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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #284, 4/25/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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  1. Editorial: International Singularity
  2. Vienna: UN Reaffirms Prohibitionist Path, Cracks Appear in the Consensus as Clamor for Change Grows
  3. Peru: Coca Farmers Claim Partial Victory After Meeting With President
  4. If It's 4/20 and We're in San Francisco, This Must Be NORML
  5. California County, Patients Sue Federal Drug Warriors Over Medical Marijuana Raids
  6. Newsbrief: Lying Tulia Undercover Cop Indicted for Perjury
  7. Newsbrief: Canadian Government to Unveil Marijuana Decriminalization Bill in June, Newspaper Says
  8. Newsbrief: Brazilian Health Ministry Proposes Legalization of Drug Possession
  9. Newsbrief: Russia Declares War on Drug "Barons"
  10. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story
  11. New WOLA Report on Mexico's Military in the War on Drugs
  12. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)

1. Editorial: International Singularity

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 4/25/03

As usual, this week's drug policy news lacks not in examples of US federal power exerted to protect our government's drug war ideology abroad and at home. From Peru to Canada, from California to Baja California, Washington's economic, diplomatic and legal pressure subverts the ability of democracies to enact drug policies in line with their preferences and interests:

  • Peru's president goes straight to the US embassy after meeting with demonstrating coca growers.
  • Mexico's military involves itself further and further in civilian law enforcement, spurred by US drug war subsidies.
  • Canada's leaders and citizens, desiring marijuana decrim, fret as US drug czar John Walters threatens border crackdowns exceeding those of the war on terrorism if Canada proceeds.
  • Medical marijuana providers in California face severe mandatory minimum federal drug sentences for helping the seriously ill, despite voter and municipal sanction.
  • Advocates at a conference discuss the drug czar's illegal campaigning against ballot measures and the practical effect of the government's anti-marijuana ads as prohibitionist advocacy.
  • Crowning it all, narcocrats around the globe gather in Vienna to reaffirm the drug war's policy stranglehold, under the auspices of the US-dominated UN drug war bureaucracies. And of course, many other examples if we looked only slightly further or farther.
It's not that the democratic process has no room for give or take with outside interests. In principle, the interaction of different levels and nationalities of government can serve to inform and improve the democratic process, resulting in better outcomes than a single region or people might achieve based on their own narrow information, interests or politics. We are, after all, one world, and brought closer together by modern travel, trade and communication.

The problem is the sheer singularity of it. US international drug bureaucrats, aided and abetted by their soul-mates in fellow major international donor nations Sweden and Japan, have locked the entire world into a complex and entrenched system that guarantees the continuation of, and non-variance from drug prohibition in virtually every nation. And federal power within our borders, expanded by willing courts far beyond the levels authorized in the Constitution, stomps hard against the will of voters and the rights of patients in states and cities that wish merely to allow medical marijuana. In DC they wouldn't even let us obey our own election laws to vote on it!

A growing international movement is rising to challenge the prohibitionists, working internationally and nationally, reaching across borders, political ideologies, cultures and language, to break the stranglehold of the international drug treaties. Bringing the global drug control regime into the sunshine and exposing its true inner workings is one part of moving the issue forward and ending drug prohibition in the 21st century.

2. Vienna: UN Reaffirms Prohibitionist Path, Cracks Appear in the Consensus as Clamor for Change Grows

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNCND) midterm meeting in Vienna to review the ten-year anti-drug strategy adopted in 1998 has come to an end, with the UN narcocrats reaffirming the prohibitionist path laid out in a series of UN treaties beginning in 1961. Taking their cue from the country & western song, "Who Are You Going to Believe -- Me or Your Lying Eyes?" the UN anti-drug agencies concluded that all is well and the world is firmly on the way to meeting the UN goal of substantially reducing all drug crops and eliminating drug use by 2008. Still, for the first time, the global prohibitionists encountered significant opposition, not only from drug reformers (or the "legalizer" crowd, as the UN puts it), but from within the governments of some of the countries it has criticized for undertaking even timid half-steps to reform the drug laws, and even within its own ranks.

Despite the presence of internal dissent, hard reform lobbying by European and international non-governmental organizations and street protests, the 145 national delegations in attendance ended the conference on April 18 by reaffirming their commitment to prohibitionist policies based on those of the United States and adopting resolutions designed to heighten anti-drug repressive measures. In their Joint Statement, the delegates also expressed concern over "threats posed by continuing links between illicit drug trafficking and terrorism and other... criminal activities, such as trafficking in human beings."

They also explicitly noted the challenge they face from reformers, with the UNCND expressing "grave concern about policies and activities in favor of the legalization of illicit narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances that were not in accordance with the international drug control treaties and that might jeopardize the international drug control regime."

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, sounded a similar theme in his address to delegates two days earlier. Noting the presence of dissenters both within and without the conference hall, Costa welcomed "their presence as we are always happy to help them understand that laissez faire in self-destruction is not a solution."

And so did the head of the US delegation, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky. "We must resist calls for lenient drug consumption policies," she told delegates. "We know that these policies fail to sustain our important efforts as represented by the international narcotics conventions."

