The Speakeasy Blog

Drug Prohibition Violence Rising in Orlando, Florida

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Orlando, Florida, has joined the ranks of cities experiencing rising homicide rates after years of partial relief. According to the Associated Press (article link to the Orlando Sentinel web site), the city has recorded 33 murders this year -- the first time the number reached 30 since 1982, but with nearly half of the year left to go. Much of it appears to be about drugs:
Police Chief Mike McCoy stressed that no tourists had been killed, and said most law-abiding citizens aren't at risk. "If you're not selling drugs, if you don't house people selling drugs, if you don't have the proceeds of drugs in your home, then your chances of being involved in a homicide are pretty slim," he said.
Some other interesting comments in the article:
"People can attribute crime to failing schools, failing families. There's a bunch of sociological things you can put your finger on," said police Sgt. Rich Ring, head of Orlando's homicide investigation unit. "All we can do as police is say the biggest things are drugs and robbery, and we're going to take action to attack those issues."
Note that McCoy did not include possession of drugs or drug use itself in his list of high-risk factors. All of the situations he mentioned relate to the drug trade, the commercial act of drug selling or activity closely related to it. And that's the first important point: the vast majority of drug-related violence is not from people getting high and shooting people because they're under the influence. The vast majority of drug-related violence is due to the modus operandi of this highly profitable area of the criminal underground. Legalization would bring all of that to a stop: All of the money that people are now spending on drugs that is fueling this kind of violence could instead stay in the licit economy, where business disputes can instead be moderated in the courts, and where most cash is kept in bank accounts and is therefore not such a tempting target for armed robbery. The other issue is that violence is going up in a lot of cities -- the AP article named some of them, and we are seeing this in other news reports as well. The drop in crime rates over the past decade or so has been a welcome partial relief to communities living under economic stress. But it is probably temporary, and in any case should not be taken as a reason to continue prohibition of drugs -- even if violence were to continue to drop, as long as there is prohibition of a lucrative commodity like drugs, violence rates will be higher than they could otherwise be, and no one seriously thinks that things are at an acceptable level in this regard even now. I don't know if this appeared in the Sentinel in print or not, or where else it appeared. You can follow the message board links from the article, or click here for letter-to-the-editor information. Please post to the comments here with the names and letter-writing info for any papers where you see the article appearing.
Location: 
Orlando, FL
United States

Drug Prohibition Violence Rising in Orlando, Florida

Posted in:
Orlando, Florida, has joined the ranks of cities experiencing rising homicide rates after years of partial relief. According to the Associated Press (article link to the Orlando Sentinel web site), the city has recorded 33 murders this year -- the first time the number reached 30 since 1982, but with nearly half of the year left to go. Much of it appears to be about drugs:
Police Chief Mike McCoy stressed that no tourists had been killed, and said most law-abiding citizens aren't at risk. "If you're not selling drugs, if you don't house people selling drugs, if you don't have the proceeds of drugs in your home, then your chances of being involved in a homicide are pretty slim," he said.
Some other interesting comments in the article:
"People can attribute crime to failing schools, failing families. There's a bunch of sociological things you can put your finger on," said police Sgt. Rich Ring, head of Orlando's homicide investigation unit. "All we can do as police is say the biggest things are drugs and robbery, and we're going to take action to attack those issues."
Note that McCoy did not include possession of drugs or drug use itself in his list of high-risk factors. All of the situations he mentioned relate to the drug trade, the commercial act of drug selling or activity closely related to it. And that's the first important point: the vast majority of drug-related violence is not from people getting high and shooting people because they're under the influence. The vast majority of drug-related violence is due to the modus operandi of this highly profitable area of the criminal underground. Legalization would bring all of that to a stop: All of the money that people are now spending on drugs that is fueling this kind of violence could instead stay in the licit economy, where business disputes can instead be moderated in the courts, and where most cash is kept in bank accounts and is therefore not such a tempting target for armed robbery. The other issue is that violence is going up in a lot of cities -- the AP article named some of them, and we are seeing this in other news reports as well. The drop in crime rates over the past decade or so has been a welcome partial relief to communities living under economic stress. But it is probably temporary, and in any case should not be taken as a reason to continue prohibition of drugs -- even if violence were to continue to drop, as long as there is prohibition of a lucrative commodity like drugs, violence rates will be higher than they could otherwise be, and no one seriously thinks that things are at an acceptable level in this regard even now. I don't know if this appeared in the Sentinel in print or not, or where else it appeared. You can follow the message board links from the article, or click here for letter-to-the-editor information. Please post to the comments here with the names and letter-writing info for any papers where you see the article appearing.
Location: 
Orlando, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana in South Dakota

South Dakota will vote on a medical marijuana initiative in November, and it looks like it will be an uphill battle. According to my sources within the campaign, the measure is not doing well in internal polling, but it is early. The campaign is laying low for now, but has already found a patient spokesperson and a former policeman as a spokesman. Bob Newland, South Dakota's "Mr. Marijuana," the hemp/pot/medical marijuan activist responsible for the initiative has agreed to keep a low profile, while MPP's experienced cadres run the show. Articles on the South Dakota campaign will show up periodically in the Chronicle. This is my state, and I'm actually here, and I intend to get involved as well as write about it.
Location: 
SD
United States

Drug Gangsters Immortalized in Song

The Associated Press reported Saturday on Colombia's "narco-ballads," songs that "pay lyrical homage to the lifestyles of the rich and dangerous: drug-lords, assassins, leftist rebels and far-right warlords," according to the story. Among the thugs being rhapsodized in song are two of the most murderous, Carlos Castano, who founded the infamous right-wing paramilitary movement that has massacred tens of thousands, and Pablo Escobar, who murdered hundreds of Colombia government officials and once had an airplane blown up in order to take out two people who were on it.
"These songs are about what's happening in our country, we sing about the paramilitaries, the rebels and the drug-traffickers and they all love it," said Uriel Hennao, the king of the genre, responsible for such anthems as "Child of the Coca," "I Prefer a Tomb in Colombia (to a jail cell in the US)" and "The Mafia Keeps Going."
One of the more pernicious consequences of drug prohibition is the glorification that ends up accruing to violent criminals. I don't know enough about the culture in Colombia and among the people who like this music to know whether they are listening in admiration of drug lords like Escobar and terrorists like Castano or simply because, as Hennao said, it's about what's going on in their country, so I'm not going to pass judgment on either artist or audience. But I don't think it's good for any country to be in that kind of a place. I wrote about this phenomenon here in the US (a situation not involving music, but the same cultural corruption idea) in February 2005 in Boston, before moving to Washington, the case of a gangster named Darryl Whiting who by the account of the prosecutor who put him away was someone who lured young people into lives of crime. The prosecutor, Wayne Budd, was the same guy who had brought federal civil rights charges against the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. But getting Whiting off the streets, he said, was one of the things he was most proud of. I saw Budd speak on a panel at Harvard -- he predictably did not express agreement with my contention that legalization would have been the way to keep Darryl Whiting and people like him from ever getting into that position. But legalization is what is needed for that purpose. Alcohol prohibition turned Al Capone into a pop hero, and drug prohibition is doing the same thing to top-level gangsters now, even if they don't become as well known to mainstream, majority society as Capone did.
Location: 
Colombia

Will It Make a Difference in the Drug Supply in the End?

