The Speakeasy Blog

The Drug War Rules Til It Comes For Your Friends

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I found two different stories this month about law-enforcement insiders tipping off friends prior to a drug raid. It certainly is revealing to see folks become suddenly concerned when the drug war targets someone they know.

This one involves a dispatcher who warned friends of an upcoming raid on another friend's home. Officers became suspicious after finding nothing during the search.

Another involves a prosecutor who tipped off a relative about an upcoming raid, then turned himself in and resigned after realizing the severity of his actions.

Basically, this guy put people in jail for a living, only to freak out and destroy his own career the moment the drug war touched his family. It's a startling change of heart, but I suspect many drug war participants would do the same. The callousness and brutality of the war on drugs becomes vivid and sickening once you're forced to confront the humanity of its victims.

Oddly, both incidents prompted accusations of endangering police:
Joliet Police Chief Fred Hayes said calling off the operation averted a potential disaster. The prosecutor's relative was "an associate" of the target of the operation, and the target learned of it, Hayes said.

"I think the state's attorney's office handled it very professionally and expeditiously," Hayes added, saying the supervisor's quick action might have prevented officers from being placed in serious jeopardy.
One must scrupulously avoid rational thinking in order to reach this conclusion so effortlessly. Does anyone really think the suspect would wait around and try to fight the police? If anything, the tip makes the raid safer because (1) the suspect will have removed all evidence and has no cause for desperation, and (2) the suspect knows it's a raid rather than an armed robbery.

The average drug dealer ain't Tony Montana jacked on blow ready to take on the world with an M-16. Anyone homicidal/suicidal enough to choose an optional fight with the SWAT team is probably already up in the proverbial bell-tower. Nobody would risk their career to warn someone like that anyway.

Yeah, I know it's the drug war, but can we stop to think for just one minute? I'll count to 60. Let me know what you come up with.
Location: 
United States

Buying Bananas Supports Terrorism…Seriously

Only the drug war could create a situation in which banana consumers inadvertently support terror. Makes you wonder what else supports terrorism. Coffee? Soda? Probably, but it's really the international drug war that facilitates the growth of terrorist armies and empowers them to extort absolutely everything in sight.

Banana manufacturer Chiquita Brands International is in big trouble for paying protection money to various terrorist armies in Colombia. They've been assessed a $25 million fine in U.S. federal court and now Colombian prosecutors are seeking the extradition of 8 Chiquita employees. From Forbes.com:
Prosecutors say the Cincinnati-based company agreed to pay about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.


In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company's banana-growing area shifted.
These poor bastards at Chiquita got extorted out of $1.7 million by the AUC only to then be extorted out of another $25 million by the U.S. Justice Department. We'll see about the extradition, but I give it good odds considering our interest in maintaining healthy mutual extradition policies with the Colombian government.

You gotta feel for these folks considering that banana cultivation is one of the more legitimate economic activities going on in Colombia. This kind of publicity isn't doing any favors for our crop substitution efforts.

Thanks to drug prohibition, you can't even grow goddamn bananas without becoming a pawn in the international war on narco-terrorism.

Location: 
United States

More Reefer Madness in the UK Press

The current anti-cannabis crusade in the UK press is going hot and heavy. I imagine we're all used to the "cannabis boy in drugs shame" tabloid headlines from over there, and, as I blogged a couple of days ago, we now see respectable newspapers like the Independent on Sunday flip-flopping on marijuana (now it's bad). But sometimes, it's just too ridiculous. Here are the opening paragraphs of a story about potent weed from the Liverpool Echo:
Police issue warning about super strength Cannabis Mar 20 2007 by Ben Rossington, Liverpool Echo SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs. Cannabis resin, usually smuggled in from Morocco, has been replaced by home-grown super skunk as the drug of choice for sale by criminal gangs on Merseyside. Experts warn this new strain of cannabis is so incredibly strong it can bring on the early signs of schizophrenia from a single puff. Today Merseyside’s police chief has warned that organised gangs are moving into the production of the drug as a quick way of making cash.
Wow, that stuff must have a 150% THC content. The article also repeats the claim that this super-skunk is 25 times more potent than what Brits are used to. But here's what the most recent peer-reviewed scientific evaluation of THC levels in Europe had to say:
EDITORIAL Cannabis potency in Europe There has been much recent interest in the possibility that the concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active principle in cannabis, is now greater than it was. If pronouncements in the popular media are to be believed, the THC content (potency) is 10 or 20 times the levels of only a generation ago, giving apparent cause for concern about increased problems. The more cynical might comment that this is also a convenient rallying cry for those against an increasingly permissive attitude to cannabis use. But to what extent do the available data justify this fear? If one begins to explore the issue in more detail, it becomes evident that concerns about high potency cannabis are by no means new, and the reality appears both less alarming and more complex. THE FACTS AS FAR AS THEY ARE KNOWN A recent study [1] found that data overall were weak, but the evidence available suggested that the potencies of resin and herbal cannabis that have been imported into Europe have shown little or no change, at least over the past 10 years or so. This is hardly surprising, as these products have been made by traditional methods that have probably remained the same for generations. In Europe, average potencies of imported resin and herbal cannabis are typically between 2% and 8%. Cannabis (hash) oil is uncommon in Europe, but its THC content has also shown no clear trend over many years. What has changed throughout Europe and elsewhere is the appearance, from the early 1990s, of herbal cannabis grown from selected seeds by intensive indoor methods. This material, best described as domestically produced 'sinsemilla' (from the Spanish sin semilla—without seeds), is also known as 'skunk', 'buds' or 'nederwiet'. Its hydroponic cultivation, with artificial control of 'daylight' length, propagation of female cuttings and prevention of fertilization certainly does produce cannabis with a higher potency; on average it may be twice as high as imported herbal cannabis, although the two potency distributions overlap and some samples of imported cannabis are, and have always been, of high potency [2]. The increased THC content of herbal cannabis produced by indoor methods is a consequence of both genetic and environmental factors as well as freshness (i.e. production sites are close to the consumer and storage degradation of THC is thus avoided). There is some evidence that the potency of domestically produced sinsemilla is gradually increasing, perhaps as a result of continual improvements in technique. This product is distributed through the same networks as other cannabis products but, as indicated by the presence of home-grow shops in some European countries, consumers are also producing the drug at home. However, a note of caution is needed when assessing this information. Data on potency trends over 5 years or more were available only from five countries in Europe; in some of these the test sample sizes were low or unknown. Questions exist in terms of how representative the seizures are of the overall illicit market and in terms of the subsampling and selection of material from individual seizures for forensic testing. In addition, for a number of methodological reasons, both the reliability and comparability of data from different forensic laboratories were questionable. By far, the greatest number of THC analyses was carried out in Germany, with over 7000 measurements annually, but no distinction was made between imported and home-grown herbal cannabis. There has also been a rise in overall potency in North America, but in Australia and New Zealand the picture is less clear. THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH If the strength of some forms of cannabis has increased, then is this a cause for concern? The first matter to address is whether the availability of a more 'concentrated' form of a drug is in itself an issue. A parallel might be drawn here with the consumption of alcohol. Public health consequences of alcohol consumption are not a simple function of the strength of the beverage consumed, be it beer, wine or spirits. Rather, at population level, research suggests that it is the total quantity of alcohol consumed that is important rather than the concentrations in which it is sold. How far this parallel holds for cannabis is unknown, but it does raise the question of whether the availability of high potency cannabis impacts on total consumption levels of THC. It is still unknown whether those who smoke higher potency cannabis have higher blood levels of THC or whether they titrate the dose according to the subjective and relatively immediate pharmacological effects. It should be noted that even if we consider only the smoking of cannabis cigarettes/joints, all the following factors will influence an individual smoker's dose exposure: the amount used per cigarette/joint, sharing with others, the number of cigarettes/joints consumed per session, the number of sessions in any given time period, and individual smoking technique. As Hall et al. [3] note, age of onset of use and frequency of use are likely to be more influential than changes in potency in determining consumption levels. It is also important to note that, as far as we can tell, for most countries the market share of sinsemilla appears to be currently quite low. For example, in the United Kingdom it is estimated that resin comprises 70% of consumption. Of the remainder, about half comprises 'traditional' herbal cannabis and half sinsemilla. In other words, if the effective potency (the weighted average) had been 5%, then the appearance of sinsemilla can be estimated to have increased this to no more than 6%.
There is more from this academic review at the link above. This week, I'll be talking to people in Britain about all this for a feature article out Friday.
Location: 
Liverpool
United Kingdom

