It was the second hearing
related to incarceration that Webb has convened under the auspices of
this committee.

Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from
"Our insatiable demand for drugs" drives the drug trade, Webb pointed
out. "We're spending enormous amounts of money to interdict drug
shipments, but supplies remain consistent. Some 86% of high schoolers
report easy access to marijuana. Cocaine prices have fallen by about
80% since the 1980s," the freshman senator continued. "Efforts to
curb illegal drug use have relied heavily on enforcement. The number
of people in custody on drug charges has increased 13-fold in the
past 25 years, yet the flow of drugs remains undiminished. Drug
convictions and collateral punishments are devastating our minority
communities," Webb said.

"Our current policy mix is not working the way we want it to," Webb
declared. "The ease with which drugs can be obtained, the price, the
number of people using drugs, the violence on the border all show
that. We need to rethink our responses to the health effects, the
economic impacts, the effect on crime. We need to rethink our
approach to the supply and demand of drugs."
Such sentiments coming from a sitting senator in the US in 2008 are
bold if not remarkable, and it's not the first time that Webb has
uttered such words:
In March of last year, he told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News
program This Week: "One of the issues which never comes up in
campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this
whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in
our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million
people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue
that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom
of and that's where I want to put my energy."
In his recently-released book, A Time to Fight, Webb wrote: "The time
has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of
marijuana," "It makes far more sense to take the money that would be
saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related
activities" and "Either we are home to the most evil population on
earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to
be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more
constructive ways."
Still, drug reformers may be impatient with the level of rethinking
presented at the hearing. While witnesses including University of
Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, author of "Drug War Heresies,"
and John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America
(WOLA) offered strong and familiar critiques of various aspects of US
drug policy, neither of the words "prohibition" or "legalization"
were ever uttered, nor were the words "tax and regulate," and radical
alternatives to current policy were barely touched upon. Instead, the
emphasis seemed to be on adjusting the "mix" of spending on law
enforcement versus treatment and prevention.
The other two witnesses at the hearing, Kings County (Brooklyn), New
York, Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and community
coordinator Norma Fernandes of the same office, were there to talk up
the success of drug court-style programs in their community.
[The written testimony of all four witnesses is available at the
hearing web site linked above.]
"US drug policy is comprehensive, but unbalanced," said Reuter. "As
much as 75% of spending goes to enforcement, mainly to lock up
low-level drug dealers. Treatment is not very available. The US has a
larger drug problem than other Western countries, and the policy
measures to confront it have met with little success," he told the
Reuter said there were some indications policymakers and the
electorate are tiring of the drug war approach, citing California's
treatment-not-jail Proposition 36, but there was little indication
Congress was interested in serious analysis of programs and policies.
"Congress has been content to accept rhetoric instead of research,"
Reuter said, citing its lack of reaction to the Office of National
Drug Control Policy's refusal to release a now three-year-old report
on drug use levels during the Bush administration. "It's hardly a
secret that ONDCP has failed to publish that report, but Congress has
not bothered to do anything," he complained. "We need more emphasis
on the analytic base for policy."
But even with the paltry evidence available to work with, Reuter was
able to summarize a bottom line: "The US imprisons too many people
and provides too little treatment," he said. "We need more than
marginal changes."
"US drug policies have been in place for some time without much
change except for intensification," said WOLA's Walsh, noting that
coca production levels are as high as they were 20 years ago. "Since
1981, we have spent about $800 billion on drug control, and $600
billion of that on supply reduction. We need a stiff dose of
historical reality as we contemplate what to do now," he told the
With the basic policies in place for so long, some conclusions can
now be drawn, Walsh said. "First, the balloon effect is real and
fully relevant today. We've seen it time and time again, not just
with crops, but also with drug smuggling routes. If we want to talk
about actually reducing illicit crops and we know eradication only
leads to renewed planting, we need to be looking for alternatives,"
he said.
"Second, there is continuing strong availability of illicit drugs and
a long-term trend toward falling prices," Walsh said, strongly
suggesting that interdiction was a failed policy. "The perennial goal
is to drive up prices, but prices have fallen sharply. There is
evidence of disruptions in the US cocaine market last year, but
whether that endures is an open question and quite doubtful given the
historical record," he said.
"Third, finding drugs coming across the border is like finding a
needle in a haystack, or more like finding lots of needles in lots of
different moving haystacks," he said. "Our legal commerce with Mexico
is so huge that to think we can seal the borders is delusional."
With respect to the anti-drug assistance package for Mexico currently
being debated in Congress, Walsh had a warning: "Even with US
assistance, any reduction in the flow of drugs from Mexico is
unlikely." Instead, Walsh said, lawmakers should adjust their
supply-control objectives and expectations to bring them in line with
that reality.
Changes in drug producing countries will require sustained efforts to
increase alternative livelihoods. That in turn will require patience
and a turn away from "the quick fix mentality that hasn't fixed
anything," Walsh said.
"We can't expect sudden improvements; there is no silver bullet,"
Walsh concluded. "We need to switch to harm reduction approaches and
recognize drugs and drug use as perennial problems that can't be
eliminated, but can be managed better. We need to minimize not only
the harms associated with drug use, but also those related to
policies meant to control drugs."
"It is important to be able to discuss the realities of the
situation, it's not always a comfortable thing to talk about," Webb
said after the oral testimony. "This is very much a demand problem.
I've been skeptical bout drug eradication programs; they just don't
work when you're supplying such an enormous thirst on this end. We
have to find ways to address demand other than locking up more
people. We have created an incredible underground economic apparatus
and we have to think hard about how to address it."
"The way in which we focused attention on the supply side has been
very much mistaken," agreed Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who along
with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were the
only other solons attending the hearing. "All this focus on supply
hasn't really done anything of any value. The real issue is demand,
and prevention and dealing with people getting out of prison is the
way to deal with this."
Reuter suggested part of the solution was in increase in what he
called "coerced abstinence," or forced drug treatment. Citing the
work of UCLA drug policy researcher Mark Kleiman, Reuter said that
regimes of frequent testing with modest sanctions imposed immediately
and with certainty can result "in a real decline in drug taking and
criminal activity."
That got a nod of agreement from prosecutor Swern. "How long you stay
in treatment is the best predictor of staying out of trouble or off
drugs," she said. Swern is running a program with deferring
sentencing, with some flexibility she said. "The beauty of our
program is it allows us to give people many chances. If they fail in
treatment and want to try again, we do that," she said.
As the hearing drew to an end, Webb had one last question: "Justice
Department statistics show that of all drug arrests in 2005, 42.6%
were for marijuana offenses. What about the energy expended arresting
people for marijuana?" he asked, implicitly begging for someone to
respond, "It's a waste of resources."
But no one connected directly with the floating softball. "The vast
majority of those arrests are for simple possession," said Reuter.
"In Maryland, essentially no one is sentenced to jail for marijuana
possession, although about a third spend time in jail pre-trial. It's
not as bad as it looks," he said sanguinely.
"There's violence around marijuana trafficking in Brooklyn,"
responded prosecutor Swern.
WOLA's Walsh came closest to a strong answer. "Your question goes to
setting priorities," he said. "We need to discriminate among types of
illicit drugs. Which do the most harm and deserve the most emphasis?
Also, given the sheer number of marijuana users, what kind of dent
can you make even with many more arrests?"
And so ended the first joint congressional hearing to challenge the
dogmas of the drug war. For reformers that attended, there were
generally thumbs up for Webb and the committee, mixed with a bit of
disappointment that the hearings only went so far.
"It was extraordinary," said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy
Project at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. "They didn't
cover some of the things I hoped they would, but I have to give them
props for addressing the issue at all."
"Webb was looking for someone to say what he wanted to say with the
marijuana question, that perhaps we should deemphasize law
enforcement on that," said Doug McVay, policy analyst at Common Sense
for Drug Policy, who also attended the hearing. "I don't think our
witnesses quite caught what he was aiming for, an answer that
arresting all those people for marijuana takes away resources that
could be used to fight real crime."
Sen. Webb came in for special praise from Tree. "Perhaps because he's
a possible vice presidential candidate, he had to tone things down a
bit, but he is clearly not afraid to talk about over-incarceration,
and using the Joint Economic Committee instead of Judiciary or
Foreign Affairs is a brilliant use of that committee, because this
is, after all, a policy with enormous economic consequences," Tree
said. "Webb is clearly motivated by doing something about the high
levels of incarceration. He held a hearing on it last year, and got
the obvious answer that much of it is related to drug policy. Having
heard that kind of answer, most politicians would walk away fast, but
not Webb, so I have to give him credit."
Reversing the drug war juggernaut will not be easy. The Congressional
Joint Economic Committee hearing Thursday was perhaps a small step
toward that end, but it is a step in the right direction.
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Marijuana Is In, Tobacco Is Out Under Netherlands' Smoking Ban

