The Speakeasy Blog

Bush: Stay the Course in Colombia

President Bush never tires of spending our tax dollars losing not winning various wars. Now he wants to give Colombia another $600 million International Herald Tribune reports.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns calls it a strategy adjustment:

"In any counterterrorism or counter-narcotics campaign you sometimes have to adjust strategy to be effective as conditions change," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Bogota, announcing the White House was seeking to maintain current levels of support for its caretaker in the war on drugs through 2008. "We'll be open to any suggestions the Colombian government makes."


I think what he meant to say was that we refuse to adjust our strategy and we’re not open to suggestions. And what does he mean "as conditions change"? Nothing's changed since Plan Colombia began eight years ago . That’s the problem.

Meanwhile the police we trained with the last $600 million are getting killed systematically. Sound familiar?


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United States

More Bad News: Shaq is a Cop

Radley Balko reports that Shaq has been going on SWAT missions. They let him carry a gun, and he’s already had his first wrong address raid and his first misconduct complaint.

Shaq was cleared of any wrong-doing after being accused of excessive force by a drug suspect. Bear in mind of course that getting cleared of misconduct following a SWAT raid is incredibly easy. So one lucky suspect may very well have gotten his ass kicked by Shaq. That’s awesome, but it could also be a sign of terrible things to come.

The madness of it all left Radley Balko "speechless". Had it not, he would likely point out that this is yet another unintended admission by police that they actually feel quite safe during these raids. After all, if executing a warrant is so dangerous, why would you bring along a man whose body is worth millions? Seriously. He’s easier to shoot than just about anybody.

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United States

Third-Party Candidacies vs. Voting for the Lesser Evil

Last week's < a href="" target=_blank_>feature article on the Zeese and Thornton campaigns (Zeese is running for US Senate in a tight race in Maryland and Thornton is running for governor of Connecticut—links in the article) included a discussion between Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on the possible benefits and liabilities of third-party campaigns. That discussion provoked a lengthier (and continuing) exchange on a nomination-only list for leading drug policy reformers, and I think it should be a topic of serious discussion here among the unwashed masses as well. Both Thornton, running as a Green, and Zeese, running a "unity" campaign as the Green-Libertarian-Populist nominee, have clearly rejected the clarion call of the two-party system. From a pragmatic perspective, the fundamental question is whether working outside the two major parties will bring success on drug policy reform faster than attempting to bring either of the two major parties (most likely the Democrats, given the Republicans' social conservative base and penchant for the "war on" metaphor) around to a palatable position on the issue. For some reformers, defeating the Republicans is everything. What if Zeese pulls enough votes from the Democrat to throw the Maryland senate race to the Republicans and—nightmare scenario—the Republicans keep the Senate by one seat? There will be much howling and gnashing of teeth among Democratic loyalists, just as there was after the 2000 presidential elections, when much of the party faithful blamed Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the White House. Zeese and Thornton and their supporters will undoubtedly—and fairly—respond that they are not beholden to the Democratic Party and are as entitled to seek peoples' votes as either the donkeys or the elephants. Besides, again echoing the post-2000 discussion, they will say, there's not that much difference between the two major parties. I guess that's a matter of perspective. If you look at the broad contours of drug policy, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus on the status quo. From that viewpoint, Democrats are no better than Republicans on drug policy. A particularly progressive congressional Democrat might work toward a kinder, gentler drug war, perhaps sponsoring a bill that reduces the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, for instance, but none are saying we need to do away with the peculiar institution of drug prohibition in its entirety. But coming in for a closer look, there are significant differences between the two parties when it comes to nibbling away at the edges of the drug war. The congressional votes on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, and the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision both show Democrats much more likely to favor such reform at the margins. Is that difference enough to make independent or third-party campaigns that may weaken the Democrats a mistake? I'm not going to try to answer that question right now. Instead, I invite our readers to weigh in, and I hope that will include some of the people who have been discussing this already. Is Zeese a menace or a messiah? Is Thornton dashing after windmills or leading the way to a new politics? You tell us. (This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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United States

Canada Grows Medical Marijuana for Its Citizens

In case anyone forgot. CBC News now reports that demand for government marijuana is increasing. Since this particular marijuana isn’t supposed to be very good, my guess is that Canadian patients simply prefer the convenience of not having to buy their medicine from criminals on the street.

So Canada spends tax dollars to provide medical marijuana to sick people, while here in America, we spend tax dollars trying to prevent sick people from getting medical marijuana.

If that doesn’t boggle your mind, consider that Canada provides marijuana even though Sativex is already available up there. Meanwhile our drug warriors want sick people here to wait indefinitely while the FDA figures out how to approve Sativex without admitting that marijuana plants are literally soaked in medicine.

And while Canadian patients are choosing between spliffs and sublingual sprays, Americans patients are choosing between suffering and breaking the law.

