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Latin America: Mexico Proposes Banning Narcocorridos (Drug Ballads)

Los Tucanes de Tijuana performing "The People's Doctor." The good doctor who has the medicine to cure his patients' ills sends his "Greetings to all my patients in Texas and Colorado, and also Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Chicago, and California and Arizona, and Nevada, my biggest market."

Under a bill presented to Mexico's congress last week by the ruling National Action Party (PAN), musicians could be sent to prison for playing songs that glorify the drug trade. People who produce or perform songs or films that glamorize criminality could be imprisoned for up to three years, according to the proposed legislation.

The bill is aimed squarely at narcocorridos, the norteño musical form typically featuring men in cowboy hats playing guitars, accordions, and drums, and singing about the exploits, trials, and tribulations of people in the drug trade. Corridos have been a border musical form for more than a century, but in the past, their themes tended to romance, revolution, and banditry.

These days, narcocorridos are popular on both sides of the border, with groups like Los Tigres del Norte or Los Tucanes de Tijuana pulling in crowds of tens of thousands in Tucson and Torreon, Austin and Aguascalientes. But as with gangsta rap in the US, politicians, law enforcement officials, and moral entrepreneurs have denounced the form for glorifying Mexico's wealthy, violent drug trade.

Traffickers have been known to pipe taunting or threatening messages accompanied by narcocorridos into police radio networks after some killings. And while narcocorridos often lament personal disasters in the drug trade, they also extol successes, lionize leading traffickers, and ridicule security forces.

And now the government of President Felipe Calderon, who has presided over an explosion of prohibition-related violence since taking office in December 2006 and calling out the army to take on the traffickers, is going after the singers. "Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless -- but they are the opposite," Oscar Martin Arce, a PAN MP, told the Associated Press.

The bill was also aimed at low-budget films glorifying traffickers, Martin said. "We cannot accept it as normal. We cannot exalt these people because they themselves are distributing these materials among youths to lead them into a lifestyle where the bad guy wins," Martin said. The intent was not to limit free speech, but to prevent the incitement to crime, he said.

That didn't sit well with Elijah Wald, author of "Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas." Wald told the AP politicians were trying to censor artists instead of addressing Mexico's real problems. "It is very hard to stop the drug trafficking," he added. "It is very easy to get your name in the papers by attacking famous musicians."

It's Time to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Professional Sports

Andrew Sullivan points to this ESPN comment regarding NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin:

Harvin was a controversial draft pick after he tested positive for marijuana use at the February scouting combine. But as it turned out, the biggest problem he encountered was an intensification of migraine headaches that has plagued him for much of his life.

Oh, I think I know what's going on here. First, Harvin gets in trouble for testing positive for marijuana. Now he's passing drug tests, but suffering from constant debilitating migraines. Sounds like the NFL has simply prohibited him from using the one medicine that effectively treats his condition.

The thing about marijuana and migraines is that it doesn't just relieve symptoms, it often stops the headaches from ever happening in the first place. I've spoken with many migraine sufferers who've found that even modest use of marijuana simply makes the problem go away. I discovered this for myself in my late teens and it changed my life. I used to wake up everyday wondering if by mid-afternoon, I'd be huddled in a dark room, half-blind, violently nauseous and knowing I'd be unable to function again for 12 hours. It was horrible, but it ended quite abruptly one summer, and it was only later that I came to understand why.

So I can't even begin to describe my frustration at watching a world-class athlete's career jeopardized by the NFL's ridiculous prohibition against marijuana. Banning recreational use is silly, but this is an outrage. If you don't want publicity surrounding marijuana use in professional sports, then stop testing the athletes for marijuana. If that's too much to ask, then at least create an exemption for cases in which a doctor recommends medical use. Believe me, this would generate next to no controversy, although substantial coverage ranging from neutral to positive would be almost guaranteed.

If the President of the United States can embrace a more reasonable medical marijuana policy, there's no reason the NFL can’t do the same.

The Year on Drugs 2009: The Top Ten US Domestic Drug Policy Stories

As 2009 prepares to become history, we look back at the past year's domestic drug policy developments. With the arrival of a highly popular (at least at first) new president, Barack Obama, and Democratic Party control of the levers of power in Congress, the drug reform gridlock that characterized the Bush years is giving way to real change in Washington, albeit not nearly quickly enough. A number of this year's Top 10 domestic drug stories have to do with the new atmospherics in Washington, where they have led, and where they might lead.

But not all of them. Drug reform isn't made just in Washington. Under our federal system, the 50 states and the District of Columbia have at least some ability to set their own courses on drug policy reforms. In some areas, actions in the state legislatures have reflected trends -- for better or worse -- broad enough to earn Top 10 status.

And Washington and the various statehouses notwithstanding, movement on drug reform is not limited to the political class. Legions of activists now in at least their second decade of serious reform work, a mass media that seems to have awakened from its dogmatic slumber about marijuana, a crumbling economy, and a bloody drug war within earshot of the southwestern border have all impacted the national conversation about drug reform and are all pushing politicians from city councilmen to state legislators to US senators to rethink drug prohibition.

For drug reformers, these are interesting times, indeed. Herewith, the Top 10 domestic drug policy stories of 2009:

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Goes Mainstream

Wow. This year has seen the US enter the beginnings of a sea change on policies and attitudes toward the recreational use of marijuana. The first hint that something had changed was the Michael Phelps bong photo non-scandal. When the multiple Olympic gold medal winner got outed for partying like a college student, only one corporate sponsor, fuddy-duddy Kellogg, dumped him, and was hit by a consumer boycott -- and arguably by falling stock prices -- in return. Otherwise, except for a deranged local sheriff who tried fruitlessly to concoct a criminal case against somebody -- anybody! -- over the bong photo, America's collective response basically amounted to "So what?"

Post-Phelps it was as if the flood gates had opened. Where once Drug War Chronicle and a handful of other publications pretty much had the field to ourselves, early this year, the mass media began paying attention. Countless commentaries, editorials and op-eds have graced the pages of newspaper and those short-attention-span segments on the cable news networks, an increasing number of them calling for legalization. The conversation about freeing the weed has gone mainstream.

The sea change is also reflected in poll numbers that, for the first time, this year showed national majorities in favor of legalization. In February, a Zogby poll showed 44% support nationwide -- and 58% in California. By late spring, the figures were generally creeping ever higher. An April Rasmussen poll had support for "taxation and regulation" at 41%, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46% supported "legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use." Also in April, for the first time, a national poll showed majority support for legalization when Zogby showed 52% saying marijuana should be "legal, taxed, and regulated." In July, a CBS News poll had support for legalization at 41%.

In October, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 44%, the highest ever in a Gallup survey. And a few weeks ago an Angus-Reid poll reported 53% nationwide supported legalization. Legalizing pot may not have clear majority support just yet, but it is on the cusp.

Marijuana law reform was also a topic at statehouses around the country this year, although successes were few and far between. At least six states saw decriminalization bills, but only one passed -- in Maine, which had already decriminalized possession of up to 1.25 ounces. This year's legislation doubled that amount. And then there were legalization bills. Two were introduced in the 2009 session, in California and Massachusetts, and two more have been pre-filed for next year, in New Hampshire and Washington. Both the California and Massachusetts bills got hearings this year, and the California bill is set for another hearing and a first committee vote in the Assembly in two weeks. In Rhode Island, meanwhile, the legislature voted this year to create a commission to study marijuana law reform; it will report at the end of January.

And then, finally, there is the excitement and discussion being generated by at least three separate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns underway in California. Oaksterdam medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee's Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative has already announced it has sufficient signatures to make the ballot. Time will tell if the others make it, but at this point it is almost certain that voters in California will have a chance to say "legalize it" in November.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana: The Feds Butt Out and the Floodgates Begin to Swing Open

During his election campaign, President Obama promised to quit siccing the DEA on medical marijuana patients and providers. In February, new Attorney General Eric Holder announced there would be no more federal raids if providers were in compliance with state law, and pretty much held to that promise since then. In October, the Justice Department made it official policy when it issued a policy memo reiterating the administration's stance.

The new "hands off" policy from Washington has not been universally adhered to, nor has it addressed the issue of people currently serving sentences or facing prosecution under Bush administration anti-medical marijuana initiatives, but it has removed a huge looming threat to growers and dispensary operators and it has disarmed a favored (if intensely hypocritical) argument of medical marijuana foes that such laws should not be passed out of fear of what the feds would do.

Meanwhile, California rolls right along as medical marijuana's Wild West. Like countless other localities in the Golden State, the city of Los Angeles is grappling with what to do with its nearly one thousand dispensaries. The issue is being fought city by city and county by county, in the state courts and in the federal courts. And while the politicians argue, dispensary operators are creating political facts on the ground as their tax revenues go into hungry state and local coffers.

This year also marked the emergence of a medical marijuana industry infrastructure -- growers, grow shops, dispensaries, educational facilities, pot docs -- beyond California's borders, most notably in Colorado, where the dispensary scene exploded in the wake of the removal of the federal threat, and in Michigan, where last year's passage of a medical marijuana law has seen the creation of the Midwest's first medical marijuana industry.

While medical marijuana is legal in 13 states (and now, the District of Columbia), it remains difficult to win victories in state legislatures. There were medical marijuana bills in at least 18 states, but only two -- Minnesota and New Hampshire -- were approved by legislatures, and they were vetoed by prohibitionist governors. Bills are, however, still alive in six states -- Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- with New Jersey and Wisconsin apparently best positioned to become the next medical marijuana state. In Rhode Island, which already approved a medical marijuana law in 2007, the legislature this year amended it to include a dispensary system.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
The Reflexive Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Alive -- Just Ask Sally D

Despite evident progress on some drug reform fronts, a substantial number of Americans continue to hold to prohibitionist values, including a number of state legislators. The legislative response to the popularity of the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen salvia divinorum is the best indicator of that.

The DEA has been reviewing salvia for five years, and has yet to determine that it needs to become a controlled substance, but that hasn't stopped some legislators from trying to ban it. Appalled by YouTube videos that show young people getting very high, legislators in 13 states have banned or limited sales of the herb.

This year, four more states joined the list. The good news is that legislators in seven other states where salvia ban bills were introduced had better things to do with their time than worry about passing them.

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drug testing lab
"We Must Drug Test Welfare and Unemployment Recipients!"

In another indication that the drug warrior impulse is still alive and well -- as are its class war elements -- legislators in various states this year continued to introduce bills that would mandate suspicionless drug testing of people seeking unemployment, public assistance, or other public benefits. Never mind that Michigan, the only state to pass such a law, saw its efforts thrown out as an unconstitutional search by a federal appeals court several years back.

Such efforts exposed not only public resentment of benefits recipients, but also a certain level of ignorance about the way our society works. A common refrain from supporters was along the lines of "I have to get drug tested for my job, so why shouldn't they have to get drug tested?" Such questioners fail to understand that our system protects us from our government, but not from private employers.

But if welfare drug testing excited some popular support, it also excited opposition, not only on constitutional grounds, but on grounds of cost and elemental fairness. In the four states where drug testing bills were introduced -- Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and West Virginia -- none of them went anywhere. But even in an era when drug reform is in the air, such bills are a clear sign that there will be many rear-guard battles to fight.

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unjust, but also unaffordable
Rockefeller Drug Law and Other State Sentencing Reforms

Reeling under the impact of economic downtowns and budget crises, more and more states this year took a second look at drug-related sentencing policies. Most notable of the reforms enacted at the state level this year were reforms in New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which went into effect in October. Under this newest round of Rockefeller drug law reforms, some 1,500 low-level drug offenders will be able to seek sentence reductions, while judges gain some sentencing power from prosecutors, and treatment resources are being beefed up. But still, more than 12,000 will remain in Empire State prisons on Rockefeller drug charges.

New York wasn't the only state to enact sentencing reforms this year. This month, New Jersey legislators passed a bill giving judges the discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. Last month, Rhode Island mandatory minimum reforms went into effect. Earlier this year, Louisiana finally acted to redress the cruel plight of the "heroin lifers," people who had been sentenced to life without parole for heroin possession under an old state law. A new state law cut heroin sentences, but did not address the lifers. As a result, some lifers remained in prison with no hope of parole while more recent heroin offenders came, did their time, and went. Now, under this year's law, the lifers are eligible for parole.

Sentencing reforms are also in the works in a number of other states, from Alabama to California and from Colorado to Michigan. In some cases, reform legislation is in progress; in others, legislators are waiting for commissions to report their findings. In nearly every case, it is bottom-line budget concerns rather than bleeding heart compassion for the incarcerated that is driving the reforms.

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PolitickerMD cartoon about the Berwyn Heights raid
Swatting SWAT

It was only one bill in one state, and all it required was reporting by SWAT teams of their activities, but the Maryland SWAT bill passed this year marked the first time a state legislature has moved to rein in aggressive paramilitary-style policing. More precisely, the bill requires all law enforcement agencies that operate SWAT teams to submit monthly reports on their activities, including when and where they are used, and whether the operations result in arrests, seizures or injuries.

In took an ugly incident involving the mayor of a Washington, DC, suburb to make it happen. Marijuana traffickers sent a load of pot to the mayor's address to avoid having police show up on their doorstep in the event something went wrong, but something did go wrong, and police tracked the package. When the mayor innocently carried the package inside on returning home, the SWAT team swooped, manhandling the mayor and his mother-in-law and killing the family's pet dogs. The cops were unapologetic, the mayor was apoplectic, and now Maryland has a SWAT law. A new bill just filed in Maryland would take it further, requiring police to secure a judge's warrant before deploying a SWAT team.

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shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's ''narco-saint,'' Culiacan, Sinaloa
America Finally Notices the Drug War Across the River

While Congress and the Bush administration got serious about Mexico's bloody drug wars in 2008, passing a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package for Mexico and Central America, it was not until this year that the prohibition-related violence in Mexico really made the radar north of the border.

It only took about 11,000 deaths (now up to over 16,000) among Mexican drug traffickers, police, soldiers, and innocent bystanders to get the US to pay attention to the havoc being wreaked on the other side of the Rio Grande. But by the spring, Washington was paying attention, and for the first time, one could hear mea culpas coming from the American side. Mexico's drug violence is driven by demand in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed.

But just because Washington admitted some fault didn't mean it was prepared to try anything different. And while the Mexican drug wars brought talk of legalization -- especially of marijuana -- what they brought in terms of policy was the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which is basically mo' better drug war.

Mexico's drug wars show no signs of abating, and the pace of killing has accelerated each year since President Felipe Calderon sent in the army three years ago this month. The success -- or failure -- of his drug war policies may determine Calderon's political future, but it has for the first time concentrated the minds of US policymakers on the consequences of prohibition south of the border.

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syringes -- better at the exchange than on the street
Congress Ends Ban on Needle Exchange Funding, Butts Out of DC Affairs

After a decade-long struggle, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs ended this month with President Obama's signature on an omnibus appropriations bill that included ending the federal ban, as well as a similar ban that applied to the District of Columbia. The bill also removed a ban on the District implementing a medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1998.

Removing the funding ban has been a major goal of harm reduction and public health coalitions, but they had gotten nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congresses of the past decade. What a difference a change of parties makes.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
Questioning the Drug War: Two Congressional Bills

The US Congress has been a solid redoubt of prohibitionist sentiment for decades, but this year saw the beginning of cracks in the wall. Two legislators, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced and have had hearings on bills that could potentially challenge drug war orthodoxy.

Engel's bill, the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act, which has already passed the House, would set up a commission to examine US eradication, interdiction, and other policies in the Western Hemisphere. While Engel is no anti-prohibitionist, any honest commission assessing US drug policy in the Americas is likely to come up with findings that subvert drug war orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Webb's National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 comes at the issue from a much more critical perspective. It calls for a top-to-bottom review of a broad range of criminal justice issues, ranging from sentencing to drug laws to gangs and beyond, with an emphasis and costs and efficacy. Webb's bill remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has 35 cosponsors. Webb has already held hearings on the costs of mass incarceration and the economic costs of drug policy, and even more than Engel's bill, the Webb bill has the potential to get at the roots of our flawed national drug policy.

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Sen. Durbin at May hearing on crack sentencing
The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

The 100:1 disparity in the quantities of crack needed to earn a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence versus the quantities of powder cocaine needed to earn the same sentence has been egregiously racist in its application, with roughly 90% of all federal crack offenders being non-white, and pressure has been mounting for years to undo it. It hasn't happened yet, but 2009 finally saw some serious progress on the issue.

The move to reform the sentencing disparity got a boost in June, when Attorney General Holder said it had to go. The next month, a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee passed the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. The bill is now before the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees.

On the Senate side, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a companion bill in October, the Fairness in Sentencing Act. It hasn't moved yet, but thanks to a decade-long effort by a broad range of advocates, all the pieces are now in place for something to happen in this Congress. By the time we get around to the Top 10 of 2010, the end of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity better be one of the big stories.

Tommy Chong's Prosecutor Says He Should Have Gotten More Jail Time

Mary Beth Buchanan, easily the nastiest federal prosecutor in the nation, has finally resigned her post. Yet, even as lovers of justice across the country celebrate her long-overdue departure (and pray she won't run for elected office), Buchanan has managed to turn our stomachs for what will hopefully be the last time:

On her last day in office, Buchanan says her only regret during her tenure was accepting a plea from Tommy Chong. [KDKA.com]

Such pure arrogance is really something to behold. Every legal textbook in the country should display her picture beside the term "malicious prosecution," as the railroading of Tommy Chong is a mere footnote within a career defined by gratuitous excesses.

Of course, Tommy was amused to hear that Buchanan still holds a grudge against him. The feeling is mutual:

"I'm honored to be Mary Beth's only regret. Now does she regret going after me? Or does she regret that I never got enough time? I tend to think she wishes she'd never heard my name. I have become her legacy. Mary Beth Loose Cannon is now looking for a job. She blew her last job busting me. Karma is so sweet! She's looking for a work while Cheech and I start our second multi-million dollar tour thanks to the publicity she created for us! Thank you Mary Beth - may you find peace and happiness in your search for your soul." [CelebStoner

I dunno, Tommy. You might wanna keep the floodlights on at night, just in case. If we know one thing about Mary Beth Buchanan, it’s that she never ever stops. She could be lurking in your bushes at this very moment, drunk with fury and looking to finish what she started.

Cheech and Chong vs. Bill O'Reilly: Worst Interview Ever


Boy, O'Reilly really knows how to suck the humor out of a room:



This should never have been allowed to take place. Bill O'Reilly shouldn't be allowed anywhere these guys, or anyone else who's ever been remotely funny at any point in modern history.

And if anyone can think of a legal way to make O'Reilly stop saying things like this, please share:
O'REILLY: We found out that in San Francisco, which leads the league in marijuana clinics, medical marijuana clinics, a lot of hard-core drug addicts go in there, buy the pot and sell it to kids so they can buy their heroin and meth and everything else.

CHONG: Sell it to kids?

O'REILLY: Yes.

CHONG: Where did you get that information?

O'REILLY: We got it from our undercover people.
Yeah, right. This is one of those social problems that you'll only hear about on the O'Reilly Factor because it only exists in the twisted mind of Bill O'Reilly.

Feature: Fired Up in Albuquerque -- The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Jazzed by the sense that the tide is finally turning their way, more than a thousand people interested in changing drug policies flooded into Albuquerque, New Mexico, last weekend for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance. Police officers in suits mingled with aging hippies, politicians met with harm reductionists, research scientists chatted with attorneys, former prisoners huddled with state legislators, and marijuana legalizers mingled with drug treatment professionals -- all united by the belief that drug prohibition is a failed policy.

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candlelight vigil outside the Albuquerque Convention Center (courtesy Drug Policy Alliance)
As DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said before and repeated at the conference's opening session: "We are the people who love drugs, we are the people who hate drugs, we are the people that don't care about drugs," but who do care about the Constitution and social justice. "The wind is at our backs," Nadelmann chortled, echoing and amplifying the sense of progress and optimism that pervaded the conference like never before.

For three days, conference-goers attended a veritable plethora of panels and breakout sessions, with topics ranging from the drug war in Mexico and South America to research on psychedelics, from implementing harm reduction policies in rural areas to legalizing marijuana, from how to organize for drug reform to what sort of treatment works, and from medical marijuana to prescription heroin.

It was almost too much. At any given moment, several fascinating panels were going on, ensuring that at least some of them would be missed even by the most interested. The Thursday afternoon time bloc, for example, had six panels: "Medical Marijuana Production and Distribution Systems," "After Vienna: Prospects for UN and International Reform," "Innovative Approaches to Sentencing Reform," "Examining Gender in Drug Policy Reform," "Artistic Interventions for Gang Involved Youth," and "The Message is the Medium: Communications and Outreach Without Borders."

The choices weren't any easier at the Friday morning breakout session, with panels including "Marijuana Messaging that Works," "Fundraising in a Tough Economy," "Congress, President Obama, and the Drug Czar," "Zoned Out" (about "drug-free zones"), "Psychedelic Research: Neuroscience and Ethnobotanical Roots," "Opioid Overdose Prevention Workshop," and "Border Perspectives: Alternatives to the 40-Year-Old War on Drugs."

People came from all over the United States -- predominantly from the East Coast -- as well as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe (Denmark, England, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, and Switzerland), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico), and Asia (Cambodia and Thailand).

Medical marijuana was one of the hot topics, and New Mexico, which has just authorized four dispensaries, was held up as a model by some panelists. "If we had a system as clear as New Mexico's, we'd be in great shape," said Alex Kreit, chair of a San Diego task force charged with developing regulations for dispensaries there.

"Our process has been deliberate, which you can also read as 'slow,'" responded Steve Jenison, medical director of the state Department of Health's Infectious Disease Bureau. "But our process will be a very sustainable one. We build a lot of consensus before we do anything."

Jenison added that the New Mexico, which relies on state-regulated dispensaries, was less likely to result in diversion than more open models, such as California's. "A not-for-profit being regulated by the state would be less likely to be a source of diversion to the illicit market," Jenison said.

For ACLU Drug Policy Law Project attorney Allen Hopper, such tight regulation has an added benefit: it is less likely to excite the ire of the feds. "The greater the degree of state involvement, the more the federal government is going to leave the state alone," Hopper said.

At Friday's plenary session, "Global Drug Prohibition: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives," Australia's Dr. Alex Wodak amused the audience by likening the drug war to "political Viagra" in that it "increases potency in elections." But he also made the more serious point that the US has exported its failed drug policy around the world, with deleterious consequences, especially for producer or transit states like Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

At that same session, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda warned that Latin American countries feel constrained from making drug policy reforms because of the glowering presence of the US. Drug reform is a "radioactive" political issue, he said, in explaining why it is either elder statesmen, such as former Brazilian President Cardoso or people like himself, "with no political future," who raise the issue. At a panel the following day, Castaneda made news by bluntly accusing the Mexican army of executing drug traffickers without trial. (See related story here).

It wasn't all listening to panels. In the basement of the Albuquerque Convention Center, dozens of vendors showed off their wares, made their sales, and distributed their materials as attendees wandered through between sessions. And for many attendees, it was as much a reunion as a conference, with many informal small group huddles taking place at the center and in local bars and restaurants and nearby hotels so activists could swap experiences and strategies and just say hello again.

The conference also saw at least two premieres. On the first day of the conference, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Legalization, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of a near-final version of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" -- which enjoyed a larger budget and consequently higher production level -- played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted." "10 Rules" was one of a range of productions screened during a two-night conference film festival.

The conference ended Saturday evening with a plenary address by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who came out as a legalizer back in 2001, and was welcomed with waves of applause before he ever opened his mouth. "It makes no sense to spend the kind of money we spend as a society locking up people for using drugs and using the criminal justice system to solve the problem," he said, throwing red meat to the crowd.

We'll do it all again two years from now in Los Angeles. See you there!

Drug Czar Blames the Media for Marijuana's Popularity

If you wanna hear drug czar Gil Kerlikowske getting served by random people who hate the drug war, check out this NPR interview. As soon as the phones open, Mr. K gets put on the defensive by a social worker, a physician and various others who aren't too fond of the war on drugs. Right on, radio people.

But I think my favorite part is this clueless attempt to explain America's obsession with marijuana:

KRIS (Caller): Thank you. I was wondering - I'm 62 years old, and when I was in high school, I didn't even know what marijuana was. And I'm wondering why is it so rampant now, and it never used to be?

Mr. KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I wish I had a good answer for that, Rachel. I am - I actually just about two years younger than you are, and so I'm afraid I would put myself in exactly the same mindset. But I think that marijuana is popularized on television shows. It is popularized in media. There is only one antidrug media message out there, and that's the one that the Office of the National Drug Control Policy actually funds, and that - the antidrug.com…

Has it occurred to you, sir, that TV shows and the media are talking about marijuana because people are interested in it, not the other way around? It wasn't the press that popularized marijuana, it was the people.

But this isn’t just about the popularity of pot, either. The reason marijuana is in the news constantly isn't just because everyone loves smoking it. This is happening because our marijuana policy is such a complete disaster that every single one of us is affected by it. If there weren't a massive war against marijuana being fought everyday throughout the country, then there wouldn’t be nearly as much to talk about, I assure you.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

Marijuana: Boston Freedom Rally Draws 30,000 -- No Arrests, Some Tickets, in Wake of State Decrim Vote

The 20th annual Boston Freedom Rally brought an estimated 30,000 people to Boston Common on Saturday, September 19, to support the reform of marijuana laws. That would make the Freedom Rally the second largest marijuana reform event in the country, behind only the Seattle Hempfest.

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2009 Boston Freedom Rally (Scott Gacek on bostonfreedomrally.com)
All afternoon, tens of thousands of people sat in the sun, listening to speakers extolling the virtues of cannabis and calling for its legalization and bands rocking out for the cause. At 4:20pm, a massive cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the Commons as the crowd celebrated the stoner holiday (or time of day).

Sponsored by MassCann, the Bay State affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Freedom Rally had in some past years been marred by arrests for pot-smoking. In a previous article, Drug War Chronicle predicted that the rally would see "numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator." That was an overstatement -- our apologies to MASSCANN for it. 2007 did see 53 arrests at the Freedom Rally, according to Boston Police -- one of them of NORML founder Keith Stroup. But even that number, while significant, was a fraction of a percent of the attendees. Last year, the number of possession busts was down to just six.

And this year there were none. Massachusetts residents voted to decriminalize marijuana possession last November, and so all the police could do this year was issue tickets with a maximum fine of $100, which they did to 136 people. Three others were arrested for marijuana distribution, and another three on unspecified charges.

Still, participants and organizers of the festival alike lauded the relative freedom of living in a decrim state, while decrying the presence of undercover officers who, apparently randomly, would select members of the crowd to be searched and hassled. On its web site, Freedom Rally organizers have asked that people who were ticketed or searched by police contact them.

Stay tuned for Chronicle coverage of the Massachusetts decriminalization law and of the movement in Massachusetts.

Stars of “From Prison to the Stage” at Kennedy Center return to Connecticut

[Courtesy of The Safe Streets Arts Foundation] We are pleased to report that the Judy Dworin Performance Project, which was a big hit at our "From Prison to the Stage" show at the Kennedy Center on Sept. 5, has returned safely to its home in Hartford, Connecticut. The Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP) was founded in 1989 as a nonprofit organization to provide support for individual artists, particularly the silent and silenced. Over the past 20 years, JDPP has provided innovative, inspiring, educational and collaborative art rooted in the belief that the arts can be a powerful agent for change. Upcoming events of JDPP: • October 30, 6:30pm - Excerpts from the award winning The Witching Hour at the Old State House in downtown Hartford • Nov 5, 6 & 7, 7:30pm - Premiere of What I Want to Say at Charter Oak Cultural Center, an evening that celebrates past pieces and debuts from the Judy Dworin Performance Ensemble. • Feb 2 - Dreamings, a piece created at York Correctional Institution (women's state prison), as further developed by formerly incarcerated women and family members of the incarcerated, at Kinsella Performing Arts Magnet School. Upcoming residencies: The Moving Matters! Residency program of JDPP brings movement-based multi-arts residencies into schools, prisons and community centers through collaborative multi-arts projects. • A 5th year in residence at York Correctional Institution, with workshops in dance, song, storytelling, poetry and personal testimony on the theme of "Bridging the Divides" to culminate in July • A further development of the York Moms & Kids program bridging the divide between incarcerated mothers and their children. For further information about JDPP, its performance or residency work or DVDs of work listed here, please visit www.judydworin.org or contact JDPPinc@gmail.com or 860.527.9800.

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