By Martijn van der Starre

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Starting July 1, marijuana will be the only leaf that
can be smoked in public places in the Netherlands. Cannabis devotees aren't

Local pot smokers, who usually cut joints with tobacco, and owners of the
``coffee shops'' where they are allowed to light up will have to change
their habits when the nation implements the indoor tobacco ban. Puffing a
pure marijuana cigarette in public will still be permitted; smoking one with
tobacco will merit coffee shop owners a 300-euro ($466) fine for the first
offense and 2,400 euros for a fourth.

``Every customer will have to learn how to smoke pure,'' said Robert Kempen,
co-owner of The NooN and Mellow Yellow in Amsterdam, which sell marijuana
and hashish. The rule makes him ``sick to death,'' he said, rolling himself
a joint.

Coffee-shop proprietors say the ban will put some of them out of business as
smokers stay away. The nation's 720 outlets that serve marijuana smokers
generate a large portion of their revenue from selling drinks, food and
rolling papers to their patrons. Dutch sales of cannabis alone totaled 1.2
billion euros ($1.86 billion) in 2001, according to the most recent figures
available from the nation's statistics bureau.

To permit tobacco smoking, shops will have to build separate, unstaffed
rooms, and many say they don't have the space or money to do so. Others are
investing in water pipes and $400 vaporizers, initially intended to aid
people with lung problems inhale medicine, to help smokers light up without

`Times Have Changed'

``It's a bad year for marijuana smokers,'' said Gwydion Hydref while smoking
in Coffee Shop Johnny. The Welshman works for Wickedtrips, a company that
offers vacation packages, including a ```no holds barred' weekender'' to
Amsterdam ahead of the smoking ban. ``Times have changed.''

The Netherlands follows other European countries in banning tobacco. Ireland
was the first country in the region to forbid smoking in public places in
2004. Sweden, Italy, Malta, France, Belgium, Finland, Lithuania, Portugal
and England and others have followed, with full or partial restrictions.

The Dutch ban, which prohibits tobacco smoking in all public places of
employment to protect workers' health, is only for tobacco and makes no
change to marijuana policy, said Saskia Hommes, a spokeswoman for Dutch
Health MinisterAb Klink. The government will have to see if the law is
enforceable, she said.

The Netherlands decriminalized the use of marijuana in 1976, though it
stopped short of fully legalizing the drug because international treaties
prohibited it from doing so. The country's first coffee shop, named after
Donovan's song ``Mellow Yellow,'' had opened its doors four years earlier.

`Bloody Awful'

Government policy toward the shops has become less lenient in recent years,
with the number dropping by 39 percent in a decade as authorities cracked
down on sale to young people and revoked the licenses of owners who commit

Still, the shops have devoted patrons who are upset about the latest

The ban is ``bloody awful,'' said Nima Gani, a musician smoking at The NooN.
Gani plans to stop visiting The NooN and smoke his ``Blueberry'' marijuana
and tobacco joints on the street.``I feel like my freedom is getting smaller
and smaller,'' he said.

To enforce the new policy, the government has more than doubled its number
of food and consumer product inspectors to 200, said Bob Kiel, a spokesman
for the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. The agents will make
unannounced visits to bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as coffee shops.
There are no guidelines to help inspectors distinguish between a mixed joint
and a pure one, he said.

Hashish and Joints

Coffee shops sell everything from pre-rolled joints for 3.50 euros each to
hashish for as much as 18 euros a gram, said Mark Jacobsen, chairman of the
Amsterdam Association of Cannabis Retailers. The ban will make it even
harder for the shops to stay in business as visitors and revenue will drop,
said Jacobsen, who is building a wall to divide The Rookies, a shop he

``Sales will definitely fall,'' said Rida Oulad, who works behind the
counter at Ibiza in Amsterdam. ``Why would you go to a coffee shop where you
can't smoke and the only remaining activities are sitting and watching

Gani, for one, isn't happy about the changes. He says he can't smoke at his
real home because his mother would hit him ``over the head with a pan.''

Still, he has no plans to stop rolling joints mixed with tobacco: ``Smoking
pure grates my throat.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Martijn van der Starre in Amsterdam

Last Updated: June 19, 2008 19:01 EDT

Thursday, June 19, 2008

MAJOR NEWS!! Massive DEA raids planned for Humboldt Co.

The rumors are true.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency is sending 200 agents to Northern Humboldt to crack down on marijuana growers, according to sources. The full-blown bust-a-thon will take place June 22-30.

300 houses have already been targeted by way of high electric bills. Perhaps our readers at PG&E can tell us to how the feds got those records.
Did they use warrants or just ask nicely?

Rumors that every room at the Eureka Red Lion has been booked between June 23-30 may also have legs. One industrious Craig's List user consulted hotels. com in attempt to book rooms for those dates but the website said no rooms are available during that time.

The federal government doesn't recognize proposition 215 — the Compassionate Use Act — passed by California voters in 1996, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Arcata grow houses made national news recently with reports in the LA Times, NY Times and Fox News.
The issue also came up repeatedly during the 3rd District Supervisor race.

While some of the upcoming busts will target illegal operations under California law, others will take aim at patients protected by Prop. 215.
Will Humboldt County Sheriffs or city police participate in raids that violate laws of the state?

We'll know the answer in seven days.

UPDATE: More info at Humboldt County News.
They write "Rumors were circulating a couple weeks back that the feds were going to raid dispensaries in Arcata, and as a result all but one of those facilities did not open for business on Friday, June 6." Those rumors turned out to be false.

http://humboldtherald. wordpress. com/2008/06/17/massive-dea-raids-planned-for-humboldt/


NY Assembly Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

June 18th, 2008

ALBANY — The New York Assembly passed a bill today that would protect New Yorkers with life threatening or debilitating conditions from arrest for using medical marijuana when their doctors believe it would be the best treatment option, 79-48.

The bill is similar to the medical marijuana bill the Assembly passed last year. The version passed today was modified to address concerns voiced by members of the Senate, who have until June 23 to pass the bill before the legislature recesses.

"Every day that goes by without this sensible, compassionate law is a day in which our most vulnerable citizens must choose between suffering debilitating pain or risking arrest in order to find relief," said bill sponsor and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. "These patients don't have the luxury of waiting another year for their elected representatives to act – they need the Senate to stand up for them now.

Dr. Kevin Smith, a Saugerties psychiatrist who has been recognized by the state legislature for his work with police forensics, said the bill would change the lives of people like him who have no better pain relief options.

"Unless you or a loved one has experienced it, it's difficult to understand the frustration and helplessness that comes from knowing that relief is readily available but forbidden by law," said Smith, who suffers from a painful genetic defect that causes his immune system to attack his spine and hips as though they were foreign bodies; the debilitating pain forced him to quit practicing medicine. "Medical marijuana can give me my life back, but right now I am barred by law from using it. This is crazy.

Glenn Amandola, a medically retired New York City police officer from Northport who suffers from chronic pain and a seizure disorder after being injured on the job in 1987, said it makes no sense for the law to prevent him from using medical marijuana when his doctor says it could help.

"As an officer with the New York City Police Department, I swore to uphold state law, and I'll never break that oath," he said. "The flip side to that, however, is that our lawmakers owe it to people like me who live in constant pain to make sure the law doesn't penalize us for seeking relief. I should have the right to decide for myself – with my doctor – what my best treatment options are.

http://www. hvpress. net/news/126/ARTICLE/4588/2008-06-18. html

3 Indianapolis Police officers arrested for drug trafficking

Posted: June 18th, 2008 11:06 AM PDT

Story by theindychannel. com


Three Indianapolis police officers face federal charges of drug trafficking for what prosecutors called a conspiracy that involved raids on a home and an apartment and the theft of money and several pounds of marijuana.
An indictment unsealed Tuesday named police officers Robert B. Long, 34, Jason P. Edwards, 36, and James Davis, 33.
It described Long as a narcotics detective and the leader of a conspiracy this spring to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute.
All three officers were arrested by the FBI. It was not immediately known whether they had defense attorneys.
The indictment said the officers talked in code by telephone and that Long tipped a fourth defendant named in the indictment, Kabec Higgins, 31, about police plans to search his business, Ear Candy Muzik.
Long also seized a FedEx parcel containing up to 13 pounds of marijuana, the indictment states. About eight pounds were removed and sold for $4,000. Long then turned in nearly five pounds from the parcel to a police narcotics vault to cover up the missing portion.
The court document also indicated Long and Davis entered an apartment looking for marijuana, and the three officers took five pounds of the drug and $18,300 from a home during a June 4 break-in.
After that break-in, Davis "wiped the interior door handle and lock with his gloves in an attempt to clean off any fingerprints," the indictment stated.
It also indicated that Long and Davis illegally seized $20,000 from a person they thought was selling marijuana in March. Davis also was accused of "illegally stopping cars" to seize money.
"(The officers) reportedly committed acts in uniform, using police vehicles, displaying a bogus search warrant, breaking into private property and diverting seized drugs and cash to their personal benefit," said U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison.
The three officers face counts alleging drug trafficking and possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.
Long, Davis and Edwards were held Tuesday in the Marion County Jail.
"I'm very much disgusted and outraged at the conduct of a small number of officers who chose to disrespect the trust that the public has in them," said Indianapolis Metro Police Chief Michael Spears.
"Nobody likes for this thing to happen, but it's important that it's rooted out," said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.
Edwards was charged in March with forgery and theft. Police said he stole a $725 money order during a search of a drug suspect's home and cashed it for himself.
http://www. officer. com/online/article. jsp?siteSection=1&id=41885

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reason: The Perils of Potent Pot

Is better marijuana really worse for you?

Jacob Sullum | June 18, 2008

According to federal drug czar John Walters, the marijuana available in the United States is better than ever. Well, that's not quite the way he put it, but it's closer to the truth.

Last week, as part of its ongoing effort to convince baby boomers that today's "Pot 2.0" is much more dangerous than the stuff they smoked when they were young, Walters' Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced that "levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana—have reached the highest-ever amounts since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970s." The University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project reports that the average THC content of the seized marijuana it tests was 8.1 percent last year, up from 3.2 percent in 1983.

That increase is much less dramatic than the one Walters alleged a few years ago. In a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece, he asserted that "the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times" since 1974, when "the average THC content of marijuana was less than 1 percent."

Since 1 percent is the threshold at which experimental subjects can detect a psychoactive effect, if Walters were right it would mean that people who smoked pot in the mid-'70s, when marijuana was even more popular than it is today, typically did not get high as a result. This rather implausible claim is based on a small, nonrepresentative sample of low-quality marijuana that probably degraded in storage.

Worse, to get his impressive 30-to-1 ratio, Walters compared the weakest pot of the '70s to the strongest pot of this decade. As a review of research on marijuana potency in the July 2008 issue of the journal Addiction notes, "There is enormous variation in potency, within a given year, from sample to sample," such that "cannabis users may be exposed to greater variation of cannabis potency in a single year...than over years or decades."

Even when the ONDCP is comparing annual averages, it's not clear that the government's samples, which depend on whose marijuana law enforcement agencies happen to seize, are comparable from year to year or representative of the U.S. market. Still, it's likely that average THC content has increased significantly during the last couple of decades as growers have become more adept at meeting the demands of increasingly discriminating consumers. The question is why Walters thinks that's a bad thing.

With stronger pot, people can smoke less to achieve the same effect, thereby reducing their exposure to combustion products, the most serious health risk associated with marijuana consumption. Yet the ONDCP inexplicably warns that higher THC levels could mean "an increased risk" of "respiratory problems."

It also trots out warnings about reefer madness reminiscent of anti-drug propaganda from the 1930s, conflating correlation (between heavy pot smoking and depression, for example) with causation. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, worries that stronger pot might be more addictive, although she concedes that "more research is needed to establish this link between higher THC potency and higher addiction risk."

By contrast, the Australian scientists who wrote the Addiction article say "more research is needed to determine whether increased potency...translates to harm for users." Unlike our government, they are open to the possibility that the link Volkow seeks to establish does not in fact exist.

To bolster the idea that marijuana is more addictive today, the ONDCP notes that "16.1% of drug treatment admissions [in 2006] were for marijuana as the primary drug of abuse," compared to "6% in 1992." But referrals from the criminal justice system account for three-fifths of these treatment admissions, and marijuana arrests have increased by more than 150 percent since 1990.

By arresting people for marijuana possession and forcing them into treatment, the government shows why it has to arrest people for marijuana possession. That's our self-justifying drug policy in a nutshell.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal, Florida Says


MIAMI — From "Scarface" to "Miami Vice," Florida's drug problem has been
portrayed as the story of a single narcotic: cocaine. But for Floridians,
prescription drugs are increasingly a far more lethal habit.

An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical
Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription
drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs

Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug
abuse, which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up
and that the state must do more to control it.

"You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then
there are crimes like robbing drug shipments," said Jeff Beasley, a drug
intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which
co-sponsored the study. "There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs,
and that's what makes things complicated."

The report's findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug
Enforcement Administration, which has found that roughly seven million
Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an
increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine,
heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants.

The Florida report analyzed 168,900 deaths statewide. Cocaine, heroin and
all methamphetamines caused 989 deaths, it found, while legal opioids —
strong painkillers in brand-name drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin — caused

Drugs with benzodiazepine, mainly depressants like Valium and Xanax, led to
743 deaths. Alcohol was the most commonly occurring drug, appearing in the
bodies of 4,179 of the dead and judged the cause of death of 466 — fewer
than cocaine (843) but more than methamphetamine (25) and marijuana (0).

The study also found that while the number of people who died with heroin in
their bodies increased 14 percent in 2007, to 110, deaths related to the
opioid oxycodone increased 36 percent, to 1,253.

Florida scrutinizes drug-related deaths more closely than do other states,
and so there is little basis for comparison with them.

It has also witnessed several highly publicized cases in recent years that
have highlighted the problem. Only last year, an accidental prescription
drug overdose killed Anna Nicole Smith in Broward County.

Still, the state has lagged in enforcement. Thirty-eight other states have
approved prescription drug monitoring programs that track sales. Florida
lawmakers have repeatedly considered similar legislation, but privacy
concerns have kept it from passing.

As a result, federal, state and local law enforcement officials say, Florida
has become a source of prescription drugs that are illegally sold across the

"The monitoring plan is our priority effort, but that is not enough,"
William H. Janes, the Florida director of drug control, said in a statement
accompanying the study. He said Florida was also looking at ways to curb
illegal Internet sales and to encourage doctors and pharmacists to identify
potential abusers.

Some local police departments have taken a more novel approach.

In Broward County on May 31, deputies completed a "drug takeback" in which
$5 Wal-Mart, CVS or Walgreens gift cards were distributed to 150 people who
cleaned out their medicine cabinets and turned in unused drugs in an effort
to keep them out of young people's hands.

"The abuse has reached epidemic proportions," said Lisa McElhaney, a
sergeant in the pharmaceutical drug diversion unit of the Broward County
Sheriff's Office. "It's just explosive."


Sunday, June 15, 2008


The gray world of medical marijuana law seems to have just gotten a bit grayer.

A California court of appeals ruled last month that the restrictions on the amount of marijuana a patient can possess and cultivate outlined in Senate Bill 420, passed in 2003, are unconstitutional, causing counties across the state to rethink their medical marijuana ordinances.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors voted this week to drop its ordinance that restricted medical marijuana cultivation to 99 plants grown in a 100-square-foot space, after spending weeks actually discussing tightening those restrictions. Humboldt County may soon follow suit.

"( The court decision ) adds another layer of ambiguity to an already ambiguous law," said Del Norte District Attorney Mike Riese. "It was an enforcement headache to begin with -- it may have graduated to an enforcement migraine at this point."

In the appellate ruling in the case of the People vs. Patrick Kelly, the court ruled SB 420 to be unconstitutional because it amended a voter-passed initiative, Proposition 215, that didn't explicitly say it could be amended by the Legislature. According to the court's ruling, Proposition 215 can only be amended by a ballot measure.

Because SB 420 filled in the blank slate of Proposition 215, outlining the maximum restrictions a county could impose on medical marijuana patients -- a maximum of six mature or 12 immature growing plants and up to eight ounces of dried, processed marijuana -- the court ruled it unconstitutional, saying it was in fact an amendment to Proposition 215.

This leaves California counties, like Del Norte and Humboldt, without any standards for determining what quantities fall within medical use. And, that is being interpreted in different ways.

In rolling back its guidelines, Del Norte County is essentially leaving the ball in law enforcement's court, according to County Counsel Dohn Henion.

Under the previous ordinance, Henion said the Del Norte County Sheriff didn't touch anyone with a 215 recommendation that was growing less than 99 plants, or in possession of less than one pound of dried marijuana. That's all changed.

Henion said it will now be the responsibility of the patient to show law enforcement that whatever quantity they have is solely for medical use and the responsibility of law enforcement to decided whether that quantity is legal.

"The obvious easy answer is if the medical marijuana is medically necessary, have your physician specify the dosage and the amount you can have in your possession," Henion said.

But doctors might not be willing to do that, said Eureka attorney Neal Sanders, who specializes in marijuana cases.

"There's really no way for a doctor to say you have to smoke X amount of marijuana to get the relief you need because the potency is so varied," he said.

Riese said in all the marijuana cases he's dealt with, he's yet to see a 215 card or recommendation that specifies an amount.

Sanders said Del Norte County's approach in wiping out standards and leaving the issue at the discretion of law enforcement is problematic because it essentially assumes the possession or cultivation to be illegal unless the patient can persuade them otherwise.

"The problem with that set up is that it puts sick people in jeopardy of being put in jail for using the medications their doctors have recommended, and it doesn't even give those people that need medical marijuana any type of guidance on what will be legal for them to use," Sanders said.

"Essentially, what we're trying to avoid is patients being harassed by law enforcement, and essentially what they are doing is writing a blank check to law enforcement to harass whomever they want," he said.

Riese said he's not happy with the county's decision either, calling it a "knee-jerk" reaction to an appellate decision that's not even in his district. Riese said some guidelines are simply needed.

"My guess is that advocates of medical marijuana would want acceptable standards, law enforcement would want acceptable standards and you will find no other section of the Health and Safety Code that doesn't have objective standards," Riese said. "It's for uniform enforcement."

Without an ordinance in place, Riese said he and law enforcement will have to address the issue on a strictly case-by-case basis.

Back in Humboldt County, District Attorney Paul Gallegos said his office feels the appellate decision makes it impossible to enforce the county's ordinance -- which allows patients to cultivate 99 plants or less and possess up to three pounds of processed marijuana.

"The way we interpret it, that part of the law and the ordinance is just void," Gallegos said, adding that, without blanket guidelines, his office would also be looking at the issue on a case-by-case basis. "It's going to be case by case, but what we're going to be looking at is the details: the nature of the cultivation, the wattage consumption and things like that."

But, Gallegos said none of that should indicate a legal free for all.

"We don't want people to just go crazy, because people need to understand that if they don't police themselves, they will necessitate policing," Gallegos said. "There are amounts that exceed reason and indicate to us that it is cultivation for profit."

There are also other ways for municipalities to address the issue, according to Henion. Through health and safety code ordinances, Henion said counties and cities could apply other limitations, like prohibiting indoor grows.

All in all, Sanders said the appellate ruling in the Kelly case has its positives and negatives for medical marijuana patients. The positives, he said, come in counties that adopted the strictest possible guidelines under SB 420, which are now void. The negatives, he said, come in counties like Humboldt, which he said already had lenient guidelines that will now become nebulous.

Back up in Del Norte, Riese said he doesn't see anything positive about the ruling, which he said he expects to see the Attorney General's Office petition for review.

"Going back to where it originally was, I don't think helps anyone," he said. "It makes it harder for law enforcement to enforce and makes it harder for the individual ( patient ) to use an affirmative defense. It's tough to judge a law that doesn't have uniform applications. We're right back where we started -- with an ambiguous law that is hard to enforce."

Newshawk: Richard Lake
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jun 2008
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2008 MediaNews Group, Inc.
Author: Thadeus Greenson, The Times-Standard
Referenced: The Court of Appeals ruling
Bookmark: ora
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Cartels Driven By Desire For Big Payoff

When she was 10 years old, Patricia Montejano sat in a truck outside a stash house in Kansas waiting for a close relative. Although she didn't know exactly what was going on, she could sense the tension in the air.

She was in the company of a drug trafficker who was dropping a load of marijuana.

Montejano said she and her sisters always went along for the ride from JuA!rez to points throughout the United States because law enforcement officials were less likely to suspect an adult with children.

"It was very dangerous," said Montejano, now 26. "Things would clear up, but then ... would just go back and do it again."

Montejano was unknowingly part of a network of Mexican drug cartels that officials say is becoming a powerful supplier of illegal drugs in the United States.

And marijuana is the lynchpin, accounting for more than $8.5 billion in revenue for Mexican drug trafficking organizations in 2005, according to the most recent figures available from the Bush administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Next in line, are cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. Together, they account for slightly more than $5.3 billion each year.

Mexican officials point out that the demand for drugs in the U.S. is driving cartel activity in most cases. And U.S. officials are talking tough about addicts and recreational users who spend their money on the illegal drugs.

"The largest single source of their revenue is marijuana," said John P. Walters, Office of National Drug Control Policy director. "These killers ( cartel bosses ) pay assassins with dollars from marijuana users in the United States and it needs to stop.

"It's not a victimless activity. It's blood money. And every time somebody buys a joint, they need to remember they're contributing to the assassination and murder in Mexico."

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are focused on disrupting cartel activities.

Walters and others tout data showing recent decreases in the use of methamphetamine, cocaine and, among teens, marijuana. They, in part, attribute those trends to drug seizures and restrictions on the chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine.

In fiscal year 2008, the nation will spend $3.2 billion on drug interdiction and the administration has requested an increase to $3.8 billion for fiscal 2009. President Bush also has asked Congress to approve $1.4 billion, most of it for Mexico, to bolster that nation's war on drugs.

"We have ( had ) unprecedented levels of success this year with respect to interdiction," said Michael Braun, Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations. "Much of that success should go to Mexico President CalderA3n and his administration's strategy of taking on these very vicious and ruthless cartels nose-to-nose, head-to-head and not backing down."

Cartels move north

The growing violence in JuA!rez is one indication of the huge payoff waiting for the cartel that can control this portion of the Southwest border. Mexican cartels are establishing dominance in nearly every aspect of the nation's illegal drug trade, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report.

"Mexican ( drug trafficking organizations ) -- the principal smugglers and distributors of illicit drugs in the United States -- are exerting more control over illicit drug trafficking throughout the nation," according to the National Drug Threat Assessment -- 2008, released late last year.

The assessment also states that Colombian organizations are relying more on Mexican cartels to smuggle South American heroin into the U.S., "enabling Mexican ( organizations ) to control the flow of both Mexican and, increasingly, South American heroin into U.S. drug markets."

But the Mexican cartels are not satisfied simply moving someone else's product.

Expanded opium poppy cultivation and decreased eradication in Mexico also could increase the Mexican cartels' profile in heroin sales, the report states, adding that increasing purity of Mexican heroin might create a greater demand for the product.

The report also states that, despite success against the Colombian cartels, cocaine production is expected to remain stable and that Mexican cartels will be the "dominant distributors," with most of it flowing in through Texas.

Another opportunity for the Mexican cartels has been created by the success of law enforcement efforts to shut down methamphetamine labs in the U.S. The Mexican cartels have been setting up labs in northern Mexico, according to the assessment, and are now "the primary source of methamphetamine in U.S. drug markets."

Mexican cartels, and to a lesser degree Asian cartels, increasingly are sending members to grow marijuana in the United States, sometimes setting booby traps and posting armed guards on public lands.

As marijuana eradication efforts in the U.S. have increased, the cartels have turned to equipping residential homes with hydroponics and special lighting systems to grow marijuana. The indoor pot also is typically more potent because of the ability to control growing conditions.

However, "most of the marijuana available in the United States is lower-potency, commercial-grade marijuana produced in Mexico," the report states.

The cartels typically employ "low-level couriers" to smuggle cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin on overland routes across the Southwest border, the report states.

As the cartels evolve, so do the counter-drug agencies' tactics.

"We're always changing our strategies," Braun said. "And we've learned over the years that when we change our strategies, we cause traffickers to change their behavior. Every time we cause them to change their behavior, they become more vulnerable and our successes begin to rise."

An alternate solution proposed by some critics of the drug war is to legalize drugs -- marijuana in particular. They say the demand for the illegal supply would drop dramatically. The drug could be regulated to keep it out of the hands of youth, they say, and taxed to fund prevention and treatment.

The country's top counter-drug officials sneer at the idea.

"It's a silly argument put forth by people who have a hidden agenda to legalize drugs," said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C. "It's not a responsible health policy to make marijuana more available in society."

Seeking help

After three or four years of transporting drugs for the cartels, Montejano said her relative was busted in a sting operation and sentenced to prison. After being released, the person sought help and has been clean for six years, Montejano said.

But Montejano descended into drug and alcohol addiction. Although her main problem was alcohol, she says she used cocaine to increase her stamina during drinking binges.

As long as she had a dealer, getting the drug was easy, she said. When the dealer disappeared she would go searching for a new connection.

Then, after three drunk-driving convictions, the loss of her license, and the threat of a jail sentence, which would have separated her from her daughter, she was given an option -- drug court, which requires treatment.

Administration officials point to some 2,000 drug courts for nonviolent offenders as a way to reduce demand. Funding random drug-testing programs at high schools is another administration goal.

The tab -- $3.5 billion a year -- about equals the money spent on interdiction, officials said.

"We're treating more people ( and ) we're seeing declines in drug use, which is all to the good, and we want to accelerate those," Walters said. "We get more progress by reducing supply and demand together."

However, there is a "treatment gap," Lemaitre said, which means more people are seeking treatment than can be accommodated in the programs.

Although treatment is not a quick fix, drug courts provide a way for some offenders to stay out of jail. That means they can become, or remain, gainfully employed.

Montejano entered drug court in 2004. At first, she said, she was rebellious and refused to comply with the program's rules. When she violated the rules, she went to jail for a day or two. And, each time, she had to begin the 18-month program over.

Clean for a year and three months, she now counsels people who are facing foreclosure on their homes and plans to become a social worker focusing on drug and alcohol counseling.

Montejano said she agrees with Walters' contention that people support cartels by buying illegal drugs. But her case might shine a light on one way to reduce demand in the U.S. -- expanding treatment for addictive behavior.

"I want to help exactly the way I was helped," Montejano said.

Newshawk: An Injury to One is an Injury to All
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jun 2008
Source: El Paso Times (TX)
Copyright: 2008 El Paso Times
Author: Chris Roberts

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Huffingtonpost: Bob Barr: I Was Wrong About The War On Drugs -- It's A Failure

'll admit it, just five years ago I was "Public Enemy Number 1" in the eyes of the Libertarian Party. In my 2002 congressional race for Georgia's Seventh District, the Libertarian Party ran scathing attack ads against my stand on Medical Marijuana.

Today, I am their presidential nominee and will represent libertarians at the top of the ticket on November 4th.


That's right, Bob Barr, formerly the War on Drugs loving, Wiccan mocking, Clinton impeaching Republican is the presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party.

Now, you may be asking how this happened and my answer is simple: "The libertarians won."

For more than three decades, the Libertarian Party and small "l" libertarians have done their part to prove to America that liberty is the answer to most of the problems that we face today. Over the past several years, I was one of the many people influenced by this small party.

Whether through the free market or by simply allowing families to make their own decisions regarding the education of their children, libertarians have taught us that liberty does truly work.

In stark contrast, when government attempts to solve our societal problems, it tends to create even more of them, often increasing the size and depth of the original problem. A perfect example of this is the federal War on Drugs.

For years, I served as a federal prosecutor and member of the House of Representatives defending the federal pursuit of the drug prohibition.

Today, I can reflect on my efforts and see no progress in stopping the widespread use of drugs. I'll even argue that America's drug problem is larger today than it was when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase, "War on Drugs," in 1972.

America's drug problem is only compounded by the vast amounts of money directed at this ongoing battle. In 2005, more than $12 billion dollars was spent on federal drug enforcement efforts while another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.

The result of spending all of those taxpayer's dollars? We now have a huge incarceration tab for non-violent drug offenders and, at most, a 30% interception rate of hard drugs. We are also now plagued with the meth labs that are popping up like poisonous mushrooms across the country.

While it is clear the War on Drugs has been a failure, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that reality. We need to look for solutions that deal with the drug problem without costly and intrusive government agencies, and instead allow for private industry and organizations to put forward solutions that address the real problems.

One such solution was presented to me recently by a libertarian friend and supporter, Glenn Jacobs.

Glenn is a very unique guy with a very unique job. To say Glenn is a "big guy" or "intimidating" is an understatement. He gives people nightmares... literally.

Each week Glenn, who stands nearly seven feet tall, walks into a wrestling ring under the stage name "Kane" to beat other large men for sheer entertainment purposes.

Had I not pursued a career in politics -- and were about two feet taller -- I might have chosen a similar career path. Maybe...

In June of 2007, Glenn and many of his friends and co-workers in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) were rocked by the news of the Chris Benoit tragedy that took place in my home state of Georgia.

It was speculated that Chris had murdered his family and committed suicide in a steroid or "roid" rage. While it is unclear how much of a role drugs played in Benoit's actions, and whether mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) may also have been a contributing factor, it was clear the WWE had some serious problems within its organization.

In the wake of the tragedy, the head of the WWE, Vince McMahon, and its other leaders looked internally to recognize these problems and address them. Although in the two years before Benoit's death, dozens of wrestlers had been suspended, gone to rehab, or been dismissed under the WWE's recently adopted "Wellness Program," the WWE strengthened its drug policy further, re-emphasizing that its policy wasn't merely a document, but the internal laws of the company that would be enforced.

Additionally, in response to speculation by brain trauma experts that Benoit may have been suffering from brain damage caused by years of blows to the head, WWE added a MTBI component to its Wellness Program.

McMahon didn't wait for Congress to pass a law or parade his wrestlers in front of congressional committee hearings; he took the lead and assumed responsibility over the health and welfare of the individuals who work for the WWE.

As part of the WWE Wellness Program, wrestlers go through regular drug testing and even cardiovascular testing. The latter identified a previously unknown heart condition for the wrestler "MVP" and he was treated for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. The government's War on Drugs wouldn't have done that.

Sadly, the long standing War on Drugs also did not save the life of Chris Benoit and his family. The truth is, only Chris could have saved himself through personal responsibility. However, the efforts of Vince McMahon are making progress in preventing other tragedies and harm.

The WWE is taking responsibility for its talent and giving its participants the resources that they need, through rehabilitation, testing and even anonymous help lines, to deal with any possible problems.

While there may be some employees of the organization who may not like random drug tests or being thrown on a treadmill for an EKG, they have the choice of finding a new employer.

That's the beauty of this libertarian solution. It does not take government intervention or our tax dollars. It also does not force anyone to do anything, as it only requires voluntary action and decisions.

While I applaud the WWE for taking on this responsibility with a libertarian solution, don't bother looking for me at an upcoming cage match on Friday Night Smackdown. I don't want to be responsible for hurting any of those little guys.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In Argentine Drug Courts, A Shocker at Sentencing

BUENOS AIRES -- After getting caught with contraband
like ecstasy tablets and marijuana, a few young
Argentines have been asked by judges recently to pay
an unexpected price for breaking the nation's drug
laws: None at all.

That's because separate federal tribunals here have
ruled that a law penalizing the personal use of drugs
is unconstitutional. Two offenders have been let off
the hook in Buenos Aires. And this week another group
of judges echoed the ruling after considering the case
of a young man arrested with marijuana.

"Criminalization will only apply in cases where the
possession of narcotics for personal consumption
represents a danger for the public health of others,"
the judges announced.

The rulings come as Argentina's government is trying
to come up with a new way to handle a growing domestic
drug-abuse problem. In the past few years, the local
press has been chronicling the rise of paco, a
smokable form of cocaine. It's cheap, highly addictive
and readily accessible, and it has flourished in this
city's villa miserias, the shambolic slums that have
proliferated after the country's economic collapse in

Some high-level government officials say the current
laws only penalize the victims of drug abuse -- the
addicts who need treatment -- and take the focus off
the true criminals, namely the traffickers. While a
legislative panel works to propose a rewrite of the
drug laws with that idea in mind, the judges have
chosen not to wait for a new law to be passed.

Those judges, of course, are now the targets of praise
and condemnation from social critics who interpret the
ruling as either an example of modern enlightenment or
an invitation for things to get out of control.

"This criterion fits in well with the laws of more
civilized nations," Daniel Sabsay, an Argentine
constitutional scholar, told Buenos Aires's Clarin
newspaper. "I believe that with this, the sense of a
broadening of freedom is respected."

Then there are such critics as Claudio Mate, a former
health minister for the province of Buenos Aires, who
told reporters the trend threatened to create the
"absurdity that we would have more regulations for
smokers of tobacco than for consumers of cocaine."

He and others have predicted spiraling rates of drug
use, particularly among teenagers.

"Imagine how bad it could be if the state were to
renounce even further its punitive power," Roberto
Castellano, president of Pro-Life Argentina, said in a
news release criticizing legalization efforts.

Those naysayers seem to be swimming against the
prevailing tide, however, which has been moving toward
a change for several months. This year, Anibal
Fernández -- Argentina's highly influential minister
of justice, security and health -- publicly denounced
Argentina's current drug laws as a "catastrophe."

Fernández pointed to neighbors Brazil and Uruguay as
examples of countries where punishments against
consumers have already been relaxed without
experiencing an upsurge in casual drug use.

But he said Argentines' recent increase in the use of
paco underscores the need for treatment, not
punishment, when dealing with drug abuse.

"We have to stop being hypocrites," Fernández said at
a U.N. forum this year. "Young people also get sick
from the consumption of alcohol and pills, which they
get freely, and we criminalize those for possessing a
marijuana cigarette."

By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 7, 2008; A10

The Grass-Roots Marijuana Wars

Don Duncan says he is not a pot smoker. "I haven't in eight or nine years
now," says Duncan, 37. "It wasn't the right thing for me." Which is ironic,
since he spends most of his day around plenty of cannabis as part owner of a
West Hollywood, Calif. dispensary of medical marijuana, a storefront
operation where as many as 100 customers — Duncan is careful to call them
patients — line up daily with letters from their doctors to procure products
with names like L.A. Confidential and Purple Urkel.

Lately, however, Duncan directed more energy toward his role as California
director of Americans for Safe Access, a group of merchants, doctors and
patients that aims to make it easier to dispense and obtain marijuana for
medical purposes. The organization's central mission: fighting U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration raids on dispensaries.

California is the largest of 12 states allowing marijuana for certain
medical uses, but the federal government considers all marijuana illegal.
The conflicting statutes have led to an uncomfortable existence for
California's growing ranks of marijuana providers. "At any moment, the DEA
can come kicking down the door," says Duncan.

That is just what happened on May 27 to Virgil Edward Grant III, 41, owner
of six L.A.-area dispensaries. Grant and his wife Psyhra Monique Grant, 33,
were charged with 41 counts, including, drug conspiracy and money laundering
and aiding and abetting the distribution of marijuana near a school. Grant
pleaded not guilty on June 2. An employee, Stanley Jerome Cole, 39, pleaded
not guilty to charges of selling a pound of marijuana to an undercover agent
from the back door of one dispensary.

Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles,
called the suspects "nothing more than drug traffickers." Prosecutors say
Cole sold marijuana to a motorist charged with gross vehicular manslaughter
in connection with a December accident near Ventura, Calif. His truck hit a
parked car on a highway shoulder, killing the driver and seriously injuring
a California Highway Patrol officer. Police said the driver was under the
influence of marijuana that he said he had purchased at a dispensary in
Compton, where one of Grant's operations is located.

Even before the Grants' arrest, Duncan's group had stepped up its efforts to
fight the DEA, securing letters from six California mayors to U.S. Rep. John
Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan who is chair of the House Judiciary
Committee, requesting that the DEA halt the raids. In an April letter,
Conyers asked the DEA to explain its use of "paramilitary-style enforcement
raids" against medical marijuana patients and suppliers in California.
Duncan's group also backs a California state senate bill that would callon
the federal government to respect the state's marijuana laws.

In fact, the day the Grants were arrested, Duncan was at L.A.'s city hall
with a group of protesters delivering a petition to enlist the help of Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa (who has not taken a position on the issue). When they
learned that DEA agents were at one of Grant's dispensaries, just a few
blocks away, the group quickly moved to the dispensary, surrounding its
entrance while the DEA agents were still inside. The bust proceeded as Los
Angeles Police Department officers stood by, but also not interfering with
the peaceful rally.

Duncan has been an activist for more than a decade, starting out by helping
to gather signatures for the 1996 initiative that legalized marijuana for
medical purposes. At first skeptical, the Texas-born son of a physician and
a nurse was moved by meeting a Berkeley schoolteacher who used marijuana to
cope with the pain of glaucoma. "I thought, 'this isn't somebody wanting to
get high — this is real,'" recalls Duncan. "I want to help."

Four years ago, he moved to Los Angeles, helping to open a dispensary and
working to recruit activists and local politicians to the cause. Now he does
that from a small office just upstairs from his four-room dispensary, which
sits next to a Tattoo parlor and around the corner from a Target store. Two
beefy security guards watch the door and a smiling receptionist sits next to
a case displaying bongs and other paraphernalia. Inside, patients examine
samples in glass cases. Some day, Duncan says, this will be as normal as
visiting Walgreens. For now, he's less focused on his inventory than on his
group's efforts to supply activists with "raid kits" — protest signs,
bullhorns, and sunscreen — so they can show up on a moment's notice to
confront DEA agents. Says Duncan: "I predict we're going to have a very long

Thursday, Jun. 05, 2008
By Thomas Fields-Meyer/Los Angeles
Find this article at:,8599,1811992,00.html