Even drug-fearing Americans generally agree that this doesn’t make much sense. But if our drug warriors are correct that marijuana can’t heal the sick without hurting kids, then we’ll be thanking them next year when all Canadian children become crack-addicted sex-workers.

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United States

Is Willie Nelson mature enough to smoke marijuana?

(Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, joins us as a regular blogger in the Speakeasy.) “It's a good thing I had a bag of marijuana instead of a bag of spinach or I'd be dead by now,” Willie Nelson said recently. I almost fell out of my rocking chair, laughing. No sooner did the government report that the fastest growing population of drug users are aged 50 to 59 years, but 73-year old Willie Nelson was criminally charged with possessing marijuana, as well as four other men, aged 50 to 75 years old. Those are pretty mature ages. In January 2004 and again August 2005, Art Garfunkel, now 63 years old, was charged with marijuana possession in New York. Good grief. Look, we all agree that we have to keep drugs away from kids. That’s why drugs are illegal, of course, to keep kids from getting their hands on drugs. Seriously. Kids are just too immature to let have drugs, we all agree on that. But as I got my rocking rhythm back again, I wondered, “Can you ever be mature enough to use marijuana?” What kinds of things have minimum maturity requirements? A teenager can enlist in the United States military at age 17, with a parent’s consent (10 U.S.C. sec. 510). The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution recognizes that you have sufficient maturity to vote for federal offices at age 18 (ratified in 1971). We know that Congress has told the states to make it a law that a person has to be at least 21 years old to purchase alcohol. And in family values loving America – where building strong families is one of our highest values, and being responsible for the care and nurture of little children – you can get married in most states if you are 16 years old if you have your parents consent. http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/Table_Marriage.htm In freedom loving Mississippi, a girl can be 15 years old and get married without her parents consent. A girl age 12 can get married in Kansas or Massachusetts with parental consent. It seems that as a society, we recognize a high degree of maturity by the time you turn 21. But we recognize circumstances that require super-maturity – which highly risky circumstances apply. Our “Founding Fathers,” the framers of the Constitution, gave some thought to the maturity they believed was necessary in those to whom we would entrust the governing of America. What might require the highest degree of maturity? Deciding to declare war – that’s pretty darn dangerous. Or serving as Commander in Chief. A person cannot serve in the House of Representatives until he or she is 25 years old, and must be at least 30 years old to serve in the U.S. Senate (Article I of the Constitution, sections 2 and 3). So to vote to declare war (Article I, section 8, clause 11), you must be at least 25 years old. To be President of the United States (which includes being Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy and Militia), with all the power that risks everyone’s health and safety, you must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen, and have resided in the U.S. for 14 years (Article II, section 1, clause 5). Those are the only qualifications in the Constitution. Think about it. The framers of the Constitution recognized that once you have turned 35, you can be entrusted with the most serious and responsible job in the nation. You are mature enough! So now let’s think of folks fifteen years older than that. They aren’t impressionable youth. They know what mortality is. Many of them have raised families. They have seen and struggled with the immaturity of their children. Most of them have close friends and family who have died recently. They now attend funerals about as frequently as weddings. Heck, many of them now regularly read the obituary pages. Certainly most people who are 50 years old can be considered mature enough to smoke marijuana and do it responsibly. We can still punish the handful of oddballs who drive while impaired or use marijuana it in the surgical suite or airplane cockpit. Of course many prohibitionists will argue that if we legalize marijuana for 50 year olds youngsters – probably in their 40's – will get it illegally. Well that would be pretty serious, wouldn’t it? But surely, would any one over 50 in their right mind would share pot with immature “kids” under 35? No way. For gosh sakes, isn’t 73-year old Willie Nelson mature enough to smoke pot and to not have to worry about the police? When do you finally get to be recognized as a grown up in America?
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United States

People are Getting Beheaded in Mexico

It’s horrible. But there’s nothing very surprising about it. The drug war promises endless violence and always delivers. Pablo Escobar killed three presidential candidates in the same election and blew up an entire passenger plane to kill two snitches.

This year beheadings are popular. I wonder what people would say if things like this were happening on American soil:

In the most horrendous instance, drug lord gangs busted into a nightclub, toting rifles, and rolled five heads across the dance floor, terrifying onlookers.

People were surprised, but I’m sure everyone knew what it was all about. This kind of thing has been commonplace ever since the drug war began.

Various anti-immigration bloggers are now citing these incidents as evidence that our borders must be secured, for fear that Mexicans will come to America and start cutting peoples’ heads off.

It’s a bit silly, because the worst drug traffickers have no reason to leave Mexico. They’ve got the run of the place. The people crossing the border are poor folks who come here for economic opportunities, less-overt corruption, and white picket fences that don’t have severed heads impaled on them.

If you’re concerned about immigration, note that our drug war incentivizes traffickers to dig tunnels and cut holes in the fence.