Hopefully Phil will pardon me for cross-posting into his Chronicle blog. :) This is another example of a news story that is too run of the mill to make our newsletter most of the time, but provides a good example of the limitation of short-term memory that so often plagues mainstream reporting on this issue. An operation that Pennsylvania's Attorney General characterizes as the major methamphetamine supplier in the Philadelphia region has been taken down, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
A crystal-methamphetamine distribution ring allegedly run by the Breed motorcycle gang has been broken and 15 members from Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery Counties and New Jersey were in custody or were being sought, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said yesterday. From May 2005 through June 2006, he said, the gang's Pennsylvania chapter distributed more than 120 pounds of crystal meth, with a street value of more than $11.25 million.
Will the Inquirer revisit this story in a year, or six months (or for that matter two weeks) to see if meth has been made any less available to its users -- or if instead the slack has been taken up instead of other dealers eager to make the added profit? This is also a "consequences of prohibition" story, hence I've also posted it to our "Prohibition in the Media" blog:
Corbett said a statewide investigation and a grand jury found that from its clubhouse at 3707 Spruce St. in Bristol, the gang "had terrorized Lower Bucks County for several decades by committing crimes involving illegal drug dealing, thefts, extortion, witness intimidation and assaults."
It's clearly the case that those involved in illegal drug activity are going to resort to violence to advance their business purposes and moderate their business disputes -- that's prohibition, it was like that with Al Capone during alcohol prohibition and it's like that with drug gangs now. While drug prohibition laws don't directly account for the thefts and perhaps other crimes that the AG alleges were committed by this particular gang, all the money they were making from meth certainly turned them into a larger and powerful group, perhaps is what got them started in the first place. When prohibition was repealed, the homicide rate decreased steadily for ten years, to about half of where it had peaked by the end of prohibition -- perhaps the steadiness of the decrease as opposed to it all going away immediately reflects the idea that gangs whose financial backbone is based on drug selling will struggle to hold on for awhile before dwindling. But the violence dropped, and that's the main thing. The Inquirer posts letter and op-ed information here. Sadly Philadelphia has been plagued lately with another consequences of prohibition, overdose deaths due to a tainted drug supply. Read what one of Nixon's drug fighters had to say about the long-term effectiveness of massive drug busts.
Location: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States

The Heroin Overdose Wave Continues...

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WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has reported another overdose from the fentanyl-laced heroin batch that is ravaging drug injecting communities in cities around the nation. Meanwhile, officials in South Jersey are trying to figure out what is causing the rash of overdoses in Vineland and are wondering if something may be contaminating the heroin supply there -- five people had to be rushed to the South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, according to The Press of Atlantic City. We need legalization! Heroin use can't be stopped, at least not in this way -- only a legal, regulated supply will allow for any reliable degree of control over the drug supply -- until prohibition is ended, drug users will always be at risk of this kind of often fatal harm, especially the addicted ones. It is indecent that we are subjecting these people to this kind of situation -- and it certainly means longer emergency room waits when the rest of us need the help. WMFZ-TV accepts comments here. The Press has information on submitting a letter to the editor, or a longer guest column, online here. Also click here to take action to support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) to fund overdose prevention. And click here for a Drug War Chronicle report on the heroin/fentanyl overdose outbreak.
Location: 
Atlantic City, NJ
United States

Holy Cow, They Busted Holy Smoke!

http://www.holysmoke.ca/ I wrote about the Holy Smoke bust for the Chronicle, but since it hits close to home, I have a little bit more to say about it. Holy Smoke is a Nelson, BC, head shop and activism hub. One of the owners, Paul DeFelice, was arrested last Saturday night and charged with marijuana and psilocybin distribution. Whatever was or wasn't sold at Holy Smoke, local police did nothing about it -- until now. DeFelice thinks the change has come because of the new conservative government of Prime Minister Harper. The Holy Smoke guys are dedicated activists, one of them is an attorney, and they look forward to challenging the marijuana laws again. Back in 1997, they humiliated local police when they tried to shut them down, and they look forward to doing it again. Holy Smoke is part of the Nelson experience. Situated at the end of Baker Street, the five-block heart of downtown Nelson, it perches beside a tiny park where most afternoons you can find a group of people smoking up and chatting. Holy Smoke ain't going away, but if they really were selling weed, for awhile, now, at least, you won't be able to buy it at a store like a regular human being. Of course, that doesn't mean it won't be available; it just means you'll have to buy it off the street dealers who have been loitering around Holy Smoke.
Location: 
United States

LA-Area Methamphetamine Lab Illustrates Need for Legalization

CBS channel 2 in Los Angeles reported that the LAPD had arrested five people for operating a methamphetamine lab in Sylmar. A haz-mat crew was sent out to start the cleanup, and police officers have alleged that the operators dumped their chemicals on the outside instead of using the trash and that the property is therefore highly contaminated. If meth were legal, it would be manufactured by licensed pharmaceutical corporations that know how to properly handle chemicals. Inspectors could monitor the operations to ensure compliance with the applicable regulations. And there wouldn't be the occasional gunfire between rival manufacturers or between suspects and police who are trying to arrest them (not that that happened in this case). Whatever one thinks about meth and its effects on people, at a minimum everyone should admit that we wouldn't have meth labs -- a consequences of prohibition, therefore a reason to enact drug legalization. Visit the CBS2 "contact us" page and select "News Department" and "Suggestion" in the web form to send the station your thoughts on the matter, or use other contact information appearing on the page.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

British Tabloids At It Again With More Reefer Madness

A fine example of yellow journalism appears in today's London Daily Mail. Citing increased marijuana arrests figures since the weed was downgraded from Class B to Class C, the Daily Mail headlines its story "Massive Explosion in Cannabis Possession," implying that use had somehow gone through the roof when it is actually police practices driving the numbers. "Cannabis crime has exploded," the Daily Mail hyperventilates, meaning more people are getting arrested. There is more of this crap at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article...
Location: 
United States

Free Advertising for Drug Dealers

Stupid drug war ideas are a usually a dime a dozen, but I’d pay a quarter for this one.

Officials in Maine are discussing the creation of an online registry of convicted drug dealers. Apparently this is the latest in a series of hysterical legislative responses to the epidemic of meth-related media coverage:

From the Bangor Daily News:

Tennessee was the first state to create a public Web site registry for convicted methamphetamine makers. It now has more than 400 convicted offenders on the list. Illinois created a similar registry earlier this year, and a half-dozen other states have pending legislation to create meth maker registries.

But if meth is so bad, why would you create a public database of local people that might have some for sale?

Somehow these well-meaning legislators forgot that drug transactions, unlike molestations, are consensual acts. Drug dealers don’t have victims, they have customers, and putting their names online is like advertising their services. For example, if I were looking for meth in Anderson County, Tennessee, I’d begin by looking here. See how easy that was?

Before you can say "counterproductive", they’ll be combating underage drinking by creating a public registry of liquor stores that sell to minors.

But if these lists weren’t such a horrible violation of privacy, I might support them, because this ill-conceived effort to shame and stigmatize the victims of America’s war on drugs may soon become a vast and ever-expanding memorial to the countless lives our drug laws have destroyed.

Location: 
United States

Drug Dealer/Police Officer Altercation Endangers North Memphis Neighborhood

A report yesterday by WMC-TV (channel 5) in Memphis was titled "North Memphis Store Sprayed with Gunfire." What happened was that after two police confronted a local drug dealer completing a sale from the parking lot of a convenience store at the corner of Chelsea and May, the dealer "ran over the officer, knocked him down and dragged him some 10 to 12 feet," according to a Sgt. Vince Higgins who was interviewed. The officer's partner then opened fire as the dealer sped away in his SUV. Hopefully the injured officer will recover, but it's lucky that someone wasn't shot by his partner. The moral of the story is, prohibition makes the world more dangerous -- the driver of the SUV was involved in criminal activity because it's profitable, and it's profitable because the drugs are illegal -- legalization would put people like him out of that business. Instead, we have police crawling everywhere (the news report's word, not time) looking for drug suspects to arrest. The suspects don't want to be arrested and imprisoned, so some of them resist, sometimes recklessly or violently. And this time an officer reacted the wrong way to that and put other people in danger too. Let WMC-TV news director Peggy Phillip know you think this angle merits inclusion in the station's reporting when these things happen. A good contact for her to make in this kind of story would be the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
Location: 
Memphis, TN
United States

