Intersecting Issues

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Chronicle AM -- July 25, 2014

Wichita looks set to vote on decriminalization this fall, Rand Paul (busy, busy) files a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, drug users finally get a voice at the International AIDS Conference, and more. Let's get to it:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/KFC_logo2.jpg
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Twice the Necessary Signatures. Organizers of a decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaign yesterday turned in 5,800 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. Kansas for Change needs 2,928 valid voter signatures to qualify. They turned in the signatures at 4:20pm.

Five People Ticketed for Marijuana Possession in First Week of DC Decriminalization Law. DC police have cited five people for marijuana possession in the week since the DC decrim law went into effect. Four of the five citations came in predominantly black areas of the city east of the Anacostia River. Last year, before decrim, police made about 11 marijuana possession arrests a day.

Poll: California Latinos Strongly Oppose Deportation for Marijuana Possession. A new poll from Latino Decisions and Presente.org finds that nearly two-thirds (64%) of California Latinos strongly oppose deporting non-citizens for marijuana possession. Marijuana possession is the fourth most common criminal offense leading to deportation, according to a 2012-2013 study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

Asset Forfeiture

Rand Paul Files Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed a bill to reform federal asset forfeiture laws. Yesterday, he introduced the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime. The FAIR Act would also require that state law enforcement agencies abide by state law when seizing property. It would also remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund.

International

Drug Users Get a Voice at Global AIDS Conference. For the first time, a group of drug users has been allowed space at the International AIDS Conference, taking place this year in Melbourne, Australia. The International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) had a booth at the conference and also held a movie premiere event at the conference for the film, "We are Drug Users."

British National Survey Finds Slight Overall Increase in Drug Use. The number of drug users in Britain increased by 0.7% last year, according to the 2013 to 2014 Crime Survey for England and Wales. Some 8.8% of adults used drugs in the past year; 6.6% used marijuana. Cocaine was the second most commonly used drug, at 2.4%.

Guatemalan President Still Mulling Marijuana Legalization. President Otto Pérez Molina said in an interview in Washington yesterday that he hadn't ruled out the possibility of legalizing marijuana. "Right now we have a commission that's following what's been happening in Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Colorado, and the state of Washington," he said. "I expect to receive the studies, analysis and recommendations at the end of the year and from there we will make the decisions that would best fit our country." Pérez Molina will be hosting an international conference on drug policy in Guatemala in September. [Editor's Note: We are not aware of any conference in Guatemala this fall. It's not clear if Perez Molina misspoke or the Washington Post misheard. There is a V Conferencia latinoamerica sobre la politica de drogas set for Costa Rica in September.]

WOLA Releases Analysis of Ecuador Drug Policy Trends and Contradictions. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has published "Reforma y contradicciones en la politica de drogas de Ecuador." The report identified advances and blockages in Ecuador's path to a more progressive drug policy. Click on the link to read it in Spanish or use your translate button or wait a few days for WOLA's English version to read it in English.

Chronicle AM -- July 23, 2014

South Portland, Maine, will vote on marijuana legalization in November, medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley's campaign to be reinstated is picking up steam, Mississippi officials get an earful at a public forum on a welfare drug testing law, and more. Let's get to it:

Evo Morales is not only president of Bolivia; he's also the president of the country's largest coca growers' union. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

South Portland, Maine, Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Officials in South Portland confirmed today that a citizen initiative to make marijuana possession legal for adults within city limits has qualified for the November 2014 ballot. Citizens for a Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, submitted more than 1,500 signatures, and just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. The South Portland City Council will consider whether to enact the measure or refer it to city voters at its meeting scheduled for August 4.

Delaware House Hearing on Marijuana Decriminalization Today. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on a decriminalization bill today. The amended version of House Bill 371 would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense, punishable only by a fine. Under current law, small time possession is a misdemeanor that can garner up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

National Herbal Medicine Industry Group Issues Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Manufacture. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) today released medical marijuana manufacturing guidelines, completing its compendium of industry standards. The guidelines complement those set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.

Arizona Judge Rules Patients Can Sell to Other Cardholders. A Pima County Superior Court judge has thrown out charges against a medical marijuana patient who offered plants to sale to other cardholders for a $25 "donation," holding that the state's medical marijuana law is vague and can be interpreted as allowing for such activities. So far the ruling only applies to the case at hand, but local prosecutors have vowed to appeal, and a favorable higher court ruling would set precedent statewide.

Campaign to Reinstate Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Picks Up Steam. Veterans rallied yesterday at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in support of medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who says she was fired because of political opposition to her research on the use of medical marijuana for PTSD in veterans. A Change.org petition seeking her reinstatement now has 66,000 signatures (30,000 of them from yesterday alone) and a there is also a Facebook page supporting her.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Forum on Welfare Drug Test Law Leads for Calls to Amend It. A welfare recipient, civil liberties advocates, and Democratic politicians strong criticized the state's new law mandating drug testing for some welfare recipients at a public hearing yesterday. They called for it not to be implemented until it can be amended by the legislature. No one spoke in support of the law.