If you don’t want your tax-dollars spent educating foreigners, note that you’re footing the bill to train counter-narcotics police in Colombia that just get massacred ten at a time.

And if you’re troubled by all the beheadings near our border, note that our current policy ensures their continuation for the remainder of human history.

Stopping the drug war is our only chance to defund drug terrorists and bring a close to this global catastrophe.


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United States

The Deputy Drug Czar Comes to South Dakota

Scott Burns, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota's largest city, on Friday. The only apparent reason for his presence was to try to defeat the medical marijuana initiative on the November 7 ballot. Burns showed up for a press conference with state and local law enforcement officials opposing the initiative.
"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Burns. "Do not fall for the con." "The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, who opposes the measure. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."
Burns went on to argue that marijuana was not a medicine, that legalizing medical marijuana would lead to an increase in teen drug use, and that it's just not a good idea, darn it! The press conference got play in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and on the main Sioux Falls TV station, KELOland, but both media outlets made sure to include opposing voices. There hasn't been a lot of other coverage of the initiative, a mere handful of stories. The Argus-Leader editiorialized briefly and feebly—sorry, the link seems to have vanished—against the initiative, with its four-sentence editorial complaining that marijuana didn't come in pill form and that passing the initiative would pose problems for police. Both reasons given are lame. Yes, raw marijuana is plant material. It is not processed, standardized, subject to FDA scrutiny (for what that's worth). But that certainly does not stop patients from rapidly learning to titrate their dosage and to figure out which strains work for them. The law enforcement excuse is even sillier. The South Dakota initiative provides for a state registry of patients and caregivers. If a county sheriff believes he may have evidence of a marijuana grow, the only thing he would have to do is pick up the phone and call the Health Department. If the person is not on the registry, let the evidence be gathered and the search warrant be issued. Two weeks until election day. Will South Dakota voters be as compassionate as those in other states? We will soon see.
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Sioux Falls, SD
United States

If Use Doesn't Rise, We Must Legalize

Talkleft reports that the UK is experiencing a drop in marijuana use after reducing penalties for possession.

From The Observer:

The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.

It’s tempting to argue that reduced penalties have led to reduced consumption, but I wouldn’t go that far. The truth, as experts such as Peter Cohen have been saying for quite some time, is that drug policy just doesn’t have much effect on usage rates.

My guess is that a reduction in marijuana use in England would have happened with or without the change in policy. Of course, that being the case, it makes a lot more sense not to arrest people.

The real lesson here is that easing up on marijuana users doesn’t cause a spike in usage. It just doesn’t. This simple and increasingly obvious fact simultaneously refutes every argument against legalization.

So it’s no wonder our drug warriors are vigorously opposing any attempt to experiment with reduced marijuana penalties. If they actually believed that legalization in Colorado or Nevada would be a disaster, their best move would be to step aside and let us learn our lesson.

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United States

Maybe They Just Like the Way it Smells

People are getting wasted on cocaine again. Science Blog reports on data from the University of Florida that may suggest a coming epidemic:

Like some drug déjà vu, cocaine use is once again on the rise among students and the rich and famous, a trend University of Florida researchers say likely signals a recurring epidemic of abuse.


"Our data is closest to real time to any data available in the United States," [Dr. Mark] Gold said. "With death reports, there is no fudge factor. The other states will show the same thing: That we are in the early stages of a new cocaine epidemic that is being led by the rich and famous and students with large amounts of disposable income and that is responsible for more emergency room visits and more cocaine-related deaths than we have seen at any time since the last cocaine epidemic."

Oh man, that sounds bad. But Congress will probably think of something. Maybe we’re not being tough enough on cocaine dealers.

And we should warn kids about the dangers of marijuana, which could be causing the cocaine abuse.

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United States

Ok, Now I'm Pissed

This is outrageous:

The Chicago Crime Commission will hold its Stars of Distinction, 2006 Awards Dinner to recognize outstanding individual and organizational contributions in fighting crime. DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy will accept the Education Award along with Museum for Science and Industry partners responsible for bringing “Target America: Opening Eyes to the Danger Drugs Cause” to Chicago.

The Chicago Crime Commission, whose motto is "combating crime since 1919" ought to know a thing or two about prohibition. It’s Chicago for crying out loud. That they would give an award to the head of the DEA for putting together an exhibit blaming drug users for 9/11 demonstrates a dramatic misunderstanding of every issue the commission works on.

What kind of non-profit gives awards to Washington bureaucrats for excellence in the field of smarmy government propaganda?

The whole thing reeks of string pulling. I’m convinced that this epic travesty is a convenient PR move in response to Pete Guither’s terrific campaign against the exhibit.

So I wasn't surprised to discover that Peter Bensinger, former head of DEA, is on the Chicago Crime Commission’s board of directors.

Coincidence? Hell no.

Afterthought: It’s super annoying that this ridiculous exhibit is now an award-winning ridiculous exhibit. But the Bensinger connection proves this is political, which in turn proves that Pete Guither’s efforts genuinely rattled these guys. Nice job, Pete!

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United States

No Winners in Chicago Open Air Drug Market Bust

An article by Michelle Keller in the Chicago Tribune today very factually reported on a police raid and shutdown of an open-air drug market. Fourteen suspects described as gang members were charged with conspiracy and delivery of a controlled substance, according to the article. Things got a little dicey just before the arrests were finally made:
One undercover officer was held at gunpoint while attempting to buy $500 worth of cocaine during the operation, dubbed "Heat Wave" for the high temperatures recorded when the operation was started in July. "I was very scared," said the officer, who had previously arranged to buy 10 "jabs" of crack cocaine. The dealers knew he would have several hundred dollars on him, said the officer.
Police then stepped in to make the arrests. The market -- reportedly operated by a gang known as "The Conservative Vice Lords" -- operated near a pre-K-8 school, Keller reported. Sgt. Carlos Mostek told her, "Had any gunfire erupted, the children who were attending school would have been in harm's way." That's a valid concern. I hope the bust was not done during school hours or anywhere near school hours, because gunfire could certainly have broken out as part of that. I also hope the undercover officer attempted his buy during non-school hours -- his activity also nearly prompted gunfire. This is a losing situation from beginning to end. Because of prohibition we have this open air markets, staffed by gang members who are willing to shoot at each other -- risking the lives of bystanders in the process -- in order to protect their turf or to capture turf from others and thereby increase their market share. A police raid, while shutting the market down, in the process increased the overall danger in the vicinity, at least for as long as the sting and bust were in process. Will the corner calm down? Perhaps, but the activity may restart even there, and if not it will certainly move to somewhere else. Sometimes these busts lead to more internecine violence as rival operators fight each other for the opportunity to be the new guys on the block. Sometimes the instability even draws in new drugs to the neighborhood that weren't common there before. Legalization, not raids and arrests, is what will clean the mess of the illegal drug trade off the streets. Click here to send a letter to the editor. Note: According to gangresearch.net, the Conservative Vice Lords started as a gang but transformed themselves into a community empowerment organization. I don't know enough about this topic to offer an evaluation; I just got the name of the reported gang from the article. If anyone is able to clarify this issue, please post your knowledge here for us. Thanks in advance.
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Chicago, IL
United States

Another Reason to Get High With Grandma

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The New York Times reports that the value of traditional Alzheimer’s medications has been dramatically overstated:

More and more often, it seems, drugs that were widely thought to be effective against serious illnesses turn out to show little or no value when tested in large, impartial clinical trials insulated from drug company influence.


These discouraging results speak mostly to the desperate need for effective new treatments for Alzheimer’s.
Desperate need for effective new treatment, huh? Look no further. In fact, marijuana may eliminate the need for Alzheimer’s treatments altogether, since it seems to actually prevent the onset of the disease.

I have enough experience with Alzheimer’s to know that families confronted with it will usually try anything. It’s ironic to think that the family values fanatics who arbitrarily oppose medical marijuana may soon find themselves shoving a bong in grandma’s mouth.

