We are putting an album together to support the legalization of cannabis in California. There is a producer and publisher on board. If you have a song about the legalization of marijuana or the plant in general but don't have a distribution plan contact me @Cannabration. We are also looking for visual artists and social networking volunteers.

Marijuana isn't going to legalize itself! Get involved today if you want to #JustLegalizeIt2014 #Cannabration #HempCanSaveThePlanet 
 
 
I'm fixated on the Trayvon Martin murder trial. I've been watching it on HLN while I work around the apartment. But today something came up that forced me to blog about, impairment and nanograms of THC in your system.

The State tried to keep out the evidence that Trayvon had THC in his system because they said that it would be impossible to tell what effect that THC would have had.  The question is:

    Marijuana Impairment Survey

Judge Debra Nelson has ruled to allow Trayvon Martin's toxicology report into evidence in the murder trial of George Zimmerman.

The report showed he had 1.5 nanograms per milliliter of THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana -- in his blood. He also had 7.3 nanograms of another type, THC-COOH, and traces in his urine.


Read more

It was interesting for me to watch the state argue that it would be impossible to tell how #Trayvon would react to smoking pot. How would they be able to determine if it would make him more or less aggressive? My experience in court was pretty much the opposite. 

I had my doctor on the stand testifying that the strains that I was growing were selected because of the proper effect on my pain management. We conferred quite frequently about the different methods of ingestion, extracting the proper compounds of the cannabis I was growing, and which strains relieved which symptoms. At one point, the DA said "and I'm just going to call it #DOPE because that's what it it!" The court let the DA determine my medical needs over my doctor's opinion!! 

#Cannabration #TrayvonMartinMurderTrial #TrayvonTHC #Legalizeit2014 #CannabisLegalization #Dope
 
 
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Posted on May 30, 2013 at 9:56 pm
Susan Soares

A new advocacy group called SAM (Smarter Approach to Marijuana), co-founded by Patrick J. Kennedy, a former congressman and self-admitted alcohol and oxycodone addict, proposes treating marijuana use in the following manner: “Possession or use of a small amount of marijuana should be a civil offense subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program. Referrals to treatment and/or social-support services should be made if needed. The individual could even be monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.” But is this forced treatment for marijuana warranted?

In Psychology Today’s “Is Marijuana Addictive?,” the authors compared marijuana to other substances and found that it does not pose the same risks of dependence. It is estimated that 32% of tobacco users will become addicted, 23% of heroin users, 17% of cocaine users, and 15% of alcohol users. Yet only 9-10% of regular marijuana users will ever fit the definition of dependent . Moreover, the other substances are objectively more harmful than marijuana. So what is the incentive for this push for treatment centers for marijuana use when Mr. Kennedy knows from available evidence and personal experience that alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs are far more harmful? Based on my own personal experience, I think I have at least part of the answer.

About a year ago, I was put through some marijuana re-education of my own when I had to attend court-ordered Deferred Entry of Judgment classes. Every Wednesday night for 18 weeks, I met with a health department leader and other unfortunate drug war casualties. The class would start off with roll call and paying a weekly fee. We would watch a video on addiction or the teacher would read some course work to us. Then he would give us some questions that we were required to answer. Most of them were things like, “How does your addiction affect your daily life”?

At first I quietly just didn’t answer most of the questions or I just wrote in, “I’m not addicted. I use cannabis as a medicine. It helps me control my migraines.” The teacher started singling me out by reading my answers, thinking that I would buckle from public shame.

It’s important to realize that the attendees in the Deferred Entry of Judgment classes were given a free pass from the court and they are scared of going to jail. Defendants who are offered a DEJ have no prior record or they have stayed out of trouble for over 5 years and have no violent crime history. A DEJ means that after you complete the program, you can say that you were never arrested. It’s a way to run a LOT of drug related cases quickly through the judicial system using fear. If you don’t make it through the program the court will order you to jail for what ever the sentence was without any hearing because you have already plead guilty. Typically the DA overcharges a defendant in order to entice a plea deal so that is a scary prospect.

But I didn’t buckle when I was presented with quiz after quiz that asked me to admit to addiction. I stood up for myself. Without cannabis, my life would again center around debilitating migraines, which honestly were driving me toward suicide.

