Dustin Costa Faces 15 to Life

On the day before Thanksgiving, 12 federal jurors from Fresno took a little more than two hours to convict Dustin Costa of manufacture of marijuana, possession for distribution, and possession of a firearm (“in furtherance of drug-trafficking”). Given a prior marijuana conviction, the Modesto activist –a Vietnam-era Marine Corps vet– faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. He turned 59 and 60 while spending the past 16 months in the Fresno County jail awaiting trial.

Costa had been growing some 900 plants. He was arrested in February 2004 and charged by Merced County prosecutors. He was planning to defend himself as growing for others under California law, but then the U.S. Attorney took over the case, ruling out a reality-based defense. Costa was represented by public defender Robert Rainwater. Another federal PD will handle his appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, which Costa hopes will focus on the introduction of blatantly false evidence by the prosecution.

This happened while expert witness Chris Conrad was testifying about the potency of cannabis. (Rainwater was trying to make the impossible case that Costa had been growing for personal medical use.) As Conrad recounts,

“After I had said that cannabis is essentially non-toxic and people can consume large amounts without serious health risk, prosecutor Karen Escobar asked if I’d heard of the Merck Index, and I said I was familiar with Merck and the Merck Manual. Then she showed me a page downloaded from a website alleging that the Merck Index indicates that for a human the THC in approximately 21 grams of 12% THC is the estimated lethal dose. [A typical joint is about one gram.] It was not a copy of the Index, as I pointed out, and I immediately said that this information is simply not true, citing Judge Young and other sources showing use of 50 grams per day without negative effects. I commented that it was rather sad to see a document produced by a large drug manufacturer, ostensibly interested in science, publishing a blatantly false statement with a clear financial motive, i.e., Merck produces drugs that compete with medical marijuana for a market. Then I went home, looked into the Merck Manual and contacted John Morgan asking him if Merck has the position that 21 grams of cannabis is the lethal dose, and he of course said no, and contacted the current editor of the Manual who concurred that 21 grams is not the lethal dose. Upon review of the page she had downloaded, it is not clear what exactly the Merck Index says because it was just a web page with a reference to a lethal dose for mice and one for rats and some extrapolation. It’s not clear where the Index data ended and the author’s opinions or calculations began. I don’t have a copy of the Index and it is not available online without paying a major fee.”

So there are two possibilities: either Merck generated the disinformation (readers with access to the Merck Index are invited to pursue this), or the government is lying about its source. It was sharp of Conrad to point out that Merck has a vested interested in the marijuana prohibition. The government’s reference to a 21-gram lethal dose is Reefer Madness in a federal courtroom with a man’s life on the line. It was not some minor, inconsequential point that the prosecution was re-enforcing with its “Merck Index” ploy. The core assumption of the Controlled Substances Act -the statute Dustin Costa was convicted of violating- is that marijuana is a very dangerous drug.
Modesto Misery

A note about the Costa verdict from Modesto dispensary worker Luke Scarmazzo sheds light on how big the medical marijuana industry is becoming (as the DEA picks off clubs here and there).

“I am one of nine patient employees arrested by the DEA in raids conducted on California Healthcare Collective 9/27/06,” writes Scarmazzo. “I, too, will stand trial before Judge Ishii. My colleagues and I face a mandatory minimum of 20-to-life. We followed California law to the letter and even went beyond that, self-regulating ourselves to ensure we ran an effective legal cannabis dispensary. We paid taxes on time ($93k in federal IRS quarterlies, 25k in state quarterlies, and approximately 50-60k per MONTH in sales tax) and followed all local ordinances. The city of Modesto led us to believe we were ‘ok’ to operate and then called in the DEA to raid and arrest us. They claim we dispensed cannabis to undercover agents with false doctor recommendations. What happened is they had the verification phone number routed to police personnel that in turn verified the doctor’s recommendation as being valid. I learned this after reading our discovery. Our process of verifying patients was one of the best in the state. I spent a month in the Fresno federal holding facility while my bail was repeatedly appealed by the US attorney_s office. After four and a half weeks of this circus I was finally allowed to bail. I now sit on house arrest and ankle monitor, awaiting trial, restricted from my right to use the only medication that works for me. Where is the public outcry? The people of California should be outraged and pouring in with support for these trials.
Houston, We Have a Solution!

Breast cancer rates are falling as women quit hormone replacement therapy, according to a report last week from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The breast cancer rate that had been rising slowly for decades plunged by seven percent in 2003, and the incidence of estrogen-positive breast cancers fell by 12%! This is excellent news in and of itself, with tremendous implications: eliminating the cause of the disease is more efficient than “the search for a cure.”

In July 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative had published its finding that women taking Wyeth’s Prempro had a higher incidence of breast cancer. Millions of women stopped taking their HRT, despite a valiant attempt by the drug companies and their friends in the medical establishment to question the WHI conclusions.

Somewhere I have a manila folder with articles pushing HRT despite the WHI findings. I thought I had filed it under “Dream Dies Hard.” I could have added to it this week the Wall St. Journal’s begrudging response to the HRT news. They played it in the “Marketplace” section, where stories about health rightly belong. “What Made Breast Cancer Decline in 2003?” was the headline. Tara Parker-Pope wrote, “The reasons behind the steep drop -which translates to about 14,000 women who didn’t get breast cancer that year- aren’t entirely clear. Changes in medication use, including a sharp decline in women taking menopause hormones and increased use of calcium supplements and anti-inflammatory drugs, may all have played a role. A 3% drop in mammography screening among menopausal women in the same year could also explain why fewer breast cancers were found. The real meaning of the data probably won’t be known until government breast-cancer numbers for 2004 and additional years can be analyzed.”

Parker-Pope reviews all the reasons other than women quitting HRT en masse that might explain the falling breast cancer rate. She even suggests that increased use of other drugs, notably Eli Lilly’s Evista, might be the real causal factor. Indeed, the dream dies hard.

The new data solve the longstanding mystery of inordinately high breast cancer rates in affluent Marin County. It’s the result of more and better “health care.”

FRED GARDNER is a former Public Information Officer for the District Attorney of San Francisco. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com



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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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