Drug War Chronicle #709 - November 17, 2011

1. The Future of Drug War Chronicle

As drug policy reform continues into its most consequential stage in decades, StoptheDrugWar.org plays a crucial role for leaders and organizations in the movement. But we need your help, more perhaps than ever, to keep the most important StoptheDrugWar.org service, the Drug War Chronicle newsletter, at full strength.

2. Seattle Pilot Program Offers Treatment Not Arrest [FEATURE]

Fed up with endless recycling of low-level, problematic drug offenders through the criminal justice system, Seattle and King County have embarked on a "treatment not arrest" pilot program designed to break the cycle.

3. NORML Sues Feds in CA Medical Marijuana Fight [FEATURE]

The federal crackdown on medical marijuana in California is provoking legal challenges. First ASA, and now, NORML have filed lawsuits seeking to halt it.

4. Cities Can Ban Marijuana Dispensaries, CA Court Rules

An California appeals court decision saying localities can ban medical marijuana dispensaries is only adding to the industry's woes.

5. DEA Raids Seattle Area Marijuana Dispensaries

The Justice Department's offensive against medical marijuana distribution just spread to the Seattle area, with the DEA raiding 14 dispensaries Tuesday.

6. Michigan AG Says Cops Can Seize Medical Marijuana

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is no friend of medical marijuana, and he proved it again last week with an opinion telling police they can seize patients' medicine.

7. Washington Marijuana Initiative Gains Support

An initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in Washington state is pulling in some big names and big bucks, but it hasn't completely unified the state's marijuana community behind it. That may not matter.

8. Mexico Drug War Update

The cavalcade of arrests, busts, and killings continues in Mexico.

9. Mexico Drug War Deaths Leveling Off, Study Says

The good news is that prohibition-related killing in Mexico may be leveling off. The bad news is that it's leveling off at horrendous levels.

10. Dominican Presidential Candidate Says Legalize Drugs

Yet another Latin American politician comes out for legalization. This one is running for president in the Dominican Republic.

11. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A meth-dealing cop in Hawaii, a dope-load protecting cop in Houston, a pair of cops willing to sell information to drug dealers in Jacksonville and Cincinnati, and a contraband-toting jail guard in Alabama make this week's hall of shame.

1. The Future of Drug War Chronicle

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Dear Drug Policy Reformer:

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Andrew Livingston, founder of Colgate University Students for Sensible Drug Policy:

Before I started Colgate University's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, I would stay up to date on issues in drug policy by reading stories in the Drug War Chronicle. The information I gained familiarized me with the growing movement for drug policy reform and stoked my passion to actively change our nation's unjust policies. Today I use StoptheDrugWar.org to keep myself informed and to teach other students in my SSDP chapter about the most up to date drug policy issues both within the United States and abroad.

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Drug War Chronicle is the single best source for drug war journalism. I can't praise Drug War Chronicle enough. Phil Smith deserves special kudos for his journalism. I regularly re-post your articles to our California lists. Please keep up the good work.
 

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There is an incredible amount at stake in the fight to change drug policy right now -- this may truly be the most important moment in the issue we've seen in the entire history of the organization. States and the Congress are considering sentencing reform, and public support for marijuana legalization is finally reaching the 50% mark. Yet the government is conducting its most aggressive crackdown against medical marijuana -- just medical marijuana -- and regressive committee chairmen refuse to give important reform bills the fair hearings and consideration they are due.

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2. Seattle Pilot Program Offers Treatment Not Arrest [FEATURE]

The Belltown neighborhood near downtown Seattle is a charming, vibrant urban locale, located just south of the city's landmark Space Needle. Filled with bars and cafes and desirable condos, it is a nighttime hot spot, but it is also a neighborhood where a relatively small number of problematic drug users have reduced the quality of life for residents and businesses alike. According to a recent study by the Seattle Police Department, some 50 people in Belltown were responsible for a whopping 2700 arrests.

4th Ave. & Wall St., Belltown neighborhood (Chas Redmond via wikimedia.org)
Now, instead of cycling those people through more endless -- and expensive -- rounds of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and supervision, local officials and the Seattle Defender Association have embarked on an innovative pilot program in which beat officers will offer to take low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to drug treatment instead of arresting them, booking them into jail, and prosecuting them.

The pioneering program will allow officers the discretion to offer treatment to people charged with crimes such as public intoxication or drug possession, but not people with records of violence or those accused of dealing drugs. Offenders can decline the offer of treatment and instead be arrested and go through the criminal justice system.

Known as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), the pilot program is designed to improve public safety and order and reduce the criminal behavior of program participants. It is based on successful "arrest referral" programs that have been operating in the United Kingdom for the past several years. The program has strong support from local elected and law enforcement officials.

"We are looking for effective public safety solutions,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. "If drug dealing and crime could be solved by arrests alone, we would have solved this problem a couple thousand arrests ago. LEAD offers a promising alternative to traditional responses to street-level drug dealing, and we look forward to tracking its results in Belltown."

"We know that the issue of chemical dependency in our society cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. It is a complex social problem that requires a comprehensive social solution,” said Seattle Chief of Police John Diaz. "LEAD provides our front line police officers with the discretion necessary to ensure that treatment diversion is utilized as a viable alternative to incarceration."

"Sheriff Sue Rahr and her staff support the concepts that act as the basis for the LEAD program, and we look forward to our participation," said King County Sheriff Major James Graddon. "Respect, open communication and common goals among some historically adversarial groups have created a positive environment to move this program forward. Using the formal criminal justice system for all offenses is costly and has proven to not necessarily be the most effective way to impact future offender behavior."

Graddon was referring to strained relations dating back to the last decade between the Seattle Police and the Defender Association, a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to indigent defendants. In a bid to reduce tensions and work together on the common goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders cycling through the system, the Defender Association and law enforcement began discussing possible responses to the continuing problem of drug-user generated low-level crime with back in 2008. The LEAD program, which rolled out in Belltown a month ago now and which will also be tried in the Skyway neighborhood of unincorporated King County, is the fruit of those discussions.

Mayor McGinn at LEAD program press conference (mayormcginn.seattle.gov)
Defender Association Deputy Director Lisa Daugaard has been a prime mover in getting the program going. Given that the state of Washington faces a $2 billion budget deficit and looming social service cuts, Daugaard managed to obtain $4 million in grants from private foundations, including the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation, to pay for four years worth of LEAD services, including not only drug treatment, but also job training, housing assistance, and educational opportunities.

"Now, because of the dismantling of the social safety net, these LEAD resources may be the only way that some people will be able to get treatment, housing, and other services," said Daugaard.

LEAD supporters hope that the by the end of the four-year pilot period, the program will be able to demonstrate that it can generate cost savings worthy of being picked up by state and local government. They aren't the only ones watching with interest. Stateline, a media outlet covering state government issues across the land, reported last week that Baltimore, New Orleans, Oakland, and the state of New Mexico have already expressed interest in the program.

As a pilot program, LEAD will undergo a rigorous evaluation to determine whether it has been a success. It that proves to be the case, it could be expanded in other Seattle and King County locales, officials said.

"The LEAD pilot has the potential to help people struggling with addiction and save public dollars at the same time," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "We can work in partnership to replace a downward spiral toward jail with support and resources. Our families and neighborhoods are better off when those headed for the criminal justice system are instead given the opportunity to lead a fulfilling and productive life."

It won't take four years to see what kind of impact LEAD has on Belltown and Skyway. Within a matter of weeks or months, we should be able to see whether this experiment in smart policing is working and produces a model that can be adopted elsewhere.

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3. NORML Sues Feds in CA Medical Marijuana Fight [FEATURE]

Attorneys with NORML have filed suit against the federal government over its crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and cultivation in California. In lawsuits filed last week in the four US Attorney districts in the state, the NORML attorneys bring a number of legal and constitutional arguments to bear in asserting that the federal government has overstepped its boundaries in interfering with the state's medical marijuana business.

Leading the legal charge are San Francisco attorneys Matt Kumin, David Michael, and Alan Silber.

The lawsuits seek a temporary injunction to block the state's four US Attorneys, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhardt, "from arresting or prosecuting Plaintiffs or those similarly situated, seizing their medical cannabis, forfeiting their property or the property of their landlords or threatening to seize property, or seeking civil or administrative sanctions against them or parties whose property is used to assist them" while the case is being heard.

The plaintiffs in the case are California medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, and patients. Some targeted dispensaries have already been forced to shut down by a deadline last Friday to avoid possible federal reprisals if the temporary injunction is not granted.

The lawsuits also seek a permanent injunction barring further federal action against lawful (under state law) medical marijuana operators and patients. And they ask the courts to declare the federal Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional to the extent that it blocks California residents from obtaining marijuana as medicine as is legal under state law.

The lawsuits are a response to a federal offensive against medical marijuana in California unleashed last month, when the Justice Department sent dozens of letters to California landlords and dispensaries ordering them to close down or face possible seizure of their properties and criminal prosecution. Dozens of dispensaries have already closed in response to the threats.

The federal offensive has also included SWAT-style DEA raids on medical marijuana operations, including some that are among the most closely regulated under state law. In Mendocino County, for example, the DEA raided Northstone Organics, a cultivation operation so regulated by local authorities that every plant had a sheriff's tag on it.

The lawsuits claim the federal government "entrapped" medical marijuana suppliers by seeming to give the okay to their operations in an October 2009 Justice Department memo. They also claim that the federal actions violate the 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.

The 9th Amendment says that merely because some rights are enshrined in the Constitution does not mean the federal government can "deny or disparage others retained by the people." The NORML attorneys argue that threatening seizure of property and criminal sanctions violates the rights of the people to "consult with their doctors about their bodies and health."

The 10th Amendment gives powers not delegated to the federal government "to the States respectively, or to the people." The NORML attorneys argue that the States have the "primary plenary power to protect the health of its citizens," and since the government has recognized and not attempted to stop Colorado's state-run medical marijuana dispensary program, it cannot suggest Colorado has a state's right that California does not.

A lawsuit challenging the federal crackdown filed last month by Americans for Safe Access also makes a 10th Amendment argument. The feds have "instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the state of California and to coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries," the advocacy group complained.

"Although the Obama Administration is entitled to enforce federal marijuana laws, the 10th Amendment forbids it from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the State," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit in San Francisco. "This case is aimed at restoring California's sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country's federalist principles."

The 14th Amendment provides all citizens equal protection under the law. The NORML attorneys argue that because the federal government allows a handful of people access to marijuana through the Investigational New Drug program, allows a state-licensed medical marijuana system in Colorado to go unharassed, and blocks scientific research into medical marijuana, it is effectively denying equal protection to California residents.

The NORML attorneys also take issue with the US Supreme Court decision in Raich v. Gonzalez, which upheld the use of the Constitution's interstate commerce clause to stop California patients from legally growing their own medicine.

While acknowledging the Raich decision, they wrote that "it is still difficult to imagine that marijuana grown only in California, pursuant to California state law, and distributed only within California, only to California residents holding state-issued cards, and only for medical purposes, can be subject to federal regulation pursuant to the Commerce Clause. For that reason, Plaintiffs preserve the issue for further Supreme Court review, if necessary and deemed appropriate."

The courts are going to be busy with this matter for awhile, but a preliminary injunction would allow the California medical marijuana industry to go about its business unmolested while the matter gets sorted out.

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4. Cities Can Ban Marijuana Dispensaries, CA Court Rules

In a decision that is already having an impact on medical marijuana access, a California appeals court ruled November 9 that cities and counties can lawfully ban medical marijuana dispensaries. In the days since the ruling was announced, a number of localities have already either moved to enact bans or halted plans to regulate dispensaries.

California laws "do not provide individuals with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use" dispensaries, nor do they say that dispensaries "shall be permitted within every city and county," wrote Justice Carol Codrington for a unanimous court in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center.

California law expressly allows localities to regulate dispensaries and restrict their locations, Codrington wrote, adding that a total ban is "simply a means of regulation or restriction."

The issue is one that has been roiling the waters for years, but the decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside is clear and unambiguous. Combined with an appeals court ruling last month that the city of Long Beach could not adopt regulations allowing dispensaries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the ruling paves the way for a reinvigorated crackdown on dispensaries by local governments across the state.

Access to medical marijuana is already problematic in large areas of the state. According to Americans for Safe Access, 168 cities and 17 counties have banned dispensaries and another 80 cities and 10 counties have enacted moratoriums. On the other side of the coin, only about 40 cities and 10 counties have enacted ordinances to allow dispensaries.

Localities were already getting nervous in the wake of the Long Beach decision last month, and the number of locales enacting bans is likely to grow quickly after the ruling. Santa Cruz County is likely to impose a moratorium this week, while the city of South Lake Tahoe is looking to repeal its recently enacted dispensary ordinance. The city of Long Beach is now considering a ban, and other cities that have been facing court challenges on similar issues, like Rancho Mirage, are now more confident their bans will be upheld.

While the city of Riverside now plans to move ahead with shutting down all 15 dispensaries in its jurisdiction, Inland Empire founder Lanny Swerdlow told the Los Angeles Times he expects the collective will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"We think that it's wrong that a city can ban a state-permitted activity by zoning it out of existence," he said. "By allowing cities to ban, it just makes a crazy-quilt pattern across the state."

This pair of appeals courts decisions are yet another blow to a medical marijuana industry beset by a renewed federal offensive against distribution and cultivation. Federal prosecutors across the state last month moved to shut down a number of dispensaries, have threatened landlords with asset forfeiture and possible prosecution, and have even warned elected officials they were not immune to possible federal action.

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5. DEA Raids Seattle Area Marijuana Dispensaries

In an orchestrated strike Tuesday, DEA agents raided at least 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Seattle area, according to the locally based Cannabis Defense Coalition. The raids hit dispensaries in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties, including three operating inside the Seattle city limits.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sfdispensaryraid.jpg
photo courtesy indybay.org
US Attorney Jenny Durkan said Tuesday afternoon the dispensaries were raided because they were suspected of violating Washington's medical marijuana laws, which do not explicitly provide for dispensaries. The state legislator had passed a bill to do that earlier this year, but Gov. Christine Gregroire (D) vetoed it, citing fears it would subject state employees to federal prosecution after being warned of just that by federal prosecutors.

"We will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment," Durkan said in a statement. "However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment."

Multiple arrests were reported, including at least 17 in Thurston County, but a final tally is not yet in.

The DEA Seattle office also issued a statement Tuesday: "The DEA will exercise its investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted. This includes investigating organizations or individuals that grow, manufacture, or distribute illegal drugs to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking."

The Justice Department's offensive against medical marijuana distribution has just broadened… again.

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6. Michigan AG Says Cops Can Seize Medical Marijuana

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) has opened another front in his battle against medical marijuana. In an official opinion released last week, Schuette said police are not required to return medical marijuana seized from patients in compliance with state, even though the state's voter-approved Michigan Medical Marijuana Act demands they do so.

Bill Schuette (wikimedia.org)
Police risk running afoul of the federal Controlled Substances Act if they comply with state law by returning marijuana to patients lawfully in possession of it under state law, Schuette wrote.

"By returning marijuana to a registered patient or caregiver, a law enforcement officer is exposing himself or herself to potential criminal and civil penalties under the (federal law) for the distribution of marijuana or for aiding or abetting the possession or distribution of marijuana," the opinion stated.

The provision of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act that requires police to return patients' pot "directly conflicts with and is thus preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act to the extent [it] requires a law enforcement officer to return marihuana to a registered patient or primary caregiver upon release from custody," Schuette added in the opinion.