After I started speaking up, I was approached by almost everyone in the class. They all had heartbreaking stories and also felt like they were being herded through a BS program, but you do what you have to do and so they answered the questions as if they believed they were addicted.

In the end, the instructor graduated me early to get rid of me and didn’t even pee test me because he knew it would come up positive for THC.  He was aware of my court documents stating that I could not only smoke cannabis but grow it.

Under the guise of “treatment,” what they were doing was working on creating statistics that would support a HUGE money grab for more services and create a story of crisis that doesn’t really exist!

Published in CNN Money’s Private equity’s rehab roll-up In February 2006, Bain Capital (yes, the company that clean-livingMitt Romney used to run) purchased an outfit called CRC Health Group for $723 million and proceeded to go on a shopping spree, snapping up nearly 20 new treatment facilities over the next two years. The company took a breather during the financial crisis, but in 2011 resumed its buying binge with the purchase of some smaller treatment centers.

Rehab, it turns out, is a pretty good business. Is rehab roll-up-able? In the most basic sense, the answer is yes. But are these treatment centers working to end addiction or is it all about the profit margin?

All treatment programs are not created the same. “CRC uses a cookie-cutter approach,” says Dr. Howard C. Samuels, an addiction specialist and licensed practitioner based in Hollywood. “It’s the assembly line of recovery.” Samuels, who runs his own 14-bed facility, the Hills Treatment Center, says that he used to refer patients to CRC, but ceased doing so when he felt that bureaucracy and the bottom line had overwhelmed concern for individual treatment.

One word I hear over and over again when cannabis activists get together is “WHY?” As in, “Why on earth do we continue to punish adults who simply choose to relax with marijuana instead of the more harmful substance, alcohol?” I think the answer is clear. Follow the money!!!!

by  Susan Soares ~ Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform Fundraising Chair





 
 
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —A new bill is aimed at cracking down on people driving under the influence of drugs.

Under SB 289, introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa, it is illegal for a person to have in his or her blood any detectable amount of drugs while driving, unless it was taken in accordance with a valid prescription from a doctor.

The drugs are from those classified in Schedules I, II, III, or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act.

Former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness, who represents the California Peace Officers Association, supports the bill.

“You’re talking about something that’s per se unlawful, prohibited -- so therefore, its mere presence, coupled with the operation of the motor vehicle, is a threat to the safety of the public,” McGinness told KCRA 3, adding that he is waiting for details on how the bill would be enforced.

The most current draft of SB 289 does not make an exception for marijuana, for which patients receive a doctor’s recommendation, rather than a prescription.

“It would impact thousands and thousands of patients across the state who are not impaired,” said Lanette Davies, a spokesperson for Crusaders for Patients Rights. “There’s nothing in their system that’s impairing them, but they would be driving illegally if this bill is passed.”

Davies said a better way to ensure safe driving would focus on the nature of impairment, rather than the medication in the driver’s system.

However, supporters believe SB 289 is a good start in getting drugged drivers off the roads.

“The goal is to minimize the likelihood of anybody operating a motor vehicle on the highways in California when there’s evidence to show they have some level of impairment that will compromise your safety and mine,” McGinness said.

According to a recent study released by the Office of Traffic Safety, more California drivers tested positive for drugs that may impair driving at 14 percent, than they did for alcohol at 7.3 percent.  

Read more: http://www.kcra.com/news/politics/New-bill-aims-to-crack-down-on-drivers-impaired-by-drugs/-/11797268/18979288/-/7eiiaiz/-/index.html#ixzz2LMQevgyl
 
 
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ELSPETH REEVE
11:39 AM ET
Marijuana could be the next gay marriage -- a contentious social issue that suddenly picks up broad, bipartisan support for change. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out in favor of legalizing hemp, joining Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to cosponsor a bill that would allow Americans to grow it, NBC News' Kasie Hunt reports. Of course, hemp is not the same as regular marijuana. Industrial hemp has much less THC, the chemical that gets people high. But right now, hemp is classified in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. On Thursday, the Kentucky state senate voted to legalize hemp if the federal government legalizes it too. Oregon has legalized hemp cultivation, but farmers risk federal prosecution. 