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United States

Doing "Ant Work" on the Drug War With Mainstream Press Reporters

When I read the autobiography of 20th Century Salvadoran revolutionary leader Miguel Marmol some years ago, one phrase from the book stuck with me. When Marmol talked about the tedious, day-to-day organizing over the long-term to build a revolutionary movement, he called it "trabajo de hormigas," or "ant work." I thought the term was especially apt and evocative, suggesting the unglamorous, but necessary, laying the groundwork for change. I couldn’t help but think of the phrase again over the weekend as I read a story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mike Lee about marijuana growing in the national forests in California. "Forest Pot Farms A Menace to the Land," was the title of the story, and it is the latest published version of a now familiar trope: Those darned marijuana growers are wrecking our national forests with their weed crops.
“The whole process of these marijuana plantations brutalizes the landscape,” said David Graber, Pacific West regional science chief for the National Park Service. The outdoor growing season for marijuana is coming to a close for the year, but some scars left by clandestine pot farms will take months to heal. Anti-drug agencies must deal with tons of trash, human waste, erosion and other forms of soil disturbance, loss of vegetation and chemical pollution that kills marine life. The illegal plots also increase poaching of wildlife, raise the threat of wildfires started accidentally at campsites and put outdoor enthusiasts in harm's way. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service recently warned deer hunters to avoid two areas in Mendocino and Glenn counties until authorities could evict the marijuana growers. Marijuana production on public lands in the United States has risen as the nation moves to further secure its borders and slow the movement of marijuana from Mexico. Mexican organized crime is behind the surge in such illegal plantings, according to law enforcement agencies. Growers favor public property partly because if their plants are discovered, they can flee without leaving behind traceable evidence. But there are other reasons for the popularity of forests and parks. “The nation's public lands have become a haven for this illegal activity due to the relatively few law enforcement personnel and the vast and often remote tracks of sparsely or uninhabited lands,” said the U.S. Forest Service's 2005 marijuana report.
Lee talked to only National Forest and law enforcement sources, and even included a quote from drug czar John Walters, but failed to note the fundamental fact that is driving marijuana growers into the national forests: Marijuana prohibition. So I wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr. Lee: Interesting report on the damage done by illegal pot farming, although I’ve seen numerous variations of it before. But like most similar reports, your story begs a rather large question: Why are people growing pot in the forests in the first place? You alluded to increased border enforcement and a law enforcement learning curve, but again, that’s begging the question. Could it be because marijuana is ILLEGAL? Asking that questions sort of shifts one’s whole perspective: From the point of view of people who do not support marijuana prohibition—like me and nearly half of Californians, according to national polls—the environmental damage you describe is yet another unfortunate, unintended consequence of marijuana prohibition. When you write this story next year, I would respectfully suggest you include that perspective. I would be happy to provide you with contact information for California-based marijuana reform activists who are very informed and articulate on this issue. Thanks for your time. Phillip Smith Drug War Chronicle www.stopthedrugwar.org
To which Lee replied:
Phil... thanks for your comments... i'd suggest you consider writing a letter to the editor. Regards, mlee
Now, did I sway Mr. Lee? He gave no direct indication of that in his brief reply, but at least I was able to put the whole marijuana prohibition issue before him. He has been informed that at least one reader thinks he is missing part of the story. I guess we'll have to wait until next year, when he writes next year's version of this annual story. But in the meantime, the ants are working.
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CA
United States

Countdown to the November elections

Election day is now three weeks away, and the Chronicle will be focusing on drug policy-related races across the country between now and then. With most people's attention focused on whether the Democrats will regain control of the House and/or Senate, the drug policy-related races and ballot questions are not getting much attention, except at the local and state level, but there are some important drug policy-related questions being decided on election day. Expect to see a lot of articles focused on the elections between now and November 7, and, of course, the Friday following the election. Here is a list of the races and ballot questions we'll be reporting on: Marijuana legalization initiatives—Colorado and Nevada Medical marijuana initiative—South Dakota "Lowest law enforcement priority" initiatives—Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Missoula, MT; Eureka Springs, AR Alabama governor's race—Drug reformer Loretta Nall is in a write-in campaign Connecticut governor's race—Drug reformer Cliff Thornton is running as a Green Maryland senate race—Drug reformer Kevin Zeese is running as a Green/Libertarian unity candidate Are there any I have failed to list? Please let me know.
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United States

"We'll need grinders and large bongs"

From CNN.com

Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of marijuana plants 10 feet tall.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defense staff, said Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover.

Awesome! But it gets better:

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those [forests] did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hillier said dryly.

This sounds like a job for my college buddies. If the problem persists, I’d be willing to assemble a tactical unit with experience disposing of surplus cannabis.

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United States

More Silliness from the Drug Czar

When the paranoid family values fanatics at Focus on the Family write news stories based on quotes from John Walters, you know what you’re gonna get:

Colorado ’s initiative would allow adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. That might not seem like much, but, in reality it makes between 30 and 60 joints.

Whatever. An ounce is the same amount regardless of how many joints you intend to roll, and it’s not that much. If you’re rolling 60 joints out of an ounce, try smoking two or three of them. But watch out; large joints are two to three times more dangerous than small ones.

US Drug Czar John Walters says legalization will inundate our drug treatment centers.

No, it won’t. Most marijuana users who enter treatment programs are forced to do so by the criminal justice system. Ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests will dramatically reduce the number of people entering treatment for marijuana. And to the extent that fear of arrest is a primary motivation for some who decide to quit, legalization could reduce voluntary admissions as well.

On the other hand, as my colleague Tom Angell pointed out in conversation, legalized marijuana will carry less stigma and could lead to more voluntary admissions from people who are finally comfortable admitting they’re having problems. If Tom is correct, we’ll end up with more people in treatment for marijuana who want and need it, and less people forced into treatment based on arbitrary criteria such as an arrest. Sounds good to me.

It’s an interesting discussion, but one that John Walters can’t participate in because he’s busy misinterpreting various data:

“We have more teens in treatment nationwide for marijuana dependency and abuse as teens than for all other illegal drugs combined. We have more teens seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcoholism.”

This one’s actually true, but it’s his fault. Thanks to prohibition, marijuana sellers don’t have to check ID, making it the easiest drug to get if you’re underage.

I just keep telling myself that this crap can’t go on forever. Whether we win in Nevada or Colorado next month, or somewhere else down the road, the war on marijuana is an ugly swelling pimple that’s almost ready to pop. Get it over with already. You know you want to.

