In The News 

 Canadian Ambassador to Mexico steps down

Canadian Ambassador to Mexico Marc Perron resigned his position in October and returned to Ottawa following an interview with Milenio, a popular weekly news magazine, in which he remarked that corruption in Mexico was the worst he's ever seen, that the government's war on drugs is a sham and that Washington's pressure on Mexico over drugs is "a game."

Perron is a career diplomat who previously served as Canada's ambassador to Egypt and as a deputy in Africa and the Middle East.

"I think the pressure on Mexico from the United States is just a game that the American government uses for political ends," he said.

B.C. Canada's Attorney General calls for an examination of decriminalization

Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh of British Columbia has declared that current prohibitionist drug policies were incompatible with a humane and effective approach to drug addiction. As such, and assuming that he has the backing of B.C.'s mayors and police chiefs, he will soon be presenting the idea of decriminalization of personal use amounts of illegal substances to his counterparts in other provinces.

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen and Police Chief Bruce Chambers said they are ready to look at decrim, as well as any other measures that might ease social and health problems associated with substance abuse in their city. "Obviously, we have a problem, and we have to consider all possible solutions," Owen said. "The realistic thing at this point is to deal that card on to the table and have a discussion."

This pronouncement by the Attorney General follows close on the heels of another high-level official's comments in the same vein. Earlier last week, deputy chief Ken Higgins of the Vancouver police department said decriminalizing possession of drugs like heroin or cocaine is a necessary part of the battle against HIV/AIDS among drug addicts.

Inmates' families tell panel of prison abuses

AUSTIN - In September, families of inmates screamed, wept and pleaded before state senators Tuesday to improve conditions in prison, where their loved ones report being raped, beaten and humiliated.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Wayne Scott told the panel he is confident that systems are in place to prevent abuses. That includes grievance procedures, an independent internal affairs division and a special prosecutors office, he said.

"Without hesitancy, the checks and balances are in place. But we can always do better," Mr. Scott said.

"We shouldn't have to beg someone's attention to report that our child has been beaten or raped," said Linda Reaves, director of the Texas Inmate Family Association. "If the grievance system worked, we wouldn't have to be reporting it at all."

Regarding rape in prison, the director acknowledged it happens all too often. "It can happen in minutes. It usually takes the assistance of other inmates working as lookouts," he said.

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, said the prison system overall is doing a good job.

Margaret Young cried as she told of her brother, James Barker, 49, who wrote a letter from the Coffield Unit in East Texas this year. The convicted burglar said he was walking with his hands cuffed behind him when a guard purposely tripped him. Later he was put in a cell with an inmate with a history of violence. Her brother died of his injuries April 27. "They've told me nothing but lies and put me off," Ms. Young said.

Former criminal justice board Chairman Selden Hale said the $21,000 beginning salary is too low for the "dirty, difficult job" as a correctional officer.

More hearings will be scheduled later in the year and the committee will make recommendations for the next legislative session.

Candy bar mistaken for gun

NEW YORK-November 7,1997 - An undercover federal agent shot a 17-year-old high-school soccer player in the leg after apparently mistaking the silver-wrapped candy bar in his hand for a gun.

"U.S. marshal! Drop the gun!" the agent yelled, jumping out of the car and pulling his gun, unidentified law enforcement officials told The New York Times.

"He didn't even give me a chance to react," Burgess told the Times. "I turned to see what was up, and boom, I'm hit, and I fell to the ground."

The marshal, was working as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, a multi-agency group, said Lawrence Parker, chief deputy of the United States Marshal's Eastern District office in Brooklyn.

"I'm laying there, bleeding, waiting to go the hospital, and he's shaking hands with the other cops, or agents, or whatever they were," the victim said. "He asked one of them, 'Don't I know you from some other case?' And I'm still lying there. It's sick," he said. "You can't even walk down the street and eat a candy bar anymore."

Shoot-out near the school yard

NEW YORK, October 15, 1997 -A police officer and two suspected drug dealers were shot and wounded when an undercover drug arrest went awry and set off a pitched gun battle on a crowded Bronx street corner, as mothers and children were pouring out of two nearby schools, the police and neighbors said.

The police defended the operation to angry parents and school officials. "This was part of our continuing efforts to rid the streets of drugs," said Marilyn Mode, a police spokeswoman. "Should we let the drugs go into circulation? We are trying to rid the streets of narcotics so children are not exposed to them."

Several neighbors criticized the police for attempting a drug operation just as two schools were letting out for the afternoon. The shootout took place across the street from the Seneca Center, where an after-school program draws many children at that time of day. Two schools were within 2 blocks of the shoot-out.