Schuette's move was immediately blasted by medical marijuana supporters. "I can't believe the AG absolutely refused to honor his own state law, citing preemption by federal mandate," Rick Thompson, editor of Michigan Medical Marijuana magazine told the Detroit News. "Who does this man work for? The citizens of Michigan, or US Attorney General Eric Holder?"

The opinion is just Schuette's latest move against the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. As an appellate judge, he led the campaign against it in 2008. Since being elected attorney general last year, he has filed numerous briefs supporting prosecutors who have interpreted the act narrowly.

"There is a pattern here of him trying several things to make the law so restrictive or prohibitive so that people can't participate," Jamie Lovell of the 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti told the News.

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7. Washington Marijuana Initiative Gains Support

Initiative 502, the Washington state initiative to tax and regulate marijuana, is gaining both financial and political support. In the past week, the effort has picked up some important endorsements from former law enforcement figures, and a good sized cash contribution that will invigorate its signature-gathering efforts.

The initiative is sponsored by New Approach Washington, which hopes to gather sufficient signatures to put the measure before the legislature in January. If the legislature fails to approve it, it would then go before voters in November 2012.

In a joint statement that appeared as an op-ed in the Seattle Times, former US Attorney for Western Washington Katrina Pflaumer, former Seattle deputy mayor and municipal court Judge Anne Levinson, and retired state Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf announced they were endorsing I-502. Another former US Attorney for Western Washington, John McKay, endorsed the effort earlier.

"We have not only observed but also enforced marijuana laws at the federal, state, and local levels," wrote the trio of legal establishment figures. "We ask that these laws be changed. It is time for a different, more effective approach. That's why we endorse Initiative 502, which would decriminalize marijuana in our state and make a long-overdue change for the better in public policy."

Regulating marijuana would allow state and local governments to refocus criminal justice system resources on more serious offenses and would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, the trio argued. It would also restore respect for law enforcement and "decrease the disproportionate criminalization of people of color who have historically been harmed most by the existing laws," they wrote.

On Monday, yet another former law enforcement figure climbed aboard. Charles Mandigo, former Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle FBI office, issued a statement announcing he was endorsing the initiative, if not the drug itself.

"I do not support or condone the use of marijuana. Rather, I think it is time for us to try a regulatory approach that frees criminal justice resources for more appropriate priorities and strikes a better cost-benefit balance than the strategy we've been pursuing for the past 40 years," he said in the statement.

"It concerns me a great deal that our minority communities are over-represented among marijuana defendants, and that 40,000 have died in Mexico in the past four years due to fighting over control of drug trafficking to the United States, a significant part of which involves marijuana," the 27-year FBI veteran added.

The new law enforcement endorsements come as the campaign is enjoying a late surge in financial support. Campaign director Alison Holcomb reported at the beginning of the month that it had just received a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Harriett Bullitt, had earlier received $50,000 from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis, and expected Lewis to kick in another $200,000 this month.

New Approach Washington has already collected more than 180,000 of the 241,000 valid signatures in needs to go before the legislature. It has until year's end to collect the rest, and the big name endorsements and donations are putting that goal within reach.

Not that everyone in the Washington state marijuana community is happy about that. The folks at Sensible Washington, who were twice unable to raise the money to gather enough signatures to make the ballot for their marijuana prohibition repeal initiative, are not supporting I-502, in part because it contains "a bitter pill" imposing per se drugged driving limits.

Sensible Washington is not alone in that criticism. Segments of the state's medical marijuana community also worry that the initiative's drugged driving provision could end up penalizing them.

Dr. Gil Mobley, who runs a Federal Way clinic catering to medical-marijuana patients, told the Seattle Times he recently tested several patients and found they passed cognitive tests even with THC concentrations of up to 47 nanograms. Nearly four hours after one patient medicated, they still tested at 6 nanograms. The initiative would set the per se level at 5 nanograms.

"I told them they'd be legally unable to drive if this law passes," said Mobley. "It's philosophically, morally and legally wrong."

And Nora Callahan of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on drug war prisoners is also unenthusiastic about I-502. It would be "continuing prohibition," she said. "We want a law for the people. I don't know if this law cuts it. But we know there is money behind it."

I-502 supporters have countered the criticisms, saying the drugged driving provision would be rarely used and that signs of impairment would first have to be evident. They also point to states with per se drugged driving laws, noting there has not been a rash of prosecutions in them. And they argue that if an initiative is going to have a chance with voters concerned about the prospect of highways filled with stoned drivers, it must be pragmatic and address those fears.

New Approach Washington has created a fact sheet on driving under the influence of THC in a bid to defend the drugged driving provision. It notes that Washington already has a per se DUI law for alcohol, and that its proposed per se marijuana-impaired driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per millileter of whole blood is both "analagous" to the per se DUI law for alcohol and supported by existing science.

"I-502 does not change the fact that officers still must have probable cause for arrest and reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired before requiring a blood or breath test," the fact sheet says, addressing concerns that large numbers of drivers could be charged under the provision. "Nor does it change the fact that blood tests can only be administered by medical professionals."

Pot activist-turned-journalist Dominic Holden sharply criticized the friendly fire against I-502 coming from within the movement. In a column published in the Seattle Stranger, Holden wrote, "[I]t's dishonest to declare this this measure will subject people to more blood testing or result in a change of policing protocol. If voters pass I-502, 02, officers would be held to the same standards as they are today: They would still require probable cause to stop a car, evidence of driver impairment, and any tests would have to be conducted by a medical professional (typically at a medical clinic or an ER). Those are the standards now, they wouldn't change, and we hardly ever see those consequences for medical marijuana patients now because they aren't impaired and cops don't have probable cause to stop their vehicles. If cops didn't have probable cause or evidence of impairment, but took action anyway, a defense attorney could move to have the whole thing tossed out -- just like today."

Holden also cited polling for the campaign finding the initiative winning with the provision vs. losing badly without it. According the polling, Holden wrote, 62% of respondents were more likely to vote for an initiative with that provision, vs. 11% less likely.

New Approach Washington may not have succeeded in uniting all of the state's marijuana movement behind it, but it is getting enough big names and big bucks to have a very good shot at making the signature-gathering threshold. And if the campaigners and their polling are correct, they will then have a good shot at victory at the polling booth in November 2012 -- if the legislature doesn't approve it first.

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8. Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

US-Mexico border (wikimedia.org)
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, November 9

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, soldiers captured a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel figure wanted by the United States. Ovideo Limon Sanchez is alleged to have been in charge of the cartel's cocaine shipments to Los Angeles and other parts of southern California and to have managed the distribution and transportation of the cocaine once in the US. He had been wanted by American authorities since 2007 and had a $5 million reward on his head.

Thursday, November 10

In Nuevo Leon, marines arrested a high-ranking Zeta boss after an anonymous tip-off. Rigoberto Zamarippa Arispe, "Comandante Chaparro," was arrested in the town of Cadereyta, near Monterrey.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, the 21-year old nephew of acting Governor Jorge Torres Lopez was shot and killed as he drove away from the law school which he was attending. He was killed when his truck was intercepted by gunmen wielding assault rifles.

Between Tuesday and Friday, at least six people were killed in a series of heavy clashes in Saltillo and the nearby town of Ramos Arizpe. On Wednesday, a kidnap victim was rescued during a raid on a cartel safehouse in the city.

Friday, November 11

South of Mexico City, Mexico's Interior Minister Jose Francisco Blake Mora was killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others. He was widely considered the public face of Mexico's drug war. The cause of the crash is still unclear, but experts have said it is extremely unlikely to be foul play, although many Mexicans believe it to be.

In 2008, another Interior Minister, Juan Camilo Mourino, was killed in a plane crash in Mexico City.

Sunday, November 13

In Michoacan, the army arrested a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar Organization. Juan Gabriel Orozco Favela, "El Gasca," is thought to have controlled his organization's operations in the city of Morelia and is alleged to be behind the torture and murder of 21 people who were killed in the city this June.