Again, hemp is not the same thing as marijuana, "but some law enforcement groups say it is a step that could lead to the legalization of marijuana," Hunt writes. Other lawmakers -- yes, even conservative Republicans! -- have addressed legalizing the drug itself. The most fascinating example was last week, when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said twice he was "evolving" on the issue of marijuana legalization when political science students at the University of Virginia asked him about voters legalizing weed in Colorado and Washington last fall. "I’m not sure about Virginia’s future [in terms of marijuana legalization]," Cuccinelli said. "But I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out." He explained it as a federalism thing: "I don't have a problem with states experimenting with this sort of thing. I think that's the role of states."

Cuccinelli is expected to be the next Republican nominee for Virginia governor. He's a very conservative dude. He led the states' rebellion against Obamacare. He's said conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia isn't conservative enough. In the same UVA appearance, he said he didn't support public pools because they distort the free market.

More remarkable is that Cuccinelli later clarified his comments -- but not in the traditional political definition of the word, which is "retract all previous statements." Instead, he questioned the war on drugs:

"What I expressed to [the students] was an openness to observe how things work there, both in terms of the drug side and the economics. One issue that is often discussed is how the war on drugs itself has played out. Have we done this the right way? It's been phenomenally expensive...

[If the government] going to put people in jail and spend $25,000 [to] $30,000 a year for a prison bed, do we want it to be for someone who's pushing marijuana or pushing meth? I'll tell you what, that $30,000 for the meth pusher is well worth the deal."

Rand Paul has gone further in talking about marijuana legalization than his pro-him pal McConnell. In November, like Cuccinelli, Paul said, "States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions... I think, for example, we should tell young people, 'I'm not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don't want to put you in jail for 20 years...'"

It's important to explain what's radical and what isn't in this position. Few people who get caught with marijuana go to jail for 20 years, so opposing that isn't a big deal. It's the boring part of Paul's comment -- let states make the call on weed -- that actually is radical. As Reason's Jacob Sullumexplained, a Republican senator supporting "devolving drug policy decisions to the states is pretty bold in the current political context." He writes:

It is the policy embodied in the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). How many of their fellow congressmen joined them? Nineteen, all but one (Dana Rohrabacher of California) a Democrat.

So, how are the states doing? On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced people arrested on minor pot possession charges won't be booked and held for arraignment anymore, The Wall Street Journal reports. Instead, they'll be released with appearance tickets, which means the person is free until his or her court date. But the issue is being addressed outside liberalism's East Coast capital. In state legislatures like Rhode IslandMaine, and Pennsylvania, the push for legalization in 2013 has, so far, been dominated by Democrats. But there are signs Republicans might ease their opposition, too. This week, Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach toldRaw Story that if her marijuana legalization bill was voted on by "secret ballot," it would pass. Privately, Leach said, some of the "most conservative" lawmakers agree on legalization, because it's "just another government program" that doesn't work.

In New Hampshire, some Republican lawmakers are willing to go on the record. "Marijuana can let them die in peace, and if this helps them, so be it," Republican state Rep. Will Infantine said after hearing testimony from people with debilitating illnesses, The Dartmouth reports Friday. A bill to legalize medical marijuana is expected to pass by mid-March and make New Hampshire the last New England state to allow it. Last year, the Democratic governor vetoed two medical marijuana bills, but current Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she won't veto the current bill.

One of the most fascinating marijuana moments this year was when conservative former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo announced he would smoke pot to make good on his bet with Adam Hartle, a stand-up comic, over whether Colorado would legalize weed. "Look, I made a bet with the producer of the film that if Amendment 64 passed ( I did not think it would) that I would smoke pot," Tancredo said. "I will therefore smoke pot under circumstances we both agree are legal under Colorado law." His family eventually peer pressured him out of it.




 
 
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Posted: 02/14/2013 1:58 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/14/2013 1:59 pm EST



Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday that those arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana will no longer have to spend a night in jail.

The new measure, set to take effect next month, was announced during Bloomberg's State of the City speech. From the speech:

“But we know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen.“Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We’re changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most."

Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed decriminalizing the possession of under 15 grams of marijuana.

New York City is one of the highest rates of marijuana arrests in the world. From a report by the Drug Policy Alliance:

In the last decade since Michael Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 lowest level marijuana possession arrests at a cost of $600 million dollars. Nearly 350,000 of the marijuana possession arrests made under Bloomberg are of overwhelmingly young Black and Latino men, despite the fact that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young Blacks and Latinos.In the last five years, the NYPD under Bloomberg has made more marijuana arrests (2007 to 2011 = 227,093) than in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001 under Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Dinkins, and Mayor Koch combined (1978 to 2001 = 226,861).


 
 
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Ethan Nadelmann Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance


Posted: 02/12/2013 11:04 am

I firmly believe that at some point during his second administration President Obama is going to address the issue of mass incarceration in America. What I fear is that he is going to wait so long, and ultimately do so with such caution, as to minimize his potential impact.

I'll be listening to his State of the Union tonight, hoping against hope that he says something, and says something bold. He's made clear he has other priorities -- the economy, immigration, climate change and now gun violence -- but what a difference it would make for him to speak to this issue when he addresses the nation.

There's no question he gets it. Barack Obama was a strong proponent of criminal justice reform as a state legislator. He spoke about it when he ran for president the first time. His administration worked hard during his first years in office to eliminate the racially disproportionate disparity in federal sanctions for crack and powder cocaine, winning a bipartisan compromise to at least reduce the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. And he made clear in a Time magazine interview just two months ago that he views over-incarceration for non-violent offenses as a real problem:

Well, I don't think it's any secret that we have one of the two or three highest incarceration rates in the world, per capita. I tend to be pretty conservative, pretty law and order, when it comes to violent crime. My attitude is, is that when you rape, murder, assault somebody, that you've made a choice; the society has every right to not only make sure you pay for that crime, but in some cases to disable you from continuing to engage in violent behavior.
But there's a big chunk of that prison population, a great huge chunk of our criminal justice system that is involved in nonviolent crimes. And it is having a disabling effect on communities. Obviously, inner city communities are most obvious, but when you go into rural communities, you see a similar impact. You have entire populations that are rendered incapable of getting a legitimate job because of a prison record. And it gobbles up a huge amount of resources. If you look at state budgets, part of the reason that tuition has been rising in public universities across the country is because more and more resources were going into paying for prisons, and that left less money to provide to colleges and universities.

But this is a complicated problem. One of the incredible transformations in this society that precedes me, but has continued through my presidency, even continued through the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, is this decline in violent crime. And that's something that we want to continue. And so I think we have to figure out what are we doing right to make sure that that downward trend in violence continues, but also are there millions of lives out there that are being destroyed or distorted because we haven't fully thought through our process.



Read that last line, that last clause, again: "but also are there millions of lives out there that are being destroyed or distorted because we haven't fully thought through our process." He didn't say a few; he didn't say thousands; he said millions. And the fact is that the president's not exaggerating -- not when this country has less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population; not when our rate of incarceration is roughly five times that of most other nations; not when we rely on incarceration to an extent unparalleled in the history of democratic societies; not when almost six million Americans can't vote because they were convicted of a felony; not when one of every 32 adult Americans are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, with all the indignities, discriminations and disadvantages that that entails; and not when the tens of billions of dollars spent each year incarcerating fellow citizens displaces expenditures on education, research and non-incarcerative infrastructure.

James Webb, who represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate for the past six years, said it well: "There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice."

During President Obama's first term, I occasionally had opportunity to ask senior White House aides why the president was so silent on this issue. Some simply said he had to focus on other priorities. Others suggested that his being the first black president made him particularly wary of taking the issue on given the extraordinary extent to which over-incarceration in this country is about race and the mass incarceration of black men. But wasn't that precisely the reason, or at least a key reason, I asked, why President Obama needed to address the issue, and needed to provide the leadership that only he could provide. Maybe in a second term, they replied.

Well, that second term is now -- and what the president says tonight is going to frame his proactive agenda for the next four years. "Millions of lives," he said; millions of American lives "being destroyed or distorted because we haven't fully thought through our process." If ever there was a time and an issue for President Obama to assert his moral leadership, this is it.

Say it, Mr. President, please say it now.

Follow Ethan Nadelmann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EthanNadelmann


 
 
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By David Sneed and Julia Hickey — dsneed@thetribunenews.com, jhickey@thetribunenews.com

A detective with the San Luis Obispo Police Department was arrested Tuesday by FBI agents after being charged in a bribery scheme in which he allegedly took cash and drugs from two people.