Law Enforcement

Orange County, Florida, Women Sue SWAT Team Over Violent Drug Raid. A mother and daughter are suing the Orange County Sheriff's Office after a SWAT team drug raid left a family dog dead and the daughter wounded by police gunfire inside their own home. The raid was aimed at a relative who didn't even live at the residence. Police found marijuana seeds and "drug paraphernalia" in the room where the relative had stayed, but charges against him were later dropped.

International

Bolivian President Wins Reelection as Head of Country's Largest Coca Growers Union; Vows to Expand Crop if Re-Elected as President. Evo Morales was a coca grower union leader before he was elected president of the country, and he's still a coca grower union leader. He was just reelected as head of the union, and he told union members that Bolivia needs a new law for coca production that would allow for expanded cultivation.

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Chronicle AM -- July 21, 2014

The World Health Organization calls for drug decriminalization (and more), international drug reform and harm reduction groups warn of an AIDS prevention crisis, marijuana policy is popping up in some Republican primaries, and more. Let's get to it:

Times are changing when marijuana legalization becomes an issue in Republican primaries. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Urges Votes for Bob Barr in Georgia Republican Congressional Primary Tomorrow. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on its Georgia supporters to get out and vote for Republican congressional candidate Bob Barr in the primary tomorrow in the state's 11th congressional district. Barr made a reputation in the 1990s as an arch-drug warrior, but has since become a staunch supporter of drug policy reform and civil liberties.

Kansas GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Challenges Incumbent With Platform That Includes Legalizing Marijuana. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is facing a long-shot challenge from Jennifer Winn, a small businesswoman whose son is facing a murder charge over a marijuana deal gone bad. She says she entered the race out of anger over that, and her platform includes legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp, as well as a broader call for drug policy reform. Her race is being watched as a sign of how damaged the state GOP is after years of Brownback's ultraconservative social and economic policies.

Washington State Rang Up $1.2 Million in Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of stores were actually open and supplies were limited, but the first week of legal marijuana sales in Washington still generated more than $1.2 million in sales, according to the state Liquor Control Board. It also generated $318,043 in taxes collected so far.

Despite Philadelphia City Council's Decriminalization Vote, Marijuana Possession Arrests Continue. Last month, the city council voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, but Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill, and Police Chief Charles Ramsey vowed to continue marijuana possession arrests. He's lived up to his word. Since the bill was passed, 246 people have been arrested for pot possession, 140 of them charged only with pot possession. Of the 124 people charged with additional crimes, the vast majority were only drug charges. Mayor Nutter has until September to act on the decriminalization bill. He can sign it, veto it, or do nothing, in which case it becomes law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) yesterday signed into law a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing people with seizure disorders to use it and by allowing minors to participate in it with parental consent. The measure is Senate Bill 2636.

New Mexico Backs Off on Medical Marijuana Program Changes. The state Department of Health announced last Thursday that it will not move forward with proposed rule changes that included limiting the number of plants patients could grow and requiring criminal background checks for patient growers. The department said there will likely be another hearing for public comments before new rules are finalized this fall.

Psychedelics

Memorial Event for Sasha Shulgin in Berkeley Next Month. The psychonauts at Erowid are hosting a memorial and community gathering in Berkeley next month to honor the memory of Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the legendary scientist of psychedelics who died early last month. Please RSVP if you are planning to attend; click on the link to do so.

Drug Policy

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Broad Drug Policy Reforms. In a report on HIV treatment and prevention released earlier this month, the World Health Organization quietly called for drug decriminalization, needle exchanges, and opiate substitution therapy. The WHO's positions are based on concerns for public health and human rights.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Hearing on Welfare Drug Test Law Tomorrow. The Department of Human Services is holding a hearing tomorrow in Jackson to hear public comment on a new welfare drug testing law that was supposed to have gone into effect July 1. It was delayed to allow for a public hearing. The law is opposed by the ACLU and racial and social justice activists. Click on the link for time and location details.

Harm Reduction

Drug Reform and AIDS Groups Warn of "Global Crisis" in HIV Prevention Funding, Especially for Injection Drug Users. As the 20th International AIDS Conference gets underway in Melbourne, Australia, three drug reform, harm reduction, and AIDS groups have issued a report, The Funding Crisis for Harm Reduction, warning that because of donor fatigue, changing government policies, and an over-reliance on drug law enforcement, the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" risks slipping away. The three groups are Harm Reduction International, the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Law Enforcement

In Forsythe County, North Carolina, Majority of SWAT Deployments are For Drug Raids. SWAT teams were designed to be used in extreme situations -- hostage-taking events, terrorist attacks, and the like -- but have been subject to mission creep over the years. Forsythe County is one example. In an in-depth report, the Winston-Salem Journal found that the Forsythe County SWAT team had been deployed 12 times in the past year and the Winston-Salem Police SWAT team had been deployed 40 days in the past year "mostly to execute search warrants for drugs."

