Where Dr. Weed spent spring break 

When the Indy spoke with Dr. David Sands about his research on drug-eradicating fungi (see “The Temptation of Dr. Weed,” by Jed Gottlieb, Jan. 16, 2003), Sands said he was no longer interested in pursuing that kind of research at his home or at his Montana State University lab. Sands’ tireless watchdogs tell a different tale.

In early March, a conference on the drug pandemic was held at the Vienna International Center, which houses the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC). One of the panels at the conference was titled “Eradication.”

“Just prior to the commencement of this eradication panel, there was an odd movement of people in the vicinity, with people coming in greater numbers from all over the ODC, as though in anticipation that something special was about to happen,” writes Anthony White, former chief of supply reduction and law enforcement for the United Nations International Drug Control Program, in an e-mail to the Indy. “However, there was astonishment when the speaker who strode forward was none other than David Sands.”

White, who worked with a British television company on a documentary feature in which Dr. Sands was interviewed, didn’t attend the conference, but says he was told of the incident by “impeccable sources.” White isn’t the only one who heard of Sands’ alleged involvement in the conference. Another member of the biological warfare watchdog community heard a story identical to White’s.

In the past, the media has called Sands’ research reckless and environmentally unsound, so he was hesitant to speak with the Indy for the story earlier this year. This time a series of messages left at his home and at his MSU office asking if he attended the conference have gone unanswered.

White and the second, anonymous watchdog allege his involvement was kept secret because he has started up with his drug-eradication work again.

“Sands opened by stating that nobody would find any record of his being present on any documentation relating to the event, including the conference records, since this might attract too much attention from press and lobby groups,” writes White. “He then went on to explain the development of pathogens for eradication of illicit narcotic crops, his basic message being ‘we’re ready for implementation if any government would be interested.’”

Impeccable sources or not, there is a certain amount of impenetrable shadow and fog surrounding Sands, his whereabouts and his work. E-mails to the Vienna International Center seeking confirmation of Sands’ attendance have gone unreturned. Until Sands decides to come forward and confirm or deny his involvement, everything is hearsay.

“It’s messy,” writes the anonymous watchdog. “There are a lot of spooks in drug policy and I can’t be absolutely sure of the information I get.”

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