Vancouver MP Leading Fight to Save Safe Injection Center

I spoke this morning with Vancouver East Member of Parliament Libby Davies for an article I'll publish Friday on the effort to ensure that Health Canada continues the exemption for INSITE, the safe injection site. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper is hinting it wants to shut the whole thing down, and Davies says she is "concerned" but hopeful Harper will retreat in the face of strong local support and good, solid evidence it is working. Donald McPherson of Vancouvers drug policy office told me yesterday the city is also strongly behind it. I suspect Vancouver Coastal Health will say the same thing when I speak to them. We could all take a lesson from the way Vancouver mobilizes for drug reform. (Click here to read an open letter Davies sent about this last week.)
Location: 
United States

Religion and Drug Policy Reform

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This week, I'll be examining the role of religion in drug reform. I'm awaiting a packet from the Interfaith Drug Policy Alliance, with whom I will be speaking. I'll also be checking in with a progressive church alliance in California that is fighting to save Proposition 36 and with some reformers in the heartland who are trying to get god on their side. And, hell, maybe I'll even call up the conservative evangelicals and query them on drug policy. What would Jesus do?
Location: 
United States

Overdose Deaths Outpacing Homicides in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia News reported Monday that despite the city having seen one of its deadliest weekends, drug overdoses, particularly from a batch of heroin laced with the even more powerful opiate fentanyl are claiming even more lives. The important thing to remember is that heroin users aren't dying simply because fentanyl is more potent than heroin. They are dying because the substance they are buying on the black market is more powerful than they believe it to be -- they think they are getting heroin, or if they're not sure they crave their fix so strongly that they are willing to take the chance. The illegal drug supply is uncertain in this way, because it is illegal, and for no other reason. Among legalization's many benefits will be increased safety for users, particularly addicts, and fewer accidental deaths. Send a letter to the editor to views@phillynews.com.
Location: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States

British Doctor Says Marijuana Caused Death of 23-Year-Old

Pretty amazing. I feel like it's 1937. Here is a British doctor claiming pot caused a young man to die from a brain aneurysm. Even the coroner isn't buying it.
Location: 
United States

Methamphetamine Sold Openly In Stores

This is the kind of mundane story that doesn't make it into the Chronicle, but it is an example of the misreporting that plagues drug policy journalism. Meth isn't being sold in drugs stores, but that's what the misleading headline in a story about the availability of ephedrine says. Bad, bad, bad headline writing. http://www.abcnews4.com/news/stories/0706/343456.html
Location: 
United States

At least 21 states include drug offenses in their definitions of child abuse

Michigan is the latest, with Gov. Granholm signing a bill on Thursday that will make some meth offenses per se evidence of child abuse. I have a problem with these laws. I think child abuse is already well defined and people who fit the criteria should be punished for it. But saying that using or even cooking speed equals child abuse is just absurd on the face of it. I'll be talking to people through the week as I write a story on this to see if I'm wrong.
Location: 
United States

Don't Worry, Orrin Hatch Will Save You

When renowned R&B producer Dallas Austin was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in a Dubai prison for cocaine possession, he found an unlikely advocate in Republican Senator and Christian music composer Orrin Hatch, according to the New York Times:

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.

And it gets better:

A spokesman for Mr. Hatch said that the senator was a proponent of rehabilitation for drug offenders, and that he had worked to revise federal sentencing guidelines regarding cocaine, and, through legislation in 2005, had advocated treatment for nonviolent offenders and the easing of restrictions on medication to treat heroin addiction. In the statement Mr. Hatch said he was "confident that this talented young man will learn from this experience."

Sounds good to me, but Orrin Hatch? Didn’t he once advocate the death penalty for international drug trafficking, the exact crime of which Mr. Austin was accused?

Well…yes.

Clearly, he’s got some explaining to do, but let’s withhold our cries of hypocrisy for now and hope he’s seen the light. Afterall, we’ve got 500,000 non-violent drug offenders right here at home that could use some help from Utah Republican Orrin Hatch.