The prohibitionists were emboldened by the delivery of a purported 1.3 million signatures supporting drug prohibition gathered and presented by Swedish arch-prohibitionists the Hasselas Nordic Network ( Who the purported signatories are remains a mystery, though, as the Hasselas web page promising to list them contains only the message that "the list of signatories will be updated monthly."

But while Costa and the delegates painted a rosy picture of success, even he had to admit that much "unfinished business" remains. Overall coca production is down, he said, while noting that it is on the increase in Bolivia and Peru. Opium production is down, he said, while noting that it is on the increase in Afghanistan. Cocaine consumption is decreasing in the United States and Western Europe, he said, while noting it is increasing in Russia and along trafficking routes. And cannabis consumption and production not only remains intractable, he complained, it is "by stealth infiltrating our minds and our society in terms of acceptance." Worse yet in Costa's view, it is increasingly viewed as a soft drug. And then there Costa's new "Public Enemy #1," synthetics such as MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamines. "The stuff is produced everywhere in the world, in hard-to-detect mom-and-pop shops, and also in mafia-run undertakings capable of producing millions of doses," he said.

But while Costa, the UNCND and prohibitionists worldwide pronounced themselves satisfied with intensifying current repressive policies, the clamor for change was louder than ever before. Even as the narcocrats and ministers met, drug war critics launched a public assault on prohibition.

"The war on drugs cannot be won because it is a war on human nature," Sir Keith Morris, former British Ambassador to Colombia, told an April 17 news conference called to highlight opposition to current policies and demand the revision or repeal of international drug treaties during a meeting in Vienna of UN anti- drugs agencies. "History shows that no society ever existed which was 'drug-free.'"

Joining Morris at the press event was Marco Cappato, an Italian member of the European Parliament, coordinator of Parliamentarians for Anti-Prohibitionist Action, and official of the International Anti-Prohibitionist League (IAL), an affiliate of the Transnational Radical Party. "In the five years since the UN launched its war on drugs, the numbers show the use of all the major drugs has increased... as well as drug-related deaths from overdose and HIV/AIDS," said Cappato. Prohibition only benefited terrorists and organized crime, Cappato said, adding that a European Parliament vote calling for more civilized drug policies in the EU lost by only one vote. Cappato's IAL released a Counter Report to the UN's World Drug Report, shedding light on the data behindg INCB's claimed successes.

Cappato and Morris were joined by a plethora of reform groups in the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies (, as well as think tanks like George Soros' Open Society Institute, the European Drug Policy Fund, and the Holland-based Transnational Institute in launching attacks both on prohibitionism and on the UN's continuing commitment to its current prohibitionist path. "This strategy has failed," the European Drug Policy Fund said in a statement. "Far from making progress toward the goal of a 'drug-free world by 2008,' drug consumption is in effect on the rise in both industrial and developing countries, as are drug-related crime and other social ill-effects. After years of continuous setbacks, and with billions of dollars spent on destroying crops and putting people in jail, it is now time to look at more promising alternatives," the statement said.

"The outcomes of this 46th CND session and the midterm review are most disappointing," pronounced the Transnational Institute, accusing delegations of failing to engage in honest analysis of the results of current policy. "The result is a distorted picture of virtual progress in order to justify staying on the same course. The illusion is kept alive that reality will somehow fall into line with wishful thinking."

Britain's Transform Drug Policy Institute also expressed its disappointment. "This meeting has clearly been a missed opportunity," said Institute spokesman Steve Rolles. "What should be a gathering of experts to facilitate the development of effective responses to the global drug problem has instead become a futile restatement of counterproductive policies and unrealistic pledges. As the world drug problem continues to spiral out of control, we are forced to watch the ludicrous spectacle of the CND self-righteously proclaiming that everything is getting better," he said. "The UN drug control agencies and UN drug treaties are aligned to US 'war on drugs' ideology that has been complete disaster everywhere it has been tried. UN drug agencies are so extreme that they are now even condemning 'lenient' countries, including the UK, for developing health based harm reduction policies, despite compelling evidence that such interventions are highly effective. It is bizarre that the UK, hardly a cheerleader for the drug policy revolution, is being singled out for criticism on the basis of a minor legislative tweak to cannabis policing."

But the UN's "bizarre" attack on even marginal drug reforms may be a blessing in disguise for reformers. "The International Narcotics Control Board [part of the UN narcocracy] has discredited itself by condemning the democratic path some countries have taken," concluded the Transnational Institute. "The legitimacy of the Board itself is at stake. Instead of trying to accommodate the pragmatic and evidence-based policy developments, the INCB is taking a collision course with several countries. Policy differences have always existed, but now the divergence has led to cracks in the Vienna consensus."

The attack on British cannabis decrim did just, that according to an ENCOD report on the conference. The British delegation to the conference conducted a "robust defense" of British cannabis policy, with leader Bob Ainsworth laying out the scientific basis for reclassifying cannabis downward and objecting strongly to earlier "alarmist" comments by INCB president Phillip Emafo. Emafo would not reply, ENCOD reported, except to reiterate his objections.

Meanwhile, the INCB was raising German hackles for criticizing Germany's use of safe injection rooms. Marion Caspers-Merk, the German parliamentary secretary of state for drugs, not only strongly argued that Germany's interpretation of the UN conventions allowed for such practices, but also issued a press statement calling for a balanced, realistic and flexible international drug policy.