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United States

This is Your Government on Drugs

What happens when a satirical TV program tricks 50 members of Italian Parliament into taking a drug test? Controversy.

From News.com

The show tested 50 parliamentarians by applying what appeared to be make-up to their faces, telling them they were to appear in a debate on the country's budget, the ANSA news agency reported in a story soon taken up by other media.

The make-up actually consisted of chemicals that could detect the presence of drugs in sweat on the participants' skin. It detected cocaine in four of the politicians and cannabis in 12. Both the drugs are banned in Italy.

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that the stunt was successful. But Italian reformers were quick to cry “hypocrisy”.

A member of the Green party who favours decriminalising drug use, Paolo Cento, reacted to the news by slamming what he called the "hypocrisy" of the political class which he said "votes for anti-liberty laws while sniffing cocaine".

He’s right. But I’d draw the line there, because I don’t care at all which drugs politicians use as long as they extend to others the liberties they’ve taken for themselves.

Unfortunately, a representative of The Hyena Show, which administered the tests, says that those who tested positive will not be identified individually. The likely result therefore is a face-saving parade of anti-drug rhetoric among Italian Parliamentarians and at worst a full-blown witch hunt, as each of the 50 clamors to clear their name.

Instead, the information should be used as leverage to encourage sensible policy making. If I had this information, I’d offer to withhold it so long as these 16 individuals stopped supporting the drug war. If any of them voted for a harsh drug law or failed to support a sensible reform, that person’s drug use would be front-page news the next day.

Boy, that sounds like fun. If anyone has information on public officials who use illegal drugs I can be reached at smorgan@drcnet.org.

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United States

The Chronicle plans a trip to the Andes

Snowflakes are falling in the Dakotas today. With winter coming to the High Plains, it's a good time to be thinking about heading south, and that's just what I intend to do in a few weeks, probably in early January. Thanks to a targeted gift from an individual donor (the same guy who financed my Afghanistan trip last year), I will be heading to Bolivia and Peru to report on the status of the Andean drug war. Colombia is currently the largest coca producer in the world, but Peru and Bolivia are second and third. They are also the historic heartland of traditional coca production by the indigenous people of the Andes, which makes them more interesting from the cultural perspective. With limited funds, I could not visit all three countries, and having already set foot in Colombia, this time I will focus on Peru and Bolivia. Thanks in part to our hemispheric anti-prohibitionist work around the Merida Out From the Shadows conference, DRCNet and the Chronicle are fairly well-connected already in both countries. One of friends, Peruvian coca grower leader Nancy Obregon, is now a member of the Peruvian congress. I hope to be able to visit Nancy's home and fields to see the coca crops first-hand. I've also been talking to a pair of Peruvian academics, Hugo Cabieses and Baldomero Caceres--more folks we know from that conference. In Bolivia, Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network has pledged to help out in setting up interviews and outings. I've also been in contact with the Bolivian Embassy in Washington and will be going over to talk to them when I'm in DC for the SSDP conference next month. The Bolivian Embassy is very friendly; maybe I can even wrangle an interview with President Morales himself. This will be a three-week trip. Right now, I'm thinking I'll fly to Lima, spend two weeks wandering around Peru, then go overland from Cuzco (I'm not going to Peru without seeing Macchu Picchu!) to Bolivia and spend a week there. If anyone has questions they want answered down south or has suggestions for people to talk to, comment here. I'll be checking back.
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United States

Finally, A Local Newspaper Drug Bust Story That Asks the Right Question

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My job requires me to look at countless drug-related newspaper articles every day in search of drug policy news. Most of those articles are not about drug policy, but about the more mundane daily drug busts. And the vast majority of articles about drug busts follow a simple template: Report the bust, report the cops' self-congratulatory remarks about making a difference. It is extremely rare for these run-of-the-mill drug bust stories to carry any context or raise the larger questions about the (f)utility of our current drug policies. That's why it's so heartwarming to come across a story like the one that was published in the Easton (Pennsylvania) Times-Express on Sunday. The headline said it all: "No Telling If Drug Bust Had Any Impact." In the body of the story, the Express-Times' Russ Flanagan did what local crime beat reporters across the country should be doing: He asked if making even a major drug bust made any difference. The answers aren't surprising to anyone who follows this stuff. From the article:
Close to three years ago, state and local authorities shut down one of the largest ecstasy rings on the East Coast, but gauging the bust's impact on the local drug trade since then has proven difficult. Coming across ecstasy during a drug bust is routine for police, but it is found far less frequently than street drugs cocaine and heroin. So law enforcement officials cannot say for sure whether the biggest ecstasy bust in the history of Northampton County has put a dent in the dealing of the sometimes-deadly designer drug. "I don't think you could say one way or the other," Warren County Prosecutor Thomas S. Ferguson said. "I think it's out there and it's on the radar screen. I don't think we've seen it increase or decrease. I don't think there's any statistical difference since that time."
When you get the people responsible for prosecuting the drug war admitting that their efforts don’t seem to make a difference, that is important. Here's another drug warrior admitting the same thing:
Chief Detective Joseph Stauffer of the Lehigh County Drug Task Force said law enforcement has no way of knowing whether the bust dealt a serious blow to the availability of ecstasy in the region. "I would hope that it impacted on it, but ecstasy is still, unfortunately, available in the community," Stauffer said. "I haven't noticed an increase (in ecstasy arrests), but I haven't noticed a significant decrease either. We wouldn't know how much ecstasy would be available had those arrests not taken place."
If more local newspaper reporters asked the questions Russ Flanagan asked, their readers would be better served and have a better understanding of just what all those drug busts are achieving. If you just let law enforcement issue its standard self-justifying press releases, you get one picture of reality. But all you have to do is ask law enforcement the right questions, and a different picture emerges. Local reporters, do your jobs!
Location: 
Easton, PA
United States

DEA vs. ONDCP: Whose Propaganda is Worse?

The DEA has announced its latest attempt to discourage marijuana use among teens who visit anti-marijuana websites. They’ve created an online magazine called “Stumble Weed” and it isn’t very good.

The “magazine” consists of five sections:

-It's just a plant. How could it be bad for me?
-Rx pot: a prescription for disaster.
-Totally lame (and dangerous and illegal) things to do on pot
-Extreme Grades: from A to D in six months
-Hey dude, where did my future go? Pot, motivation, and you.

They’ve dumbed-down the rhetoric here, which actually makes it more frustrating. Anyone who’s seen a drug warrior speak in public knows that it takes these guys over a thousand words to even approach the truth on any subject. “Stumble Weed” in contrast, is a series of one-sentence lies, too numerous to refute here.

Having read the whole thing so you don’t have to, I found only one surprise. This sentence appears in the “Totally Lame” section:
You can lose your student loan if you sell or grow marijuana while you are receiving educational assistance from the government.
That’s powerfully misleading. It should read like this:
You can lose your student loan for any drug offense however minor. Most students who lose aid were convicted of misdemeanor possession.
Given the controversy surrounding the HEA drug provision, I’m not surprised that they’re trying to make it sound as if the law only affects suppliers. But on the other hand, they’ve made an entire magazine about the consequences of smoking pot and they’re declining to mention a consequence that could affect many potential readers. The HEA drug provision is harmful enough without the government misleading young people about how it works.

And then there’s the question of why the DEA even has a magazine. Isn’t that what ONDCP is for? DEA is supposed to be busting drug cartels and instead they’re drawing cartoons about how smoking pot will give you a speech impediment. As my colleague Tom Klun pointed out, the CIA doesn’t make children’s magazines about why you shouldn’t be a terrorist.

Of course, government propaganda is harmless if no one reads it. According to DEA’s press release, the website justthinktwice.com, which houses “Stumble Weed” has received 49 million hits since August ’05. Yet the web-ranking site Alexa.com is unable to compute their hits because they’re not even in the top 100,000 websites. We are, and I’m sure we don’t get a million hits a month. Heck, look at this cool graph that compares their site to ours.

Once again, I can’t tell if they’re lying or just plain ignorant. But for what it’s worth, every dollar spent on propaganda is one less dollar spent killing the innocent.

Location: 
United States

Petitioning for the Right to Petition

Tireless DrugWarRant blogger Pete Guither continues to generate press coverage of his campaign against the DEA’s traveling museum exhibit:

From the Chicago Tribune:

When an exhibition sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration opened at the Museum of Science and Industry in August, Guither showed up with a sack full of pamphlets denouncing the government's anti-narcotics strategy.

But soon after he began handing the pamphlets out, museum officials confined him to what he said was an almost deserted stretch of sidewalk. Then a lawyer for the Chicago Park District told him the pamphlets were "commercial in nature" and that he needed a permit to distribute them at all.

Calling Guither’s pamphlet "commercial in nature" is such crap. But there are a few commercial interests at stake here:

  • The museum has a commercial interest in silencing Guither’s valid claim that it has allowed itself to be hijacked by the DEA’s propaganda machine.
  • The DEA has a commercial interest in justifying it’s existence by exploiting 9/11 with a ridiculous “exhibit” that attempts to obscure the obvious fact that prohibition funds terrorism.
  • Terrorists have a commercial interest in the success of DEA’s propaganda since they get their funding as a result of the same policies DEA struggles to uphold.

Ironically, the only party involved with absolutely no commercial interests is Pete Guither, a college professor who writes about the failure of the drug war in his spare time.

Unless, of course, not wanting your tax dollars spent on a pointless war that kills innocent people and funds terrorism counts as a “commercial interest”.


Location: 
United States

What's up with these "pain contracts"?

Spurred by the federal government's crackdown on prescription drug abuse, doctors around the country are resorting to "pain contracts" with patients in an attempt to protect themselves from charges they are Dr. Feelgoods. Such contracts typically require the patient to agree that "lost, stolen, or misplaced" drugs are not to be replaced and that the patient agree to be drug tested. Patients who refuse to sign such an agreement or who test positive for non-prescribed drugs--i.e. marijuana--are likely to be cut off. There is at least one chronic pain patient in the Veterans Administration system who is challenging the pain contracts. I will be writing about his ordeal next week. In the meantime, I sit and ponder: Who benefits from these contracts? It doesn't appear to be the patients, who are basically treated as criminal suspects for wanting to relieve their pain. And how does the Hippocratic Oath fit into this? I'll be digging into the whole sorry issue. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

Paging Orrin Hatch

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Update 10/25/06: Hatch's office informed us that Dallas Austin's parents were instrumental in getting the Senator involved. We've now contacted the D.C. Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in the hopes of tracking down this latest victim's family. They've promised to look into it.

Yet another American has been imprisoned in Dubai on a pitifully small possession charge:

From Gulfnews.com:

Dubai: An American visitor who said he was unaware that he was carrying marijuana with him, which was found in his luggage at airport, will spend four years in jail.

Dubai Court of First Instance found the suspect, identified as M.O. and in his late 30s, guilty of illegally bringing in and possessing 0.14 grams of marijuana.
Two months ago the same thing happened and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch jumped into action:

The release of a music producer from a Dubai jail this week, quick on the heels of his conviction for drug possession, turns out to be a story of high-level string-pulling on the part of Mr. Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican and songwriter, along with Lionel Richie, the singer; Quincy Jones, the music entrepreneur; and an array of well-connected lawyers, businessmen and others, spanning cities and continents.


That case involved a music producer with a small bag of cocaine. This one involves some guy in his thirties with 0.14 grams of marijuana, which is about one puff’s worth. He says he didn’t mean to bring it, which makes sense because it’s not enough to do anything with.

But surely Orrin Hatch will come to this gentleman’s aid. Four years for a weak bong hit’s worth of pot is an even greater injustice than that which Senator Hatch so recently stepped forward to redress.

If Orrin Hatch and Lionel Richie gave them anything of value last time this happened, it could explain why Dubai authorities are going to so much trouble to string people up for pathetically small amounts of drugs.

Please help us by contacting Senator Hatch. If his office won't get directly involved, perhaps they'll at least give us some pointers on how to get an American freed from a foreign prison.

Obviously something’s got to be done about these crazy police in Dubai. In the meantime, if you must go there, buy new clothes and luggage first.

Location: 
United States

Taking the Moral High Ground

(from DrugWarRant

Long-time DRCNet collaborator and current Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative Associate Director Troy Dayton is organizing religious leaders in support of Question 7 to legalize adult marijuana use in Nevada.

The Reno Journal-Gazette now reports that 32 churches in the state have pledged to support the initiative:

Protestants believe that laws should curb "gross outburst of sin," said the Rev. Ruth Hanusa, minister of the Campus Christian Association at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Instead of curbing use, she said, marijuana laws are causing more problems.

"We don't live in a perfect world, and often we don't have ideal choices, but we look to find the lesser evil," Hanusa said. "Part of our call to be good stewards of our community's resources requires us to recognize that. The current policy is overkill and does not promote the common good. Controlling marijuana through regulations makes more sense."
Calls for reform from religious leaders may intrigue the media, but it comes as no surprise to us that religious leaders are taking a stand against the brutal violence, shameful hypocrisy, and unforgiving callousness that characterize our nation’s war on drugs.

The moral high ground will always belong to us; never those who continue to fan the flames of failure with deceitful rhetoric.

Location: 
United States

A Capacious Body Cavity and Some Questions

A small story from the Columbia Tribune in Missouri caught my attention this morning. "Cavity Search Turns Up Mixture of Drugs," was the headline. A gentleman was busted by the cops and arrested "after police conducted a cavity search and found a mixture of drugs hidden inside his body." It was quite a haul: Roughly eight ounces of powder cocaine, crack, ecstasy pills, and marijuana. I'll leave the jokes for others, but I am curious about a couple of things: Dude, how do you shove eight ounces of dope up your rectum? And more seriously: Just what were the circumstances around this search and arrest? This newspaper articles—all three paragraphs of it—is typical of drug bust reporting. The reporters take what the cops give them and leave it at that. If I had been that beat reporter, I would have had plenty of questions: What caused police to stop this person in the first place? What caused them to search him? What caused them to do a body cavity search? How often and in what circumstances do they do such searches? And the question the cops should be asked on every self-congratulatory news release or press conference announcing yet another drug bust: Is this going to make the slightest bit of difference?
Location: 
Columbia, MO
United States

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