Hurwitz Prosecutor Caught Up in US Attorneys Controversy

good riddance, let us hope We have not previously commented here about the US Attorneys firing controversy (or scandal, depending on how one looks at it) -- mostly because drug policy has not come up in it -- partly because we assume that both the people who got canned and the people replacing them are all all likely to be serious SOBs from our point of view. For example, it was one of the firees, San Diego's Carol Lam, who prosecuted medical marijuana provider Steve McWilliams, an act that ended in McWilliams' suicide. Readers who have followed the pain issue will doubtless be interested to know that the guy who prosecuted pain physician Dr. Hurwitz, Paul McNulty, and who was responsible for the infamous withdrawal by the DEA during that prosecution of the pain FAQ it had worked together on with doctors and other experts, is in serious hot water. McNulty was the US Attorney for eastern Virginia at the time, but was subsequently promoted to the #2 spot at DOJ. According to his official bio he played a key role in abolishing parole in Virginia in 1994. McNulty's name has come up on and off within the firings matter since early on, but until this evening it seemed like he might survive it and quite possibly become the next Attorney General. But things have shifted again in this fast-changing story. According to the Politico, in a story filed at 9:06 EST:
Republican sources also disclosed that it is now a virtual certainty that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, whose incomplete and inaccurate congressional testimony about the prosecutors helped precipitate the crisis, will also resign shortly. Officials were debating whether Gonzales and McNulty should depart at the same time or whether McNulty should go a day or two after Gonzales.
Let's hope the reporting about McNulty at least is on target. Whatever the cause for his career's abrupt ending, it will be a good thing. McNulty's actions in the Hurwitz case caused incalculable damage to the cause of pain management with opioids for patients who need it -- effectively he caused large numbers of pain patients to be tortured through denial of medication or under-use of it. Having met Dr. Hurwitz a number of times, and counting a number of his former patients friends, I could be biased about that -- though his conviction has since been overturned due to the trial flaws that prosecutors and the judge created. But I think McNulty's instigation of the withdrawal of the FAQ demonstrates objectively that he is willing to attack the rule of law itself if it suits his purposes. No tears shed for this guy's career, none deserved -- good riddance to at least one really, really cruel, unethical and dishonest prosecutor.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Oral Arguments Transcript Now Online

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http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/06-278.pdf Let us know what comments you find the most interesting... Drug War Rant has a great backgrounder web section about the case here.
Location: 
United States

Pictures from the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Free Speech Supreme Court Demonstration and Press Conference

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UPDATE: Drug War Chronicle feature report now available here online. DRCNet associate director David Guard attended the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" free speech demonstration outside the Supreme Court today, and took pictures for the benefit of those of us who couldn't make it there ourselves. Here are some of the highlights: Students demonstrating at the courthouse: Ken Starr, counsel for the bad guys: Former US drug czar Barry McCaffrey (also there for the bad guys): More demonstration and press conference pictures (click the "read full post" or title link in this post to see the rest if you don't already see them): (David Guard is second from the right in this one, the others are SSDP'ers.) Attorney Douglas Kemp Mertz of Juneau, Alaska, representing the plaintiff. Mary Beth Tinker of Tinker v. Des Moines fame. I'm not sure who these two people are, and would appreciate if anyone could send us that info:
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

The Truth About Marijuana Use in the UK

As Phil notes below, there's a new wave of reefer madness taking hold in England. The Independent's reporting is hysterical in both senses of the word, so much so that the ONDCP blog wasted no time in picking up the story.

We're told that marijuana addiction among teenagers has skyrocketed, that marijuana is 25 times stronger than it was generation ago, and that marijuana just might cause schizophrenia. And the underlying implication of all this is that the effort to legalize marijuana, culminating in the UK's 2004 reclassification decriminalizing simple possession, has somehow caused all of these horrible problems.

Interestingly, The Independent's multiple articles yesterday reached their conclusions without mentioning usage rates. Here's why: marijuana use in the UK is going down. From The Observer in October, 2006:
According to a report by the Central Narcotics Office, after more than a decade of rapid growth, seizures of cannabis resin in Europe dropped by a fifth last year, to 831 tonnes.


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.
The failure to address this relevant, yet contradictory fact is a hallmark of alarmist pseudo-scientific drug war reporting. Instead we get this:
Today record numbers of young people are in treatment programmes for skunk [high-grade marijuana] abuse and hospital admissions due to the drug are at their highest ever.
We know that rumors of more potent pot are both wildly exaggerated and largely irrelevant since users adjust their doses to achieve the desired effect regardless of potency. We also know that potency has increased notably (3-4 times, not 25) and that increased potency has much to do with prohibition, which creates a financial incentive for growers to maximize their risk/reward ratio since punishment is determined by weight rather than THC content.

So if it isn't the potency, then what's driving the spike in marijuana treatment in the UK? I think the answer is that reduced stigma and a new policy of not arresting casual users have resulted in more people seeking help. It makes vastly more sense than arguing that marijuana suddenly turned into crack laced with heroin the moment they decriminalized it.

I can't prove my theory anymore than addiction "experts" can prove that marijuana had almost no THC in the '60's. But it makes intuitive sense. Wouldn't you expect more people to seek treatment once the risk of arrest is removed?

After decriminalizing marijuana, the British are seeing lower usage rates and more people seeking treatment. Let's talk about that.

Location: 
United States

The Independent on Sunday Reverses Itself on Decrim, Warns of Killer Skunk, Reefer Madness

A decade ago, the British newspaper the Independent on Sunday made headlines itself when it came out strongly for the decriminalization of marijuana. Now, sad to say, it appears that the venerable newspaper has succumbed to Reefer Madness. In a front page editorial and series of related articles yesterday, the Independent reversed course:
Yes, our front page today is calculated to grab your attention. We do not really believe that The Independent on Sunday was wrong at the time, 10 years ago, when we called for cannabis to be decriminalized. As Rosie Boycott, who was the editor who ran the campaign, argues, the drug that she sought to decriminalize then was rather different from that which is available on the streets now. Indeed, this newspaper's campaign was less avant-garde than it seemed. Only four years later, The Daily Telegraph went farther, calling for cannabis to be legalized for a trial period. We were leading a consensus, which even this Government - often guilty of gesture-authoritarianism - could not resist, downgrading cannabis from class B to class C. At the same time, however, two things were happening. One was the shift towards more powerful forms of the drug, known as skunk. The other was the emerging evidence of the psychological harm caused to a minority of users, especially teenage boys and particularly associated with skunk. We report today that the number of cannabis users on drug treatment programs has risen 13-fold since our campaign was launched, and that nearly half of the 22,000 currently on such programs are under the age of 18. Of course, part of the explanation for this increase is that the provision of treatment is better than it was 10 years ago. But there is no question, as Robin Murray, one of the leading experts in this field, argues on these pages, that cannabis use is associated with growing mental health problems.
Ouch. This is really a shame, and it's even more shameful because the Independent on Sunday appears to have fallen prey to propaganda that could have come straight from the mouth of the American drug czar. This is not your father's marijuana, the newspaper argues with a straight face, this is the KILLER SKUNK! As one of the related articles puts it, "skunk - a form of cannabis so powerful that experts are warning it can be 25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations." What!? As far as I know, the most high-powered strains of marijuana are capable of THC yields of around 25% to 30%, with what is commonly known as "kind bud" having a yield of 10% to 15%. (These figures may be a bit off, but not much). Marijuana with 1% THC is about the equivalent of ditch weed. For the Independent's claims to be accurate, all those people smoking pot in Swinging London in the 1960s must have been smoking ditch weed and deceived into thinking they were getting high, while everyone in London now must be smoking the most exclusive buds in the world. This "25 times" figure is just plain bogus, and I don’t understand how the Independent fell for it. We've already debunked the American drug czar's version of this. Now are we going to have to do remedial work across the pond? Besides, skunk is but one variety of high-potency weed. What about AK-47 and White Widow? Singling out skunk as the culprit seems to be to be based on ignorance more than anything. I am also struck by the increasingly shrill claims of links between marijuana and madness. These seem to be especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. (While the UK frets about skunk, the Australians have their own idiosyncratic and equally scientifically indefensible bogeyman: HYDROPONIC! As if the growing medium used to produce marijuana were the determinant of its nature.) I'm not prepared to debunk the Independent on these claims today, but I do wonder about at least two things: Why isn’t this stuff driving us crazy over here, or, at least, why isn’t John Walters raising holy hell about the link between marijuana and madness? And if marijuana use has increased dramatically in the UK in past decades and if potency has indeed increased (which I don't doubt), then where is the accompanying spike in reported schizophrenia cases? I think I'm going to have to do a feature article on this important and disappointing turn of events. I'll use that to look more closely at the claims about marijuana and mental illness. I am starting to get worried, though; I've been smoking that stuff for 35 years, and now madness could be right around the corner. Who knew?
Location: 
London
United Kingdom

9th Circuit: Avoiding Certain Death No Excuse for Medical Marijuana Use

In what has otherwise been an exciting week of drug policy news, we're sad to report that the 9th circuit has rejected Angel Raich's "right to life" challenge against federal medical marijuana laws.

Basically, the court ruled that it would be legal for the government to cause her death by withholding her medicine. From The New York Times:
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen “uncontroverted evidence” that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.

The court “recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction,” the decision read. “But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is ‘fundamental.’ ”
I would argue that the right to not die for stupid political reasons is fundamental enough.

Really there are only like six people in Washington D.C. who are entirely responsible for the illegality of medical marijuana. Their continuing lies are instrumental in maintaining the broader but shrinking population of medical marijuana opponents. If no one falsely accused people like Angel Raich of lying about their medical needs, this perverse debate would be long dead and several nice people would still be alive.

So why is the 9th Circuit so afraid of this handful of sniveling, malicious bureaucrats? If they're trying to avoid being tagged as left-leaning judicial activists, someone should tell them it's already too late.

Location: 
United States

Think You Know Your Rights? Take The Quiz

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I wrote up a fun know-your-rights quiz for my dayjob over at Flex Your Rights. It's kinda hard, but if you've seen our video BUSTED, you should do ok.

