Religion

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Probable Cause Conundrum, CDC Warns on MedMJ Edibles, Peyote Protest, More (7/24/15)

Two Arizona appeals court panels have offered up clashing rulings this week on whether the smell of pot is still probable cause for a search, Michigan initiative fundraising reports tell an interesting story, changes in Washington state's medical marijuana program go into effect today, and more.

Peyote buttons, sacrament of the Native American Church. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Marijuana Odor. Whether the odor of marijuana is probable cause for a search or a search warrant now looks like an issue heading to the state Supreme Court. Just days after one appeals court panel ruled that the state's medical marijuana law means it is not grounds for a search warrant, a second panel has ruled that it is. In Thursday's case, the appeals court upheld the actions of police officers who searched a vehicle after they smelled burnt marijuana. The panel held that the medical marijuana law didn't make marijuana legal, but only provided immunity from prosecution to those who had medical marijuana ID cards. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity from arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession of use of marijuana .... does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case," Judge Samuel Thumma wrote.

Grassroots Effort Leads in Fundraising Among Michigan Legalization Initiatives. Campaign finance reports reveal that the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), backed by wealthy Oakland County interests, has only $1,000 in the bank, while the grassroots MILegalize has raised $60,000, with more than $100,000 in matching funds pledged. MCC got a $21,000 donation from an Oakland county Republican political operative, but the same day, it sent a $20,000 check to signature-gathering firm. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, which wants to create a cultivation monopoly like the one championed by ResponsibleOhio, appears to have gone quiet. Its website is defunct, it hasn't displayed any initiative language, and it will not reveal the identities of its leaders.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has support for legalization at 60% and support for decriminalization even higher at 72%. Support has climbed six points for legalization and nine points for decriminalization since the last WMUR Granite State poll in May. The state legislature has considered legalization, but has so far refused to pass it. Click on the link for more poll results and methodology.

Medical Marijuana

CDC Warns of "Potential Danger" From Edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

Washington State Medical Marijuana Program Changes Now In Effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system went into effect today. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.

Peyote

Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Rally Calls for End to Utah Ban on Sacramental Use. Protesters gathered at the state capital in Salt Lake City Thursday to advocate for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances. The demonstration was organized by the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, which is allowed under federal law to use the cactus for religious purposes. The Utah law bans anyone who is not at least one-quarter Indian from using it for religious purposes. "It's supposed to be 25% [Native American heritage], but what they're really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race," said the church's David Hamblin.

Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (law.pace.edu)
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Amen
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte
amen

Chronicle AM: Pregnancy and Marijuana Use, Church Group Says Decriminalize Drugs, More (6/23/15)

Guidance from a doctor's group on marijuana use and pregnancy matches what activist groups think the policy should be, the Maine legislature punts on legalization, a California bill to protect patients from discrimination in access to organ transplants passes the legislature, and more.

Pregnancy and marijuana use is in the news today. (wikimedia.org/David Roseborough)
Marijuana Policy

Doctors' Group Issues Guidance on Marijuana Use By Pregnant Women; Advocates Urge Non-Punitive Responses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued guidance encouraging pregnant women to avoid marijuana use "[b]ecause the effects of marijuana may be as serious as those of cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption." The group also called for non-punitive treatment for pregnant pot smokers: "Seeking obstetric-gynecologic care should not expose a woman to criminal or civil penalties for marijuana use, such as incarceration, involuntary commitment, loss of custody of her children, or loss of housing... Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus." Noting that pregnant women who use marijuana have been arrested in numerous states, National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance are urging that non-punitive responses to cigarette smoking and alcohol use be applied to pregnant women who use marijuana. The two groups also call for more unbiased research on marijuana use during pregnancy.

Maine Legislature Rejects Legalization. Solons in both the House and Senate Monday rejected marijuana legalization bills, clearing the way for legalization initiatives next year. The House rejected LD 1380, from longtime legalization advocate Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) that would have put the issue to a popular vote, while the Senate unanimously LD 1401, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland). At least two separate legalization initiative campaigns are already underway.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Takes Up CBD Tomorrow. The caucus, generally composed of old school drug warriors, will somewhat surprisingly examine CBDs, focusing on barriers to research and potential medical benefits tomorrow. The hearing is set for 9:30am Wednesday.

California Organ Transplant Bill Passes Legislature. The bill would bar health care providers from denying access to organ transplants based solely on the patient's medical marijuana use. Assembly Bill 258 now awaits the governor's signature.

New Jersey Bill to Allow Sick Kids to Use CBD Oil at School Introduced. Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) and Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) Monday filed a bill that would allow children to use CBD cannabis oil at school. The bill would require parents or a designated adult to come to the school and administer the oil. The measure is Assembly Bill 4587.

Drug Policy

New England Methodists Call for Drug Decriminalization. The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing some 600 congregations, passed a resolution saying that "the public policy of prohibition of certain narcotics and psychoactive substances, sometimes called the 'War on Drugs,' has failed to achieve the goal of eliminating, or even reducing, substance abuse" and called for "seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse." The resolution was supported by Christians Against Prohibition and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

International

British Liberal Democrats Call for Medical Marijuana, Drug Decriminalization. The Lib Dems have offered amendment to the government's psychoactive substances bill that would decriminalize drug possession and legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. "When I was a police officer, I realized that locking up drug users is simply not the answer," said party leader Brian Paddick, who offered the amendments. "We have to learn the lessons of why our current approach is failing before we make the same mistakes with new psychoactive substances as we have done with other illegal drugs."

Chronicle AM -- May 15, 2014

An evangelical pollster has support for marijuana legalization at 58% (but not among Christians), the Senate Minority Leader takes on the DEA over hemp, a California defelonization sentencing initiative hands in signatures, we have a fascinating look at meth culture in Tehran, and more. Let's get to it:

When Mitch McConnell is criticizing the DEA, you know you're living in a different century. (senate.gov)
Evangelical Pollster Finds Majority for Legalization, But Not Among Practicing Christians. A new poll conducted by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group finds that marijuana legalization is supported by 58% of respondents nationwide. But when it comes to "practicing Christians" (people who attended church in the past month), only 32% of evangelicals, 39% of Catholics, and 45% of mainstream Protestants favored legalization. Still, those numbers are trending up. "There is a clear trend toward greater cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana, even among many practicing Christians. National surveys are a great way to find out what people think and how their perspectives have changed over time. But why those changes are happening is more difficult to pin down through conventional polling," said a Barna spokesman. "What we can conclude is that America continues to shift from a culture that values abstinence to one that focuses on experience. Marijuana use fits within a larger trend of liberalizing views and behaviors when it comes to activities like gambling, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and drinking. As attitudes toward temptations shift, Americans increasingly define the 'pursuit of happiness' to include personally invigorating or even escapist experiences." There's a lot more demographic information at the link, too.

Missouri "Decriminalizes" Marijuana Possession. A new sentencing reform law that has now gone into effect without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (R) eliminates the possibility of jail time for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Senate Bill 491 also reduces sentences for the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including changing current law to allow probation or parole for third offenders. But it doesn't go into effect until January 2017, the "no jail" provision only applies to first offenders, and it's still a criminal misdemeanor, with all the related consequences. Still, the Marijuana Policy Project is calling Missouri the 19th decrim state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana, and Now. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) has added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Rhode Island Health Department Falling Way Behind on Patient Applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moving Toward Passage. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy appears headed for passage. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee today. It should get a final floor vote next week.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Rips DEA over Kentucky Hemp Seed Fiasco. The state of Kentucky has already filed a lawsuit against the DEA over its cat and mouse games surrounding the state's effort to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seeds for use in research projects okayed by an amendment to this year's omnibus farm bill. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who just happens to be from Kentucky, has weighed in. "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds," McConnell told Politico last night.

Prescription Drugs

New Oklahoma Law Requires That Names of Overdose Victims Be Reported to Narcs. Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the state medical examiner is required to report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The stated purpose is to use the information to more closely monitor the state's prescription drug issue and to identify "problem" prescribers. Senate Bill 1183 is part of a broader legislative effort supported by Fallin to tackle non-medical prescription drug use. But the heart of that plan, language that would create a statewide prescription monitoring system and require doctors to check patients' drug histories before writing new prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, remains stalled as legislators argue over details.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Heading for Passage. A bill that bans new synthetic drugs not approved by the FDA and that have effects similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances passed the House Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. House File 2446 also gives the state Board of Pharmacy emergency regulatory power to stop shops from selling any newer new synthetics.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers Want to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws. The state legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee Tuesday voted to order staff to draft two bills to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. One bill would eliminate civil asset forfeiture and would allow police to seize property only when someone has been convicted of a crime. The second bill would keep civil forfeiture, but would create a higher standard of proof before allowing assets to be seized. That bill would also require that most proceeds of seizures go into a general account at the state attorney general's office instead of being returned to the seizing agency.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) available without a prescription to anyone who completes a training program passed the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 219 now heads for the Senate floor.

Sentencing Reform

California Defelonization Sentencing Initiative Hands in Signatures. Campaigners for an initiative that would make certain felony drug and other crimes misdemeanors has handed in signatures. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act initiative handed in more than 638,000 signatures earlier this month; it needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Of signatures checked so far, the validity rate is 78%. The measure's proponents are San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne.

International

Tunisia's Prime Minister Says Marijuana Laws Are Too Harsh. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at a press conference Wednesday that his country's tough penalties for marijuana possession are "out of sync" with changing times. Possession can currently earn you up to five years in prison, but Jomaa vowed to "amend the law to adapt it to the new reality" in Tunisia, which overthrew its old regime in the most successful of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Iran Breaks Bad as Crystal Meth Arrives. The Guardian has a lengthy analysis of the rise of methamphetamine in Iran, and particularly in its capital city, Tehran. Meth is exploding there, according to the piece's author, Ramita Navai, author of the newly released "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran." It's a very interesting read. Click on the link for the whole thing.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: The Lebanese Connection

The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic, by Jonathan Marshall (2012, Stanford University Press, 261 pp., $24.95 HB)

It's harvest time in Lebanon right now, and Shiite farmers in the Bekaa Valley are out working their fields, preparing to turn thousands of acres of cannabis plants into hashish, the Red Lebanese and Blond Lebanese for which the tiny Middle Eastern country is famous. And with the harvest comes conflict, as the country's anti-drug agency and the Lebanese Army head out into the fields to try to eradicate them.

The Chronicle reported at the beginning of August about hash farmers firing machine guns and RPGs at eradicators, vandalizing tractors and bulldozers used to plow under the fields, and organizing street blockades in cities in the valley. Protests broke out in Yammouneh, Baalbek, and Boudai, and authorities backed off, announcing a week later that they would form a committee to study development issues in the Bekaa. And the harvest goes on.

Of course, it wasn't just farmers' resistance that hampered the eradication effort this year. The Bekaa Valley, with its Shiite tribes, sits right next door to Syria, currently embroiled in a brutal civil war now based largely on sectarian and confessional divisions, many of which echo profoundly in Lebanon. In fact, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria until the French carved it out under a League of Nations mandate in 1943. Now, it has seen outbreaks of street fighting between rival pro- and anti-Assad militias in Tripoli, the largest city of the Lebanese north, as well as kidnapping by Shiite tribal militias after some of their number were kidnapped by Sunni militias on the other side of the border.

"Our policy is very clear. We want to demolish all of the hashish cultivation in the Bekaa," Col. Adel Mashmoushi, head of the office of drug control, tells the Lebanon Daily Star a couple of weeks ago, before quickly adding that eradication had been enfeebled this year because "the situation in the Bekaa is very delicate right now" due to "the political and security situation caused by Syria."

Mashmoushi said his men had managed to destroy only about 1,500 acres of cannabis fields out of what he estimated to be somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 acres planted in the northern valley.