In Bocoyna, Chihuahua, six bricklayers were found brutally murdered. One victim had been decapitated and another had his hands cut off. All six had their throats slit, bled to death, and were then shot.

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, a well-known singer of narcocorridos (songs which tell the stories of drug traffickers) was shot and killed. Diego Rivas was killed along with two other men when gunmen in a passing car opened fire on him with an AK-47. Many of Rivas' songs were odes to members of the Sinaloa Cartel, such as bosses "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. Several other musicians of this genre have been killed in recent years.

Monday, November 14

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, army personnel and state police arrested 32 police officers and commanders from the nearby municipality of Ahome after having summoned them to a conference with state security officials. Once at the meeting, the men were disarmed and arrested. The Ahome municipal police force is alleged to have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by the Zetas and Beltran-Leyva Cartel.

Tuesday, November 15

In Torreon, Coahuila, a local newspaper's offices were attacked by armed men. The website of El Siglo de Torreon newspaper said that three armed men set fire to the façade of the office building and shot at the newspaper's sales offices. The motive remains unclear, as the newspaper ceased reporting on cartel activities over a year ago.

In Nuevo Leon, 11 suspected Zetas were captured during a series of army raids in the Cadereyta, Albero, and Rancho Viejo areas. In one of the three raids, a kidnap victim was rescued from a safe house.

Wednesday, November 16

In Torreon, Coahuila, a federal prosecutor was gunned down. Victor Manuel Martinez Cortez was sitting in his car about to leave his home when he was shot dead by an unknown number of gunmen.

In Mexico City, Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales announced that she has asked the US government to extradite six people held in American custody to Mexico on gun running charges. Three are being held in Texas and three in California. Two others are already being held on similar charges in Mexico. No further details on the six individuals were given in the statement.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of last week, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward to 11,000. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 11,000

TOTAL: > 45,000

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9. Mexico Drug War Deaths Leveling Off, Study Says

(image courtesy wikimedia.org)
Hardly a day goes by without another report of some heinous prohibition-related violence in Mexico, but a new report suggests that the killings may have peaked and are leveling off -- albeit at horrendous levels. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, the report, "The Effect of Violence in Mexico on Migration and Immigration Policy," by researchers at the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, was presented at a discussion on the topic last week in San Diego.

The report put this year's drug war death toll in Mexico at just under 11,000 so far, meaning that if current trends continue until year's end, the body count would be significantly lower than the more than 15,000 the Mexican government says were killed last year.

[Editor's Note: Our weekly Mexico Drug War Update has conservatively estimated this year's death toll at just under 9,000 so far, but we will revise it upward in accordance with the figures from this research.]

The report, which is based on Mexican media sources, put the death toll as of November 4 at 10,933. The official toll for 2010 is 15,273. Since President Felipe Calderon sent thousands of soldiers and federal agents out to do battle against the cartels in December 2006, more than 45,000 people have been killed.

"The figures for this year are still quite bad, with more than 10,000 people killed," said Institute director David Shirk, adding that unlike last year, there was no year-to-year increase over the previous year. Drug war killings jumped 20% between 2009 and 2010, he noted.

Shirk cited a decrease in killings in Ciudad Juarez, where in 2009 one-third of the nation's killings occurred, as well as a new accommodation between rival traffickers in Tijuana.

"Violence in Tijuana peaked in 2008 and 2009. Now presumably, after drug traffickers realized that violence was bad for business, there's a pact between the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Tijuana (mob), with the former gaining influence, and that's pushed the violence to the east of the city," Shirk said.

That "Tijuana model" could be adopted in other Mexican cities, but that would require turning away from Calderon's frontal assault on the cartels, Shirk said. "That would mean all the death and violence has served no purpose, which is an unfortunate and cynical vision and a great tragedy if they're unable to interrupt the way the cartels conduct their business," he said.

Mexico isn't the only country that needs to change its policies, Shirk said. The US should legalize marijuana because enforcing its prohibition eats up too many law enforcement and prosecutorial resources even though it only accounts for 15-20% of cartel revenues, he said.

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10. Dominican Presidential Candidate Says Legalize Drugs

A Dominican presidential candidate who is also a prominent government official and head of one of the parties that make up the current government said Monday he favors drug legalization. Luis Acosta Moreta, nicknamed "El Gallo," told the program Propuesta on Channel 45 Monday that drug prohibition creates corruption and social decay.

Luis "El Gallo" Acosta Moreta (udc.org.do)
Acosta Moreta is the director of the Dominican Republic's Community Development Agency. He is also the head and presidential candidate of the Christian Democratic Union, one of the minor parties in the governing "Progressive Bloc" dominated by President Leonel Fernandez and his Dominican Liberation Party. Elections are set for next May.

The government attacks the effects of drug trafficking, but not its causes, Acosta Moreta said, adding that neglect of the poor left them vulnerable to the blandishments of traffickers. Those same traffickers fund cultural and sports activities in the barrios, he said.

The corruption that comes with drug prohibition infects the police, too, he said. "It's there where this social decomposition begins in which you hear a police corporal speaking of mansions and SUVs, because that's what we're living through, for which I totally agree that drugs should be legalized," Acosta Moreta proclaimed.

In its most recent annual report on the global drug trade, the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs described the Dominican Republic as "a major transit country for illicit drugs originating in South America" and one where drug-related law enforcement corruption is "endemic."

As they confront the consequences of drug prohibition, the list of Latin American politicians embracing radical drug policy reform just keeps on growing.

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11. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A meth-dealing cop in Hawaii, a dope-load protecting cop in Houston, a pair of cops willing to sell information to drug dealers in Jacksonville and Cincinnati, and a contraband-toting jail guard in Alabama make this week's hall of shame. Let's get to it:

In Honolulu, a Honolulu police major was arrested Monday on drug charges after the FBI raided his home. Major Carlton Nishimura, 55, was already awaiting trial on federal charges of extortion, lying to investigators and witness tampering. But after the FBI found more than a half pound of methamphetamine during the raid, he now faces another federal charge: possession with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of meth.

In Houston, Texas, a Houston police officer was convicted Tuesday of participating in a drug trafficking and corruption scheme. Officer Leslie Aikens, 46, used his police car to escort drug loads through the Houston area in mid-March and also accepted a $2,000 bribe to protect another car carrying a load of seven kilograms of cocaine. He was convicted on conspiracy to traffic drugs and extortion and is looking at at least 10 years in prison and up to life. Sentencing is set for February 2.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a former Jacksonville County Sheriff's Office civilian employee pleaded guilty Tuesday to providing confidential law enforcement information to suspected drug dealers. Kenitra Casper was a police service technician when she was arrested in June and accused of providing photos of five undercover narcs  and information from a database that contained details of drug arrests to criminal suspects. She was also accused of emailing photos, names of criminal suspects, and driver's license photos to people with no right to access that information. The seven-year veteran of the sheriff's office pleaded guilty to 12 counts of disclosing or using confidential criminal justice information, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years on each count. No word on a sentencing date yet.

In Selma, Alabama, a Dallas County jail guard was arrested Friday on charges he was smuggling contraband into the county jail. Guard Washington Reese went down when he was searched upon arriving for work Friday night and cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and cash were discovered in his backpack. He is charged with promoting prison contraband and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

In Cincinnati, a Cincinnati police officer pleaded guilty November 9 to using police computers to look up information for someone he thought was a drug dealer. Alvin Triggs, 45, drew the suspicion of other Cincinnati cops, who set up a sting in which they fed a license plate number to Triggs' cousin, a suspected drug dealer himself and told him the plate belonged to a suspected undercover officer. Triggs' cousin asked him to run a computer check on the plate, and he did just that. Triggs was originally charged with several felonies, but ended up copping a plea to a single misdemeanor count of attempted unauthorized use of a police computer. He may avoid jail time at sentencing, but did have to resign from the force as part of the plea deal. He will be sentenced December 6.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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