Cory Pierce, 39, of Arroyo Grande allegedly provided two “cooperating witnesses” with narcotics for their own use, as well as placebo or fake drugs to sell to drug dealers, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Pierce is a six-year veteran of the San Luis Obispo Police Department who was assigned to a narcotics task force with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. He was taken into custody without incident at the FBI’s Santa Maria office and charged with one count of bribery in a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The criminal complaint describes how Pierce cultivated two sources, who have since cooperated with the FBI’s investigation by recording conversations with Pierce that led to his arrest. Pierce’s illegal activities were ongoing for as long as two years, and the investigation has yielded no information that other officers were involved in the scheme, said San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell at a news conference Tuesday.

Pierce was to have an initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. If convicted of the bribery charge alleged in the criminal complaint, Pierce would face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

The ongoing investigation was conducted by the FBI with the assistance of the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Ian Parkinson said his office became aware of the illegal activity about two weeks ago and asked the FBI to handle the case.

“I am angry and deeply disturbed that this has happened,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson told the staff of his narcotics task force about the arrest. Those officers agreed to take drug tests, which were administered Tuesday. Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the San Luis Obispo police have a policy of regularly testing its officers for drugs.

The alleged illegal activity began when one of the FBI’s cooperating witnesses was arrested for heroin possession in 2011. The witness and his girlfriend agreed to work with police, specifically Pierce.

But soon after, Pierce made unusual requests for the informants to bring him narcotics, according to the FBI complaint. As the requests continued, Pierce allegedly provided placebo pain pills and real narcotics to the two witnesses.

Pierce exchanged pills and drugs for cash and various narcotics brought to him by the witnesses, including oxycodone, heroin and drugs that treat opiate addiction, according to the complaint. It goes on to state that Pierce on several occasions provided the witness with methamphetamine that was still in police evidence bags.

The complaint alleges that the female witness obtained prescriptions for pain pills from her doctor and from emergency rooms to give to Pierce, and that Pierce would provide her with money to purchase the prescriptions.

The complaint alleges that Pierce used his position as a police officer to influence one of the witness’s probation officers to perform little or no supervision of him and informed him that he could “work off” his heroin possession charge by cooperating with Pierce. The complaint goes on to allege that Pierce informed the cooperating witnesses about ongoing police investigations, including where best to purchase narcotics and which drug houses to stay away from, so that they would not be caught in the act of buying.

Pierce allegedly had the witnesses set up a meeting with a drug dealer. Following the meeting, he pulled over the dealer’s vehicle at gunpoint, seized morphine pills and let the dealer go without making an arrest.

When the witnesses advised Pierce that the drug dealers to whom they had sold the placebo pills realized they had received a deceptive product and wanted revenge, Pierce asked for their identities and indicated he would “take care of it.”

Last month, one of the witnesses began cooperating with a federal investigation and recorded multiple conversations with Pierce. During those recorded conversations, Pierce allegedly instructed the witness to sell placebo pills to a drug dealer for $11,000, money that was to be split between Pierce and the witness.

On multiple occasions, Pierce asked the witness for Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addictions, indicating that he was personally using the drug, according to the complaint affidavit.

The complaint also details Pierce being caught on a surveillance camera inside the sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force office.

“The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Task Force office recently installed a camera in its office space to capture the area surrounding its evidence storage location,” the complaint says. On Jan. 31, 2013, the video showed the last employee leaving the office at 5:20 p.m. “Soon after that employee left, the video showed Pierce opening the office door and entering the space. The video showed that Pierce went directly to the sergeant’s desk and removed the evidence key from the top of his desk. According to the video, Pierce then opened the evidence storage area with the key and removed a sack from the storage location.

“The detective reviewing the video recognized the sack as one that contained the placebo pills resembling oxycodone. The video then showed Pierce grabbing two bottles from the sack, returning the evidence key to the sergeant’s desk, removing plastic wrap surrounding the bottles, and then exiting the office.”

The detective said Pierce was only inside the office for two minutes, the complaint alleges.


Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/02/05/2382785/cory-pierce-slo-police-arrested.html#storylink=cpy



 
 
US military expands its drug war in Latin America

http://xfinity.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20130203/LT.US.Militarizing.The.Drug.War/

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By MARTHA MENDOZA, AP
1 day ago 

The crew members aboard the USS Underwood could see through their night goggles what was happening on the fleeing go-fast boat: Someone was dumping bales.