Such events have begun to cause dissent even within the ranks of the INCB, ENCOD reported. According to the NGO group, members of the INCB council expressed such dissent by attending meetings of the alternative summit organized by ENCOD and others, as well as refusing to publicly back anti-harm reduction statements made by Emafo. Dissent also surfaced in a document prepared by the Legal Affairs Section of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which criticized the conventions' lack of flexibility to allow for harm reduction measures such as safe injection rooms. [Ed: It may be only the INCB's interpretation of the conventions that lacks the flexibility to accommodate harm reduction policies; a number of countries and many experts have disputed INCB's contention that the treaties preclude them.]

The dissent also took to the streets, as several thousand anti-prohibitionist protesters marched across the Danube, releasing hundreds of balloons filled with cannabis, coca and poppy seeds, before settling into the alternative conference at Vienna University.

Ministers and delegates were unswayed this year, but if the dissenters failed to change global drug policy in Vienna, they have at least moved into the mainstream. With a host of European governments increasingly sympathetic to a revised drug policy, with pressure mounting for similar change in Latin America, and with at least some of the UN narcocracy started to pay attention to the rising clamor, Vienna 2003 may well mark the end of the uncontested reign of the global prohibitionists.

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3. Peru: Coca Farmers Claim Partial Victory After Meeting With President

In what local observers described as a "partial victory" and "relative triumph" for Peru's insurgent cocalero (coca farmer) movement, cocalero leaders met Wednesday with President Alejandro Toledo, who took some small steps to alleviate their plight and promised more. Since April 8, cocaleros from around the country had been marching on Lima to demand the government redress their grievances and the president meet with them personally. When thousands of cocaleros began pouring into the heart of the capital Monday, pressure began mounting on Toledo to heed the demand for a meeting, and by Wednesday, after preliminary meetings between cocalero leaders, Prime Minister Luis Solari, and Peruvian drug agency head Nils Ericsson, the long-awaited event took place.

Peru is the world's second largest coca producer after Colombia, and Peruvian coca farmers, eyeing the success of their brethren in Bolivia, have increasingly mobilized to try to block eradication of the crops, to argue for a larger government-recognized crop, to seek an uncorrupted alternative development program, and to demand the release of leaders such as Nelson Palomino. Palomino, the head of the Peruvian Confederation of Coca Growers (Confederacion Nacional de Productores Agropecuarios de las Cuencas Cocaleras del Perú, or CONCPACCP), was jailed last month in Ayacucho on the charge of "support for terrorism" after he led mass protests in that city.

Palomino remains jailed and the much hated drug law of 1978, which mandates the eradication of coca crops, remains in effect, but the government of President Toledo has promised to take steps to better the situation of the cocaleros. That was enough for cocalero leaders to call off the mass mobilization for the time being, according to Peruvian professor and coca expert Baldomero Cáceres Santa María ( "The peasants are returning to their lands," he told DRCNet, "but [federation sub-secretary] Nancy [Rufina] Obregón [Peralta] and other leaders are remaining in Lima for further negotiations with the government."

Although at this point, victory appears more symbolic than real, the cocaleros have already achieved important advances, according to Caceres and former Peruvian drug agency advisor Hugo Cabieses. "They won, even if not completely," said Cabieses. "The poor peasants with their women and children, the combative and beautiful women who spearheaded this important movement, have won over everyone. Those who opposed them at the beginning are now allies in their struggle for dignity," he told DRCNet. "The mass media, which was skeptical at first, has taken up the cause."

And they appear to have won over President Toledo, although how far and how fast the government will move to redress cocalero demands remains to be seen. Cocalero leader Nancy Obregón who stepped forward to replace Palomino after his arrest, brought Toledo and his advisors to tears during the Wednesday meeting, Cabieses said.

"You, Mr. President, taught us to struggle against autocracy and for dialogue when you did your own marches," said Obregón, a mother of five. "You, Mr. President, who come from the same poverty as us, sit in the presidency because of us," she told Toledo in front of a crowd of thousands of peasants at a Lima soccer field. Then in a moment rife with emotion and symbolism, Obregón, along with fellow cocalero leaders Marisela Guillen, Elsa Malpartida, Diodora Espinoza and Lucy Macedo, handed Toledo a gift of coca leaves. Standing before the assembled multitude, Toledo took the leaves from their bag, held them aloft, and said, "These leaves are sacred and you cocaleros are not drug traffickers."

"This is a partial victory, an important first step," said Cabieses. "The cocaleros have been recognized as citizens, and the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers has been recognized as the legitimate interlocutor of the growers before the government -- much to the fury of the bureaucrats, aristocrats and the US Embassy."

The US Embassy is not just sitting idly by, said Cáceres. "Prime Minister Solari went from his meeting with the cocalero leaders to a meeting at the embassy," he told DRCNet. While details of that meeting are not known, US policy in the Andes has been steadfast in its insistence on eradication as the central component of any regional drug strategy. But US intransigence on the issue led Bolivian President Sanchez de Lozada into bitter struggle with cocaleros there and helped push the cocaleros to political prominence. Peruvian President Toledo undoubtedly hopes to avoid that trap, and Caceres, for one, hopes the Americans will have learned a lesson from Bolivia. "We hope the Americans will be willing to allow an Andean solution to this problem," he said.

Also on Wednesday, President Toledo signed a decree acknowledging the legitimate grievances of the cocaleros and instituting a series of minor reforms. Although cocaleros have repeatedly said they are tired of promises from the government, Toledo's agreement to meet with them, his acknowledgement of their cause, and his initial moves to address grievances have convinced them to give the government more time to act. Obregón and other leaders remain in talks in Lima, but the peasant masses, with their signs saying "We are peasants, not terrorists," "Coca is protein and medicine" and "Liberty for Nelson Palomino," are heading back to the fields -- for now. If the government's action's this week are not followed up, the cocaleros vow to return.

Video footage from Mérida:

Nancy Obregón or

Baldomero Cáceres

Hugo Cabieses

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4. If It's 4/20 and We're in San Francisco, This Must Be NORML

Nearly 500 people showed up in San Francisco as the nation's oldest organization working to end marijuana prohibition, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( held its annual conference April 17-20, three days of standard conference plus a day of student activist training. The NORML pot hippie contingent -- paunches growing larger, ponytails grayer -- came out in force, mingling with hempsters, activists, movement honchos, MDs and PhDs, patients in wheel chairs, and a sizable student delegation -- in other words, a normal NORML conference.

In his remarks opening the conference, NORML executive director Keith Stroup sketched out an ambiguous political present and urged listeners to learn the lessons of the past. "The political climate is very strange right now," said Stroup. "We've got more public support for our issue than we've ever had, but on the street level, the feds have been kicking our butts out here." But the very success of the government in persecuting marijuana users can only strengthen the reform movement, Stroup argued, citing the effect of the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision on the growth of campus NORML chapters and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (

Indeed, appeals to learn from the past and to seek out new approaches were a steady refrain. Sometimes the advice was contradictory, but often differing prescriptions dovetailed in common strategic purpose. At times the commentary was bitter, but that bitterness was leavened by a healthy dose of humor and ridicule. And sometimes the advice challenged the conventional wisdom of the pot world.

"We have to think bigger than marijuana," argued Kevin Zeese, executive director of Common Sense for Drug Policy ( "Single issue politics is not the way to go. We have to form coalitions with the undercurrent for progressive change that is coming, with anti-corporate and anti-militarist movements, we have to be active with the Greens and the Libertarians, and we have to target those politicians who are not responsive. We cannot reward people who claim to be our friends, but who don't act like our friends," Zeese said, citing California Sen. Barbara Boxer, whom he called "an absentee senator when it comes to medical marijuana."

For Zeese, the viciousness of the Bush administration presents a political opening. "The Bush administration's extremism and resort to force is a sign of weakness. They are going further than the public wants to go," he said. "The harder they push, the stronger we grow. Heightening the conflict is part of the process. We need to continue to take this to the public, we need more initiatives, even if they fail."

Marijuana Policy Project ( executive director Rob Kampia and the Campaign for New Drug Policy's ( Bill Zimmerman had a few words to say about that. Both had been chastened at the polls last year, with an MPP-sponsored marijuana legalization initiative losing in Nevada and two Zimmerman-led "treatment not jail" efforts failing to make the ballot in Florida and Michigan, one losing in Ohio, and one passing in Washington, DC, only to disappear into political limbo. Neither was prepared to fail again.

"I was humiliated by the results," said Zimmerman, who had previously won 12 of 13 initiatives. That was the problem, he said. "Now that we have succeeded to the extent we did, we are provoking some significant opposition and energy on the other side. That is a sign of our success, not our failure, but we know now we need to be wary of the political situation, we need to know where the opposition is going to come from." Zimmerman showed no taste for again going into hostile territory. "States like Ohio, where they have the capacity to raise money against us, are dangerous. Likewise, in Florida, I'm afraid Jeb Bush could mount an effective campaign against us."

Nor is Zimmerman interested in leading public opinion. "You win by analyzing what public opinion is and then crafting an initiative that gives the people what they want. These are political campaigns, not educational campaigns," he said. And even that's not enough. "Not only do you have to start with a majority, you have to have sufficient funding to deliver a message to voters and to overwhelm counter-messages."

Rob Kampia knows this, and he acknowledged taking a risk in Nevada. "We were polling only 46% and we knew we needed to get out the vote," he said. Kampia presented a careful dissection of what went right and what went wrong in the expensive and closely-watched effort. "We thought we would need 200,000 votes to win and we got 196,000, but the other side came out in force," he said. "Sadly for us, we found that the more regularly someone votes, the more likely he was to be hostile to our issue. At the end of the day, we went down in flames."

Kampia identified several factors that contributed to the measure's defeat. "The Republicans did a really good job of getting out the vote," he noted. "Then we had three horrible marijuana DUI tragedies, including one that killed an editor of the Las Vegas Sun. The Sun subsequently opposed us. And then there were those stupid ads the drug czar is running. While we laugh at those ads, they really hurt us. The repetition of images of teens killing teens and teens raping teens was just too scary for voters. They said screw it," Kampia continued. "Those ads really hurt us. They served as opposition ads."