Let's see whatcha got, hippies. Free unpaid internships if you get a perfect score.
Location: 
United States

New Mexico Set To Become 12th Medical Marijuana State

First it passed the Senate and died in the House. Then, at the urging of Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico's Senate folded medical marijuana into a related bill to permit topical use. Yesterday evening the bill passed the House 36-31. It must return to the Senate for consideration of a minor change that occured in the House, but given strong support there and the assurance of the Governor's signature, I believe it's safe to say we're looking at our 12th medical marijuana state.

Congratulations to our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance who've worked extremely hard to make this possible. Also worthy of recognition is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson himself, who pulled out the stops to protect patients in his state.

Of course, every step towards protecting medical marijuana patients is an important victory, but it is particularly notable that Richardson championed this bill while exploring a bid for the presidency. Richardson is a calculating politician who's not known for taking risky positions. Suffice to say, he ain't exactly Dennis Kucinich.

Richardson's willingness to stand up for patients at this time speaks volumes to the growing political viability of medical marijuana policy reform.

Update: Boston Globe looks at the political implications of Richardson's stance on medical marijuana and concludes that it's not a big deal.

"I don't see it as being a big issue," he said. "This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let's be reasonable," he said.

It shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. With so many problems here and abroad, our government still finds resources to generate controversy over this. It's obscene.

Location: 
United States

Ed Rosenthal Vindicated From Vindictive Charges

We all knew Ed Rosenthal was being vindictively prosecuted, but it's nice to a hear a federal judge say it. From The San Francisco Chronicle:
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco dismissed charges of tax evasion and money laundering against Ed Rosenthal, 62, an author and activist who has been dubbed the "Guru of Ganja."


The judge said he based his decision in part on the comments by prosecutor George Bevan during a hearing on the case. Bevan, according to transcripts, explained the decision to re-file charges, saying, "The purpose is this: Mr. Rosenthal, after the verdict, took to the microphone and said, 'I didn't get a fair trial.' ... So I'm saying, this time around, he wants the financial side reflected, fine, let's air this thing out. Let's have the whole conduct before the jury: Tax, money laundering, marijuana."
It's delightful to see the smug George Bevan held to account for his maliciousness, but frankly this only scratches the surface. Many have surmised that the targeting of Ed Rosenthal has always had everything to do with his notoriety as a cannabis cultivation expert. Considering what Rosenthal has been put through over the past several years, today's vindictive prosecution finding is long overdue.
He was first arrested after a federal raid in February 2002 at a West Oakland warehouse where Rosenthal was growing marijuana for what he said was medical use, with the support of Alameda County and Oakland officials. At trial in 2003, Breyer refused to let jurors learn about the intended medical use of the plants and excluded evidence about Proposition 215, California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative.

Rosenthal was convicted of violating federal drug laws, but seven of the 12 jurors said afterward that their verdict would have been different if they had been allowed to consider evidence about the medical use of the marijuana and Rosenthal's status as an agent in the Oakland program.
Breyer let Rosenthal off with a one-day sentence, humiliating federal prosecutors and sealing Ed's fate as a perpetual target.

The details of this ongoing legal saga are too numerous to list here, but the great irony of it all is worth fleshing out: after lying to the jury in order to convict him and being publicly humiliated when those same jurors turned against them, federal prosecutors responded to Rosenthal's appeal by piling on more charges in an attempt to punish him for challenging them. Today's vindictive prosecution finding not only exposes their malfeasance but also publicly reveals this tasty fact:
Breyer did not throw out the drug charges, but noted that "the government agreed at oral argument" that it will not seek more than the one-day sentence on those counts.

That's right, American taxpayers. Behold the glorious retribution of the principled and incorruptible federal prosecutors who've exhausted untold sums and incalculable man hours to protect you from a safe and effective medicine. Amidst Iraq, Katrina, Medicare, etc. the federal government was trying to save you from Ed Rosenthal by putting him in jail for one goddamn day. And they're still working on it, knowing as they have all along, that this is the best they can hope for.

There can be no redemption for the spiteful, treacherous cretins who label medical providers as drug dealers and seek to deceive Californian jurors about California's laws in order to imprison Californians. There can be no redemption for them, for they are the real criminals and the story of their shameful vendetta becomes more obscene with each attempt to rewrite it.

Still, the question remains: when is it not vindictive prosecution to launch a political war on medical providers as they carry out the will of the people?

Location: 
United States

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
A PRACTICAL AGENDA What would actual policies based on the forgoing facts and principles look like? Here is a “to do” list to get us started: Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. While prohibition clearly reduces drug abuse (otherwise there wouldn’t be several times as many abusers of alcohol as of all illicit drugs combined), and some level of enforcement is necessary to make prohibition a reality, increasing enforcement efforts against mass-marketed drugs cannot significantly raise the prices of those drugs or make them much harder to acquire. If we had only 200,000 dealers behind bars rather than 500,000, the drug markets would not be noticeably larger, and they might be less violent. Given the fiscal and human costs of incarceration, and the opportunity cost of locking up a drug dealer in a cell that might otherwise hold a burglar or a rapist, the current level of drug-related incarceration is hard to justify. We can reduce that level with arrest-minimizing enforcement strategies and by a discriminating moderation in drug sentencing. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. All drug dealers supply drugs; only some use violence, or operate flagrantly, or employ juveniles as apprentice dealers. The current system of enforcement, which bases targeting and sentencing primarily on drug volume, should be replaced with a system focused on conduct. If we target and severely sentence the nastiest dealers rather than the biggest ones, we can greatly reduce the amount of gunfire, the damage drug dealing does to the neighborhoods around it, and the attractive nuisance the drug trade offers to teenagers. As a practical matter, too, we cannot create adequate differential disincentives for the most destructive forms of dealing solely by ramping up sanctions for those who engage in them. If we’re already locking up ordinary drug dealers forever, locking up the nastier ones forever and a day won’t create much competitive disadvantage for violence-prone or juvenile-employing organizations. The base level of sanctions needs to be reduced to make differentiated sentencing effective. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. The relatively small number of offenders (no more than three million all together) who are frequent, high-dose users of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine accounts for a large proportion both of theft and of the money spent on illicit drugs. Getting a handle on their behavior is inseparable from getting a handle on street crime and the drug markets.
There is much, much more in the recommendations, from more frequent drug testing of offenders to breaking up drug markets without mass arrests to raising the tax on beer and eliminating the minimum drinking age (!) to letting pot-smokers grow their own but not completely legalizing the weed. And that's not all. Read it and come back and tell me, whaddya think?
Location: 
United States

Drug Czar Contracts Liar's-block

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Via DrugWarRant, John Walters had a tough time answering questions from the Dallas Morning News. Pete Guither already covered this effectively, but I can’t resist.
Q: It's interesting that you emphasize a public health approach, because there's a perception in the academic community that studies drug policy that there's too much emphasis on interdiction and not enough on treatment.

A: The academic community that works on drug policy is almost uniformly second rate. They're fighting battles over dogma that doesn't really exist anymore, that's in the past.
Walters is right, but for the wrong reason. As Pete analogizes perfectly, it's "the equivalent of an "F" student accusing a "C" student of being dumb." After all, if Walters was even familiar with or remotely capable of refuting these accusations, he'd have attempted to do so rather than categorically dismissing the notion that academics have anything to contribute to the discussion of drug policy.
Q: What about drugs coming out of South America, mostly heroin and cocaine? Figures from your office show a decrease in supply and purity, but other studies contradict that. Illegal drugs remain cheap and widely available.

A: I certainly recognize that there are particular places in the United States that won't see the same performance as the aggregate. That's true of education performance and crime and consumer prices. We're a big country, and there are variations. But we have seen declines, through a combination of eradication of both poppy and coca, and record seizures.
Hilariously, the Dallas Morning News links this story on the failure of cocaine eradication right next to his deliberately confusing (and utterly false) explanation.

Pete Guither suggests that Walters isn’t trying as hard anymore, which is interesting to consider. These are weak answers from Walters and the rest of the interview isn’t much smarter. Particularly to accuse the academic community of incompetence before launching into a comically unscientific discussion of "regional variations" is tragically ironic.

Still, this strikes me as the sort of incoherence that only a reasonably intelligent person can produce. Ultimately, the problem with Walters isn't that he doesn't try. It's that he's a flagrant liar who experiments with various ways of saying things that aren’t true.

I'd like to think that Walters is trying as hard as he can and that the reason he sounds exhausted is because he's running out of material.

Location: 
United States

Why Aren't Police Videotaping SWAT Raids?

NorthJersey.com has an impressive piece on the overuse of SWAT teams to conduct routine drug raids in New Jersey. It's a thorough and informative discussion that includes law-enforcement perspectives as well as those of innocent citizens who've been targeted. There's a lot of revealing stuff here:
"The reporting back is on a case-by-case basis," said Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Dante Mongiardo. "Nobody is compiling any six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in 98 percent of them."

Capt. Robert Prause, commander of the Prosecutor's Office narcotics task force, stresses that officers are "not just randomly picking the house."

"A very large percentage of the time, we do find the contraband we're looking for," he said.
So they don't keep track, but if they did, the numbers would be impressive according to them. I think it's time for somebody to actually start compiling "six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in [X] percent of them." Then we'd have a better sense of how often things like this happen:
In December 2005, officers with the Paterson police narcotics bureau had a warrant to look for drugs in the brown house. But before dawn, they burst into the DeCree/Clancy house instead. DeCree, 37, said he heard officers outside his closed bedroom door tell him they'd shoot him and his barking dog.

"They was nasty, making comments like they're police, they can do whatever they want, go call your mayor, your councilman," said DeCree. "I felt violated because I wanted to protect my family. All I wanted to do was physically put them out of my house."
Contrast DeCree's claim with this statement from Sheriff's Department spokesman Bill Maer in regards to an excessive force allegation from a different raid:
"Those allegations are ridiculous," Maer said. "I think the report speaks for itself. There has been no official complaint regarding any incident that occurred to the Sheriff's Department, or to the best of my knowledge, any other agency. So we don't consider any complaints or even accounts of that story as credible."
So if you don't file a formal complaint, they don't consider you credible. But according to victims of these raids, they tell you it's pointless to complain!

I think this pretty much says it all:
Unlike in many states, in New Jersey, nearly every document generated by a raid -- from the testimony that officers present to a judge to obtain a search warrant, to search warrants themselves, to the police reports detailing whether police found illegal drugs or weapons – is not public, even after the raid is executed. Most of the two dozen people interviewed spoke only on the condition that they would not be named, saying they feared officers would retaliate against family members or simply return to harass them.
The increase in paramilitary policing excesses, coupled with excellent reporting from Radley Balko and a few local papers, is finally beginning to bring some light to this growing threat to public safety. Still, as long as citizens are too intimidated to come forward, it will remain difficult to articulate the magnitude of the problem.

My favorite among Balko's recommendations for reducing the harms associated with paramilitary police raids is that officers videotape all home invasions as a matter of routine. There's an obvious mutual benefit to this in that citizens would enjoy an added safeguard, while police would be shielded from erroneous complaints.

Unfortunately, since police never get in trouble for mistakes and misconduct during SWAT raids, they have no incentive to keep records whose most likely effect is to incriminate the officers themselves.

But hey, if they're not hiding anything, why should they worry?

Location: 
United States

Great 4th Amendment Ruling in Utah

The Utah Supreme Court just issued a surprisingly rational decision. From The Salt Lake Tribune:

The odor of burning marijuana is insufficient to allow police to enter a residence without a warrant, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In a 4-1 decision, the court said only a limited number of circumstances create an exception to the warrant requirement, such as preventing the imminent destruction of evidence. Smelling pot is not one of them, the ruling says.

"The aroma of marijuana must be accompanied by some evidence that the suspects are disposing of the evidence, as opposed to casually consuming it," Justice Ronald Nehring wrote for the majority.

With this finding, Utah rejects U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that the smell of burning marijuana justifies home searches without a warrant in order to prevent destruction of evidence.

It's truly one of the most insultingly absurd drug war exceptions to the constitution. People burn marijuana for fun and not to dispose of evidence. There's nothing more ridiculous than the notion that someone would burn marijuana for the sole purpose of destroying it, even though they don’t know there are police nearby. We know why people burn marijuana and every judge who has upheld this laughable precedent is a liar.

Of course, marijuana laws being what they are, no one reasonably expects police to ignore apparent criminal activity. If officers believe there's marijuana inside a residence, they may seek to obtain a warrant just as they would in any other situation. That's the whole point of the 4th Amendment's warrant clause.