When the Navy guided-missile frigate later dropped anchor in Panamanian waters on that sunny August morning, Ensign Clarissa Carpio, a 23-year-old from San Francisco, climbed into the inflatable dinghy with four unarmed sailors and two Coast Guard officers like herself, carrying light submachine guns. It was her first deployment, but Carpio was ready for combat.

Fighting drug traffickers was precisely what she'd trained for.

In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade. U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counternarcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.

The sophistication and violence of the traffickers is so great that the U.S. military is training not only law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, but their militaries as well, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, runways and refueling stations to stem the tide of illegal drugs from South America to the U.S.

According to State Department and Pentagon officials, stopping drug-trafficking organizations has become a matter of national security because they spread corruption, undermine fledgling democracies and can potentially finance terrorists.

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, pointing to dramatic declines in violence and cocaine production in Colombia, says the strategy works.

"The results are historic and have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western Hemisphere, but for the world," he said at a conference on drug policy last year.

The Associated Press examined U.S. arms export authorizations, defense contracts, military aid, and exercises in the region, tracking a drug war strategy that began in Colombia, moved to Mexico and is now finding fresh focus in Central America, where brutal cartels mark an enemy motivated not by ideology but by cash.

The U.S. authorized the sale of a record $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011, four times the authorized sales 10 years ago, according to the latest State Department reports.

Over the same decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629 million, supporting everything from Kevlar helmets for the Mexican army to airport runways in Aruba, according to federal contract data.

Last year $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region, went toward countering narcotics, up 30 percent in the past decade.

Many in the military and other law enforcement agencies — the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI — applaud the U.S. strategy, but critics say militarizing the drug war in a region fraught with tender democracies and long-corrupt institutions can stir political instability while barely touching what the U.N. estimates is a $320 billion global illicit drug market.

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who chaired the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere for the past four years, says the U.S.-supported crackdown on Mexican cartels only left them "stronger and more violent." He intends to reintroduce a proposal for a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission to evaluate antinarcotics efforts.

"Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean," he said. "In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between."

___

At any given moment, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America and as many as four U.S. Navy ships are plying the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines of Central America. U.S. pilots clocked more than 46,400 hours in 2011 flying anti-drug missions, and U.S. agents from at least 10 law enforcement agencies spread across the continent.

The U.S. trains thousands of Latin American troops, and employs its multibillion dollar radar equipment to gather intelligence to intercept traffickers and arrest cartel members.

These work in organized-crime networks that boast an estimated 11,000 flights annually and hundreds of boats and submersibles. They smuggle cocaine from the only place it's produced, South America, to the land where it is most coveted, the United States.

One persistent problem is that in many of the partner nations, police are so institutionally weak or corrupt that governments have turned to their militaries to fight drug traffickers, often with violent results. Militaries are trained for combat, while police are trained to enforce laws.

"It is unfortunate that militaries have to be involved in what are essentially law enforcement engagements," said Frank Mora, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs. But he argues that many governments have little choice.

"We are not going to turn our backs on these governments or these institutions because they've found themselves in such a situation that they have to use their militaries in this way," Mora said.

Mora said the effort is not tantamount to militarizing the war on drugs. He said the Defense Department's role is limited, by law, to monitoring and detection. Law enforcement agents, from the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection or other agencies are in charge of some of the busts, he said.

But the U.S. is deploying its own military. Not only is the Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic, but the Marines were sent to Guatemala last year and the National Guard is in Honduras.

The Obama Administration sees these deployments as important missions with a worthy payoff. Hundreds of thousands of kilograms (pounds) of cocaine are seized en route to the U.S. every year, and the Defense Department estimates about 850 metric tons of cocaine departed South America last year toward the U.S., down 20 percent in just a year. The most recent U.S. survey found cocaine use fell significantly, from 2.4 million people in 2006 to 1.4 million in 2011.

Aboard the Underwood, the crew of 260 was clear on the mission. The ship's bridge wings bear 16 cocaine "snowflakes" and two marijuana "leaves," awarded to the Underwood by the Coast Guard command to be "proudly displayed" for its successful interdictions.

