The Speakeasy Blog

Pushing Crap: 24 Hours Of ONDCP Blogging Boggles the Brain

At tremendous risk to my sanity, I read ONDCP's blog Pushingback.com so you don’t have to. Keep in mind that the following was posted sequentially within a 24 hour period:

First ONDCP criticizes Gov. Bill Richardson for signing New Mexico's medical marijuana law:

Medical Marijuana in New Mexico: A Triumph of Politics Over Science


Next, it reports that prescription drugs now kill almost as many people as murderers:

Report: Prescription Drugs Deaths Nearly Equal Murders


Then it follows up with this:

"Anti-pot Message Needs to be Louder."


The announcement that prescription drugs are killing people at alarming rates is sandwiched between two hysterical posts about medical marijuana. Apparently, it requires massive loss of human life to distract ONDCP even briefly from its frantic campaign against patients with pot.

Meanwhile, murderous FDA-approved medicines are massacring Americans left and right, a fact to which the ONDCP pays lip service before exclaiming, in its very next post, that medical marijuana must really be very dangerous precisely because it hasn't been approved by the FDA.

ONDCP's mantra that FDA-approved medicines are safe and effective and that non-approved medicines are dangerous and unpredictable is exposed as utterly hollow and meaningless right on the front page of its own blog. And they have no clue because the actual human consequences of various medical decisions are the furthest thing from their minds when they write this malicious drivel.

Only by ending the fraudulent campaign against marijuana can the anti-drug movement salvage the credibility necessary to warn people about drugs that can kill you. But they're not ready for that. ONDCP is still busy touting these very same killer drugs as alternatives to medical marijuana. If attempting to comprehend the unintended irony of all this makes you nauseous, you're not alone.
Location: 
United States

Drug Czar: Supporting MMJ is Politically Wise, But Don't Do It

New Mexico has officially become the 12th medical marijuana state, prompting reckless viciousness and incredulity from the Drug Czar. From AP:

"This is a triumph of politics over science," [Drug Czar John Walters] said, suggesting [New Mexico Governor Bill] Richardson sought "to curry the favor of wealthy donors who are marijuana legalization advocates."

That's rich. Considering overwhelming public support for medical marijuana, a more accurate political interpretation would assume that Richardson is attempting to "curry the favor" of almost everybody.

As I've said before, there are really only like six people on the "con" side of the medical marijuana debate. Our opposition otherwise consists of confused parents and arrogant moralists who would be panicking about something else if they hadn’t been tricked by these six people (it used to be seven).

If John Walters wants to bark about the political viability of marijuana policy reform, let's buy him a bullhorn.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

Location: 
United States

Drag Racing: The Anti-Drug

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Not to be confused with the superb know-your-rights manual by Katya Komisaruk (reviewed in the latest DWC), Beat The Heat is also a non-profit "Cops and kids" program in which police officers teach children to avoid drugs and alcohol by becoming interested in drag racing:
To help EDUCATE the young people of our communities about the real problems of illegal drug and alcohol use, To EDUCATE everyone to the horrors of alcohol or drug impaired driving, To promote a better understanding between the Police and the communities they serve and, To EDUCATE the general public about DRAG RACING, and encourage everyone to not race in the street.
Yes, these folks are, in all seriousness, offering drag racing as an alternative to risky behavior. Apparently, drug racing is fun for the whole family:
There are many, many women who Drag Race and several of them have advanced even into the VERY elite group of persons who drive the ultimate machine, the Top Fuel Dragster, at 300 Miles Per Hour.

With the advent of NHRA's new JR. DRAG RACING LEAGUE younger fans are now able to participate in Drag Racing at a very early age (8 years old).
8-year-olds, dude. They're letting 8-year-olds drag race in the name of drug and alcohol prevention, which may be the final sign that there's literally nothing you can't justify in the name of protecting kids from drugs. The overwhelming lunacy of it all is best illustrated by the fact that they're putting 8-year-olds behind the wheel of these massive death traps, even though children that young aren't even at risk for drug use.

In case it's actually necessary to explain that drag racing is vastly more dangerous than taking drugs, here's a video of some horrifying, fiery drag race crashes. Among other things, it's quite clear that these machines explode without warning, launching flaming shrapnel in every direction. Simply attending one of these events is arguably more perilous than the responsible use of any illegal drug.

Of course, despite our doubts about whether children should be recklessly endangered for a perverse photo-op, we don't think drag racing should be illegal. But the practice of teaching 8-year-olds to race each other in giant explosive rockets speaks volumes about the credibility of people who claim that marijuana will ruin your life.

Location: 
United States

Peru's President Looking for Trouble in Coca Lands

Peruvian President Alan Garcia appears determined to spark an open confrontation with the county's hundreds of thousands of coca growers. Two weeks ago, we reported on a coca grower strike in Tocache. That was resolved last week with an agreement to end forced eradication of coca crops there. Now, Garcia has declared that forced eradication will resume and, for good measure, he is threatening to use military force to wipe out the numerous backwoods labs that process coca leaves into cocaine.
Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine producer, should launch air strikes and machine-gun attacks to destroy jungle drug factories and airstrips used by traffickers, President Alan Garcia said on Monday. Garcia said a day earlier the destruction of coca crops would resume in one of the most-important cocaine-making regions in the South American country. Officials had made a deal with local farmers to halt the eradication. "We've got to finish every last cocaine factory and every last airport. Use the A37 planes, bomb and attack these airports, these cocaine factories with machine guns," Garcia said, directing his comments to the country's interior minister, who is in charge of the police that lead the fight against drugs. Peru is the second-largest producer of cocaine in the world after Colombia. "I'm not willing to be blackmailed ... I'm not going to be a straw doll or puppet of the political fears," said Garcia, who took office in July. According to official figures, Peruvian police raided 718 cocaine factories last year and seized 14.7 tons of partially processed cocaine. They also destroyed more than 25,000 acres of illegal crops of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
While Garcia appears to be seeking confrontation, his leading rival, Peruvian Nationalist Party leader Ollanta Humala, who came in a close second to Garcia in last year's elections, has a better idea: Buy up the crop. According to Humala, $250 million over four years would buy 90,000 tons of coca leaves, which could be processed into legitimate nutritional and medicinal products, and would provide a window of opportunity for coca farmers to switch to alternative crops. Humala said he is worried about growing social conflict in the coca zones. Garcia, on the other hand, seems determined to exacerbate it.
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Peru

Thanks Bob Barr, Now Can I Have My Faith in Democracy Back?

Christmas came nine months early with news that former drug-warring Congressman Bob Barr has repented and agreed to work with MPP on medical marijuana. One of our worst enemies has become one of our most promising allies in just a few years time. For me, this is perhaps the single greatest validation I've experienced since joining the drug policy reform movement (even though I had nothing to do with it).

It was November of '98 and I was finally 18. Lacking any significant interest in D.C. politics at the time, I deliberately registered to vote for the sole purpose of helping to pass Initiative 59 to protect Washington D.C.'s medical marijuana patients.

This was my first exposure to drug policy reform in my own community, and my first opportunity to participate in the democratic process. I spent the afternoon hanging out with friends and arrived at the polling site late afternoon in high spirits, eager to do my civic duty. I recall bumping into my dad, who assured me that he'd voted the right way on 59. Go, Dad!

Initiative 59 passed with 69%, making our city the cherry on top of MMJ victories in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State.

I don't recall fully understanding the issue, but I knew it was the beginning of something important. Proposition 215 in California two years earlier had proven that compassion could triumph over tyranny in a democratic society, even beneath the shadow of the drug war's towering ramparts. I was inspired.

But then came the Barr Amendment to the D.C. Appropriations Bill:

An amendment to prohibit any funds to be used to conduct a ballot initiative which seeks to legalize or reduce the penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act or any tetrahydrocannabinois derivative.
The first time I'd participated in the democratic process, the U.S. Congress intervened and overruled me. They also overruled my dad, and pretty much everyone I knew. A lot of people just shrugged it off, as D.C. residents had become accustomed to being marginalized politically. But I'd had my first taste of the hypocrisy of the drug war and the anti-democratic principles in which it is founded.

Many criminal justice courses, conferences, protests, and late paychecks later, the man who took away my voice has admitted he was wrong. Today I feel the righteousness of our cause in my heart. It is a feeling most drug warriors will never know.

Don't Snort The Pink Speed

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If you're not already dead, be warned that drug dealers are lacing meth with candy. According to experts at the DEA, it's obviously a cynical plot to trick children and stupid adults into doing lots of meth. From USA Today:
Reports of candy-flavored methamphetamine are emerging around the nation, stirring concern among police and abuse prevention experts that drug dealers are marketing the drug to younger people.


"Drug traffickers are trying to lure in new customers, no matter what their age, by making the meth seem less dangerous," [DEA Spokesman Steve] Robertson says.
Of course, the truth is that everybody likes sweets. Young people are disproportionately associated with candy because it's one of the only naughty things they're allowed to consume. It's probably also worth noting that children who want sugar won't buy it in an alley for $100 a gram, and that they are also often pumped full of meth derivatives by their doctors with no one complaining except the Scientologists.
"The traffickers know the word is out about what a horrible drug this is," [Deputy Drug Czar Scott] Burns says.

"They are having a tough time selling this product, especially to young people. What do people in marketing do when they have a tough time selling a product? They have to come up with some sort of gimmick."

Wait, what? I thought we were in the middle of a massive, unmanageable meth crisis. Scott Burns is right that meth use is on the decline, but it's annoying that he only brings this up when it suits him. Of course, meth use was going down before the "crisis" was even declared, yet these late-comers wanna take credit for saving America with poignant public service announcements. It wasn't until 2005 that ONDCP figured out meth and marijuana were different drugs. And they continue to mix them up.

Seriously though, it's the users who decide what drugs are in and out. There's no evidence that street-level marketing schemes or ONDCP propaganda make a lick of difference to party people who want the most bang for their buck. They know what they're after. Pink meth exists because people want pink meth, not because they don't want any meth at all.

Drug policy expert Chris Rock explains it best in his classic performance Bring the Pain:

"Drug dealers don't sell drugs. Drugs sell themselves. It's crack. It's not an encyclopedia. It's not a f**king vacuum cleaner. You don't really gotta try to sell crack. Ok?

I've never heard a crack dealer going "Man, how am I gonna get rid of all this crack?!"
Location: 
United States

House Judiciary Committee Passes Second Chance Act

[Courtesy of FedCURE, www.FedCURE.org]

Just a week after the re-introduction of the bill, today members of the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act of 2007. The bill will now be sent to the House floor for consideration, which sponsors say will take place in mid-April. During the mark-up of the bill, members voted down several amendments that would have jeopardized the bipartisan support for the bill.

The Second Chance Act would authorize a $65 million re-entry grant program administered through the Department of Justice for state and county re-entry initiatives, and a $15 million re-entry program for community and faith-based organizations to deliver mentoring and transitional services. The bill also retains a number of drug treatment provisions that were added to the legislation last session. Last week, the Second Chance Act was reintroduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) and has a growing list of bipartisan co-sponsors. The Senate plans to reintroduce their version of the bill later this week.

For more information on the Second Chance Act click here or contact Sara Paterni at spaterni@csg.org.

http://www.oregonmeasure11.com/archives/2007/03/28/house-judiciary-commi...

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Lou Dobbs Sucks Live

I don't have cable, so the only way to catch the latest edition of Lou Dobbs' appalling series "The War Within" was to attend a live filming at George Washington University. The value of actually being there was limited, although it was comforting knowing I could disrupt the live broadcast if I felt I had to.

To be fair, tonight's episode was a bit less offensive than previous installments. The focus was on addiction, and despite periodic outlandish Dobbsisms about "winning the drug war" and so forth, there were many valid concerns raised. Still, for a show that promises "News, Debate, Opinion," Lou Dobbs entirely failed to provide any debate. He brought out recovering addicts and school administrators, but his primary expert guests were Nora Volkow (NIDA), Joseph Califano (CASA), and Terry Klein (SAMHSA). As far as I can tell, these people completely agree on everything from public health policy to pizza toppings.

Having just discovered that the drug war isn't working, Dobbs would do well to consult some of the experts who've been predicting failure for decades. Califano offered the startling statistic that the U.S. has 4% of the world's population, but consumes 2/3 of the world's drugs. It is of course mind-boggling to contemplate how such an observation doesn’t lead to an immediate referendum on the policies that have gotten us here.

Thus, Lou Dobbs has become a curious and increasingly common character in the drug policy discussion. He can see that nothing's changed. He wants to talk about "how to win," yet he insists on having that conversation with people who haven’t had an original idea about drug policy in their wildest dreams. Bizarrely, he interrupts the discussion of treatment to complain that our interdiction efforts are ineffective and under-funded, quickly snuffing out my faint hope that Dobbs' newfound interest in treatment would lead him to question the value of buying more helicopters to chase speedboats across the Gulf of Mexico.

Dobbs' insistence that the drug war is failing stands in stark contrast to recent ONDCP propaganda about how "America's drug problem is getting smaller," thus it's interesting to consider how a John Walters appearance on the "The War Within" would play out. If Walters could get over any potential objections to the premise of the program, he and Dobbs might have a blast plotting how to double our drug war losses.

Lou Dobbs, self-proclaimed champion of the middle-class, seems to think the solution to drug abuse is inside the wallets of American taxpayers. Guess he's got a "war within" going on right up there in his giant, ignorant head.

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United States

STATS is a resource you should know about.

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I want to bring to your attention a great resource for debunking bad science posing as policy analysis. The Statistical Assesment Service (STATS) at George Mason University says its mission is "correcting scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge; and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies." And it is very good at what it does. STATS got on my radar again this week with a nice report on the British "skunk" controversy, the dispute in the British press over just how much stronger skunk is than regular weed and whether skunk is causing teens to turn into schizophrenics. "Do Skunk Stats Stink? examines the controversy and the often overheated claims swirling around it. Check it out. The skunk article was written by Trevor Butterworth, but much of the examination of statistical claims related to drug policy is done by Maia Szalavitz, an uncommonly gifted and acute observer of the statistical drug wars. This month, Szalavitz has gone after Joe Califano's National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which recently raised alarms over college student drinking and drugging. "Is There a College Substance Abuse Crisis?" Szalavitz asks, or is this yet another example of CASA's manipulating the numbers? Read it and find out. She also blogged on the Huffington Post on the Richard Paey case. Paey is the Florida pain patient doing a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer for trying to obtain sufficient pain meds. And Szalavitz took on CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has lately been on a crusade to revitalize the drug war. In addition to gallantly appearing with the populist poseur, she took him to task in print with "Lou Dobbs on Drugs. Check out any or all of these pieces to see how statistical analysis and careful argumentation is done right. STATS is a valuable resource for all of us.
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United States

4th Amendment Victories in State Courts

Cross-posted from Flex Your Rights

We've got some more required reading for all you "4th Amendment is dead" fools who keep farting on our freedom parade. I know, there's no shortage of police, judges, and prosecutors who can't find big enough boots to trample your rights with. Believe me, I know. But the law evolves over time, as does the behavior of our public servants. This month brought a couple examples of the ability of State Courts to set a higher threshold of 4th Amendment protection for the citizens they serve.

This week, the Wyoming Supreme Court rejected the State's argument that the inadvertent discovery of marijuana in a home justified searching a lockbox found elsewhere in the residence.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice William Hill, said the state failed to prove the search that disclosed the evidence which was the basis for the charge against Benton was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution.

Hill's opinion quoted the amendment that protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures and case law "because we wish to make clear that the issue presented in a case such as this is one of the most important known to Anglo-American jurisprudence."
Meanwhile, in Vermont, the State Supreme Court has issued an impressive ruling declaring that post-arrest vehicle searches require a warrant. I've long lamented the unfortunate search-incident-to-arrest doctrine, which holds that officers may automatically search a vehicle after arresting the driver. I understand that police believe arrestees are more likely to be involved in unrelated criminal activity. Still, the "officer safety" justification that has been used to uphold these searches simply doesn't apply, since an arrested suspect has no access to their vehicle.

Vermont has now departed from U.S. Supreme Court precedent by requiring that officers obtain a warrant before performing post-arrest vehicle searches. Constitutional minimum standards require states to uphold at least the same amount of Bill of Rights protection as the federal government. Pete Guither observes hilariously that "actually, the federal Bill of Rights provides greater protections from unreasonable searches and seizures than does the federal government."

Still, the failure of the federal government to abide by their own standards does not displace the important ability of states to provide greater levels of privacy protection to their citizens. I think this pretty much says it all:
"The warrant requirement is robust, alive and well under the Vermont Constitution. It's gasping on life support under federal law," said Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. "It's a reaffirmation of Vermont -- we're special, we're different -- and the subtext is we're smarter and better than you, United States Supreme Court."
Let's hope other states continue to outsmart the U.S. Supreme Court. When it comes to the 4th Amendment, it really isn't that hard.

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United States

The Coveted ONDCP Hiking Award

Any police officer who's ever risked life and limb in the line of duty should be enraged. The Drug Czar is giving out awards to officers who hike around California forests pulling up marijuana plants. From The Willits News in Mendocino:
The Mendocino National Forest Law Enforcement team has received a national Director's Award from the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy for its outstanding service to the nation in combating marijuana trafficking on the national forest last year.


"More marijuana was taken by this team than any other group within the Forest Service in 2006," the citation from Director Walters reads. "In honor and appreciation to the individuals whose outstanding accomplishments greatly enhanced the results of the National Marijuana Eradication Initiative your remarkable efforts have helped protect America from crime, drugs and violence," the award continues.

That's simply not true. I don't recall hearing about a marijuana shortage last autumn. There's no evidence that this activity has prevented anyone from using marijuana, just as there's no evidence that stopping people from using marijuana would be beneficial even if it were possible. What we've got here are a bunch of well-meaning, highly-trained public servants whose talents are being wasted on a glorified easter-egg hunt. The only reason we don't send boyscouts to do this is that they can't be trusted.

Now to be fair, the task does involve rappelling from helicopters, which can get a bit dicey. But that's not the danger that tends be emphasized here. More typically, we're told that grow sites are booby-trapped (which is actually to thwart thieves), and that 22-caliber rifles are commonly found (which are to shoot rodents and other pests). In short, the real heroes of the forest are fire-fighters, which we could have more of if we ended drug prohibition.

Still, while I vehemently deny that there's any significant danger associated with marijuana eradication in national forests, I am prepared to acknowledge that there's a certain amount of skill involved in actually locating the plants. I've spent a considerable amount of time hiking myself, and despite my best efforts, I've never discovered a massive secret marijuana garden.

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United States

Bong Hits 4 Ever

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The Washington Post has an important point:

WHAT IS a bong hit 4 Jesus? We're not sure, and we doubt anyone really knows what the phrase means -- which is one reason the Supreme Court ought not to regard it as prohibited speech.

It's true. Prohibiting something you don't understand is the height of ignorance. All attempts to interpret the statement can be dismissed as the desperate fulminations of confused people who demand arbitrary authority to shield themselves from future confusion.

Now that it's been immortalized by the very people who find it objectionable, bong-hits-for-Jesus will probably be with us for quite some time. In the interest of preventing subsequent misunderstandings, I propose that we decide what it means. I vote that we use bong-hits-for-Jesus as a dissmissive retort to anything that doesn’t make sense. For example, if someone's carrying on about something you disagree with or don't understand, you'd reply "bong-hits-for-Jesus, dude."

If we succeed in making BH4J the next WWJD, the censors will surely come to regret ever complaining about it in the first place.

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United States

Snitching For The DEA Isn't As Fun As It Sounds

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Juan Medina has an IQ of 77. Suffice to say he ain't no rocket scientist. Medina's limited mental capacity precludes many potential employment opportunities, but it was good enough for the DEA, which made him a secret agent. It didn't work out very well.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Medina, who had no previous criminal record, said he became involved with the D.E.A. in the fall of 2004, a few months after his father was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on drug conspiracy charges. He said he was told that if he helped the agency, his father might win an early release.
...
Mr. Medina said he signed a contract even though he told agents he knew little about his father’s criminal associates.

Despite his limitations and the "unremarkable life" he'd led, Medina managed to infiltrate a gang of drug dealers in Brooklyn. Things took a turn for the worse when Medina's criminal associates took him along on a robbery. He claims to have notified DEA of their plans and even waited around for police after the heist went down. To his surprise, no one at DEA would corroborate his story.

The D.E.A. has acknowledged that Mr. Medina, 24, was under contract as an informant. But the agency has not come to his aid, and is, in fact, helping prosecute him on charges of burglary, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon stemming from the robbery at a Bronx apartment. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Whether or not the DEA knew about the robbery, as Medina claims, they bear full responsibility for his actions. They took a man with a limited mental capacity, exploited his love for his father, and sent him on dangerous missions. Their assistance in his prosecution is a rather transparent attempt to cover up their mistake.

This is a perfect example of the reckless abandon with which the DEA operates. Their insatiable greed compels them to create crime and confiscate the proceeds. Sadly, innocent people like Juan Medina are the easiest prey.

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United States

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.

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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

Posted in:
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

Posted in:
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

Posted in:
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

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