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Organic Consumers & Companies Harassed by Drug Agents & Police

For Nadine Artemis and Ron Obadia, August began with plans for a family vacation in Minnesota. The vacation ended with the two Canadian citizens being led through Toronto's airport in handcuffs, locked up and separated from their baby. "We were dumbfounded," Artemis says. Police told them they could be facing years in prison for exporting narcotics, because 2.5 pounds of material found in their carry-on bag tested positive for hashish. "All we knew was that we didn't have drugs."

They were telling the truth. They didn't have drugs. They had chocolate.

The couple were caught up in what civil libertarians, public defenders and some narcotics experts say is a growing problem: the use of unreliable field drug-test kits as the basis to arrest innocent people on illegal drug charges.

The inexpensive test kits are used by virtually every police department in the country and by federal agents, including Customs officers at the nation's borders. The kits test suspicious materials, and a positive result generally leads to an arrest and court date, pending more sophisticated tests done after the sample is sent to a lab.

The kits use powerful acids that react with the substance in a plastic pouch. If the liquid turns a certain color, it is a considered a positive result. But a number of legal products and plants test positive: chocolate for hashish; rosemary for marijuana; and natural soaps for the "date-rape drug" GHB.

"The tests have no validity," says former FBI narcotics investigator Frederick Whitehurst. And as more organic products come on the market, "the potential for civil rights violations when these presumptive tests are out there is phenomenal."

Although police have been using the field test kits for decades, "there's no regulation, no oversight that these drug tests perform in any way," says Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps President David Bronner, whose products have tested positive for GHB.

With the growth of organic and natural foods and products, experts say arrests may increase.

"We are alarmed by the growing number of people who have been taken to jail for simply possessing organic products," says Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association.

On Aug. 29, Artemis and Obadia, founders of Living Libations, a company that makes organic and natural food and beauty products in Haliburton, Ontario, were cleared of the charges when lab tests showed they were simply transporting chocolate...

Full Story: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-11-03-drugkits_N.htm

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