Polish lawmaker lights up in parliament
A Polish opposition law-maker tried to smoke a joint in parliament Jan. 20 to kick off his legalization campaign—but outmaneuvered by the house speaker, he burned marijuana incense instead. Janusz Palikot, leader of the left-libertarian Palikot Party, announced in advance his plan to light up, giving speaker Ewa Kopac time to organize tighter security. Wearing a cannabis leaf-shaped pin, Palikot instead lit up a stick of incense in front of a crowd of journalists. “We’ve burned marijuana,” he said. “It’s incense with a small legal amount of marijuana, which smells like marijuana, bought at a shop in Warsaw.”
Kopacz reported Palikot's stunt to a prosecutor, who opened a probe to see whether he committed a criminal offense through an action to “promote or advertise” drugs.
In April, Polish lawmakers voted to soften their country’s strict anti-drug laws by giving prosecutors the option not to charge those detained with small quantities of illegal substances. But Palikot—whose party brought in Poland’s first trans-gender and openly gay MPs—is seeking full legalization of cannabis.
Spain emerges as new European cannabis hub
Long the main gateway to Europe for Moroccan hashish, Spain has over the past year emerged as one of the continent's main cannabis cultivation hubs, rivaling the Netherlands. Principal cultivation zones are Andalusia, Murcia, Catalonia, Aragon and especially Valencia—which the Guardia Civil describes as “a jungle of cannabis.”
Raids last year uncovered 47 plants in Alcoy; 330 in a flat in Alicante; 600 in a villa in Elche; 104 in Torrent; 172 in Granja de Rocamora; and 676 in Valencia, with small plantations also uncovered in Montserrat, Montroi, Corbera and Alfafar. The most popular breed is said to be the intimidatingly named “AK-47,” with THC levels as high as 15%. While sale of seeds is legal in Spain, a Guardia Civil spokesman told England’s RTN magazine that “cultivation is a crime against public health, whether it is one plant or 500.”
West Bank settlers patronize Palestinian dealers
Jewish settlers from the Tapuch Junction area of the West Bank are suspected of purchasing hashish and cannabis from their Palestinian neighbors in the nearby village of Hawara. Israeli police investigating drug-smuggling across the “Green Line” that divides the West Bank from Israel detained several Palestinian youth at the village in mid-January—and found that a confiscated client list included settlers from neighboring militant Jewish communities, including Yitzhar, Itamar and Har Bracha. Four Jewish clients were subsequently detained.
The case has created a stir, as Hawara villagers frequently hurl rocks at Israeli motorists, and the village has been targeted by the settlers’ so-called “price tag” attacks. The Israeli media dubbed the unlikely development a case of “green peace.”
Peru: anti-drug chief who suspended coca eradication resigns
Ricardo Soberón, the anti-drug chief who last year briefly suspended coca eradication in Peru, resigned under pressure from the administration of President Ollanta Humala Jan. 10. The administration appointed Carmen Masías Claux, a psychologist who is an advocate of eradication, to replace Soberón as head of the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA). The cabinet is now led by the man who was interior minister at the time of Soberón’s suspension of the program, Oscar Valdes—who publicly disagreed with the suspension, and ordered the program’s resumption within a week.
In October, chief of intelligence for the US DEA Rodney Benson told a Congressional hearing that “although Colombia remains the world's largest cultivator of coca, for the first time in over a decade, the US government estimates that Peru has surpassed Colombia in potential pure cocaine production.”
The day after Soberón’s resignation, elite National Police troops of the Anti-Drug Jungle Tactics Operations Group (GOATJ) reported uncovering two coca labs and burning 750 kilos of coca leaf at a site within the borders of Tingo Maria National Park.
Mexico: DEA aided Beltrán Leyva cartel
DEA agents worked with an informant and with Mexican enforcement agents in 2007 to launder millions of dollars for Mexico’s Beltrán Leyva cartel, according to reports in the New York Times and the Mexican media. The information comes from the Mexican government’s response to a US request for the extradition of Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, a Colombian trafficker arrested in Mexico in 2010.
According to the documents, in January 2007 a DEA informant began seeking money-laundering jobs from Poveda-Ortega, who was supplying drugs to the Mexican cartel headed by Arturo Beltrán Leyva and his three brothers. In July, the informant and a group of DEA agents laundered about $1 million through a Bank of America branch in Dallas and had it delivered to someone in Panama. In August and September they worked with an undercover Mexican agent to launder $499,250 on one occasion and $1 million on another. In October the DEA helped the Beltrán Leyva cartel ship 330 kilograms of cocaine through Dallas from Ecuador to Madrid, where Spanish authorities seized the drugs after being tipped off.
Afghan opium production soars
A new survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicates that the value of opium in Afghanistan soared by 133% in 2011 over the previous year, netting farmers $1.4 billion. A blight last year wiped out much of the poppy yield, driving up prices. Yields have now returned to pre-blight levels—a 61% increase, from 3,600 tons in 2010 to 5,800 tons last year. But prices remain high, and UNODC says a simultaneous drop in the price of wheat contributed to the increase in poppy cultivation. Gross income from opium in 2011 was 11 times higher than that earned from wheat—the biggest difference in income since 2003. Afghanistan currently supplies an estimated 90% of the world’s opium, with the largest areas of poppy cultivation in the country’s restive south.
Malaysia: “red alert” against drug trafficking
Malaysian airport authorities have been placed on a “red alert” against drug trafficking following a surge over the past year in arrests and drug seizures. Customs officers are screening all inbound passengers to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The airport’s customs director M. Govinden told AFP that 195 kilograms (430 pounds) of drugs had been seized and 33 people arrested at the city's two air terminals so far this year, despite Malaysia's tough anti-drug laws which include a mandatory death sentence for traffickers.
Govinden added that drug seizures are at their highest in a decade. In October, a Malaysian court sentenced a Japanese woman to death for smuggling methamphetamines into the country—the first such case involving a citizen of Japan. Mariko Takeuchi, a nurse, 37, was convicted of holding 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilos) of meth in a suitcase when she flew from Dubai.
Cannabis not tied to middle-age mental decline: study
A British study discounts a link between occasional cannabis smoking or other light illicit drug use and the decline in mental functions that comes with middle age. The study, carried in the American Journal of Epidemiology, tested the mental function and memory of nearly 9,000 Britons at age 50 and found that those who had used illegal drugs as recently as in their 40s did just as well on the tests as peers who had never used drugs—or slightly better.
“Overall, at the population level, the results seem to suggest that past or even current illicit drug use is not necessarily associated with impaired cognitive functioning in early middle age,” lead researcher Alex Dregan, of King’s College London, told Reuters. “However, our results do not exclude possible harmful effects in some individuals who may be heavily exposed to drugs over longer periods of time.”
Dregan’s team drew from data on 8,992 participants in a UK national health study that took place eight years ago, in which they were asked if they had ever used any of 12 illegal drugs. In the new study, they took standard tests of memory, attention and other cognitive abilities.
Feds to grant patent for cannabinoid applications to pharmaceutical firm
The Sacramento News & Review on Dec. 19 cites a report from the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients revealing that the United States government holds a patent on the use of cannabinoids as “antioxidants and neuroprotectants”—specifically, the Department of Health & Human Services holds Patent #6630507. The patent has been held since 1999, but according to the Federal Register of Nov. 17, DHHS is now “contemplating the grant of exclusive patent license” for #6630507 to New York-based KannaLife Sciences, Inc. for: “The development and sale of cannabinoid(s) and cannabidiol(s) based therapeutics as antioxidants and neuroprotectants for use and delivery in humans, for the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy, as claimed in the Licensed Patent Rights.”
The News & Review conjectures this could be an “explanation” for why “the federal government...decided a few months ago to crack down in a big way on dispensaries and collectives doing business under California’s medicinal cannabis access law.”
However, cannabis has many medicinal uses beyond the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy, which the National Institute of Health defines as “a worsening of brain function that occurs when the liver is no longer able to remove toxic substances in the blood.”
Arizona medical law survives legal challenge by governor
A federal judge on Jan. 4 granted an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) request to throw out a lawsuit filed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seeking to strike down the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law. Filed in May, Brewer’s suit argued that state officials could face federal prosecution for implementing the law—despite Arizona’s then-US Attorney Dennis Burke stating publicly that the federal government has “no intention of targeting or going after people who are implementing or who are in compliance with state law.” In throwing out the suit, US District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton said there is no genuine threat of imminent federal prosecution of state officials who carry out the law.
“It is unconscionable for Governor Brewer to continue to force very sick people to needlessly suffer by stripping them of the legal avenue through which to obtain their vital medicine,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Today’s ruling underscores the need for state officials to stop playing politics and implement the law as approved by a majority of Arizona voters so that thousands of patients can access the medicine their doctors believe is most effective for them.”
Arizona voters in 2010 passed Proposition 203, which allows seriously ill patients to use cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. The law allows cannabis to be distributed by closely regulated clinics to patients with state-issued registry cards. It exempts from state prosecution not only seriously ill Arizonans but also their caregivers and a limited number of certified, non-profit dispensaries to serve qualifying patients.
States that legalized medical marijuana saw fewer traffic deaths: study
A new study indicates a link between states with legalized medical marijuana and a reduction in traffic-related fatalities. The study was conducted by D. Mark Anderson, a Montana State University economics professor, and Daniel Rees, of the University of Colorado Denver. In looking at state-level data from sources such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Anderson and Rees found that states with medical marijuana laws saw an average 9% decrease in traffic deaths. “We were pretty surprised that they went down,” Rees told the Denver Post. Explaining the results, Rees said the passage of medical marijuana laws likely resulted in young people consuming less alcohol in favor of cannabis.
Study dismisses lung damage from moderate cannabis use
Moderate cannabis use appears to cause no long-term damage to the lungs, according to a new study by the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, released Jan. 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Results of the 20-year study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, indicate that cannabis doesn’t do the kind of damage tobacco does.
The study randomly enrolled 5,115 men and women aged 18 through 30 in four cities: Birmingham, Chicago, Oakland and Minneapolis. Roughly equal numbers of Blacks and whites took part, although no other ethnic groups. About 37% reported at least occasional cannabis use, and most users also reported having smoked cigarettes; 17% said they'd smoked cigarettes but not cannabis. Those figures are in line with national estimates. On average, cigarette users smoked about nine cigarettes daily, while average cannabis use was only a joint or two a few times a month—also a figure typical for US cannabis users, study co-author Stefan Kertesz said.
The results are less clear for heavy users—those who smoke two or more joints daily for several years. The data did suggest that using cannabis that often might cause a decline in lung function—but there weren’t enough heavy users among the 5,000 young adults in the study to draw firm conclusions. Still, the authors recommended “caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered.”
California high court to review controversial cannabis cases
The California Supreme Court issued an order Jan. 18 indicating its intent to review two controversial medical marijuana cases that have resulted in the suspension of several local dispensary ordinances across the state. As a result of the order, Pack v. City of Long Beach and City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Ctr., Inc. have both been vacated in anticipation of the high court’s ruling. The Pack decision held that dispensary regulations may be preempted by federal law, and the Riverside decision held that localities could legally ban distribution altogether.
“These cases were very problematic for patients and their ability to safely and legally access a medication that works for them,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “We’re very pleased that local governments will now be without the means to deny access to medical marijuana for patients in their communities, at least until or unless the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise.”
Arguing that Pack was erroneously decided, ASA joined with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the County of Santa Cruz to file a brief on Dec. 12th requesting that the California Supreme Court review the case.
Although the Pack decision, issued in October of last year, contradicted other appellate court rulings, several cities and counties across California have used it as a justification to suspend regulatory ordinances or completely ban local distribution. The US Justice Department cited the Pack decision as a reason why localities should not adopt distribution ordinances.
One of the cases that contradicted Pack was the Riverside ruling issued in November, which held that medical marijuana distribution was not preempted by federal law, but that cities could lawfully ban it. However, now that both decisions are out of force, local governments will have less cover to implement or continue such bans. “The Pack decision is a dead letter and can no longer be used to defy the implementation of state law,” said Elford.
Three San Diego dispensaries raided by DEA
On Jan. 11—at exactly 4:20 PM—three medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Diego were raided by the cross-jurisdictional Narcotic Task Force (NTF) of San Diego County. The locations attacked included California’s Best Meds on University Ave., Golden West in North Park, and San Diego Organic Wellness Association in Pacific Beach. Armed with handguns, rifles, and battering rams, dozens of masked NTF officers rushed into the facilities, breaking down doors and windows, and forcing all patients inside to the floor.
The raids were a coordinated effort by Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego District Attorney, and Laura Duffy, the US Attorney for California’s Southern District. The San Diego Police Department, DEA, and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department all participated in executing the raids. Some 20 activists, patients and supporters gathered outside of California's Best Meds during the raid, and chanted “DEA Go Away!” After repeated requests and pleas with the NTF agents to see their clients, attorneys for the dispensaries were denied access and prevented from going inside the facility to witness the interrogation that was underway. Several hours into the raid, patients—many in tears—were released one by one from the facilities. Medical records, cannabis, computers and other property was confiscated, although there were no arrests.
Federal threats prompted suspension of Mendo permit program
Officials in Mendocino County revealed Jan. 11 that the US Attorney’s Office in San Francisco threatened to sue the county over its medical marijuana cultivation permit program, prompting its suspension. The warning was delivered during a Jan. 3 meeting between County Counsel Jeanine Nadel and representatives of the US Attorney's Office, Nadel said. County supervisors are scheduled to review the permit ordinance on Jan. 24. The program was also suspended pending the outcome of a Southern California court case that tests the legitimacy of issuing permits for cannabis-related endeavors—the reason given by officials at the time of the suspension on Jan 9.
Nadel said in a Jan. 11 press release: “In response to the threat of litigation made by representatives of the US Attorney’s Office and ongoing concerns regarding the effect of the recent court ruling in the case of Pack v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (Long Beach), the Board of Supervisors directed that a review of County Code Section 9.31 be on the January 24, 2012 Board agenda. At that time County Counsel Jeanine Nadel will present proposed amendments that will conform to the Pack decision and the concerns expressed by the US Attorney’s Office.”
County Supervisor John McCowen, who was instrumental in drawing up the county’s permit ordinance, criticized the threat and the federal crackdown on medical marijuana operations in California. He said such actions “will have the effect of driving medical marijuana back underground, making it more illegal, profitable and dangerous.”
Mendocino’s unique income-generating cultivation permit process was suspended Jan. 9. The decision officially was made in light of a Southern California court case that challenges the legality of issuing permits for activities that are illegal under federal law. Citing potential legal liabilities, county counsel has advised the sheriff to suspend the permits this year, pending the outcome of Pack v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. A state appellate court ruled in that case that the permitting process in Long Beach exceeded local government authority. It has been appealed to the California supreme court.
Ecologists protest impacts of outdoor grows
A five-county study assessing impacts on salmonids presented Jan. 10 in Eureka, CA, named unpermitted grading as a major impact—and cited the cannabis industry as a key culprit. Humboldt County's Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the effects of illegal grading connected to cannabis grows are as bad as the impacts seen during the worst years of the timber industry. “It’s shocking,” he said, referring to photos he’d viewed of grow-related grading. “It compares with the worst of the worst from some of the bad years of the timber industry.”
“It’s very clear that there’s a tremendous amount of earth being moved around without any engineering, without any analysis and without any consideration of the potential impacts,” Lovelace said, the Arcata Eye reports. He added with irony that some of the culprits may fashion themselves as environmentalists. “I think some people have a tendency to think that because they want to consider themselves good stewards of the land, that alone should mean that the work they're doing is OK.”
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg warned: “All that stuff has to go straight into the stream, so we’re focusing on fixing stuff here and then there’s someone upriver or up the hill that’s making it for naught.”
County public works director Tom Mattson said that unlike many other counties, Humboldt has a grading ordinance—which sometimes isn't heeded. Mattson said his department works with local non-profit groups like the Mattole Restoration Council, Eel River Watershed Improvement Group and the Redwood Community Action Agency to improve compliance.
The Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program began in 1997, to coordinate watershed protection among Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino, Siskiyou and Trinity counties.
Feds issue ultimatum to Colorado dispensaries
Colorado US Attorney John Walsh on Jan. 12 issued an ultimatum in letters to 23 dispensaries and landlords he claimed are in violation of federal and state law. The dispensaries, which he said are located within 1,000 feet of schools, were given 45 days to cease operations or face civil and criminal penalties. “When the voters of Colorado passed the limited medical marijuana amendment in 2000, they could not have anticipated that their vote would be used to justify large marijuana stores located within blocks of our schools,” Walsh said in a statement announcing the letters.
“Those who do not comply will be subject to potential criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions,” Walsh said. “Because the stores are operating within 1,000 feet of a school, enhanced penalties apply under federal law.” He cited a 2011 memo from US Deputy Attorney General James Cole that allows individual federal prosecutors to “exercise their discretion to handle marijuana trafficking matters.”
But Denver lawyer Robert Corry, who represents clients charged with cannabis offenses, said in recent testimony before the City Council that “there should be no arbitrary distance limits” for legal cannabis establishments. “There is no documented case of any child ever purchasing or obtaining medical marijuana from a dispensary,” he said, Reuters reports.
Veteran journalist Bill Weinberg is the former news editor of High Times magazine and now producer of the websites Global Ganja Report (globalganjareport.com), monitoring the global war on cannabis, and World War 4 Report, monitoring the global “war on terrorism.” His books include Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000) and Cannabis Trips: A Global Guide that Leaves No Turn Unstoned (Ivy Group, 2010).