In the News

Protecting and serving?

There would be less violent crime in the U.S. today if law enforcement focused more on violent crime. Valuable police resources are squandered each year processing marijuana arrestees through the courts and jails that could instead be used to confine violent criminals. Last year 704,812 people were arrested in the U.S. for marijuana-related charges. There were more marijuana arrests in 2000 than for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault­­combined! Almost 80,000 more!

No matter how we do the math, the energy spent on processing people for marijuana possession is time and money taken away from apprehending and incarcerating violent lawbreakers. Marijuana users are less confrontational than murderers, robbers, muggers and rapists and, consequently, easier to nab. But searching and seizing is being conducted at the expense of protecting and serving. Law enforcement should fully utilize publicly funded resources to protect the citizens they serve from becoming victims of violence, rather than wasting money and personnel on victimless marijuana infractions.

No arrests for cannabis possession in UK

"Taking one person off the streets for possession of marijuana in London takes one police officer off the streets for as long as six hours," said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens in an AP report. Rather than arresting those caught with small amounts of cannabis in London's high-crime neighborhood of Lamberth, police now seize personal amounts from marijuana users and issue warnings.

The experimental program was implemented to reduce serious crimes by recovering the time, energy and money spent on an endless procession of marijuana smokers through the police station. Commissioner Stevens said, "possession and use of cannabis is not a priority." The policy allows officers to focus on protecting the citizenry from predatory criminals without the added expense of augmenting law enforcement resources. The expected success of the pilot program in Lamberth will warrant implementation throughout the rest of the city, according to Scotland Yard. And though most members of Parliament avoid the issue of outright cannabis decriminalization, 80 percent of Britons are in favor of it, according to a poll commissioned by the Guardian last October.

U.S. Attorney says war on drugs is a failure ... almost

Before U.S. Attorney Daniel French was asked to resign by the Bush Administration, much of his time was consumed with prosecuting drug crimes in the Northern District of New York that comprises over half of the state's 62 counties. French a democratic appointee, left office on June 1 in compliance with a White House request that departed from the tradition of allowing U.S. attorneys to complete their term with a new administration.

Throughout his career as U.S. Attorney, Assistant U.S. Attorney and law clerk in U.S. District Court, French saw hundreds of convicted drug dealers sentenced to prison for thousands of collective years. But to his dismay, there never seemed to be a shortage of new drug dealers ready to take their place­­no matter how many millions of dollars were spent on investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating. The former prosecutor didn't say the war on drugs is a total waste of time, money and lives, in a report by Ed Perkins of the Watertown Daily Times, but he may as well have.

"If you judge the war on drugs by the number of people using narcotics, it would be difficult to say we are winning the war on drugs," the former U.S. Attorney said. For every drug dealer prosecuted in his district, ample opportunists arose to ensure that the supply of illegal drugs continued unabated. French calls for increased funding for treatment to slow the demand for drugs. He insists that under current U.S. policy taxpayers are unwitting employers for drug dealers and are paying their unconscionable prohibition-inflated wages.

"You could draw the conclusion that we are an employment agency for new drug dealers," French said. Failed U.S. drug policies are the primary catalyst for the $500 billion underground economy in illegal drugs each year, which continues to attract the best and brightest in the business.

RAND Institute just says no to drug war

The United States has increased allotted drug war spending more than three times since the1980s from $10 billion annually to $35 billion in the late 1990s. Drug Policy Research Director Peter Reuter of the RAND Institute authored a shaming report confirming what is common knowledge to anyone paying attention: U.S. policy has failed to reduce the availability of drugs. Law enforcement watches helplessly as drugs become increasingly available and affordable while the cost of interdiction and incarceration escalate. The report from the major think tank is simply more evidence against drug warriors loathe to see their drug dollars reapportioned to policies that actually work­­namely, decriminalization and the medical model of treatment and prevention.

Crime in the crime-lab

The State Patrol crime-lab in Marysville, Washington is one of six in the state that analyzes confiscated drugs. Officer Michael Hoover worked in the lab directly across from his supervisor testing drug samples from Western Washington police agencies. It seems Hoover's favorite drug test was for heroin. Fellow officers noticed that the eleven-year State Patrol veteran was disproportionately handling cases involving the drug. An internal investigation ensued with a hidden camera focused on Hoover at his workstation for several days. He was captured on tape "palming vials, hiding samples around his desk and otherwise worked secretively," reported the Seattle Times.

Hoover resigned in March and pled guilty to tampering with physical evidence, official misconduct and stealing heroin for months; but there is no way to know how long the former officer's craving for heroin had been satiated by confiscated heroin. He faces up to two years imprisonment.

Prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of cases in six counties that relied upon evidence Hoover analyzed. Evidence from a crime-scene must be carefully handled from the time it is seized until presented as evidence in court. People convicted on charges involving the tampered evidence have been released from prison and others awaiting trial have gone home. Thousands of convictions could be affected if Hoover's drug habit began years ago, rather than the few months cited by prosecutors.

Officer Hoover underwent a rigorous screening process that included a polygraph test concerning past drug use when hired in 1989.

Marijuana suspects flash-banged

Maria Mayor never worried about leaving her house in Pinellas County, Florida after moving to Michigan because responsible tenants were renting the home that had been in her family since childhood. She never had to worry, that is, until she returned home to survey the damage done by police in a marijuana raid. The home where she stayed as a youth on holidays, summer vacations and most weekends is now a blackened foundation.

Police said confidential informants repeatedly bought marijuana from tenants at the house; so to be safe, officers used a "flash-bang" grenade when they stormed the home. Used in high-profile cases as the Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, the flash-bang produces a loud noise and a bright flash designed to distract and disorient suspects. Police admitted dropping the flash-bang down a stairwell during the raid as the tenants reportedly fled to the building's first floor­­where the music studio was located. The soundproofing material on the walls caught fire immediately and burned the home to the ground. Maria Mayor demands an apology from the police and filed a claim against the city for the appraised value of $31,000.

The recording studio belonged to a tenant who was not named in the search warrant. Filing a claim against the city, his attorney said the value of the recording equipment and recordings "could be upwards of $100,000," reported the Tampa Tribune. Taxpayers, as usual, will pick up the tab for drug war excess.

Police spokesman Rick Stelljes defended the use of the flash-bang. "We didn't go out there with the intention of setting the house on fire." Mayor's attorney said police were negligent. "Just the logic of using such a device in this type of situation seems suspect to us." No arrests were made because if marijuana was in the house, as police insist, it went up in smoke with everything else.

Guns and garden shows

A militarized engagement calling upon the National Guard, the Virginia State Police and the Middle Peninsula Drug Task Force was organized to escalate the war on drugs in Virginia. Flying over Middlesex in a loud, green helicopter, the seasoned marijuana spotter and pilot zeroed in on a lucrative plot and began circling. Ground units were on the way, guns drawn and ready for action.

Glen Coberly was tending his garden with a friend when a heavily armed military police force invaded his property and yelled for them to lie face down on the ground. As their rights were being read, the perimeter secured and the immediate danger of the raid had passed, one brave drug warrior relaxed enough to enjoy the tomatoes.

Tomatoes? They looked to be about the right color from the air, the pot spotter defended squeamishly. And what color would that be, may we ask--green? Sheriff Guy Abbott apologized for the mistake and said, "We're just trying to do our best to protect our citizens," quoted the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Olympic pill junkies

Olympic athletes are under a lot of pressure to bring home gold, silver and bronze to their respective countries. Rigorous routines dominate the lives of Olympians and the intense pressure has prompted athletes to resort to performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids and stamina-enhancers.

Dr. Patrick Schamasch, the International Olympic Committee's medical director, oversees the mandatory urine tests used to ensure that athletes are drug free. Before the samples are collected, athletes must declare the legal substances they have taken in the preceding three days. With these disclosures, officials have discovered some of the most heavily medicated people on the planet.

One athlete was taking 29 different pills before last year's Summer Games in Sydney, and the average was 6 pills per athlete in a study of more than 2,000 competitors. Even the average taken by athletes was enough to convince Schamasch that something was seriously wrong. "That's a huge number," quoted the AP on the second day of weeklong International Olympic Committee meetings in July. "That is a concern, that the athletes are consuming huge amounts of medications." Cold tablets, decongestants, vitamins, anti-inflammatories and food supplements are among the legal drugs that athletes abuse regularly. Dr. Schamasch said the most he would ever prescribe would be two, maybe three of these drugs at a time to avoid dangerous reactions.

Choosing poison

It's apparent that government cannot begin to eliminate all the substances that people use to get high. The illegal drugs that prohibition policy seeks to eliminate are as affordable and available as ever, while getting high on common legal substances is dangerously on the rise. Funeral homes in Louisiana and New York, say officials, have reported thefts of embalming fluid, presumably used for soaking cigarettes which, after drying, can be smoked.

Costing about $20, called a "wet," "fry," "illy" and half a dozen other street names nationwide, the poison is found in embalming fluid, nail care products and school science labs. "Wets" are showing up in inner cities, upscale neighborhoods and college campuses, according to AP reports. Kids are smoking formaldehyde.

The affects depend on what chemicals the cigarettes are soaked in. Embalming fluid is a compound of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents. PCP is sometimes a component and has been called embalming fluid on the streets since the 1970s.

What, no gateway drug?

Only 78 percent of high school seniors said "no" to marijuana from 1996 to 1999, according to findings published by the federal government's National Institute of Justice. An upswing in marijuana use among high school seniors--beginning in 1992 and reaching a high in 1996 and holding at 22 percent--prompted the declaration of a "new nationwide epidemic" of marijuana use among teens. But this "epidemic," researchers admit, has been responsible for the decline in drug use. That's right, a decline in the use of hard drugs among teens was recorded, as marijuana became the illicit drug of choice.

While the popularity of marijuana escalated in the 1990s, the use of both heroin and crack cocaine dropped significantly. Could this mean the "gate" in the "gateway drug" never really opened; hinges rusted, maybe, or the latch froze shut? Or, did the gate ever exist in the first place? The government's insistence that marijuana leads to hard drugs is just another federal deception that backfired at the expense of our children.

The increase in pot use is "good news,'' says Drs. Andrew Golub and Bruce D. Johnson, report authors who interpret the data as a probable "rejection of crack and heroin due to their potentially devastating consequences." Fortunately, teenagers got the message without the help of the DEA: mainlining heroin is not the same as puffing on a joint, despite drug war propaganda declaring that all Schedule I drugs are equally addictive and deadly. For those with a propensity to use drugs it seems that marijuana has not been a "gateway" to hard drugs, but a deterrent.

The report is based on data from the national Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program, which tracks drug use among arrestees in large U.S. cities through urine samples. Golub and Johnson examined data collected between 1987 and 1999 on more than 300,000 arrestees in 23 cities and used information from two national surveys to gauge marijuana trends in the general population.