International

Report on Illicit Drug Corridors Between Bolivia and Peru Published. In a report based on on-the-scene investigation, the Bolivian NGO Puente Investigacion y Enlace (PIE), led by former human rights ombudsman Godo Reinicke, has studied the drug and precursor chemical networks straddling the Peru-Bolivia border. Read the report, Corredores ilicitos entre Boliva-Peru, ¿Rutas escondidas y extrañas? in Spanish, or click on your translate button.

(This article 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.)

US Drug Policy and the Border Child Immigration Crisis [FEATURE]

The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.

At the border. (COHA)
The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.

A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.

And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.

The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.

They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)

Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.

"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.

"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."

While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.

"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.

"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."

"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikipedia.org)
At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.

"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."

"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.

"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."

"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."

"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."

Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.

"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."

"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.

Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.

"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.

"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."

"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."

This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.

International

Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

FedEx Indicted on Criminal Charges for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs

A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments.

FedEx truck, Chicago (wikimedia.org)
Read the indictment here.

The move comes after FedEx rejected offers from federal prosecutors to cut a deal. FedEx's chief competitor, UPS, settled a similar case last year by agreeing to pay $40 million after being linked to the shipment of prescription drugs by illegal online pharmacies. Both cases were brought by US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag. [Ed: Haag is loathed by the medical marijuana community for action taken against northern California providers.]

But unlike UPS, FedEx refused to settle. And now, it is vowing to fight the charges.

"FedEx is innocent of the charges," the company said in a statement. "We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees."

In the past, the company has said it wouldn't settle because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong. FedEx argues that it should not be held responsible for the contents of the tens of millions of packages it ships each year. The company has acknowledged that it has been under grand jury scrutiny for several years.

The grand jury indictment accuses FedEx of knowingly shipping prescription drugs for two different online pharmacy operations, both of which were prosecuted by the Justice Department. It accuses FedEx of ignoring warnings about doing so for years.

"The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides," said US Attorney Haag. "This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior."

The charges carry with them a sentence of up to five years probation and fines totaling "twice the gross gains derived from the offense," or $820 million. Because no individuals are named in the indictment, however, it's not clear who or what would be on probation if FedEx is tried and convicted.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Chronicle Interview: Drug Policy Researcher Beau Kilmer [FEATURE]

Beau Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he codirects the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. His research lies at the intersection of public health and public safety, with a special emphasis on substance use, illicit markets, crime, and public policy. Some of his current projects include estimating the size of illegal drug markets, assessing the consequences of alternative marijuana policies, measuring the effect of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program on drunk driving and domestic violence outcomes, and evaluating other innovative programs intended to reduce violence. Kilmer's research has appeared in leading journals such as Addiction, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and his essays have been published by the BBC, CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. His book on marijuana legalization, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" (co-authored with Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Mark Kleiman) was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Before earning his doctorate at Harvard University, Kilmer received a Judicial Administration Fellowship that supported his work with the San Francisco Drug Court.

Beau Kilmer (rand.org)
The Chronicle interview took place by phone Wednesday morning.

Drug War Chronicle: What are we learning from marijuana legalization so far in Colorado and Washington, especially about prices, tax rates, and regulatory structures?

Beau Kilmer: With respect to prices, I think it's too soon to make a serious judgment. I would expect them to fall eventually as the number of producers increases and there is more competition. Regarding taxes, there is clearly tax revenue coming in, but not as much as expected, partly because medical marijuana markets don't face the same taxes. These markets are in transition, and there are data lags. It's too early to do cost-benefit analyses, and when the data does start coming in, what happens a year or two from now, good or bad, could be completely different from what happens in five or 10 years.

There are two other things we need to consider in doing a cost-benefit analysis. First, when you hear that factor X or Y has decreased or increased, it's important to ask: Compared to what? People will say that this changed in Colorado, but how did it change or not in other states? This is often outside the capacity of news organizations, but when you hear people making these claims, you need to be asking questions. What about neighboring states? If media organizations did that, it could actually improve the quality of the discussion we're having.