Still, said Kampia, the effort wasn't a total washout. "Nevada helped increase the national debate on ending marijuana prohibition," he said. "We got extensive national press coverage, we had marijuana on the cover of Time magazine. People were talking about the possibility of it passing, and while it failed this time, now a successful initiative is a real possibility." And the effort helped broaden MPP's base, he said, pointing out that some 3,000 new members made contributions to the initiative.

There were lessons to be drawn from Nevada, Kampia told an attentive audience. Noting the appeal of the drug czar's anti-marijuana ads, he suggested reformers get right down in the gutter with the drug czar to compete. "While it's important to make good solid arguments, at the end of the day emotional arguments work better than logic," he said. "We need to appeal to emotion. We also have to address competing values -- people really are worried about kids having access to pot, about DUIs -- and beyond values, we have to face downright bigotry from some. They don't like the counterculture, they think marijuana is morally wrong. We need to learn from other social movements, especially the gay rights movement, how to make this personal. We have to show the voters that it is their family members, their friends, their coworkers who smoke pot. If they agree that those people in their lives shouldn't go to jail, then maybe we can convince them that other people shouldn't be going to jail either."

In so many words, Kampia was addressing a theme that resonated throughout the conference: the cultural divide symbolized by marijuana. While political victories may be scarce, attendees heard repeatedly that marijuana had already won the culture war. High Times magazine senior editor Steve Bloom regaled the audience with slide after slide of High Times covers featuring toking musicians. Bands clamored to be on the cover, blunts in hand, Bloom said. "They were coming to us," he said.

Mikki Norris of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign ( told attendees about her personal culture war and her effort to normalize marijuana use by persuading users to come out of the closet. Academic Keith Saunders explained how "marijuana users were seen as race-mixing deviants, but they collectivized and created their own popular culture with their own marijuana knowledge."

But while some celebrated cannabis culture, others were not so quick to declare victory. "Marijuana prohibition only makes sense it you consider it as part of religious war," said Mike Gray, author of "Drug Crazy" and producer of a forthcoming documentary on medical marijuana struggles in California. "The current administration is attempting to eradicate the 1960s from our cultural history. They want us to forget Vietnam, they want us to forget the counterculture. Their ads are absurd on their face, and everyone knows it, but they are desperate," he said.

And in one of the more entertaining presentations at the conference, sex advice columnist and Seattle Weekly editor Dan Savage ripped into both the bigotry of the prohibitionists and the timidity of the pot people. Drawing on his experience as a gay man, Savage told the audience that if marijuana users are going to come out of the closet, they need to embrace the stereotypes. "Don't deny the existence of tie-dye wearing Deadheads," he said. "They are the vanguard. They are like the leather dykes. They couldn't or wouldn't hide, they had to fight, and they changed the world."

Again alluding to the gay liberation struggle, Savage urged pot people to heighten the contradictions with their friends and families. "We need to tell them 'you can love me or you can be a prohibitionist asshole, but you can't have both. And if you don't want to see me thrown in jail, why should you want to see that happen to anyone else.'"

In a Saturday luncheon address, actor, activist and NORML advisory board member Woody Harrelson also mixed humor and cultural politics, with one-liners zinging audience-members and prohibitionists alike. "There's a lot of very hungry people here," he noted. "This is a war on non-corporate drugs," he said. "What is Coca Cola but the corporate speedball?" he asked to roars of laughter.

But Harrelson got serious, too. "Anything you're doing that doesn't hurt someone else or their property should be A-OK," he said. "What does it mean to live in a free country? I didn't smoke pot until I was in college, but I took a hit and... wow... I felt so great. To this day, I have a problem with a government that doesn't want you to smoke something because it makes you euphoric. When did euphoria become a bad thing?"

Perhaps President Bush would be better off smoking pot, Harrelson suggested. "The shrub monkey -- what could his drug be?" he asked. Imitating the sound of someone snorting a huge line of coke, Harrelson roared, "I wanna rule the world!"

Harrelson's star power and comic timing overshadowed an important if less humorous luncheon address by American Civil Liberties Union head Nadine Strossen. Strossen placed drug war legal struggles firmly in the context of broader struggles for social justice and asserted that victory will eventually be had. Citing a 1986 Supreme Court ruling upholding Georgia's sodomy laws as akin to some of the rulings supporting the drug war, she told the audience that the law will eventually catch up to justice. "The ACLU never loses a case," Strossen said, "although sometimes judges make mistakes."

But if political and culture struggle were the general themes of the conference, medical marijuana was the star -- not a shocker given the central role of California and the Bay area in particular in the ongoing battle between the Bush Justice Department and medical marijuana users and providers. And while it was a NORML conference, it seemed to be Americans for Safe Access ( who garnered the most attention and the most kudos. ASA, an umbrella group providing proactive defense for the medical marijuana community and led by Steph Sherer and Hilary McQuie, was honored for its efforts at a pre-conference party in Berkeley, where speaker after speaker praised the group for spearheading the counter-offensive to the Bush administration's attacks on medical marijuana. Similarly, speaker after speaker at NORML lauded ASA for raising the public stakes on the issue and particularly for the coup it scored in turning jurors in the Ed Rosenthal trial into critics of the justice system and allies of the movement.

Rosenthal himself attended and addressed the conference, vowing to continue the good fight even if it entailed his going to prison for five years. But Rosenthal was also involved in the only serious public dispute at the conference -- and that dispute reflected the stress and pressure the movement is under as the feds continue to prosecute and imprison lawful medical marijuana providers. The row erupted after Rosenthal publicly labeled San Francisco cannabis dispensary manager Bob Martin as a "snitch" for testifying under subpoena at Rosenthal's trial. Martin, who was not at the conference, was told of Rosenthal's remarks and rushed down to confront him. Crowds gathered as Rosenthal and Martin squared off in a shouting match that generated more heat than light. While that conflict ended when Martin was escorted out of the conference, it erupted again the next day when Martin supporters again challenged Rosenthal supporters in angry arguments.

"This shit doesn't do us any good at all," complained one observer. "They have to figure out that they're on the same side."

Medical marijuana was also the subject of several panels, with experts like Dr. Ethan Russo and Dr. David Hadorn updating conference-goers on the latest science, and California activists like the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club's Jeff Jones, California NORML ( head Dale Gieringer, and movement attorney Robert Raich laying out the patchy progress of the state's Compassionate Use Act so far.

And attendees willing to make the trip across the bay got to see legal medical marijuana in action in a square block of Oakland known as Oaksterdam. At the Bulldog Café and the Lemon Drop, visitors saw card-carrying patients come in to buy and smoke their medicine. On Sunday afternoon, the sidewalk in front of the Bulldog resembled a party, as barbeque cooked and jazz bands played in the warm sunshine and patients tarried to soak it all up. While shop owners understand that the feds could swoop in at any time, they report no problems at all with local or state authorities, and Oaksterdam now stands as a model of peaceful, lawful medical marijuana distribution for the rest of the country.

But conference-goers were interested in the rest of the world, too, and packed the hall to listen to Canadian Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, who led the parliamentary committee whose exhaustive report called for the legalization of marijuana, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy head Eugene Oscapella, and global scene-watcher and Marijuana News ( editor Richard Cowan. Nolin was especially refreshing for US citizens used to moralistic huffing and puffing from American politicians.

While marijuana's risks are relatively low, said Nolin, it does present some risks for the health and well-being of users, and the state is thus justified in intervening in some manner. But such state intervention must be guided by a set of principles. "We must respect the principle of autonomy for our citizens," said Nolin. "We must respect the principles of public governance not solely to control our citizens, but to promote their well-being. And we must respect the legal principle that only actions involving significant harm to others should be subject to criminal law."

Marijuana does not reach that threshold, he said, citing the voluminous study completed last year by his committee. "We cannot confuse the use of illegal drugs with their abuse merely because they are illegal," he said. "The criminal law has only limited use and more harmful than beneficial consequences. We arrest 25,000 people a year for marijuana possession. For 30 years we have deployed massive police resources and unleashed draconian police powers, and we have changed nothing. Canadians now have access to cannabis any time they want. We are not encouraging the use of cannabis, merely acknowledging it."

The Canadian government is expected to present legislation this summer that, while it does not go as far as Nolin's committee recommended, will call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession. But according to Eugene Oscapella, the malevolent gaze of US drug czar John Walters is giving some Canadian politicians the heebie-jeebies. "Many are apprehensive that if we move forward with drug policy reforms we will exacerbate the strains in our relationship with the US," he said, pointing out that Walters and other American politicians have threatened dire consequences on the border in the event of marijuana decrim. "Walters said we tightened up the border to deal with terrorism, but we're really going to tighten it up to deal with marijuana," Oscapella groaned. "It is a situation not of the one-eyed man leading the blind, but of the madman leading the blind," he said.

But it was Richard Cowan who pumped the crowd full of that old-time religion with a passionate speech denouncing the pernicious role of the US in global drug policy. "US narco-imperialism is a shame and a disgrace," he bellowed, his voice tinged with anger. "Its crimes go unseen. It is not addressed by the peace movement or the anti-globalization movement, and that too is a shame and a disgrace. US drug policy results in mass murder and we should not be silent anymore."

If the NORML conference is any indication, the silence is ending, but the path to success remains unclear. To go it alone or ally with other social movements? To put on the suit and tie or let your freak flag fly? To take a chance on educating the public or to follow the public as far as it will go? To take the struggle to the streets or to the courts? To public opinion or political leaders? The questions are being asked, the tactics debated, but only time will tell which are the correct answers.

5. California County, Patients Sue Federal Drug Warriors Over Medical Marijuana Raids

reprinted from NORML News,

The city and county of Santa Cruz joined a federal lawsuit filed this week by the Wo/Mens' Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) and seven patients charging that the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated by last September's federal raid of the WAMM cooperative.

Attorney Gerald Uelmen, co-counsel in the suit, called the decision by Santa Cruz's officials to join the suit unprecedented. "It's quite significant; it's really unprecedented," he said. "There haven't been any prior lawsuits where local governments have joined in."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the US District Court in San Jose, argues that US Attorney General John Ashcroft, acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) director John Brown III, and White House Drug Czar John Walters are violating the 5th, 9th and 10th Amendments as well as exceeding their authority under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution by cracking down on medical marijuana use in California.

"Congress has made no finding that intrastate cultivation and use of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients with the approval of their physicians, as permitted by California's Compassionate Use Act, has any effect whatsoever on interstate commerce," the suit says. It asks the Court to bar the DEA from carrying out similar raids of state medical marijuana dispensaries, and requests punitive damages for the WAMM raid.

Federal law enforcement officials destroyed 167 medical marijuana plants in the WAMM bust. The dispensary served some 250 patients, 85 percent of whom suffered from terminal illness, by providing medicinal marijuana and other health related services free of charge.

6. Newsbrief: Lying Tulia Undercover Cop Indicted for Perjury

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Tom Coleman, the undercover cop whose one-man narcotics task force led to the arrest of 46 people, 39 of them black, in Tulia, TX, in 1999, was indicted by a Swisher County grand jury on three counts of aggravated perjury Thursday. He faces two to ten years in prison on each count if convicted.

The indictments came in the wake of Coleman's testimony last month during an evidentiary hearing into the cases ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The judge hearing that case, retired State District Judge Ron Chapman, recommended that 38 convictions based on Coleman's work in Tulia be dismissed. Coleman simply couldn't be believed, said Chapman. "It is stipulated by all parties and approved by the court that Tom Coleman is simply not a credible witness under oath," Chapman noted. Chapman claimed to have made numerous drug buys, but failed to provide audio or video recordings of his solo work and sometimes worked without notes. Some defendants were able to prove that Coleman had identified them incorrectly, others that Coleman had placed them in Tulia when they were hundreds of miles away. In his testimony last month, Coleman was even weaker than during the trials, claiming to have forgotten key information while continuing to assert his truthfulness.

Of the 46 people indicted on the basis of Coleman's uncorroborated undercover work, eight were found guilty at trial and 27 pleaded guilty. Eight cases were thrown out earlier. Thirteen people remain behind prison bars, although they are likely to be freed once the Court of Criminal Appeals upholds Chapman's recommendation.

7. Newsbrief: Canadian Government to Unveil Marijuana Decriminalization Bill in June, Newspaper Says

Citing an "inside source," the Toronto Star reported on April 18 that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien will unveil its long-awaited marijuana decriminalization bill in June as part of a broader National Drug Strategy. According to the Star's source, Chretien backs the proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a mere ticketable offense that will not create a criminal record. Chretien views the current state of marijuana laws in Canada, with sporadic and inconsistent enforcement, as a "basic injustice," the Star reported.

The government has made no decision on the cut-off weight for "personal use"; they think it should be somewhere between 10 and 20 grams, the Star reported. Thirty grams has been the dividing line between simple possession offenses and possible trafficking offenses, but the government appears to have heeded warnings that today's marijuana is more potent than earlier and seems prepared to accept a lower level.

According to the Star, Chretien and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who has repeatedly vowed to introduce decrim legislation, have faced opposition within the cabinet. Cauchon has faced "an uphill battle" to persuade cabinet ministers John Manley, responsible for border security, Health Minister Anne McLellan, and Solicitor-General Wayne Easter to support decrim. McLellan, who replaced Alan Rock at the health ministry, stopped Rock's medical marijuana distribution plan dead in its tracks, while Easter is in charge of the federal lawyers who continue appeal court decisions challenging Canada's current marijuana laws.

8. Newsbrief: Brazilian Health Ministry Proposes Legalization of Drug Possession

The use and possession of drugs would no longer be a crime under a Brazilian Health Ministry proposal to change that country's drug laws, the Folha de Sao Paolo reported on April 14, according to a translation published on Narco News this week. "The rigor of the current criminal laws on drugs causes unfavorable conditions for access to health programs and participation in programs by drug users, having established use as 'prohibited,' and suggesting that users hide," the Health Ministry concluded in a document presenting the proposed change. The proposal will be debated within the government of President Lula da Silva, where it will face possible competing measures, before da Silva's Workers' Party forwards its final proposal to the Brazilian congress. Lula must forward a proposal to reform the nation's drug strategy to the congress next month.

Under the Health Ministry proposal, drug users would neither be imprisoned nor subjected to forced drug treatment, or "therapeutic justice," as it is known in Brazil. But the prohibition on the sale of drugs would remain. Still, the proposal is far-reaching and even visionary in that it sets as a goal to formulate "policies that can deconstruct the common view that every drug user is a sick person who requires intervention, prison or acquittal."

"This is the more pragmatic and productive alternative, compared to possible punishment for unaccepted behaviors. In this sense, it is fundamental that we work to adopt a non-criminal policy toward users, that fights for promotion of holistic attention to them," Health Ministry spokesman Paulo Macedo told the Folha.

The Health Ministry proposal is only the latest pressure being exerted on Lula, not only from within his government but also from below. See Narco News ( for more extensive coverage of Brazil, including English translations of selected Brazilian press accounts of this ongoing story.

9. Newsbrief: Russia Declares War on Drug "Barons"

Saying that the majority of heroin destined for European markets transits his country, Russian drug czar Victor Cherkesov last week declared war on the "barons" of heroin who, he said, form an international drug trafficking network stretching from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the mean streets of Europe. Cherkesov, head of the recently created Committee of Struggle Against the Drug Trade, called for "new measures" to rein in the explosion of trafficking-related delinquency in the post-Soviet era.

In a speech to the Duma last week, Cherkesov explained that a new strategy was necessary because "current measures against drug trafficking and drug addiction have no effect." Police spend their time pursuing low-level dealers and users while the "big fish" get away, he said.

He did not tell the Duma what new measures he had in mind.

10. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story

This week's winner is Massachusetts state trooper and would-be coke dealer Timothy White. White, a former spokesman for the state police, was arraigned in Norfolk Superior Court on April 18 on charges he stole 25 pounds of cocaine from a police evidence locker in Framingham. The coke was to be peddled through a friend, according to the charges.

White has been jailed since January after what the Boston Globe described as a "drug induced meltdown" in which White beat his wife with his service revolver, then stuck the gun in his mouth and threatened to kill himself. He was ordered to remain in custody pending trial. White, who worked for the state police narcotics unit, allegedly conspired with Robert Crisafulli of Hyde Park, who sold the drugs White stole. The two split the profits, according to prosecutors. Crisafullis is free on $25,000 cash bail.

In what is a standard quote in such cases, Assistant Attorney General William Bloomer called the arraignment "a sad day for law enforcement. "Mr. White violated the oath that he took on becoming a police officer. He violated the trust that the public bestowed upon him."

11. New WOLA Report on Mexico's Military in the War on Drugs

During President Vicente Fox's administration, the role of the Mexican military in counternarcotics activities has dramatically increased. Previously limited to eradicating illicit crops or intercepting drug shipments, the military is now directly involved in efforts to dismantle drug trafficking organizations, from tracking down cartel bosses to staging commando operations to detain them. The military has also penetrated civilian police and law enforcement institutions, with hundreds of military personnel assigned to the Attorney General's Office and thousands more serving in the Federal Preventive Police.

A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), "Mexico's Military in the War on Drugs," written by WOLA consultant Jorge Luis Sierra for the WOLA "Drugs, Democracy and Human Rights" project, describes how the US government has supported the Mexican military's expanded counternarcotics role. WOLA fears such militarization of law enforcement functions and institutions could undermine Mexico's transition to democracy.

Visit to download the complete document in PDF format, or in HTML at or (Spanish). To order a printed copy, call WOLA at (202) 797-2171 or visit to print out a form to mail in with a payment of $3.00 plus $1.50 shipping and handling.

12. The Reformer's Calendar

(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)

April 26, 11:00am-11:00pm, Kingston, RI, "5th Annual Day for HOPE Hempfest," festival at the University of Rhode Island Quadrangle. Featuring music and speeches, admission free, visit or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

May 1, 7:30am, Randolph, MA, "The Beginning of the End," presentation by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, at Lombardo's Function Hall, Route 28, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 488-3630 or [email protected] for further information.

May 3-5, many cities worldwide, "Million Marijuana March." Visit for local contact info.

May 8, 10:00am-evening, New York, NY, "Educate Don't Incarcerate," youth demonstration on the 30th anniversary of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. March from Rockefeller Center to Gov. Pataki's office, noon rally in front of Gov. Pataki's office, 4:00pm youth speak out, party to follow. Call (718) 838-7881, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

May 15, 7:00pm, Rochester, NY, "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed," dinner discussion with Judge James P. Gray, Superior Court of Orange County, California. Sponsored by the Monroe County Libertarian Party, restaurant to be determined, contact Steve Healy at [email protected] or Mike Smithson at [email protected] for further information.

May 17, 1:00pm, DeWitt, NY, ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy Annual Meeting. Featured speaker Judge James P. Gray, Superior Court of Orange County, California. At May Memorial Church, 3800 Genesee Street, contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] for further information.

May 17-20, Indian Wells, CA, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers 2003 Annual Conference. At the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort, see for further information.

May 26-28, Wellington, New Zealand, 4th International Conference on Drugs and Young People. At the Wellington Convention Centre, call +61 (03) 9278 8101 or +61 (03) 9278 8137, e-mail [email protected] or visit for information.

May 28, 7:30-9:30pm, Guttenberg, NJ, discussion on substance abuse and drug policy, with Mary Barr, Cliff Thornton and Mary Barr. At the Galaxy Towers, Tower Two Library, 7002 Boulevard East, call (201) 295-8500, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

June 1-13, Witness For Peace Drug Policy Delegation to Colombia. Contact Alex Volberding at [email protected] or visit for info.

June 6-7, Milwaukee, WI, "Breaking the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs," Midwest Regional Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance and WISDOM, a Wisconsin-based coalition of community and religious leaders for public policy reform. Admission $25 adult or $10 youth, visit for further information.

June 7-11, Denver, CO, 23rd National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry. Visit or contact Sr. Carleen Reck at [email protected] for information.

June 22, Binghamton to Ithaca, NY, "Skate for Justice," 50-mile trek against the drug war, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Full skate beginning in Binghamton, secondary starting point in Richford for skaters who only want to do the last 17 miles, speakers and entertainment at Ithaca Commons in the evening. E-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

August 16-17, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, "12th Annual Seattle Hempfest." At Myrtle Edwards Park, call (206) 781-5734 or visit for further information.

November 5-8, East Rutherford, NJ, biennial conference of Drug Policy Alliance. At the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel and Conference Center, 2 Meadowlands Plaza, visit for further information.

November 7-9, Paris, "Fourth Hemp and Eco-Technologies Exhibition." At the Cité de Sciences et de L'Industrie, call +33(0) 1 48 58 31 37, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

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