Location: 
Dubai
United Arab Emirates

Coming in the Chronicle this week

Here's a late Sunday night heads-up on what I'll be working on this week--subject, of course, to breaking news and other vagaries... The Portland pot initiative handed in signatures Saturday, and it looks like they will have enough to make the ballot... Thursday's raids on San Diego area medical marijuana dispensaries and moves against doctors saw the feds and local officials attempting to show that the dispensaries and the doctors were not practicing "legitimate" medical marijuana medicine. Is that really what the feds and cops were doing? Is that really the case? And what does the future hold for the dispensaries?... Michigan Gov. Granholm late last week signed an anti-meth package into law. It includes a provision defining exposure to meth as "child abuse." Michigan is only the latest state to hope on board this trend. I think I'll see how many others are doing the same and whether this is a good idea. My initial thinking is: We already have child abuse laws; if they are violating those laws, charge them with child abuse. If not, not. Plus a bunch more stuff...
Location: 
United States

drug war/terror war confusion in Afghanistan

The British online publication "Spiked" noted in a larger story, citing a March article in the Guardian, that there is confusion over whether NATO troops are fighting a "war on drugs" in Afghanistan" or a "war on terror." Philip Cunliff wrote:
[T]he British mission objective is further confused by the question of whether the British army is fighting a war on drugs or the war on terror. Former British defence secretary John Reid argued that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is "absolutely interlinked" with the war on terror (though in fact, it was the Americans who endorsed their local allies’ poppy cultivation after the Taliban curtailed it) (4). On the other hand, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General James Jones, has said: "You won’t see NATO burning crops, but you will see us gather intelligence and support the national effort as best we can."
Reid is ignoring the obvious realities of the situation. The opium trade is only linked to terrorism (to the extent that is actually the case, probably non-zero but less than Reid claims) because opium and the drugs derived from it are illegal. Legalization would bring opium out of the underground economy and allow governments to regulate it -- if Afghanistan couldn't control the money flow to keep it out of the hands of Taliban and Al Qaeda and other violent organizations, consumer nations in Europe and the Americans could simply require the stuff be bought elsewhere. Instead, we have a no win situation in which fighting the poppy will alienate the populace whose help we need, in which wiping out the crops (an impossible task) would generate economic catastrophe, but leaving them aids our enemies and hinders the goal of attaining political instability for that troubled nation. There's a reason why the medical opium crop doesn't cause violence or help terrorists -- because it's legal. The Senlis Council has organized at least two conferences in Afghanistan to propose licensing the crop for that market.

Lynn Zimmer Dies at 59

Professor Lynn Zimmer, a sociologist at Queens College in New York, was widely regarded among both drug policy scholars and activists as the most original thinker on drug issues in the United States. She died at her home this past Sunday. Please visit the Drug Policy Alliance's blog at http://blog.drugpolicy.org/2006/07/in-memoriam-lynn-zimmer-1947-2006.html to post your respects and memories.
Location: 
United States

Coming in the Chronicle this week

We've got a bad bill in California, a bad arrest in Wisconsin, needle exchange news on a couple of fronts, a bevy of corrupt cops, and our favorite Australian MP goes to a rave and likes it.

Canadian Senator and Former Mayor Roasts UN Anti-Drug Chief in E-Mail over "World Drug Report"

We didn't get the permission back in time to include this in issue #441 of Drug War Chronicle, but Sen. Campbell wrote back and said it's okay. In an e-mail sent to Vancouver drug reformer and harm reductionist Mark Haden, Vancouver's former mayor, Larry Campbell, now a Senator, wrote the following e-mail, titled " UNODC World Drug Report 2006 full of scientific insults," with permission to distribute it:
"UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa claims that the world is experiencing a devastating "cannabis pandemic." This gentleman is the same person who said we were putting "cannabis oil" on pasta. It was pointed out that is hemp oil which is not a sativa product. He didn't know the difference and appeared not to care. Simply another high paid UN stooge. Isn't it amazing that the US only supports the UN when they toe the US 'drug war' line."
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/311/campbell.shtml to read DRCNet's November 2003 interview with Campbell.
Location: 
United States

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