For too long, marijuana smoking has triggered an exception to the warrant clause that doesn't arise with regards to far more severe crimes. It's true that marijuana smoking does inherently destroy evidence, but if there's nothing left by the time a warrant is obtained, it probably wasn't worth the trouble.

Utah's justices deserve credit for their integrity, but this is also an unpleasant reminder that judges around the country continue to regard marijuana smoke as an automatic 4th Amendment waiver.

Location: 
United States

Bobby Scott and Panel on Higher Education Act drug provision

Posted in:
Visit http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/hellc030807.shtml and fast forward to 1:15:25 in the video to hear discussion of the HEA drug provision (also known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty"). According to SSDP's Tom Angell, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) raised the issue with panelists testifying before the committee, and got a strong response to the effect of how we are shooting ourselves in the foot by taking college aid away from these people.
Location: 
United States

Bitter, who's bitter? On the New Mexico medical marijuana vote.

The New Mexico House killed the medical marijuana bill there today on a vote of 36-33. The debate was filled with the usual bigotry, hypocrisy, and ignorance parading as expertise. I'm particularly irritated with Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), who, because he works as a pharmacist, apparently thinks he is an expert on medical marijuana. Here's what he had to say as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Opponents disputed that marijuana was an effective medicine. "Medically it just really has no value. For us to approve a drug like this tells our children and tells the rest of the people in this state that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug," said Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad and a pharmacist. "That is absolutely wrong for us to do." He described marijuana as "the No. 1 gateway drug to abusing other drugs in our society."
Heaton, who makes a living pushing pills, tells us authoritatively that marijuana has no medical value. Does he cite the scientific literature? No. Has he ever read the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics? Not as far as we can tell. What is the basis for his claim of no medicinal value? There is none, except for his appeal to authority as a pharmacist, and therefore, someone who presumably knows about such things. Heaton also argues that approving the medicinal use of marijuana "tells the children…that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug." Oh, really? Does that mean when he is dispensing prescription opiates like Oxycontin he is giving "tacit approval" of their recreational use? Or does he mean that his opposition to medical marijuana is so ideologically driven that he would rather forego its healing and ameloriating effects than risk having young people know it can be used medicinally? If it's the former case, Heaton is a hypocrite of the highest order. If it's the later, he is a demagogue pretending to be an expert. Take your pick. The New Mexican also noted another argument often trotted out in opposition to state medical marijuana laws:
Opponents of the bill said marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and patients in New Mexico could be subject to potential federal prosecution.
I really don’t understand why this argument should sway anyone. My response is, "Okay, let the DEA come in and start arresting patients, then." My second response is to wonder incredulously at the concern displayed by people who make this argument. Let me get this straight: They are so concerned that patients could be arrested under federal law that they would rather have them be arrested under state law? Gee, thanks for all that concern. If I sound just a bit grumpy, it's because I am. I spend my working life trying to end this stupid drug war. Every week, I write stories like the following about a Brazilian governor who wants to legalize drugs to fight crime, a high-level British panel calling for a complete rewriting of the drug laws, or a Scottish politician calling for the decriminalization of drugs. There are also similar stories from the US (although not this week)—a politician or an academic or an ex-cop calling for the end of the drug war. Yet although our anti-prohibitionist position is well justified both pragmatically (in terms of policy results) and philosophically (in terms of morality and ethics), not only do we seem not to be progressing toward our goal of a sensible and compassionate policy surrounding the use of drugs, we can't even get a goddamned measly little medical marijuana bill passed in a state where the public says it wants it, the governor says he wants it, and the state Senate voted for it. Sometimes I just want to chuck it all and move to my own sovereign island republic. But since there don’t seem to be too many of those available right now, I guess I'll keep slogging away. Today, however, I remind myself of Woody Harrelson's Woody the Bartender character in the 1980s sit-com "Cheers." At one point, when Woody is feeling betrayed by his rich girlfriend, Kelly, Sam accuses him of being bitter. "I'm not bitter, Sam," Woody replies. "I'm just consumed by a gnawing hate that's eating away at my gut until I can taste the bile in my mouth."
Location: 
United States

Cory Maye Catastrophe Copied in Canada

Basile Parasiris is the latest seemingly innocent person to fire on police who he mistook for burglars during a drug raid on his home. He's now charged with 1st degree murder among other things, for the apparent act of attempting to defend his family. From The Montreal Gazette:
Lawyer Frank Pappas said his client was trying to defend himself and his family when he grabbed a loaded gun and shot Laval Constable Daniel Tessier - whom Parasiris mistook for a crazed thief.

"If he would've believed it was the police, do you think he would have taken them on?" Pappas said in an interview. "They have more firepower than him."

According to Pappas, police didn't find anything in the Parasiris home.

"There was no body, no drugs, no large quantities of firearms," he said. "They may have found one or two pills of Viagra that he didn't have a prescription for.

According to Pappas, the son called 911 after the police barged into the family home and bullets started flying.

"Do you think that if they knew they were police officers, they'd call 911?" Pappas said.
Much remains unknown at this point. But the apparent absence of drugs and the 911 call sound like strong indications that we're looking at another terribly misguided prosecution. Unfortunately, as we've learned from the Cory Maye case, there seems to be a mental block that prevents police, prosecutors, and judges from understanding that normal people are prone to shoot at intruders who burst into their homes.

The otherwise forgivable instinct to defend one's property becomes totally unacceptable when the intruders turn out to be police who mistakenly believe you've got drugs in there. It's mind-boggling that despite all the evidence to the contrary, police continue to insist that they must raid homes suddenly and unexpectedly…because doing otherwise would be dangerous.

How many innocent people must be tricked into shooting police officers before law-enforcement figures out that behaving like burglars is not a safe way to initiate contact with citizens?

As Radley Balko has often pointed out, these deaths occur in the course of a completely unsuccessful effort to stop people from getting high. As the frequency of these raids-gone-wrong increases, it's chilling to think that this ongoing theater of unnecessary death and destruction won't stop until the pile of bodies is too tall to ignore.


Location: 
United States

University of Maryland Students Get Support from State Rep for Campus Drug Reform Effort (plus some DRCNet strategy thoughts)

Our friends at the University of Maryland's (UMD) SSDP chapter have been working on a campus drug policy reform measure, seeking to have marijuana's classification in the school's disciplinary code downgraded to a less serious level than its current status. A campus-wide referendum was passed, and now a resolution by the RHA Student Senate. Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate with whom we are working on trying to fix the state financial aid/drug conviction problem, has provided a letter of support for the measure, sent to the school's Director of Residence Life. Click here to read it in PDF form. This seems like a good time to talk a little bit about a part of DRCNet's "big-picture" strategy and strategic thinking. Last year we published a report, under the auspices of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, on the issue of state financial aid bureaucracies denying college assistance to students who have lost their eligibility for financial aid because of drug convictions -- not because the states have their own laws saying to do so (extremely few states do), but only because the federal government is denying them aid, and the states have chosen to make use of the federal financial aid processing system (FAFSA), to be able to do less work themselves or out of habit or mistaken assumptions about their obligations or for other reasons. It is this report that led to the Maryland financial aid bill that has been discussed in other posts here. For a lot of our members, restoring college aid to students with drug convictions is an issue that is good but in the grand scheme of things small -- we're StoptheDrugwar.org, our goal is to end the war on drugs, the financial aid work is worthy but what about sentencing, police raids, forfeiture, ending prohibition itself? The smaller chunk of college aid provided by the states, or for that matter by any one state, is a smaller issue than that, and with fewer people being affected now that the federal law affects fewer people, the numbers make it even smaller. Still a good thing if we can do it, but end the whole drug war and these smaller problems will be fixed in the process too. All true. That said, however, politics is a process, and the steps we take today can enable further steps later. For example, if we had not issued that report, the issue would never have come to Del. Gutierrez's attention, and we would never have met her. If we had not supported her efforts in the state house last year and again this year, Stacia Cosner at UMD and Kris Krane at SSDP National would never have met or gotten to work with her either. And with that relationship never having been established, Gutierrez's letter to the official at UMD would never have been written, one less piece of support provided for an effort to make marijuana policy at a major state school less harsh. Will the letter make the difference? That sort of question is usually impossible to definitely answer, but possibly. What new reforms may be made possible if this one happens, and what effect might a victory for the chapter have on its ability to mobilize students to support our issue? There is probably no issue out there for which it is easier to build bridges like that than the financial aid/drug convictions issue; it's almost embarrassing how easy it is to bring allies in with that issue. It's also time to branch out, to be sure. Over the next two years or so it is our goal to do coalition-building -- with organizations, legislators and other supportive individuals -- on a range of drug war issues. The welfare and public housing drug provisions are one logical next step (see our Chronicle review of the topic here), because many of the 300+ organizations we are in contact with who have support the financial aid efforts will also be willing to help us with those. But it won't stop there. Eventually we will have a network of thousands of organizations around the country, all of them helping to chip away at the drug war in whichever aspects of it they are individually willing and able. This model has already succeeded in getting one federal law (financial aid) scaled back significantly, and that happened when Congress was still controlled by the Republicans! What will having thousands of them accomplish? If you like this vision -- and if you like the fact that we do so much to promote and support the work of our allies in the cause like SSDP -- for that matter if you like our newsletter and this blog -- I hope you'll support those efforts with a generous donation, which can be done online here. - Dave
Location: 
United States

Drug War: The Ride

While Karen Tandy touts triumphs against traffickers, taxi drivers are treating drug-trade terrorism like a tourist attraction. From Reuters:
Streetwise cabbies in northern Mexico are cashing in on the chaos of a violent drug war by whisking wide-eyed visitors about town in macabre tours of seized narco properties and famous murder scenes, Mexico City's Reforma newspaper reported on Sunday.

Taxi drivers in the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan satisfy tourists' ghoulish fascination with a battle between cartels that killed 2,000 people last year, for about 200 pesos ($18) a trip, the newspaper said.
This is great. But we must extend these tours to more fully represent the worldwide horrors of the drug war. From the overflowing prisons in Texas to the barren fumigated hillsides of Colombia, the drug war touches everything and infects everything it touches with hopelessness and decay. Spring for the deluxe package and you can see a drug addict get executed in Thailand.

Location: 
United States

Obligatory Comment on the Toddlers-Smoking-Pot Video

Posted in:
I'd just as soon not touch this with a 10-foot pole, but I fear that ignoring it could make us look scared. We're not.

The highly publicized video of toddlers being forced to smoke marijuana is disgusting. It's child abuse, and when confronted by such provocative images it's important for reformers to remember that we're the only people with a plan for protecting children from drugs. After all, the drug war certainly didn’t protect these children.

There's nothing the drug war can do to prevent outrages like this, but there are a few ways in which it makes them more likely to occur. The drug war eliminates age requirements for drug purchases by creating a black market. The drug war has incentivized drug dealers to actually employ children, and it creates new job opportunities with each arrest.

More importantly perhaps, the drug war has broken up families at alarming rates, creating vast opportunities for events like this to occur. Perhaps widespread media coverage of this story will reveal more about the circumstances surrounding it. We've heard from a grandparent, but we don’t yet know anything about the parents. Whether incarceration plays a role here remains to be seen, but the odds of that are unfortunately quite good.

Still, for all its failings, the drug war provides no excuse for the conduct of the teenagers depicted in this video. They're criminals and they're exactly the sort of people we want police going after. Now if we could somehow manage to stop arresting so many people who don't deserve it, perhaps we could better attend to creeps like these.

Location: 
United States

ONDCP Gloats Over Ken Gorman's Death

The New York Times reports on the death of Ken Gorman, a Colorado medical marijuana provider who was murdered by thieves. It's a fair story, though NORML's Allen St. Pierre is misquoted as saying that 20 medical marijuana providers have been killed in robberies (the correct figure is an unfortunate but much smaller 6).

Shamefully, the ONDCP blog blames Gorman's death on medical marijuana laws:
Drug Violence: State Medical Marijuana Laws Creating More Confusion and Abuse

Today's New York Times covers the latest murder generated by the passage of State-based "medical" marijuana laws. For years, marijuana legalization groups have worked to bypass the Supreme Court's decision, the FDA's official Interagency Advisory, and Federal law regarding medical marijuana. Symbolic medical marijuana laws which have been passed in some U.S. states have given too many citizens the false impression that growing and distributing marijuana is safe and legal.
One cannot possibly overstate the appalling falsity of ONDCP's attempt to paint the medical marijuana industry as inherently violent and chaotic, particularly in light of ONDCP's ongoing commitment to undermining the safety of medical marijuana patients. The rank dishonesty of this notion even compares unfavorably to the typical bile churned out by this organization on a daily basis.

Fortunately, widespread public support for medical marijuana ensures that concern over such violence will often tip in favor of regulation. The safeguards necessary to prevent deaths like Gorman's will be viewed by many as the responsibility of government; a responsibility the government continues to reject at every turn.

Persecuted and abandoned, patients have instead turned to the democratic process for relief, mobilizing state legislatures and millions of voters to their aid. They have built and now operate their own institutions, withstanding remarkable pressure as they push away the recreational marijuana economy with one hand and fight off the DEA with the other. Problems with medical marijuana laws are both wildly exaggerated and entirely attributable to interference and false propaganda from government officials whose utter lack of credibility necessitates the celebration of murder.

Ken Gorman's blood now stains the hands of the liars and quacks whose belligerent resistance to medical marijuana is truly the primary destructive force at work here.

Location: 
United States

Two Bolivia Reports from Phil

Phil is en route back home. Read two major Bolivia reports he wrote in the latest issue of the Chronicle here. More will be posted over the coming weeks.
Location: 
United States

CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen on Afghan Opium Conundrum

Last week I promised to post comments by Peter Bergen (CNN terrorism analyst) responding to a question I asked of him last week about the Afghan opium conundrum. Following is a transcript, prepared with great labor by DRCNet's Tom Klun. (Tom was working from online video of the forum, which took place at the New America Foundation. The forum was devoted to the presenters' findings in a new report on the relationship of the Iraq War to jihadist terrorism -- an issue on which DRCNet as a drug policy organization has no position.)

David Borden, Drug War Chronicle: A number of scholars and NGOs have pointed out that both the opium economy and campaigns against opium growing in Afghanistan are helping the Taliban -- the former through funding, the latter by alienating people from the government and driving farmers to them. Our editor met some of these farmers about a year and a half ago. My question is, how do you see both the opium economy and opium eradication playing into the situation with Al Qaeda; and short of outright legalization (which might not happen in 2007 [editor's note: understatement]), how do you feel the opium issue ought to be handled?
 
Peter Bergen: Well, eradication doesn't work, I mean, there's a vast amount of academic literature showing that it just pushes the growers into the arms of the insurgents, and it is very unpopular in Afghanistan. In fact, Karzai has basically rejected US efforts to get ground spraying, he's pushed that back to 2008. He's saying we're going to just do eradication by hand or by tractor. One of the reasons the US military didn't really get involved in the whole drug issue is that they had bigger fish to fry, which is going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, clearly the Taliban is benefitting from this, as are people in the south.
 
Afghanistan is by the way the 5th poorest country in the world. It would be like saying we're basically going to take away the only way you can make a living, by eradicating your fields. So we have to come up with something a little more creative than just saying we're going to eradicate. That would be bad for counterinsurgency policy, and I don't think it will work. So what are the two options? One is, if you're going to do crop substitution you have to subsidize the crops that are being substituted. You can't get people to grow cotton unless they can make roughly what they would be making growing poppy. Now we do this all the time with our farmers, the EU does it all the time with its farmers, paying people to grow things or not to grow things. We're spending $750 million dollars a year on drug eradications in Afghanistan, the farmers are making $750 million dollars, so we've got a fair amount of money to play with, roughly the same amount of money they are benefiting. We can use that for, you know, to prop up the price, give them money to grow crops like cotton, nuts and fruits.
 
And also we should consider that the legalized opiate trade is dominated by Turkey and India, which basically have a lock. Eight percent of the world has almost no morphine, so there's this huge pain crisis in the developing world. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where we have a huge national security interest. Why not amend the law that is now in place, where Turkey and India are basically mandated to get 80% of the legal opiate trade from US manufacturers? Why not have a pilot project in a province in Afghanistan where there is reasonable security and just see if this idea -- you don't have to do the legalized opiate trade for the whole country, just see in one province if this would work and subsidize farmers so that they can grow poppy for the legalized opiate trade. That's an idea, but either way we're going to have to do crop substitution with subsidies. Nothing else is going to work, we can't just eradicate.
 

Bergen was presumably referring to a proposal floated by the Senlis Council, a European drug policy and development think tank. (It was the 2005 Senlis conference in Kabul that took Phil to the troubled fourth world country.) It's good to see such a high-profile US-based expert raising the possibility.

I actually encountered skepticism about the idea from some of my European colleagues (as well as support for it) when I traveled to Brussels last fall for a conference at the European Parliament. One of them, while expressing admiration for the beautiful execution of the campaign by the Senlis people, pointed out that as long as opiates are illegal for non-medical use, someone is going to supply them, which potentially means that Afghanistan could just have more opium growing in total, the licensed market and the black market -- Ahmed might switch to growing for the licit supply, but that doesn't mean his brother or uncle will. I largely agree with that point.

The other argument is one to which I am instinctively less sympathetic, but which came from someone I respect and for which I don't have sufficient information to evaluate. This other colleague said that the poor countries where the new supply of opiate pain relievers would go to, countries in Africa and so forth, don't have the infrastructure to control them -- they would be a target for organized crime, the drugs might not even get to the patients, and there would be a new organized crime problem of a type that those countries don't have now.

After thinking about this for awhile, I came to the tentative conclusion that we should at least be calling for a pilot project. (It was gratifying to see Peter Bergen say the same thing.) This is why: It's true that new growers of black market opium for the non-medical market should be expected to take the place of any growers who switch to the licensed medical market, or the same growers will just grow more -- supply fills demand, and neither eradication nor substitution nor licensing for a market that's already legal will reduce it. But that doesn't mean all the new growing will be in Afghanistan. Some of it might crop up elsewhere, and there are less destructive places for it to happen than in that unstable country that harbors people who want to kill us. And why shouldn't Afghan farmers have the right to participate in the legal economy? They certainly need the work as much as anyone does. Lastly, patients in severe, chronic pain deserve medication, even if there is a risk of diversion of the supply causing crime, even if in fact it's an inevitability. Let the pilot growing project in Afghanistan be accompanied by pilot opiate pain management projects in the destination countries, with the security issues on both ends getting thought through at the same time.

Time for a drug policy reform/global security campaign?

Location: 
Afghanistan

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