The second thing is, don't forget about alcohol. If people are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana together, you have to worry about driving under the influence. Marijuana impairs you somewhat, alcohol impairs you more, and the interaction between marijuana and alcohol can increase the probability of impairment. On the other hand, if they are economic substitutes, if some heavy alcohol users are moving away from consuming it and consuming more marijuana, that could potentially be a net win for society. There are social costs associated with heavy marijuana use, but the social costs associated with alcohol are much greater -- fatal overdoses, chronic disease, violence. We really need to pay close attention to how legalization influences not only marijuana consumption, but also alcohol consumption. We will be watching this, not only in Colorado and Washington, but also in Uruguay.

Chronicle: How worried do we have to be about marijuana dependence, anyway? Is it any worse for the individual or society than, say, dependence on coffee?

Kilmer: Some people do run into problems. It affects their relationships, their employment, their daily behaviors, and can impose costs on them and some of their intimates. Some of those people may benefit from substance abuse treatment. On the other hand, some users get arrested and diverted into treatment when they don't really need it. Many experts agree that it poses less addictive risk than other drugs, not only in the likelihood of addiction, but also the degree. Having a cannabis use disorder is different from having a heroin use disorder.

When it comes to costs to society, a lot of it comes down to different intangibles. It's hard to quantify consequences, say, in terms of relationships with family members. We reviewed studies that look at marijuana compared to other substances, and when it comes to addiction risk, marijuana seems to be at the bottom of the list. It's not that it's not without costs, but in terms of harms associated with it, there seems to be much more harm associated with cocaine, heroin, or alcohol use disorders.

Chronicle: There are several different legalization models out there -- state monopoly stores vs. private stores, for example. Do you have a favorite model?

Kilmer: I completely understand why some jurisdictions would try something other than marijuana prohibition. There's a lot I don't like about it, especially the collateral consequences, but I'm not sure what the best alternative regime is. What's best for one jurisdiction may not be best for another. It's not clear that one size fits all. My opinion is that I will pay close attention to what happens in Colorado and Washington and Uruguay and some of these other places and use that information to update my opinions about marijuana policy. I hope other people do the same.

It's important to keep in mind that there is a lot of policy space in between prohibition and what we see in Colorado and Washington. There are a lot of options out there. You could just allow home cultivation, or you could do something like production co-ops or collectives. It will be really interesting to watch Uruguay, which has three routes: grow your own, join a co-op, or go to the pharmacy.

From a public health perspective, a state monopoly makes a lot of sense. It makes it easier to control prices and advertising. There is a lot of research that has looked at the state monopoly model for alcohol, and it tended to be better for public health. This model doesn't get a lot of attention in the United States, but there are other jurisdictions that may want to think about it.

The other potential advantage of starting with a state monopoly, is that it gives you more options. If a jurisdiction later decides it wants to allow commercial business, you can transition to a commercial model. But once you go from prohibition to a commercial model with for-profit firms and lobbyists, it gets a lot harder to put that genie back in the bottle. It gets entrenched. That's something to keep in mind.

The commercialization aspect is something we need to pay close attention to. In Uruguay, there is no advertising. The folks in Colorado and Washington are working hard to develop reasonable restrictions on advertising, but with the First Amendment here, we can't ban it.

Sunset laws may be advisable. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we don't know what the best model might be. You could start with a co-op model, try that for five or 10 years, then make a decision about whether to continue or go in a different direction. There are a lot of options, and we don't necessarily have to treat policy changes as permanent.

Another thing jurisdictions will want to think about it designing in some flexibility, especially with respect to taxes. No one knows the best way, and there are a number of different models. Colorado and Washington tax as a function of weight, but you could tax as a function of amount of THC, for instance. The takeaway is that we want to make sure that as we get information, we can incorporate that information in our decision-making about how to tax.

Chronicle: What about eliminating black markets?

Kilmer: You have to think about this over time. No one thinks we're going to eliminate the black market overnight. In both Colorado and Washington, it's been a slow roll-out of the stores, especially in Washington, so you have to look at this over the long run. Also in the long run, prices will fall, and as prices fall, ad valorem taxes based on price will fall, too. That's something else to think about.

Another issue to consider is that we have to remember that depending on where you are in the country, people under 21 will account for 20%-25% of consumption. It will be interesting to see what happens when they catch them, what penalties are imposed on the users and those that supply them. Will it be like the alcohol model or more severe? These are the kinds of issues that can be addressed in new initiatives or legislation.

Chronicle: Where and how does medical marijuana fit into all this?

Kilmer: Good question. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out with regard to medical marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, there were very robust medical markets before legalization. In other jurisdictions, as they write initiatives or bills, will they try to build that in? I don't know what's going to happen.

Chronicle: Where is this all heading? We could have 10 legal states after 2016. Then what?

Kilmer: I guess we'll see how far we get.

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses

In an historic vote Wednesday, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses in states where it is legal.

The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

This is the second time in less than two months that the House has voted to roll back marijuana law enforcement. In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.

"Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart."

Washington, DC
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive