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Law Enforcement: Asset Forfeiture Funds Spent on Banquets, Balls, and Balloons in Atlanta

A routine audit of the Fulton County (Atlanta) district attorney's office has turned up questionable spending of money seized from drug suspects under asset forfeiture laws. Less than a month ago, similar apparent abuses were uncovered in the Austin, Texas, police department.

According to auditor's reports, almost one-third of the 376 checks written out of the asset forfeiture account in 2006 were either questionable or not allowed under federal guidelines. Those questionable expenses totaled more than $2 million.

Under federal asset forfeiture laws, money seized by the feds and handed over to state law enforcement may only be used for law enforcement purposes. But District Attorney Paul Howard has a very expansive view of just what that means. According to auditor's reports gathered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the state open records act, Howard's asset forfeiture fund spending included:

  • $1,500 to sponsor the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys;
  • $5,150 for benefits, dinners, football tickets, fundraisers, and balls sponsored by various civic organizations -- none of them directly related to law enforcement;
  • $5,500 spent on rent and catering for a staff Christmas party;
  • $89 for a Superman-style red cape with "Super Lawyer" printed on it that an assistant prosecutor was encouraged to wear at the Christmas party;
  • $150 for a dinner party to celebrate the conviction of a murderer; and
  • $9,100 for Howard's perfect attendance program for students in Atlanta's public elementary schools.

DA Howard defended the expenditures, saying they were tools for fighting crime and boosting office morale. "We cannot pay our employees bonuses. We can't pay overtime," Howard said. "I tried to come up with ways to increase morale."

But county auditors questioned the propriety of the spending, saying Howard may have violated federal asset forfeiture rules. Auditors also raised flags about Howard's mixing various types of funding in the same account.

"This account has several types of funds commingled," the auditor wrote. "These commingled funds include victim witness funds, federal equitable sharing agreement funds and regular operating funds. Commingling these funds is strictly prohibited since all these funds are for a specific purpose."

Howard said there is nothing wrong with putting money from different sources in one account. "We tracked the money," Howard said. "The money was not misused." But he has since created separate accounts for the different funds.

The auditor's reports are not final. They are now being reviewed by a private auditor.

Press Release: California Legislature Passes Industrial Hemp Bill for Second Time in Two Years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 12, 2007 CONTACT: Patrick Goggin at (415) 312-0084 or Adam Eidinger at (202) 744-2671, adam@VoteHemp.com California Legislature Passes Industrial Hemp Bill for Second Time in Two Years AB 684 Would Allow Farmers to Grow Non-Drug Varieties of Cannabis New Compromise Legislation is Ripe for Governor’s Support SACRAMENTO, CA – Last night, California’s Senate and Assembly each voted to approve AB 684, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007. The legislation gives some California farmers the right to grow non-psychoactive industrial hemp, which is commonly used in everything from food, clothing, paper, and body care to bio-fuel and even auto parts. The bill now goes to Governor Schwarzenegger for his signature. The text of the legislation can be found at: http://www.votehemp.com/state/california.html#Legislation . AB 684, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, was authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine). Thanks to their leadership, this is the second time in two years that a bipartisan hemp farming bill has passed the legislature. Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1147. The new version of the bill responds to his concerns. “The new legislation significantly limits the scope of hemp farming to just four agricultural counties, includes a sunset provision, and contains rules on testing crops to ensure the industrial hemp contains less than 3/10 of 1% THC,” says Vote Hemp legal counsel and San Francisco attorney Patrick Goggin. “This bill is a response to the Governor’s detailed explanation of his veto last year. Everyone knows hemp farming is consistent with California’s effort to be leader on US environmental policy. We believe this new hemp legislation is deserving of the Governor’s signature,” adds Goggin. Farmers would only be able to grow industrial hemp as a pilot program in Imperial, Kings, Mendocino, and Yolo counties. Hemp is a versatile plant that is taking off as an organic food and body care ingredient. Imports from Canada of hemp foods grew 300% between 2006 and 2007. Today more than 30 industrialized nations grow industrial hemp and export it to the US. Hemp is the only crop that is both illegal to grow and legal for Americans to import. There is strong support for hemp in California. A telephone poll of likely California voters, taken from February 22 – 26, showed a total of 71% (+/- 3.5%) supporting changes to state law allowing farmers to grow hemp. The survey was conducted by the respected research firm Zogby International on behalf of Vote Hemp and five manufacturers of hemp food products, including Alpsnack®, French Meadow Bakery®, Living Harvest®, Nature’s Path Organic Foods® and Nutiva®. Poll questions and results regarding industrial hemp farming policy and consumer attitudes on hemp products and nutrition can be viewed online at: http://www.votehemp.com/polls.html # # More information about hemp legislation and the crop’s many uses can be found at www.VoteHemp.com.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Harm Reduction: Pennsylvania Moves to End Prescription Requirement for Buying Needles

Pennsylvania is one of the few states remaining that still require a prescription to buy a needle, but that could change soon. The Pennsylvania Pharmacy Board has submitted for public comment a proposed rule that would eliminate the prescription requirement.

The move is generally supported by Keystone State harm reduction organizations, who view it as a move that will help reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases among injection drug users.

The proposed rule would limit the number of needles one could purchase without a prescription to 30 at a time. Most other states have no limit on the number of needles that can be purchased. Syringes would remain stored in the prescription area of drug stores. People who wish to obtain a prescription to purchase needles (for insurance purposes) would still be able to do so.

The period for public comment will end September 25, after which the board will decide whether or not to move forward on the proposed rule.

Feature: Stirring the Pot in Denver -- "Lowest Law Enforcement Priority" Marijuana Initiative to Go to Voters As Activists Bedevil Council, Mayor

The Denver city council agreed August 27 to put an initiative to make adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority on this fall's municipal ballot. It's not that the council likes the idea; in Denver, the council must either send initiatives that have gathered the required number of voter signatures to the voters or approve them and put them into law immediately.

Unlike a number of other cities across the country that have lowest law enforcement priority marijuana ordinances, marijuana is actually legal under Denver's municipal code. Voters there voted to legalize it in 2005, but local law enforcement and political officials have refused to implement the will of the voters, instead arresting marijuana offenders under Colorado state law. Despite the clear signal from the voters, marijuana arrests actually increased last year.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/saferrally.jpg
SAFER rally, August 27, 2007
Although the council unanimously approved putting the initiative before the voters, various members lambasted it as mainly symbolic and its supporters for making "a joke" out of elections.

"You're trying to make a joke out of the electoral process in Denver," said Councilwoman Carol Boigan. "I think this is aimed at street theater and capturing media attention."

Even members who support drug policy reform, like Councilman Chris Nevitt, who supported the 2005 legalization initiative and the failed 2006 state legalization initiative, said the lowest priority initiative was the wrong way to go.

"The war on drugs is as misguided as the war on Iraq," said Nevitt, who compared the country's drug laws to the failure of Prohibition. "This issue needs to be taken to the state and federal level. Denver voters have already spoken."

The initiative is the brainchild of Citizens for a Safer Denver, the latest incarnation of executive director Mason Tvert's SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which started off winning campus votes to equalize penalties for marijuana and alcohol, then moved on to the stunning legalization victory in Denver two years ago. SAFER's primary point, which it hammers at continuously, is that marijuana is safer than alcohol.

Tvert and his fellow activists have specialized in tormenting the Denver political establishment for its stand on marijuana, particularly targeting Mayor John Hickenlooper, who owns the Wynkoop microbrewery and who opposed the legalization initiative, the failed statewide legalization initiative (which won majority support in Denver), and the pending initiative. They once followed Hickenlooper around with a man wearing a chicken suit named "Chickenlooper" when he refused to debate them.

SAFER and its latest municipal incarnation have also specialized in innovative tactics designed to incite media attention to advance their cause. And they've been at it again in recent weeks. In an August 23 press release the group offered to withdraw its initiative if the city council and mayor would agree to enact a moratorium on marijuana arrests during next summer's Democratic national convention, agree to formally recognize that adult marijuana use is less harmful than alcohol use, and agree to explore marijuana policies that reflect the understanding that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

"In order to demonstrate their commitment to a more rational approach to the use of marijuana and alcohol -- and to set an example for the rest of the nation -- our campaign respectfully requests city officials enact a moratorium on citations for adult marijuana use during the 2008 Democratic National Convention," said Tvert in the press release. "Tens of thousands of people will be flooding Denver for this tumultuous event, and visitors and city residents should not face the threat of arrest for simply making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. After all, this is the first city in the United States that has voted to remove all penalties for private adult marijuana use," he noted.

"We understand the Denver City Council and Mayor Hickenlooper are extremely concerned about maintaining order during the convention. By allowing adults to consume marijuana instead of alcohol during this hectic time, they could potentially prevent the disorder that all too often accompanies the use and abuse of alcohol."

"The council was looking for ways to keep our initiative off the ballot, so we decided to help them out," Tvert told the Chronicle this week. "We also wanted to generate some attention as the spotlight is put on Denver for the Democratic national convention."

The council and mayor unsurprisingly didn't bite, but the offer received saturation press in Denver and Colorado, and even managed to earn a story in the Washington Times, "Pot Touted to Calm Denver Rallies."

"The council basically pulled a 180 trying to fight to keep it on the ballot in the face of our offer," Tvert said. "We weren't allowed to withdraw the initiative, but this just shows they're trying to void this any way possible."

Tvert also had some less than kind words for the mayor and the council. "The council has signaled they will oppose the initiative," he said. "There are three who say they are with us in spirit but against this particular law. Our city council has every right to tell the police to stop arresting adults for marijuana possession, but these people are acting like cowardly sell-outs," he said, singling out council members Chris Nevitt and Doug Linkhart, both of whom support marijuana legalization.

Neither Nevitt nor the mayor's office returned Chronicle calls seeking comment, but Linkhart did.

"I would like to see marijuana legalized in Colorado," said Linkhart. "Voters here in Denver have twice voted for that, and I supported those efforts. But I don't support this initiative. The police are sworn to enforce the law, and you either have the law or you don't," he said.

Linkhart also attacked Tvert over his tactics. "His stunts make some elected people angry, and that may hurt his cause," he said. "He is good at getting a lot of attention and getting the media involved, but I'm not sure that really helps his cause."

"They say this measure is only symbolic, but it will create a law that they will have to break if they want to continue doing business as usual," Tvert said. "We're forcing their hand on this."

Tvert and Citizens for a Safer Denver also managed to generate a story in the Denver Daily News the day of the council vote that outed at least four council members and the mayor as having smoked marijuana. Titled "Hypocrisy on Pot?," the piece could not have been more timely.

"We knew the mayor had partaken," said Tvert. "He says he had admitted it, but it was news to most people. This just shows how full of crap they are. We had a couple of council members saying marijuana is a gateway drug, but those council members who smoked, as well as the mayor, all seem to be functioning well," he snorted.

And while the fall vote is still weeks away, Tvert and the crew are keeping up the pressure on the mayor and the council. Their latest move is to demand a public hearing on a measure that would renew the city's partnership with the Coors Brewing Company, based in suburban Golden. The deal would allow Coors to sponsor events at the Colorado Convention Center, among other venues. The deal "sends the wrong message to children," said Tvert.

"Once and for all, the Council needs to explain why it is necessary to punish adults for using marijuana in order to send the right message to children, yet somehow it's no problem to have our city officially partner with an alcohol company to promote alcohol use to all who attend these events, including children," he said, adding that he is concerned that Coors could be sponsoring a circus next month where many children will be in attendance.

Maybe the Denver political establishment would be better off getting on board with its citizens' views on what the marijuana laws should be. At least then, it wouldn't have Tvert to hound it.

Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: August 23, 2007 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford (415) 573-7842 Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property Hearing Today in state appellate court could mark an end to years of local law enforcement violations What: Oral arguments for two medical marijuana "Return of Property" cases in State Appellate Court When: Thursday, August 23 at 1:30pm Where: California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, 925 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana Who: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, Chief Counsel Joe Elford will all be available for comment after the hearing Santa Ana, CA -- After more than two years, Garden Grove patient Felix Kha may finally see the return of his wrongfully confiscated 8 grams of medical marijuana. California's Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana will hear oral arguments today in a case that has drawn the attention of the State Attorney General and the California Police Chiefs Association. Both organizations filed amicus briefs in the case, which supported opposite sides of the issue whether law enforcement has a right to seize a patient's marijuana and, in the event of an unlawful seizure, whether that patient has a right to get it back. Kha was cited for marijuana possession and had his medicine seized in June 2005, but after the case was dismissed in August 2005, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the return of his medicine. However, the City of Garden Grove not only refused to return Kha's unlawfully seized property, it also appealed the order, an unprecedented action by a California city. "More than ten years after the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, patients are still victim to routine medical marijuana seizures by local law enforcement," said Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel, and Kha's attorney, Joe Elford. "It is bad enough to have your medicine indiscriminately seized by police, but to then be denied its rightful return shows a blatant disregard for state law and the hundreds of thousands of California patients for whom this law was designed to protect." Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has compiled reports from nearly eight hundred patient encounters with local or state police during a period of more than two years. These reports show a glaring trend: more than 90% of all encounters result in medicine seizure by police regardless of any probable cause. According to reports received by ASA, rampant seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients and primary caregivers has taken place in 53 of California's 58 counties. These violations of state law occur in both urban and rural locales, in the north as well as the south, and by both city and county law enforcement. Until 2005, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) held the record for the worst violator of Proposition 215, with a policy of mandatory seizure of medical marijuana regardless of patient status. In early 2005, ASA sued the state's top law enforcement agency and by August of that year the CHP had revised its policy to better respect patients' rights. As a result of that policy change, the CHP went from being the most irresponsible law enforcement agency with regard to the unlawful seizure of medical marijuana to one of the state's best. As a result of different litigation, also involving ASA, the County of Merced revised its police policy in June 2007 to prevent the unlawful seizure of marijuana from qualified patients. As a consequence of the high number of medicine seizures, ASA has assisted scores of patients in seeking the return of their property. Although fairly onerous, California criminal courts have a mechanism to seek the return of medical marijuana; patients can file a motion for return of property and request a hearing. According to ASA, at least thirty of these motions have resulted in Superior Court orders and the return of patient medicine. At the same time, an undue number of denials have also occurred. In fact, Kha's case will be heard alongside the case of Jim Spray, a Huntington Beach patient that was denied a court order by a different judge in the same Superior Court that issued Kha's order. This discrepancy makes the issue ripe for an appellate court decision.
Location: 
Santa Ana, CA
United States

Marijuana: Humboldt County Supervisors Say Legalize It

In a 4-0 vote, the Humboldt County, California, Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send a letter to their congressional representative asking him to work to legalize marijuana. Humboldt County is part of Northern California's famed marijuana growing "Emerald Triangle."

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Humboldt County ''Drug Enforcement Unit'' -- just abolish it
The letter, which was proposed by Supervisor Roger Rodoni, asks US Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) for his "support in helping to initiate legislation which will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana."

Rodoni pronounced himself pleasantly surprised by the unanimous vote in an interview this week with the Eureka Reporter. "I was prepared to consider it a furthering of the conversation," he said, adding that he didn't anticipate the board's receptive vote.

The move comes on the heels of a similar effort by nearby Mendocino County, which last month endorsed marijuana legalization. Other California localities have approved measures calling for the taxation and regulation of marijuana, including Oakland (2004), Santa Cruz (2006), and San Francisco (2006).

Marijuana is a multi-billion dollar business in California and is especially important to local economies in Northern California.

Drug War Prisoners: Pain Patient Richard Paey to Get Shot at Early Clemency

A Florida man serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer for attempting to obtain pain medications for his back injuries will be granted an expedited chance to appeal for clemency. Richard Paey, 48, has already served four years in Florida prisons for using undated prescription forms to obtain pain medications.

Inmates must typically serve at least a third of their sentences before being considered for clemency. But in the Paey case, which has received national attention, the state Clemency Board last week voted to grant a waiver. His case is scheduled to be voted on by the board next month.

Paey, a former lawyer and father of three, was observed going from pharmacy to pharmacy in his wheelchair seeking medications to relieve the pain from a 1985 auto accident that injured his back. Prosecutors argued that anyone forging prescriptions to obtain so many pain pills had to be selling them, but Paey said he had to use large amounts of opioid pain relievers to be able to function. Paey's pain is so severe that the Florida Department of Corrections has him on a morphine pump.

Paey appealed his conviction, but the Florida Supreme Court in March refused to hear his case. Now, clemency appears to be his best shot at regaining his freedom.

(The November Coalition has posted an important action alert about the case here.)

Feature: Push for Medical Marijuana Underway in Kansas

An effort to bring Kansas into the ranks of the medical marijuana states took a big step forward last Friday as one of the state's most well-known political figures appeared at a news conference at the state capitol to announce his support of such a move. Former Attorney General Robert Stephan, a Republican who held the position from 1979 to 1995, told the news conference the state has an obligation to act to allow its citizens to use medications that would alleviate suffering.

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Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
"Let me make clear that I am in no way advocating drug legalization," said Stephan, who has been on record as a medical marijuana supporter since 1983. "But I also do not believe that the state should preempt the role of the physician when it comes to deciding what's best for ill Kansans. That's why I support changing state law to ensure that individuals can obtain and use a limited amount of marijuana if recommended by their doctor -- without fear of prosecution."

Stephan cited his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as the suffering of other patients, in calling for a Kansas medical marijuana law. Rejecting opposition to the medicinal use of marijuana as "voodoo medicine" and recounting the moans of misery he heard on the cancer ward, Stephan said, "It seemed incomprehensible to me that there should be such suffering and any drug, including marijuana, should be available to assist the patient." Stephan said access to medical marijuana should not be limited to cancer patients. It has proven useful for glaucoma, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other diseases, he said.
Stephan declined a Drug War Chronicle request for an interview. He said he feared talking to a publication that advocates for drug legalization would damage his cause.

Last Friday's event marked the public coming out for the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which has been busy laying the groundwork for a campaign it hopes will lead to legislation next year. It certainly garnered attention in the Jayhawk State. A Google search this week produced dozens of local media mentions of the news conference.

And that's just fine with KSCCC head Laura Green. "Our goal is to get a bill introduced in the Kansas legislature to protect seriously ill Kansans from arrest and prosecution for using marijuana as a medicine," said Green, "and this will kick-start the conversation."

It is a conversation that could use a boost in the Heartland. Twelve states with some 50 million inhabitants currently have medical marijuana laws, but none of them are in the Midwest. Efforts in legislatures in states such as Illinois and Minnesota have not reached fruition, while voters in South Dakota last year narrowly defeated a medical marijuana initiative -- the first state to reject medical marijuana at the ballot box.

The KSCCC is not carrying a pre-drafted bill to present to the legislature, said Green. "We're still five months away from the legislative session, so we don't have a bill yet," she said. "We're working with individual legislators and trying to built support and a consensus. There are many different medical marijuana models out there, and we're looking for one that our legislators can get comfortable with," Green said.

Some Kansas politicians were quick off the mark to reject medical marijuana after last Friday's press conference, but Green is not concerned. "We don't have a lot of political support right now, but that's to be expected," she argued. "Some politicians say they haven't had a chance to hear from their constituents, while even some of the ones who say publicly they're against it tell us something different in private."

It's not just legislators, said Green, who added she and the KSCCC will do everything they can to make sure elected officials do hear from constituents favoring a medical marijuana bill. The coalition is about a year old and some 400 members strong right now. "We're going around the state recruiting members -- patients, physicians, nurses, members of the religious community -- to try to build our numbers," Green said.

The Kansas State Nursing Association is a key target. The influential group will vote on a medical marijuana resolution in October, Green said, noting that an endorsement from the nurses will be a powerful tool.

The group is also attempting to get the Kansas clergy on its side. "We are getting a lot of religious support," said Green, who, as head of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas spent long hours mapping out the state's hundreds of congregations as part of laying the groundwork for drug reform efforts. "We did a mailer to members of the clergy last Friday, and we've already had 30 responses. The response from the clergy has really been great," Green said.

If the legislative record in other medical marijuana states is any indication, KSCCC and its supporters have a long and twisting road in front of them. Passage of a medical marijuana law seems to be almost universally a three-year affair, or more. But in Kansas, patient proponents have been laying the groundwork for a year or more, and now they have emerged with a key state political figure standing with them. If they manage to enter the legislative session in January with some momentum, they just might short-circuit the normal, glacial legislative process.

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Update -- Richardson Says Full Steam Ahead Despite Attorney General's "Prank"

Late Thursday night we reported in the Chronicle that New Mexico's Dept. of Health had balked at supplying medical marijuana to patients following a warning from state Attorney General Gary King that he wouldn't defend state workers if the feds prosecuted them. Gov. Richardson, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has ordered the Health Dept. to comply with the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions. I'm not surprised by Richardson's stance, given how hard he fought to rescue the bill last spring when its demise had already been pronounced. Looking at the text of the law, I really have to say I think King is full of it. The law does not tell the Health Dept. to have its own employees grow or distribute marijuana; it tells the department to license people to grow it. Then those licensees will be taking their chances with the feds, for their own individual reasons. But that's not the same thing as state employees being subject to federal prosecution themselves. There have certainly been federal raids of medical marijuana providers in states that have licensed them, but not of the state agencies who have issued them licenses to protect them from state prosecution. Good for Bill Richardson, shame on Gary King, did he really think he could put that one over?
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical Marijuana: A Push Gets Underway in Kansas

While state medical marijuana laws are in place along both coasts, not a single state from the Great Plains to the Appalachian Mountains has passed such a law. A voter initiative last year in South Dakota was narrowly defeated, and while legislative efforts in some Midwestern states, notably Illinois and Minnesota, have progressed, none have made it to a governor's desk. For medical marijuana, the Heartland might as well be the Empty Quarter.

Now, a Kansas drug reform activist and a prominent state politician are hoping to change that. Today, Laura Green of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas and former Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan are holding a press conference on the capitol steps in Topeka to announce the formation of the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which will push to get a medical marijuana law in place in the Jayhawk State.

Stephan, a Republican who was attorney general from 1979 to 1995, came out of the closet as a medical marijuana supporter to local media this week, telling reporters he had supported legalizing the medicinal use of the herb for the past 20 years. His opinion was based on his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as talking to other cancer patients, he said.

"Our objectives are simple," said Green in a press release announcing the news conference and the new organization. "To allow physicians -- not politicians -- to make decisions about what is best for patients and to protect citizens from the risk of arrest simply because they're trying to gain relief from a major medical problem. No one should face the ordeal of arrest and possibly prison because they want to feel better," Green said. "That's why the Compassionate Care Coalition is working closely with state legislators, law enforcement officials, healthcare leaders and others to pass laws that will help our fellow Kansans in their time of need."

Look for a feature article on what's cooking in Kansas next week.

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