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Drug Headlines across the U.S. for the week of October 15 Edition

Sharon L Smith <momstell@juno.com> wrote:
Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agents are combining strengths to place a "unified chokehold" on international drug traffickers who jeopardize public safety on both sides of the border, Mexico's attorney general said Thursday.
Daniel Cabeza de Vaca joined U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in announcing several initiatives many conceived during bilateral talks in Houston last month aimed at the kind of "narco-violence" that has terrorized Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
The commitments include improved information and technology sharing; coordination of tactical responses to crime-gang warfare and joint training, the two officials said.
Gonzales said the two nations are working to improve mutual trust, which is "absolutely essential to be effective in dealing with this kind of problem." Although cooperation is "good," he said it should be better.
Muddy waters swirl around the discrepancies between Colorado's medical marijuana law and the federal law that forbids possession of the drug.
Those murky waters seeped into Pueblo on Monday when Yvonne Martinez, who has a state-issued license to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes, called police to report that someone had stolen a dozen cannabis plants from the greenhouse in her yard.
Overnight, Martinez, 45, says she went from crime victim to suspect, largely because she reported the theft to police.
"If I was a (drug) dealer, I sure wouldn't have called the police," Martinez said. "I don't have anything to hide. Now (the marijuana) is in the hands of someone who's using it illegally."
Martinez said she was open with police about her pot growing operation and showed them her medical marijuana card. She thought law enforcement's involvement ended there, but it didn't.
Deputy Chief John Ercul said Pueblo police have notified federal authorities about the marijuana Martinez was growing.
A Fairfax County judge who believes Virginia's drunken driving laws are unconstitutional has resumed his practice of dismissing all DWI cases brought into his court, leaving prosecutors unable to appeal his rulings.

General District Judge Ian M. O'Flaherty dismissed two drunken driving cases back in July after a defense attorney successfully argued that the Virginia law presuming intoxication at blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher violates an obscure 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Since then, prosecutors have done their best to keep DWI cases out of O'Flaherty's courtroom by temporarily dropping the charges and obtaining indictments in Circuit Court.

Now, though, O'Flaherty is no longer allowing prosecutors to bypass his courtroom, said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. O'Flaherty on Wednesday dismissed a DWI case against a driver whose blood-alcohol level was .20, more than double the legal limit. On Thursday he did it again with a driver whose blood-alcohol level was .10, Horan said.

Horan said a quirk in Virginia law makes it impossible for prosecutors to appeal when a district court judge decides a law is unconstitutional.
Feeling pressure from their grass roots, lawmakers in Congress are pushing the Bush administration to do more about the nation's fastest-growing drug problem: methamphetamine.
Legislation already on the fast track focuses on punishment for meth makers and dealers, ways to stem the flow of the drug into the United States from Mexico and other countries, and stricter controls on cold remedies and other medicines containing chemicals used to make meth.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats alike are outspoken about what they see as the administration's slow response.
"I don't believe the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has gotten the message that a more comprehensive, coordinated effort is needed," says Rep. Mark Souder (R) of Indiana, chairman of the House drug policy subcommittee. That's one of Mr. Souder's gentler criticisms. He has also suggested that White House "drug czar" John Walters might have to step down, and he called "laughable" some of the White House data on meth labs and users.
Among other things, lawmakers criticize the administration's decision to end the $804 million Justice Assistance Program, which funds regional drug task forces. "We want a federal ... strategy to attack meth that is equal to the urgency and action that's taking place in so many communities around the United States," says Rep. Rick Larsen (D) of Washington, co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine. "Congress is not convinced that that is happening."