Standing on the bridge, Carpio's team spotted its first bale of cocaine. And then, after 2 1/2 weeks plying the Caribbean in search of drug traffickers, they spotted another, and then many more.

"In all we found 49 bales," Carpio said in an interview aboard the ship. "It was very impressive to see the bales popping along the water in a row."

Wrapped in black and white tarp, they were so heavy she could barely pull one out of the water. Later, officials said they'd collected $27 million worth of cocaine.

___

The current U.S. strategy began in Colombia in 2000, with an eight-year effort that cost more than $7 billion to stop the flow from the world's top cocaine producer. During Plan Colombia, the national police force, working closely with dozens of DEA agents, successfully locked up top drug traffickers.

But then came "the balloon effect."

As a result of Plan Colombia's pressure, traffickers were forced to find new coca-growing lands in Peru and Bolivia, and trafficking routes shifted as well from Florida to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thus a $1.6 billion, 4-year Merida Initiative was launched in 2008. Once more, drug kingpins were caught or killed, and as cartels fought to control trafficking routes, increasingly gruesome killings topped 70,000 in six years.

Mexican cartel bosses, feeling the squeeze, turned to Central America as the first stop for South American cocaine, attracted by weaker governments and corrupt authorities.

"Now, all of a sudden, the tide has turned," said Brick Scoggins, who manages the Defense Department's counter-narcotics programs in most of Latin America and the Caribbean. "I'd say northern tier countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize have become a key focus area."

The latest iteration is the $165 million Central America Regional Security Initiative, which includes Operation Martillo (Hammer), a year-old U.S.-led mission. The operation has no end date and is focused on the seas off Central America's beach-lined coasts, key shipping routes for 90 percent of the estimated 850 metric tons of cocaine headed to the U.S.

As part of Operation Martillo, 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala's western coast in August, their helicopters soaring above villages at night as they headed out to sea to find "narco-submarines" and shiploads of drugs. The troops also brought millions of dollars' worth of computers and intelligence-gathering technology to analyze communications between suspected drug dealers.

Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, predicts the balloon effect will play out in Central America before moving to the Caribbean.

The goal, he said, is to make it so hard for traffickers to move drugs to the U.S. that they will eventually opt out of North America, where cocaine use is falling. Traffickers would likely look for easier, more expanding markets, shifting sales to a growing customer base in Europe, Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Brownfield said almost all Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine goes east through Brazil and Argentina and then to Western Europe. Cocaine that reaches North America mostly comes from Colombia, he said, with U.S. figures showing production falling sharply, from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 195 metric tons today — though estimates vary widely.

When the drug war turns bloody, he said, the strategy is working.

"The bloodshed tends to occur and increase when these trafficking organizations, which are large, powerful, rich, extremely violent and potentially bloody, ... come under some degree of pressure," he said.

Yet the strategy has often backfired when foreign partners proved too inexperienced to fight drug traffickers or so corrupt they switched sides.

In Mexico, for example, the U.S. focused on improving the professionalism of the federal police. But the effort's success was openly questioned after federal police at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport opened fire at each other, killing three.

In August critics were even more concerned when two CIA officers riding in a U.S. Embassy SUV were ambushed by Mexican federal police allegedly working for an organized crime group. The police riddled the armored SUV with 152 bullets, wounding both officers.

The new strategy in Honduras has had its own fits and starts.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in Honduras, triple the 2002 defense contracts there well above the $45.6 million spent in neighboring Guatemala in 2012. The U.S. also spent about $2 million training more than 300 Honduran military personnel in 2011, and $89 million in annual spending to maintain Joint Task Force Bravo, a 600-member U.S. unit based at Soto Cano Air Base.

Further, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras — although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.

In May, on the other side of the country, Honduran national police rappelled from U.S. helicopters to bust drug traffickers near the remote village of Ahuas, killing four allegedly innocent civilians and scattering locals who were loading some 450 kilograms (close to 1,000 pounds) of cocaine into a boat.

The incident drew international attention and demands for an investigation when the DEA confirmed it had agents aboard the helicopters advising their Honduran counterparts. Villagers spoke of English-speaking commandos kicking in doors and handcuffing locals just after the shooting, searching for drug traffickers.

Six weeks later, townspeople watched in shock as laborers exhumed the first of four muddy graves. At each burial site, workers pulled out the decomposing bodies of two women and two young men, and laid them on tarps.

Forensic scientists conducted their graveside autopsies in the open air, probing for bullet wounds and searching for signs the women had been pregnant, as villagers had claimed.

Government investigators concluded there was no wrongdoing in the raid. In the subsequent months, DEA agents shot and killed suspects they said threatened them in two separate incidents, and the U.S. temporarily suspended the sharing of radar intelligence because the Central American nation's air force shot down two suspected drug planes, a violation of rules of engagement. Support was also withheld for the national police after it was learned that its new director had been tied to death squads.

As the new year begins, Congress is still withholding an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduras, about a third of all the U.S. aid slotted for this year.

But there are no plans to rethink the strategy.

Scoggins, the Defense Department's counter-narcotics manager, said operations in Central America are expected to grow for the next five years.

"It's not for me to say if it's the correct strategy. It's the strategy we are using," said Scoggins. "I don't know what the alternative is."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Dario Lopez aboard the USS Underwood in the Caribbean, Garance Burke in San Francisco, Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, along with Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in Guatemala City.

 
 
MEDIA ADVISORY

Americans for Safe Access

For Immediate Release: February 4, 2013

California Supreme Court to Hear Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban Case Tuesday in San Francisco

Court is expected to weigh in on whether municipalities can ban distribution, deny patients a legal medication

San Francisco, CA -- The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow morning at University of San Francisco in a closely watched case that addresses whether local governments can lawfully ban medical marijuana dispensaries or should instead be compelled to adopt ordinances regulating them. The case, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, is one of at least six appellate court cases coming down on different sides of the issue. Although multiple appellate rulings have overturned bans on local distribution, the Riverside court upheld that city's ban, claiming that the wellness center violated municipal code and was a "nuisance per se."

What: California Supreme Court oral arguments on the legality of municipal bans against medical marijuana distribution

When: Tuesday, February 5th at 10:15am

Where: University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, McLaren Conference Center (Rooms 250–251)

"Local dispensary bans thwart the will of the electorate and the State Legislature, and are therefore preempted by state law," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "Hundreds of thousands of California patients who are too sick or otherwise can't cultivate medical marijuana themselves rely on dispensaries for safe and legal access, a right they should not be denied."

The Riverside case, which is being argued by J. David Nick, is the lead case on this issue currently before the High Court. However, several other appellate decisions from southern California on the same issue were also granted review, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective, City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc., and People v. G3 Holistic. In most of these decisions, the court has sided with municipal governments in their effort to prevent regulated distribution, but two appellate rulings notably hold that local officials may not ban distribution and must develop regulations instead.

Specifically, the County of Los Angeles decision from July 2012 overturned a local ban on dispensaries, reversing the lower court’s preliminary injunction from the previous year. The appellate court in County of Los Angeles held that “medical marijuana collectives…are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function,” and that “[Los Angeles] County’s total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature’s intent.” The Court further concluded that, a “complete ban” on medical marijuana is “preempted” by state law and, therefore, void.

Last year, ASA filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief in the Riverside case, arguing that the city's ban ought to be overturned. “While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read ASA’s amicus brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.” While more than 50 localities in California have regulated the lawful operation of dispensaries, over 170 cities have questionably banned their operation outright.

Despite some misconceptions, the Riverside case will likely not address the legality of medical marijuana sales and distribution, which has been fully litigated and established as a right under state law. The most recent decision in this regard came from People v. Jackson, a criminal case in which the legal sale of medical marijuana by a storefront dispensary was affirmed and a defense established for Jackson and other future defendants. The California Supreme Court refused to review or depublish the Jackson decision, which now stands as the law of the state.

According to the California Courts, Tuesday's oral arguments are part of a special session, "the latest in a series of student outreach programs to improve public understanding of the state court system, [which] also commemorates the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law Centennial Celebration." The hearing will be broadcasted by livestream on The California Channel at http://www.calchannel.com.

Further information:

Appellate decision in the Riverside case: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Riverside_Decision.pdf

ASA amicus brief in the Riverside case: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Amicus_Riverside.pdf

Links to other appellate decisions on this issue: http://bit.ly/XrfMBB

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