But, as global drug trade scholar Jonathan Marshall makes clear in his masterful and highly informative The Lebanese Connection, despite the terrifying sectarian war next door, the violent echoing clashes in Tripoli, and the Bekaa farmers' and traders' violent defense of their industry, this is a relatively quiet time in Lebanon's history in the international drug trade. According to his elaborately sourced estimates, Lebanese hash production was at level five to seven times higher during the period on which he focuses, the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.

In fact, relying heavily on archival State Department, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and DEA documents, among other sources, Marshall shows that the tiny sliver of the Levant that is Lebanon was a giant in the drug trade going as far back as the 1950s and a significant hash producer as early as the end of World War I.

Its largest market back then was Egypt, which had been supplied by Greek growers. But when the Greeks banned cannabis planting in 1918, poor Shiite farmers in the Bekaa took up the slack, and they haven't stopped growing ever since. Production boomed during the civil war and was banned in 1992 after the return of a central government, but it has never stopped. Eradication programs have been half-hearted, ill-conceived, and met with hostility, and promised alternative development schemes somehow never seem to materialize.

But it wasn't just hash, either. With Beirut a rising financial center for the Middle East and the center of global networks of Lebanese traders, Marshall shows definitively how it also became a center of the global drug trade. Opium skimmed from legal production in Turkey was smuggled into Syria by Kurds, transmuted to morphine base by Syrian chemists in Aleppo, smuggled into Lebanon by various means and various actors, transported through seaports controlled by Christian politicians to be delivered to French (later, Italian) organized crime groups, whose chemists refined it into heroin, and whose international networks, including American mobsters, sent it on the veins of consumers in the West.

In a history replete with ton-plus hash busts and multi-kilo heroin seizures, Marshall works his way through the underworld of Lebanon-based drug trafficking, its connections abroad, its crime bosses and political allies, both foreign and domestic. Along the way, he exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of numerous nations, who with one hand raged against drugs, while with the other were complicit in--or at least looked away from--the billion-dollar a year business.

Marshall excels at seeing through the smoke of the murky milieu where all this took place. And what a milieu! Beirut in the mid-20th Century was a decadent, cosmopolitan oasis in the desert of Middle East culture, home to Westernized Arab princes, anything-goes nightclubs, lavish casinos, and European prostitutes. It was also awash in spies, arms dealers, and adventurers -- the Cold War Russian and American intelligence services, the French, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Turks, and, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a flashpoint of the brewing proxy war between the Shia Islam of Iran and the Sunni Islam of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

And Lebanon was a weak, communally divided state operating under a political agreement that divvied up key political positions by sect -- the Christian Maronites got the presidency and the leadership of the armed forces, the Sunnis got the prime minister's office -- but froze those divisions even as the demographic makeup of the country shifted toward its Muslim communities, not to mention an influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Israel, and later, Jordan after the Hashemite kingdom drove out the PLO in 1970.

A weak central state, rising sectarian tensions, highly profitable drug smuggling operations, external manipulation by any number of foreign interests, and a tradition of corruption in government came together in a perfect storm as Lebanon imploded into civil war in 1975, not to emerge from it for 15 years. When it came to the role of drugs in the conflict or to arming the various factions, Marshall shows definitively that nobody had clean hands.

As the Lebanese economy crumbled amidst the violence, the importance of the illicit drug economy became all the more critical for the militias: they relied on drug profits to pay their soldiers and buy their weapons. The global drug trade may not have been the cause of the conflict (although it was a cause -- Marshall cites incidents of precursor violence between Christian and Palestinian militias over drug deals that helped ratchet up the tension), but he shows that it was profits from the trade in prohibited drugs that allowed the contending factions to make the war deadlier and longer than it otherwise would have been.

He also shows that some of the most deadly fighting was not for sectarian reasons, but over control over lucrative drug smuggling routes and, especially, ports. And, paradoxically, he shows how complicity in the drug trade overcame sectarian and even regional divisions: Syrian soldiers patrolling the Bekaa turned a blind eye to Shiite hash farmers, who trafficked their product with the connivance of Christian Maronite warlords. Meanwhile, Israeli military intelligence turned a blind eye to hash smuggled into and through Israel by its allies in the South Lebanon Army or by other traffickers from whom it thought it could glean intelligence.

The Lebanese Connection is too dense with chewy information to do more than touch on its contents in a review, but it is a sterling contribution to the academic literature on the global drug trade, having made a truly original contribution.  It also opens a revealing view not only on the contemporary Middle East, but contemporary terrorism, covert operations by state and non-state actors, and the making of narco-states and failed states.

It's also a very timely book, appearing as Syria bursts into flames. Syria is Lebanon writ large: many of the same ethnic and sectarian divisions are at play, as is the international meddling at several levels of proxy war, with familiar faces like the US, Britain, France, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia all seeking to influence the outcome and doing goodness knows what behind the scenes. Syria, however, is not a major global drug trade hub, but careful followers of the  situation there will have noted the occasional accusations -- from both sides -- of  "criminals" being involved. Maybe in 20 years, we will have a better idea of what went on behind the scenes and the role of drug trafficking and smuggling networks there. In the meantime, The Lebanese Connection provides some insight into the forces at play.

Ex-South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel Says Legalize Drugs; Prohibition Is a Destructive, Costly and Futile Strategy

Location: 
SC
United States
Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel is breaking his silence and taking on America's drug prohibition war, saying he advocates a repeal of the prohibition on drugs and calling the government's response a failure. "Drug abuse is a medical, health care and spiritual problem, not a problem to be solved within a criminal justice model," he said. Prohibition is "our government's most destructive policy since slavery," he added.
Publication/Source: 
The State (SC)
URL: 
http://www.thestate.com/2011/02/08/1684798/thomas-ravenel-legalize-drugs.html

Law Student Sues St. John’s University for Rescinding Readmission Over Drug Charges

Location: 
8000 Utopia Parkway St. John’s University
Queens, NY 11439
United States
David Powers, an accountant who took time out of law school at St. John’s University, has sued the Roman Catholic university in New York after it refused to readmit him, saying that he had not been honest about a criminal conviction, since expunged, in his past. Three semesters into his law degree, Mr. Powers was granted a leave of absence to manage a $2-billion investment fund in Hong Kong.
Publication/Source: 
The Chronicle of Higher Education (DC)
URL: 
http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/law-student-sues-st-johns-u-for-rescinding-readmission-over-drug-charges/30251

US Churches Divided on Sending Missionaries, Volunteers to Deadly Juarez

Location: 
Ciudad Juárez, CHH
Mexico
The deadly drug prohibition war in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico has some U.S. churches and ministries divided on whether or not to continue to send missionaries and volunteers across the border.
Publication/Source: 
KVIA (TX)
URL: 
http://www.kvia.com/news/26643793/detail.html

The 700 Club's Pat Roberston Supports Ending Cannabis Prohibition In An Effort To Get 'Smart On Crime'

Televangelist and former Baptist minister Pat Robertson makes a cogent argument on alternatives to arresting and incarcerating citizens who use drugs, with a clear emphasis on legalizing the possession of a few ounces of cannabis.
Publication/Source: 
NORML (DC)
URL: 
http://blog.norml.org/2010/12/22/holy-hemp-pat-roberston-supports-ending-cannabis-prohibition-in-an-effort-to-get-%E2%80%98smart-on-crime%E2%80%99/

Chronic Christians: Did Jesus Heal with Pot?

Location: 
A rising tide of Christians not only smoke pot, but think Jesus used it. They're gaining mainstream legitimacy, challenging religious and political dogma, and sometimes going to jail for their faith in unprecedented numbers. According to pot historian Chris Bennett's chapter on "Early/Ancient History" in Dr. Julie Holland's The Pot Book, Jesus didn't smoke pot, he rubbed it on people in the form of medicinal holy oil. Bennett says a pot doctor Jesus makes more sense than a deity Jesus. The Son of God does pull a lot of lightweight miracles like treating skin lesions, stomach problems, menstrual issues, eye problems, epilepsy and asthma, all of which respond to the cannabis therapies.
Publication/Source: 
East Bay Express (CA)
URL: 
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/LegalizationNation/archives/2010/12/16/chronic-christians-did-jesus-heal-with-pot

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, 2015 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