Rep. Elaine Harvey is having a bill drafted to make it clear that a new Wyoming law protecting children from methamphetamine also applies to an unborn child. Last week, a state district judge in Lander dismissed a child endangerment case against a woman whose newborn child tested positive for methamphetamine because the state law did not specifically say it applied to fetuses.
Harvey, R-Lovell, was the chief sponsor of the 2004 felony child endangerment law the defendant, Michele Ann Foust, 31, was charged under. 
"I thought we were covered. The intent was to protect unborn children but apparently this is a gray area," Harvey said. The law was designed to punish parents who endanger their children by making or taking meth. Harvey said she will take her proposed changes to the law to a meeting of the Governor's Task Force on Drug Endangered Children this week in Cheyenne.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor in the Foust case, Ed Newell, said he will also seek legislation to attack the problem, but through existing laws rather than by changing the child endangerment law. "I don't want to jump into that whole abortion briar patch," Newell said. "I have no interest in spawning a lot of pro-choice, pro-life debates." He suggested amending the law against use of a controlled substance to increase the penalty for a pregnant user. A second step would be to require a mandatory minimum sentence for people who deliver meth to a pregnant woman.
State policy-makers have struggled with the question of how society should deal with women's prenatal substance abuse.
Wary eyes search for rattlesnakes in the desert grasses covering the dry hills. The scorched remains of pine trees from an old wildfire tower overhead. Then, hidden beneath a thicket of brush, bright-green plants stand out. In terraced dirt, nurtured by an elaborate sprinkler system, 465 marijuana plants have been tucked away, obscured by the winding branches of vine maple and alder bushes.
It's a remote area of north-central Washington's Wen-atchee National Forest, bordering the Entiat Wildlife Refuge to the south and an apple orchard to the east.
It's also a small find. Law-enforcement officials have seized thousands of plants in Washington state in recent months, forcing them to abandon their ongoing battle on methamphetamine for days at a time. Some blame the post-Sept. 11 border crackdown that slowed the flow of marijuana from western Canada. Others say increasing enforcement in California and Oregon is pushing pot production by Mexican nationals north.
Regardless, these areas are wreaking havoc on counties where huge tracts of open space stretch resources thin.

Group tries to hold system accountable.  For more than a year, John Becknell has spent nearly 15 hours every week painstakingly taking notes in the front row of Clay County courtrooms. He is one of about 70 people who have volunteered to monitor drug cases that pass through the courts, with the goal of holding prosecutors and judges accountable in the face of Clay County's epidemic drug problem.
Becknell and his "court watchers" track every local drug and alcohol case through a database and plan to issue periodic reports. The first report, published in January in the Manchester newspaper, summarized 835 felony and misdemeanor cases during a three-month period the previous summer.
The report made no recommendations or conclusion about how cases were handled. Becknell said the next report will analyze why cases are dismissed and how the court system deals with repeat offenders.
About a year ago, Austin police began asking drunken driving suspects a new question as part of their roadside investigation: Where did you have your last drink? Officers began logging the answers in their offense reports and compiling a list of the most frequently mentioned bars and restaurants. Then they started sending the information to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The agency began investigating establishments on the list. Since this spring, it has issued citations against at least five of them, and it is trying to yank the alcohol license of Dallas Nightclub on Burnet Road, which tops the list. Forty people arrested for DWI since January have said they consumed their last drink at Dallas.
LET PHOTO JUMP-START DISCUSSION ABOUT METH                                                                                                  
On Sept. 21, I awoke at my usual 6 a.m. to the news. That morning it concerned a suspected clandestine methamphetamine lab being searched in New Cumberland. After more than 25 years in law enforcement, news of this kind has almost become mundane. As a coincidence, I was scheduled that day to teach a group of area police officers on the effects of clandestine labs, specifically methamphetamine. We would discuss such topics as the active ingredients for such a mixture, the origins of meth, the effects on the community and perhaps most importantly, the inherent dangers in a clandestine lab.

On Sept. 23, I opened my copy of The Patriot-News and was, to say the least, amazed. Not at the previous day's photo of one of two men accused of making meth displaying a common, vulgar hand gesture. No, I was amazed at the reaction of our community. http://www.pennlive.com/columns/patriotnews/review/index.ssf?/base/opinion/112906200286291.xml&coll=1

marijuana advocacy group on Wednesday removed a controversial photo of a woman's battered face from its billboard urging voters on Nov. 1 to legalize small amounts of marijuana. But the group's message remains the same. The nonprofit group, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), replaced the controversial ad with a simple white billboard with the slogan: "Alcohol use makes domestic violence 8 times more likely ... Marijuana use does not. Vote yes on I-100."
If passed, I-100 would make it legal for anyone 21 or older to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana in Denver. It would not pre-empt state law, which makes possession a misdemeanor. The SAFER group, which collected enough signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot, argues that marijuana is a safer alternative to alcohol by linking recreational pot use with a reduction in rates of domestic violence.
"We don't back down from the message," said Mason Tvert, 23, director of SAFER. "The ads were intended to be controversial, but we decided to take steps to ensure that the message was not drowned out by emotional reactions." Domestic violence groups have accused SAFER of misleading the public and exploiting the tragedy of abused women for their own cause.
Feel-good theory is rubbing up against reality. San Francisco is finally cracking down on its runaway pot-club industry. Dispelling the clouds of wishful thinking has taken far too long. The medical-marijuana cause and the city's trusting belief system have needed a wake-up call for months.

After initial jousting, Mayor Gavin Newsom and city supervisors, with board member Ross Mirkarimi doing the heavy lifting, are close to agreement on ending a chaotic, even dangerous, pot scene.

San Francisco, along with the rest of California, voted in favor of the palliative use of marijuana as a painkiller. But this humane intention can be subverted too easily, a fact proven by the 35-odd clubs operating here with no limits.

The use of sleeping pills among children and very young adults rose 85 percent from 2000 to 2004, in yet another sign that parents and doctors are increasingly turning to prescription medications to solve childhood health and behavioral problems.
And about 15 percent of people under age 20 who received sleeping pills were also being given drugs to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, according to the study by Medco Health Solutions, a managed-care company that makes estimates about medication use in the whole population based on extrapolations from its own data. Drugs used to treat attention disorders can cause insomnia.

Few of the prescriptions given to children and young adults have the approval of the Food and Drug Administration because no sleep medication has been approved for use in children under 18. Still, doctors commonly use medications for patients and disorders for which the drugs have never received formal approval, particularly when those patients are children.

C-NEWS CANADA                                                                                                                                        
Two weeks ago, Ann McKenny and Anne Clune stumbled upon a cache of used needles and "safer crack kit" paraphernalia -- left mere steps from the children's playground in the Sumach-Shuter park in Toronto. The two Cabbagetown residents were appalled, not just at the discovery hypodermic syringes, crack pipes, matches, alcohol pads and matches "lying loose" in the grass, but at the city of Toronto and Toronto public health logos emblazoned on many of the items.

They even found a pamphlet from The Works (a public health needle exchange program) which suggests people (drug users, one supposes) call 416-392-0250 with any questions. McKenny said she reported their find to the police and the city's parks department. She has yet to receive a response from either.

As she pointed out to me yesterday, the "very active" children's playground is also kitty-corner to Nelson Mandela Elementary School and a community arena. "I was most concerned because this is a park that's well-used particularly by small kids ... who have no idea how dangerous these things are," McKenny said.                                                                                      http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2005/10/18/1267644-sun.html

ENDING STIGMA WOULD SAVE MILLIONS, CONGRESS TOLD                                                         
Reducing discrimination against people with addictions and those in recovery would not only reduce barriers to treatment but also would save society millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, advocates told members of Congress this week. A panel of the American Bar Association's (ABA) Standing Committee on Substance Abuse appeared at a Capitol Hill briefing called by the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus and detailed for lawmakers a series of recommendations for reducing stigma against people with alcohol or other drug addictions.

"The concern was not only to the overwhelmingly negative effect such policies have had on those wanting to make their lives better, but on the millions of dollars the failure to allow appropriate treatment is costing the American public," said attorney and ABA substance-abuse committee chair Barbara Howard."One of the hardest steps for any addict or alcoholic to take is to ask for help," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who co-chairs the bipartisan caucus with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), as he opened the hearing. "... All too often, doors are slammed in their face, or basic public services are denied. It's time to end the discrimination against people who need treatment for chemical addiction." Ramstad called on Congress and the Bush administration to pass parity legislation for addiction treatment and improve access to care.

The recommendations sprung from a Join Together panel convened in 2002, with assistance by the ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, to examine public policies that intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against people with addictions. The panel looked at issues like access to health care, employment, and public benefits, as well as policies that present a barrier to treatment. In 2003, the panel issued its recommendations in a publication titled, "Ending Discrimination Against People with Alcohol and Drug Problems."

The ABA has adopted a pair of policies arising from the recommendations, including a position against addiction discrimination and a call to revise state insurance laws -- known as UPPL provisions -- that effectively bar emergency-room physicians from screening patients for alcohol abuse and referring them to treatment.  Also speaking at the briefing were attorney and addiction counselor Michael J. Sweeney, assistant director of the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program and cofounder of the Oregon Partnership, and Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Sweeney detailed the argument for repealing the UPPL laws, saying that resulting emergency-room screening and brief interventions could save the federal Medicare program $1.1 billion annually and save Medicaid $500 million per year. Sterling focused on ABA recommendations that people with drug convictions but no evidence of current drug use should not be barred from obtaining student loans, grants, scholarships, or government training programs; that people with nonviolent drug convictions but no current drug use not be banned from receiving cash assistance or food stamps from the government; and that public-housing agencies help people with addictions obtain treatment rather than banning them from subsidized housing, as long as they pose no threat to others.

Sterling noted that 178,000 youths were denied education benefits last year because of drug convictions, and that two million juveniles have been arrested for drug offenses in the past decade. "It's a mistake to have a policy that blocks them from getting an education that would allow them to have a more productive life," he told Join Together. About a dozen Congressional staffers attended the hearing.