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Mexico City: Vicious Drug Gangs Competing For ‘Cartel Cred’

9 Oct

Alfredo Carmona alias “el Capi,” leader of the New Generation gang, right, is escorted …
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Masked gunmen dump the bodies of 35 slaying victims during rush hour as terrified motorists watch and tweet friends to avoid the avenue in a Gulf coast city. A couple of weeks later, 32 more corpses are found nearby in three houses.

A woman’s decapitated body is left at a border city’s monument to Columbus, the head atop a computer keyboard with a sign saying she was killed for blogging about drug traffickers.

The severed heads of five men are dumped outside an elementary school in Acapulco, and two more near a military base in Mexico City days later.

That was just in the last three weeks.

The brutal public killings that began about five years ago have worsened as Mexican drug cartels try to one-up each other in their quest to scare off rivals, authorities and would-be informers — and still stun Mexicans increasingly numbed to the gory spectacles.

“These gangs have to keep escalating because they want the shock value but the shock value wears off,” said Clark McCauley, a psychology professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and an expert on terrorism. “Now, to get a headline you have to get more heads, or more bodies or do something more horrific.”

Latin American drug lords have long turned to grisly killings and torture tactics. At the height of its powers in the 1990s, the Juarez cartel used to cut off the fingers of snitches and shove them down their throats, a practice that other cartels soon followed.

The current show of savagery began in April 2006 when two police officers were decapitated; their heads dripping blood were left in the resort city of Acapulco, where four alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel had been killed in a shootout with police. Along with the heads was a sign that warned, “So that you learn to respect.”

The Zetas are a gang of drug smugglers and hit men led by deserters from an elite Mexican army unit, who for many years were assassins for the Gulf cartel.

Five months later, the La Familia cartel rolled five human heads purportedly belonging to Zetas across a dance floor in the western state of Michoacan. An attached note said La Familia “doesn’t kill for money, doesn’t kill women, doesn’t kill innocents, just those who should die,” an apparent retaliation warning for the particularly violent group.

Since then, drug traffickers have plunged into even more gruesome tactics. They have tied victims to overpasses and shot them to death during rush hour as sickened motorists watched. Some have decapitated people alive and then posted videos of it on the internet.

“In terms of the cruelty, it’s the Zetanisation of the country because the Zetas were the first to introduce these ghastly tactics into Mexico,” said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, who has written several books about the rapidly expanding drug cartel. The Zetas are the game-changers.

Officials blame a group calling itself the “Zeta Killers” for dumping 35 bodies on a busy boulevard in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz on Sept. 20. They say the group also killed 32 people whose bodies were found at three houses in the area on Thursday.

On Monday, police in Mexico City found two severed heads on a street near a major military base accompanied by a note referring to the “Mano con Ojos,” or “Hand with Eyes,” drug gang. Motorists called the police after spotting one of the heads on the hood of an SUV.

“If you want to have cartel cred,” said Grayson, “you have to show you can carry off any act at any time and go as far as your enemy.”

Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna has said Mexican drug traffickers copied the terror tactic from the al-Qaida in Iraq after it posted videos on the internet of the decapitations of Americans. He said the cartels are using al-Qaida’s methods to pressure the government to halt its crackdown against drug traffickers, which has fractured many of the gangs.

Authorities have also said that in 2005, the Zetas began enlisting “Kaibiles,” former members of an elite Guatemalan counterinsurgency unit, to train newly recruited foot soldiers. The Kaibiles were known for massacres during the Guatemalan civil war that ended in the mid-1990s.

Very few of the killings result in arrests or convictions, so the only deterrent is revenge by another cartel.

In the five years since the beheading of the two Acapulco police officers, decapitations have become almost weekly occurrences and a prime terror tactic.

The practice dates back at least 2,000 years, said Dr. Michelle Bonogofsky, an bioarchaeologist who edited two books on the significance of of the human head in different cultures, from skull collection to decapitations.

“One of the worst things you can do to the body, in some instances, is to desecrate or dismember it and historically, this has been used by kings and various other groups to establish control,” Bonogofsky said. “This could be tied to the religious belief that you need your body intact to be resurrected.”

Residents in some cities caught in the bloody turf battles are already adapting to living with violence, said Dr. Oscar Galicia, a psychology professor who specializes in violent behavior at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.

In the northern city of Monterrey, where the Zetas are fighting the Gulf drug cartel, many people don’t go out at night in certain neighborhoods, they avoid night clubs and bars and have added extra locks to their doors at home.

“What people are doing in Monterrey is adapting,” he said.

More worrisome is that the prolonged violence is creating a sense of helplessness among Mexicans, who are becoming increasingly numb to what’s happening, Galicia said.

“Now if it’s not 20 bodies, it doesn’t get our attention and that’s terrible and really dangerous for our society because we’re becoming as desensitized as the criminals,” he said.

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2011 file photo, relatives weep after gunmen opened fire on a taxi killing the driver and the passenger in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico. The brutal public killings that began about five years ago have worsened as Mexican drug cartels try to one-up each other in their quest to scare off rivals, authorities and would-be informers _ and still shock Mexicans increasingly accustomed to the gory spectacles. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2011 file photo, relatives weep after gunmen opened fire on …

Veracrus, Mexico: Two Murderous Cartels Dominate In Drugs War

3 Oct

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Five years after President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against Mexico’s five main drug cartels, the nation is now dominated by two powerful organizations that appear poised for a one-on-one battle to control drug markets and trafficking routes.

The government’s success in killing or arresting some cartel leaders has fractured most of the other gangs to such an extent that they have devolved into quarreling bands, or been forced to operate as subsidiaries of the two main cartels. That has often meant expanded territory and business opportunities for the hyper-violent Zetas and drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman‘s Sinaloa cartel.

“They are the two most successful cartels, or at least they have been able to expand in recent years,” said drug trade and security expert Jorge Chabat.

Mexican federal authorities, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told The Associated Press that the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels are now the nation’s two dominant drug traffickers. One or the other is present almost everywhere in Mexico, but officials are braced to see what happens next in a drug war that has already claimed an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 lives. So far, the signs are not hopeful.

GRAPHIC CONTENT - In this Sept. 26, 2011 photo, Mexican Army soldiers look at two bodies lying next to a charred vehicle in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico. Acapulco has seen a surge of cr

In the Gulf coast seaport of Veracruz, 35 bound, tortured bodies were dumped onto a main thoroughfare during the height of rush hour on Sept. 20. The killers are presumed to be aligned with the Sinaloa cartel, while the victims were apparently linked to the Zetas, who took hold of the important seaport in 2010. In a clash in May, more than two dozen people — most of them Zetas — were killed when they tried to infiltrate the Sinaloa‘s territory in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit.

When Calderon took office in December 2006, he said the drug cartels were trying to take over the country. He launched the government’s first broad attempt to fight the gangs, deploying thousands of soldiers to capture cartel members and dismantle the organizations.

At the time, the Zetas were not even a separate cartel, but rather an armed enforcement wing of the Gulf cartel, a role created in the late 1990s when they were recruited from an elite army unit. Sometime around 2010, after a falling-out between Gulf and Zeta gunmen, the Zetas split off, ushering in what is possibly the bloodiest chapter of Mexico’s narco wars. Within less than two years, the Zetas had taken control of the seaport and most of the Gulf’s former territory.

According to Chabat, the two have survived the government crackdown because they have been more skilled than their weaker counterparts. He said the new alignment may make it easier for government forces to target the two big cartels, as opposed to fighting half a dozen of them.

“The question is whether the Sinaloa cartel and Zetas are going to break at some point or not,” said Chabat.

“Right now they are very strong, but if in two or three years these cartels are pulverized, they may say that (the drug war) was a success.”

Both the “mega” cartels want to control seaports for shipping drugs from South and Central America, and border towns, for getting the drugs into the United States.

Sinaloa has long been based on the country’s northwest Pacific coast, with occasional incursions farther east along the border. In recent years, it has spread both east and south, reaching into Central America.

In this Thursday Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, a plastic sheet covers the body of a pirated DVD vendor at the central market in Acapulco, Mexico. The Pacific resort city of Acapulco has been hit by increnext

The Zetas, once confined to a stretch of the northern Gulf coast, have grown the most, pushing into central Mexico, and as far south as Guatemala.

Strategies differ. While the Sinaloa cartel is known for forging temporary alliances, officials have said the Zetas are believed to scorn them, preferring direct control of territory. There appears little chance the two groups will ever agree to split their turf; instead, Mexico may be headed into a battle between the two cartels, with each seeking to exterminate the other.

“I see the Sinaloa Federation and the Zetas as being the two polarizing forces in the Mexican criminal system … and between the two, an array of other smaller groups aligned with one or the other, ” said Samuel Logan, director of Southern Pulse, a security consulting firm.

Their operations differ too. The Zetas are involved in human trafficking and other illegal businesses, as well as the drug trade. They have committed some of the worst massacres in the Mexican drug wars and engage in a violence so brutal authorities have called the cartel “irrational.” The Sinaloan hit men, on the other hand, appear to be more focused on the drug business and are less randomly violent.

Zetas often dress in fake military gear, and have erected military-style training camps. Sinaloa gunmen, like other narcotics gangs, are more discreet, favoring ski masks and black clothing.

“Sinaloa has done well by flying under the radar. They’re comparatively less violent, though they’re no saints,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. “The Zetas have certainly gotten bigger since they split with the Gulf, but whether that will amount to a long-term ability to control and defend the territories where they have a presence is a little less clear.

“In reality, they’re much thinner, where Sinaloa is hierarchical and compact.”

Both the big cartels have also been known to launch “spoiler” attacks, aimed at making trouble on an opponent’s turf, even though they have little chance of truly encroaching on it. They have sometimes even launched “poison” attacks on civilians on an opponent’s turf, hoping the rival will be blamed.

In between the two giants, smaller, fragmented remains of vanquished cartels fight their own bloody battles.

On the outskirts of Mexico City, the Knights Templar cartel appears to be fighting Beltran-Leyva remnants, and the same two forces — plus the Zetas — have been battling for Acapulco, terrorizing the Pacific coast resort.

Battles among various cartels proliferate in Mexico’s most violent cities, including Monterrey, where the Gulf cartel is fighting the Zetas.

But Selee notes that the Veracruz fighting may represent a new stage in which the two big gangs take each other head-on as they move deeper into each other’s territory. The battle may have opened in May, when the Zetas apparently sent a convoy of fighters into Sinaloa territory in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit.

For all of the Zetas’ bloody reputation — they have been known to massacre the families of police or soldiers who had already died fighting them — the incursion didn’t go well: 28 presumed Zetas were found slaughtered by the side of a highway.

Soon after, in July, a group of two dozen armed men posted a video on the Internet, identifying themselves as “Mata Zetas” — literally, Zeta Killers — and said they were from a group allied with Sinaloa to hunt Zetas.

A Mexican military official who could not be quoted by name for security reasons said that besides the tit-for-tat aspect of the Veracruz killings, Sinaloa may also want control of the port as a link in the shipping route from Central America.

But Logan sees another reason for a group aligned with Sinaloa to attack deep into Zeta territory in Veracruz — to distract the Zetas from their next target: Guadalajara.

Mexico’s second-largest city also has seen a rise in drug violence in the last year. It was long the home of Sinaloa’s methamphetamine-trafficking arm run by Guzman lieutenant Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who was killed in a shootout with federal police in July 2010. Since then, factions of Coronel’s operation have been fighting for control, including the New Generation and another group known as the Resistance.

The Zetas have taken over neighboring Zacatecas state in their push west, and are eyeing Guadalajara both for the meth trade and for extortion potential.

“The Zetas aren’t good for business. They do what they have to because they don’t have the distribution networks of the Gulf or Sinaloa. So they have to diversify into kidnapping and extortion,” said a U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico, who couldn’t be identified for security reasons.

Logan said there are rumors that some factions fighting the New Generation are ready to join with the Zetas.

“That’s got to concern El Chapo,” he said, of the Sinaloan leader. “Guadalajara has been a huge part of the meth trade for years, El Chapo’s bread and butter. If the Zetas take that, it won’t be good for El Chapo.”

Both big cartels are trying to cover their actions with public relations campaigns, as is now customary. The Zetas hung banners in several Veracruz towns, accusing the military of rights abuses and favoring Sinaloa.

The Mata Zetas have come out with another video, in which they claim to have moved into Veracruz to protect the public from Zeta kidnappings and extortions. The men’s demeanor and language evoked a military style more than that of a gang foot soldier, raising a specter of a paramilitary response.

“We are the armed wing of the people, and for the people,” says a man with a ski mask, who is seen in the video sitting at a table reading from a prepared statement. He is flanked by four other masked associates, each with a full water bottle placed on the tablecloth. “We are anonymous warriors, faceless, but proudly Mexican.”

www.drugfreeworld.org & www.drugs.ie

OTTAWA, Canada: Safe-Injection Site For Addicts May Remain Open: Supreme Court

30 Sep

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Vancouver’s Insite clinic, the only such safe-injection site for drug addicts in North America, can stay open, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday in a landmark defeat for the federal government.

The country’s top court, slapping down the Conservative government with some harsh language, ruled unanimously that closing the site would threaten the lives of drug users and therefore violate their human rights.

A poster shows how to use a syringe safely inside a safe injection site for drug addicts on Vancouver, British Columbia's eastside

The government, which is pushing a tough-on-crime agenda, said keeping Insite open made a mockery of laws designed to stamp out illegal drug use. The Health Department had said it would not extend a special exemption to drug laws that allowed the site to operate.The court said such a decision would break the principles of fundamental justice and was arbitrary, ordering the health minister to maintain the exemption.

“It is also grossly disproportionate: the potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs on Insite’s premises,” it ruled.

Insite operates in Vancouver’s poor Downtown Eastside district, one of the most deprived urban areas in Canada. The clinic was set up in 2003 to allow intravenous drug users to shoot up in a place that had medical supervision.

A study in the Lancet medical journal this year said the site had cut drug overdose deaths by 35 percent in the area. Police and local officials had campaigned for it to stay open.

The site’s operators – who argued that drug addiction was a disease – said that, before the site opened, drug users were regularly dying of overdoses on the streets. The Downtown Eastside has around 4,600 intravenous drug users.

Recovered heroin addict Dean Wilson, a member of the board of the users’ group, jumped in the air, whooped loudly and clenched his fists in delight when told of the ruling.

“This just substantiates what I’ve been saying for a long time, that what we’ve been doing is the right thing. This has nothing to do with the law-and-order platform, this has to do with gold standard medical intervention for a group of very very ill people,” he told reporters.

Heroin and cocaine addicts receive clean needles to inject themselves with their own drugs under supervision by a nurse. They can then stay in a special “chill-out” room before returning to the streets.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will comment on the court ruling later Friday, a spokesman said.

The Conservatives, who won a majority in the May general election, plan to push through tougher laws on crime and open new prisons – moves that critics say are expensive and will put many more people in jail.

“They always took this political ideological partisan position,” said Libby Davies, a legislator for the opposition New Democrats, whose parliamentary constituency includes the Downtown Eastside.

“I want to say to them: Have you now understood, have you learned the importance of what Insite is about? … There have been no deaths from overdoses inside Insite,” she said.

The case name is Attorney General of Canada et al. v. PHS Community Services Society, et al. (Case no: 33556).

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)

Dublin: Ireland May Be Facing ‘Crystal Meth Epidemic’ Says Peter McVerry

30 Sep

The shocking effects of dangerous drug in just 18 months

DUBLIN is facing into an ‘ice’ epidemic, a leading city guardian has warned, after the biggest seizure of crystal meth to date.

Customs officers and gardai intercepted 2.5kg of the substance, also known as glass, with an estimated street value of €250,000 at Dublin Airport.

The haul was discovered when a 39-year-old man arriving from Lesotho, Africa, was stopped and his bags checked.

The drugs were concealed in the framework of two suitcases.

It is unusual that someone tried to bring in such large quantities of crystal meth, given that it is manufactured in labs through a mixture of chemicals and methanol.

“Crystal meth is only starting to arrive in this country but in the US it has devastated families and communities,” said Fr Peter McVerry, who works with drug addicts in Dublin.

“It is highly addictive — you can be addicted after just two or three uses. And it makes your behaviour extremely erratic. You can become extremely aggressive and violent and do almost anything to make money to get another fix,” he told the Herald.

“In my view it’s the most destructive drug on the market anywhere. I think we need to be dealing with this quickly.”

Fr McVerry pointed to the example of crack cocaine.

“Almost overnight, crack cocaine became the drug of choice, first in Ballymun and then around the city.”

Fr McVerry has been told crystal meth is “readily available” in Ballymun.

He has only dealt with one or two crystal meth addicts so far but he fears this could change rapidly. The drug costs less than heroin or cocaine — the street value of a gram is about €25.

A spokeswoman for the Revenue said the airport seizure was a result of “routine profiling” by customs officers.

The suspect was handed over to gardai for questioning and was to appear in court.

It was the first crystal meth seizure at Dublin Airport and the most significant haul of the substance for three years.

“People have been warning about it here for a long time,” said Grainne Kenny of Europe Against Drugs (Eurad).

“It’s a very, very dangerous drug. All drugs are dangerous but that’s particularly lethal.

Crystal meth comes in powder or rocks which can be snorted, smoked, ingested through the mouth or melted and injected. It can cause paranoia, kidney failure and internal bleeding, while a user’s appearance can become haggard.

– Cormac Murphy

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KABUL, Afghanistan: Coalition Troops Destroy $305m Worth Of Drugs

28 Sep

BREAKING NEWS

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops have destroyed drugs worth more than $350 million and three drug laboratories in southern Afghanistan.

NATO said Wednesday the narcotics seizure may be the largest ever made in Afghanistan.

Acting on intelligence, the troops targeted an area of Baghran district in the southern Helmand province on Monday that was suspected of being a manufacturing site for drugs.

The money from the drugs was believed to be bankrolling attacks on Afghan and coalition forces.

Also destroyed in the sweep was more than 26,000 pounds (12,065 kilograms) of chemicals used to make drugs, 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of heroin and 176 pounds (80 kilograms) of opium. Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world’s opium.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Eight policemen were killed in an attack early Wednesday near a southern city that is seen as a pioneer in transition from NATO to Afghan control over security, an Afghan police commander said.

Gen. Nabi Jan Mullahkhail, deputy regional commander in the south, said the pre-dawn attack targeted a police checkpoint near Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, where the insurgency has strongholds. Three police were wounded in the attack.

Mullahkhail said another policeman who was part of the group manning the checkpoint was missing, and that authorities were investigating whether he might have been involved in the attack.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed vehicle into a police truck in Lashkar Gah, killing two civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.

Lashkar Gah was one of five provincial capitals and two provinces chosen to start the transition from NATO to Afghan control this summer. The international coalition hopes to use the security zone around the provincial capital and the central Helmand River Valley as a foothold to push Afghan governance into outlying areas. NATO plans to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Also Wednesday, a New Zealand special forces soldier was killed during a gunbattle with suspected insurgents in a compound near Afghanistan’s capital.

Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones, the chief of New Zealand’s defense force, said the soldier was shot in the head and died soon after at a medical facility. Jones said the soldier was part of a team of 15 supporting about 50 Afghan police trying to serve arrest and search warrants on a group suspected of planning an attack on Kabul.

Jones said a man and a child in the compound were injured during the battle, which was still ongoing Wednesday morning.

MTF:

Mississippi: Handful Of Americans Getting Pot From U.S. Government

28 Sep

 
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Sometime after midnight on a moonlit rural Oregon highway, a state trooper checking a car he had just pulled over found less than an ounce of pot on one passenger: A chatty 72-year-old woman blind in one eye.

She insisted the weed was legal and was approved by the U.S. government.

The trooper and his supervisor were doubtful. But after a series of calls to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency and her physician, the troopers handed her back the card — and her pot.

For the past three decades, Uncle Sam has been providing a handful of patients with some of the highest grade marijuana around. The program grew out of a 1976 court settlement that created the country’s first legal pot smoker.

Advocates for legalizing marijuana or treating it as a medicine say the program is a glaring contradiction in the nation’s 40-year war on drugs — maintaining the federal ban on pot while at the same time supplying it.

Elvy Musikka, 72, who suffers from glaucoma, lights a marijuana cigarette, one of many she regularly receives from the U.S. Government, at her home in Eugene, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.  For the p

Government officials say there is no contradiction. The program is no longer accepting new patients, and public health authorities have concluded that there was no scientific value to it, Steven Gust of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse told The Associated Press.

At one point, 14 people were getting government pot. Now, there are four left.

The government has only continued to supply the marijuana “for compassionate reasons,” Gust said.

One of the recipients is Elvy Musikka, the chatty Oregon woman. A vocal marijuana advocate, Musikka relies on the pot to keep her glaucoma under control. She entered the program in 1988, and said that her experience with marijuana is proof that it works as a medicine.

The label on the side of a canister holding marijuana cigarettes that Elvy Musikka, 72, who suffers from glaucoma, regularly receives from the U.S. Government in Eugene, Ore., is shown Tuesday, Sept.

They “won’t acknowledge the fact that I do not have even one aspirin in this house,” she said, leaning back on her couch, glass bong cradled in her hand. “I have no pain.”Marijuana is getting a look from states around the country considering calls to repeal decades-old marijuana prohibition laws. There are 16 states that have medical marijuana programs. In the three West Coast states, advocates are readying tax-and-sell or other legalization programs.

Marijuana was legal for much of U.S. history and was recognized as a medicine in 1850. Opposition to it began to gather and, by 1936, 48 states had passed laws regulating pot, fearing it could lead to addiction.

Anti-marijuana literature and films, like the infamous “Reefer Madness,” helped fan those fears. Eventually, pot was classified among the most harmful of drugs, meaning it had no usefulness and a high potential for addiction.

In 1976, a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration must provide Robert Randall of Washington, D.C. with marijuana because of his glaucoma — no other drug could effectively combat his condition. Randall became the nation’s first legal pot smoker since the drug’s prohibition.

Eventually, the government created its program as part of a compromise over Randall’s care in 1978, long before a single state passed a medical marijuana law. What followed were a series of petitions from people like Musikka to join the program.

President George H.W. Bush’s administration, getting tough on crime and drugs, stopped accepting new patients in 1992. Many of the patients who had qualified had AIDS, and they were dying.

The AP asked the agency that administers the program, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for documents showing how much marijuana has been sent to patients since the first patient in 1976.

The agency supplied full data for 2005-2011, which showed that during that period the federal government distributed more than 100 pounds of high-grade marijuana to patients.

Agency officials said records related to the program before 2005 had been destroyed, but were able to provide scattered records for a couple of years in the early 2000s.

The four patients remaining in the program estimate they have received a total of 584 pounds from the federal government over the years. On the street, that would be worth more than $500,000.

All of the marijuana comes from the University of Mississippi, where it is grown, harvested and stored.

Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, who directs the operation, said the marijuana was a small part of the crop the university has been growing since 1968 for all cannabis research in the U.S. Among the studies are the pharmaceutical uses for synthetic mimics of pot’s psychoactive ingredient, THC.

ElSohly said the four patients are getting pot with about 3 percent THC. He said 3 percent is about the range patients have preferred in blind tests.

The marijuana is then sent from Mississippi to a tightly controlled North Carolina lab, where they are rolled into cigarettes. And every month, steel tins with white labels are sent to Florida and Iowa. Packed inside each is a half-pound of marijuana rolled into 300 perfectly-wrapped joints.

With Musikka living in Oregon, she is entitled to more legal pot than anyone in the nation because she’s also enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program. Neither Iowa nor Florida has approved marijuana as a medicine, so the federal pot is the only legal access to the drug for the other three patients.

The three other people in the program range in ages and doses of marijuana provided to them, but all consider themselves an endangered species that, once extinct, can be brushed aside by a federal government that pretends they don’t exist.

All four have become crusaders for the marijuana-legalization movement. They’re rock stars at pro-marijuana conferences, sought-after speakers and recognizable celebrities in the movement.

Irv Rosenfeld, a financial adviser in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has been in the program since November 1982. His condition produces painful bone tumors, but he said marijuana has replaced prescription painkillers.

Rosenfeld likes to tell this story: In the mid-1980s, the federal government asked his doctor for an update on how Rosenfeld was doing. It was an update the doctor didn’t believe the government was truly interested in. He had earlier tried to get a copy of the previous update, and was told the government couldn’t find it, Rosenfeld said.

So instead of filling out the form, the doctor responded with a simple sentence written in large, red letters: “It’s working.”

www.drugfreeworld.org  & www.drugs.ie