Six Year Old Suspended for Lemon Drops

In the latest in a national trend, a six-year-old boy was suspended from school for half a day for giving a lemon drop candy to a classmate. Officials at Taylor Elementary School in Colorado Springs, CO summoned an ambulance and the fire department to respond when they found the boys in possession of the candies, which were bought by the student's mother in a local health food store, and which school officials could not identify. The suspension came despite the mother's assurances as to the identity of the candies, and despite those assurances, school officials urged the parents of both students to take the children to a local hospital for "tests".

The school district's policy treats any unfamiliar product as "drugs", according to an administrator. The suspended student's mother told the Denver Post that the school's response was one of "complete hysteria" adding "I can't believe these people are educating our kids."

Narco Charity

BAMOPA, Mexico--Abelino Ortiz needed a miracle. The farmer, a devout Catholic, had rallied the peasants in this mountain village to build a chapel, but the project was short of cash--until the local drug lord happened by, briefcase in hand.

Such incidents are at the center of a national uproar over "narco-charity"--donations by drug traffickers to benefit the Roman Catholic Church.

"The church has been the same as the local society--it closes its eyes in front of those who give interesting contributions," said Luis Astorga, a sociologist who has studied the social impact of drug trafficking.

"The drug traffickers act almost like Robin Hoods. With the money they make, they help their communities," said Emilio Goicoechea, a senator from the conservative National Action Party who represents this region.

Father Humberto Patron, 31, who spent two years ministering to these villages in the sierra, said no. But he acknowledged that he did not criticize or boycott churches built with drug money. They were already built when he arrived, he said, and served a good purpose.

"In these towns, people don't have the money to build a church. They don't even have enough to eat," he said with a shrug.

Park Clean-up

NEW YORK - Following up on Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's pledge to rid Washington Square Park of drugs, undercover police arrested 95 people for buying or selling marijuana.

Those arrested in a four-day sting at the popular Greenwich Village park included students and teachers, media representatives, musicians and a bartender, said Lt. Dennis Cirillo, a police spokesman. Most allegedly purchased $10 bags of marijuana from undercover officers.

Two wrongs don't make it right

ARIZONA - Ramon and Margarita Estrada's family woke to a team of heavily armed, masked men who barged into their Arizona home and ordered them to the floor in a choking cloud of tear gas.

"My dad was yelling 'They're not policemen! They're not policemen!' He thought they were robbers or something," 13 year old Adriana Estrada said. "I think there were four or five guys on top of him, pointing with weapons at his head."

Her father was wrong and so was the SWAT team who "no-knock" entered the wrong house.

Estrada said his 19-year-old daughter, was hit in the knee by a tear gas canister when she ran into the hallway. Choking and blinded by tear gas, she yelled at her sisters and brother to hide before the men grabbed her, he said.

The SWAT team took the small children outside, their father last, where his oldest daughter, newphew and a friend, clad åonly in pajamas or underwear were bound with plastic wrist restraints.

In the meantime, officers searched the home finding no drugs.

"They treated us really badly - really rough,'' said Adriana's father, who works as a landscaper and at an auto garage. "They didn't say they were sorry - didn't apologize - just picked up and left.

Texas okays 4,120 new prison beds

Funding for two new high-security prisons and 20 new lesser security "dorms" was approved this week by the state of Texas. Total cost for the facilities is estimated at $107 million. Texas, which has tripled its prison capacity since 1992, to a total of 145,000 beds, expects its system to be full, once again, by next April, according to the Houston Chronicle, 11/18.

Jerry Epstein, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, told The Week Online (, "Texas has increased its prison population 300% since 1992, giving Texas the highest known per capita incarceration rate in the world. None of this has made Texas any safer than numerous other states with far lower incarceration rates. The imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders has siphoned off huge amounts of taxpayer dollars that could have been spent far more productively on under-funded treatment and education programs."

You can find the Drug Policy Forum of Texas on the web at

Swiss voters overwhelminly approve harm reduction strategies

In September Swiss voters overwhelmingly endorsed their government's liberal drug policies, including the controversial - but seemingly successful - state distribution of heroin to addicts.

By a much bigger margin than predicted, nearly 71 percent of voters - 1.3 million people - threw out the proposal "Youth Without Drugs," which would have curtailed government programs for drug users.

The health ministry immediately announced that it would try to put state distribution of heroin to addicts on a permanent legal footing.

From a peak of 399 in 1994, drug-related deaths fell to 312 last year, and are expected to slump further this year. Supporters say this is largely due to the success of government policies.

If the initiative had passed Sunday, it would have forced an end to all heroin and methadone programs and cut state-backed counseling programs for addicts.

Many health experts said this would have been a disaster, leading to a renewed rise in crime and death.

The government urged voters to reject the proposed clampdown, saying it was "unrealistic, unsuitable and ineffective."

Mainstream church groups, trade unions, police representatives and the majority of medical and youth workers backed the government.

Voters in cities like Zurich, Geneva and Basel gave the strongest backing to a continuation in existing policies. But even in Switzerland's conservative rural heartland there was a clear majority against a clampdown.

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact