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The White House: Obama on Drug Policy

The incoming Obama administration has posted its agenda online at the White House web site Whitehouse.gov. While neither drug policy nor criminal justice merited its own category in the Obama agenda, several of the broad categories listed do contain references to drug and crime policy and provide a strong indication of the administration's proclivities.

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But before getting into what the agenda mentions, it's worth noting what the agenda does not mention: marijuana. There is not a word about the nation's most widely used illicit drug or the nearly 900,000 arrests a year generated by marijuana prohibition. Nor, despite Obama campaign pledges, is there a word about medical marijuana or ending the DEA raids on providers in California -- which doesn't necessarily mean he will go back on his word. It could well be that the issue is seen as too marginal to be included in the broad agenda for national change. With the first raid on a medical marijuana clinic during the Obama administration hitting this very week, reformers are anxiously hoping it is only the work of Bush holdovers and not a signal about the future.

Reformers may find themselves pleased with some Obama positions, but they will be less happy with others. The Obama administration wants to reduce inequities in the criminal justice system, but it also taking thoroughly conventional positions on other drug policy issues.

But let's let them speak for themselves. Here are the relevant sections of the Obama agenda:

Under Civil Rights:

  • End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
  • Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
  • Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Under Foreign Policy:

  • Afghanistan: Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security -- the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan's economic development. Obama and Biden will demand the Afghan government do more, including cracking down on corruption and the illicit opium trade.

Under Rural Issues:

  • Combat Methamphetamine: Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

Under Urban Issues:

  • Support Local Law Enforcement: President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to fully funding the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities. Obama and Biden also support efforts to encourage young people to enter the law enforcement profession, so that our local police departments are not understaffed because of a dearth of qualified applicants.
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports: America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Obama and Biden will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership, and work to reform correctional systems to break down barriers for ex-offenders to find employment.

Feature: Narcs Cheer -- House Economic Stimulus Bill Would Give Byrne Grant Program $3 Billion Over Three Years

As part of the $825 billion economic stimulus bill passed by the House last week, the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration included $3 billion for the controversial Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which funds multi-agency drug task forces across the country, and $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, which will pay for thousands of additional police officers to hit the streets. Drug enforcement lobby groups are pleased, particularly about the Byrne funding, but others predict that any "stimulus" more Byrne grants might provide will be followed long-term drag on state budgets in ways going beyond the federal dollars.

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Sen. Harkin and Iowa law enforcement officials at 2004 press conference
In one of the few drug policy-related decisions made by the Bush administration that reformers could cheer, the Bush administration tried throughout its second term to reduce or eliminate funding for the Byrne grants. In so doing, it was heeding the concerns of conservative and taxpayer groups, who called the program "an ineffective and inefficient use of resources." But while the Bush administration tried to gut the program, Congress, still tied to the "tough on drugs" mentality, kept trying to restore funding, albeit at reduced levels.

The Byrne grant program, and especially its funding of the scandal-ridden multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, also came in for harsh criticism from drug reform, civil rights and criminal justice groups. For these critics, the program was in dire need of reform because of incidents like the Tulia, Texas, scandal, where a Byrne-funded task force police officer managed to get 10% of the black population of the town locked up on bogus cocaine distribution charges. Scandals like Tulia showed the Byrne grant program "did more harm than good," the critics wrote in a 2006 letter demanding reform.

Of course, Tulia wasn't the only Byrne-related scandal. A 2002 report from the ACLU of Texas found 16 more scandals involving Byrne grant-funded task forces in Texas, including cases of witness tampering, falsifying of government records, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, racial profiling, and sexual harassment. Byrne-related scandals have also occurred in other states, including the misuse of millions of dollars of grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions because of police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower charges in exchange for cash or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

In accord with its own budget-cutting imperatives, and in response to critics on the right and left, the Bush administration again tried to zero out the Byrne grant program in FY 2008. While the program was indeed cut from $520 million in 2007, Congress still funded it at $170 million for 2008. Now, it has folded the Byrne program and the Clinton-era COPS program into the emergency economic stimulus bill, leading to loud cheers from the law enforcement community.

"Safe communities are the foundation of a growing economy, and increased Byrne JAG funding will help state and local governments hire officers, add prosecutors and fund critical treatment and crime prevention programs," said National Criminal Justice Association President David Steingraber, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. "I applaud the stimulus bill proposed by the House Democrats and press Congress for its quick approval."

"This is very encouraging," said Bob Bushman, vice-president of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition and a 35-year veteran of drug law enforcement in Minnesota. "We think it's a very good sign that this was included in the House bill. The House side was where we struggled in past years. Maybe now the House has listened to us and is taking our concerns more seriously," he said. "We built a broad coalition of law enforcement and drug treatment and prevention people."

Byrne money doesn't just fund the task forces, Bushman pointed out, although he conceded that's where much of the money has gone. "Byrne money goes to all 50 states, and most of them used it for the multi-jurisdictional task forces. Here in Minnesota, we split it between task forces and offender reentry programs and drug courts."

While a answer to just how much Byrne money has gone to the task forces remains buried deep in the bowels of the Justice Department -- part of the problem is that the 50 states are awarded block grants and then decide at the state level how to allocate the funds, and some states are better than others at reporting back to Justice -- observers put a low-ball figure of at least 25% going to fund them, and possibly much higher.

The task forces are needed, said Bowman. "While we are never going to arrest our way out of this, I've seen too much of the damage done by drug abuse, and we need all the help we can get," he said. "Not just for policing, but also for treatment and prevention and drug courts. We need all three pillars, and the Byrne program helps with all three."

If law enforcement was pleased, that wasn't the case with civil rights, taxpayer, and drug reform groups. They said they were disappointed in the restoration of funding under the auspices of the economic stimulus bill, and vowed to continue to try to either cut or reform the program.

"We're working on a letter to Congress about the Byrne grants right now," said Lawanda Johnson, communications director for the Justice Policy Institute, one of the organizations that had signed on to the 2006 DPA letter. "The Byrne grant program is not an effective use of funds for preserving public safety or stimulating the economy. The only way you will get an economic boost from this is if you own stock in Corrections Corporation of America," she laughed, grimly.

"With so many smart people working on the budget and the stimulus package, you would think they would understand that the states are looking to reduce their prison populations and change those policies that have jailed so many people," said Johnson. "To then turn around and have the federal government invest $4 billion in more police and more grants seems paradoxical. It's just going to jack up the spending for states and localities, and they are already struggling."

"We oppose the wasteful economic stimulus bill and we oppose the inclusion of the Byrne grants in it," said Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the conservative taxpayer groups that has opposed the grants for the past several years. "If there is going to be government spending, the least you can do is make sure the money is going to have a long term positive impact on the economy."

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This reverses Bush's cuts in the program and restores funding at even higher levels. At the same time Congress and the Obama administration are expressing great concern about racial disparities and over-incarceration, they keep trying to fund this program, which will only stimulate more arrests of more nonviolent drug offenders," Piper noted.

"The Democrats are framing this as helping in these tough economic times, but the people who will be arrested will end up in state prison, and the states will have to pay for that," Piper pointed out. "The states may well end up paying more in the long run. It's far from clear that this will stimulate the economy, but what is clear is that it will stimulate the breaking up of families and decreasing productivity and tax revenues, especially in communities already devastated by the impact of over-incarceration."

Killing funding outright is unlikely, said Piper. "I don't think there's any way we can stop this from being included because the support for it is strong and bipartisan," he said. "No one wants to go up against the police. Our real hope is that later in the year we can put some restrictions on the program, which is what we've been working on. Instead of trying to cut it, we can try to use it to encourage state and local law enforcement to change how they operate. They're so addicted to federal funding that they may do just about anything, such as documenting arrests or having performance measures."

Bushman and the rest of law enforcement aren't resting easy just yet. "The funding has to survive hearings and make it into the final appropriation," he noted. "This is not a done deal yet."

But it looks like Congress is well on the way to funding three more years of Byrne grants at $1 billion a year, the highest level of funding in years. And don't forget the 13,000 new police officers to be funded for the next three years by the COPS program. If Congress and the cops have their way, we can look forward to more drug busts, more prosecutions, more people sentenced to prison, and a greater burden on already deficit-ridden state budgets.

Think Tanks: Substance Abuse Center "Join Together" Merges With Califano's Controversial CASA

The Boston University-based drug treatment and prevention group Join Together is merging with the controversial National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, an outfit run for years by former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano that reform groups have generally regarded as a propaganda mill. The two groups made the announcement Thursday.

"Merging Join Together into CASA will greatly strengthen CASA's ability to inform the American people of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives, make CASA's research findings and recommendations widely available to those working on the front lines to prevent and treat substance abuse and addiction, and significantly expand our nationwide advocacy capacity," CASA said Thursday. "The combination of CASA and Join Together will produce a total far greater than the sum of the parts."

Join Together describes itself as "the nation's leading provider of information, strategic planning assistance, and leadership development for community-based efforts to advance effective alcohol and drug policy, prevention, and treatment." Among the organization's works is a 2003 report prepared in collaboration with the American Bar Association, lauded by drug policy reformers, in which the authoring panel called for a range of reforms to end discrimination against people in recovery from substance abuse, including repeal of the Higher Education Act's provision denying financial aid for college to would-be students because of drug convictions.

In an e-mail message to his list, Join Together director and founder David Rosenbloom, PhD said he was "thrilled about this new development." It would allow Join Together to expand its content making use of CASA staff and reports. "In fact, we have often looked to CASA research reports, conferences, demonstration projects and books as foundations for our own work." Rosenbloom will succeed Califano on the job as CASA's President and CEO.

Drug policy reformers will not be sorry to see Califano go into retirement. Reformers -- and others -- have criticized CASA's research on numerous occasions. For example, sociologist and drug researcher Craig Reinarman dissected Califano's anti-drug and anti-drug reform agenda in a 1997 article in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Califano had attacked Dutch cannabis policies, attempted to smear proponents as "legalizers," and countered them with what he called "facts" purporting to show that "legalization would be a disaster for European children and teenagers."

Califano is also a relentless purveyor of the widely discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use leads to other drug use, and has resorted to such meaningless and debunked claims as "marijuana users are 85 times as likely to use cocaine as non-users."

In 2002, a Califano report on teen drinking came under fire from a different sort of critic: the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMSHA politely slapped down CASA's sensational -- and widely-reported -- claim that underage drinkers accounted for 25% of total alcohol consumption. The real figure was less than half of CASA's, SAMHSA reported.

Hopefully CASA under Rosenbloom will follow in Join Together's sober footsteps rather than CASA's sensationalistic ones. If so, the new CASA may well become a force for positive change.

Feature: Gazing Into the Crystal Ball -- What Can We Expect in 2009?

In the other feature article in this issue, we looked back at last year, examining the drug policy high and lows. Here, we look forward, and not surprisingly, see some of the same issues. With a prohibitionist drug policy firmly entrenched, many issues are perennial -- and will remain issues until they are resolved.

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gazing into the future of drug policy reform '09 (picture from wikimedia.org)
Of course, America's drug war does not end at our borders, so while there is much attention paid to domestic drug policy issues, our drug policies also have an important impact on our foreign policy. In fact, Afghanistan, which is arguably our most serious foreign policy crisis, is inextricably intertwined with our drug wars, while our drug policies in this hemisphere are also engendering crisis on our southern border and alienation and loss of influence in South America.

Medical Marijuana in the States

In November, Michigan voters made it the 13th medical marijuana state and the first in the Midwest. Now, nearly a quarter of the US population resides in medical marijuana states, and it is likely that number will increase this year. Legislative efforts are underway in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York, among others, and chances are one or more of them will join the club this year. Interest in medical marijuana is also emerging in some unlikely places, such as Idaho, where one legislator has vowed to introduce a bill this year, and South Dakota, where activists who were defeated at the polls in 2006 are trying to get a bill in the legislature this month.

California's Grand Experiment with Medical Marijuana

As with so many other things, when it comes to medical marijuana, California is a different world. With its broadly written law allowing virtually anyone with $150 for a doctor's visit to seek certification as a a registered medical marijuana patient, and with its thriving system of co-ops, collectives, and dispensaries, the Golden State has created a situation of very low risk for consumers and significant protections even for growers and sellers.

With tax revenue streams from the dispensaries now pouring into the state's cash-starved coffers, medical marijuana is also creating political facts on the ground. The state of California is not going to move against a valuable revenue generator.

And if President-Elect Obama keeps his word, the DEA will soon butt out, too. But even if he doesn't, and the raids against dispensaries continue, it seems extremely unlikely that the feds can put the genie back in the bottle. The Bush administration tried for eight years and managed to shut down only a small fraction of operators, most of whom were replaced by competitors anyway.

The state's dispensary system, while currently a patch-work with some areas well-served with stores and other whole counties without any, is also a real world model of what regulated marijuana sales can look like. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pot foes, the dispensaries have, for the most part, operated non-problematically and as good commercial and community neighbors.

California's medical marijuana regime continues to evolve as the state comes to grips with the reality the voters created more than a decade ago. We will continue to watch and report as -- perhaps -- California leads the way to taxed and regulated marijuana sales, and not just for patients.

What Will Obama Do?

It will be a new era in Washington, DC, when President-Elect Obama becomes President Obama in less than three weeks. While the president cannot pass laws, he can provide leadership to the Congress and use his executive powers to make some changes, such as calling off the DEA in California, which he has promised to do.

The one thing we know he will not do is try to legalize marijuana. In response to publicly generated questions about marijuana legalization, his team has replied succinctly: No.

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What will President Obama do?
One early indicator of Obama's proclivities will be his selection of a replacement for John Walters, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. While there has been speculation about some possible candidates, none of them very exciting for drug policy reformers, no candidate has yet been named.

President Obama will also submit budgets to Congress. Those documents will provide very clear indications of his priorities on matters of interest to the reform community, from the controversial program of grants to fund anti-drug law enforcement task forces to spending levels for drug prevention and treatment, as well as funding for America's foreign drug war adventures.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama is not going to expend political capital trying to undo decades of drug war policies, but perhaps the budget axe will do the talking. Goodness knows, we don't have any money to waste in the federal budget these days.

What Will the Congress Do?

Democrats now control not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. One area we will be watching closely is the progress, if any, of federal sentencing reform. There are now more than 100,000 federal drug war prisoners, too many of them low-level crack offenders serving draconian sentences thanks to the efforts of people like Vice President elect Joe Biden, a long-time congressional drug warrior. Several different crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity bills have been introduced. The best was authored by Biden himself, a sign of changing times, if only slowly changing. It is past time for one of these bills, hopefully a good one, to pass into law.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a federal marijuana decriminalization bill last year. The best prediction is that it will go nowhere, but we could always stand to be pleasantly surprised.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, has emerged as a strong critic of federal interference in state medical marijuana programs. Conyers could use his position to highlight that issue, and possibly, to introduce legislation designed to address the problem of federal interference.

One area where the Congress, including the Democratic leadership, has proven vulnerable to the politics of tough on crime is the federal funding of those anti-drug task forces. In a rare fit of fiscal sanity, the Bush administration has been trying for years to zero out those grants, but the Congress keeps trying to get them back in the budget -- and then some. We will be watching those funding battles this year to see if anything has changed.

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Coca Museum, La Paz, Bolivia
Mexico

With the death toll from prohibition-related violence topping 5,000 last year, Mexico is in the midst of a multi-sided war that is not going to end in the foreseeable future, especially given America's insatiable appetite for the forbidden substances that are making Mexican drug trafficking organizations obscenely wealthy. With the $1.4 billion anti-drug military and police assistance known as Plan Merida approved last year by the Bush administration and the Congress, the US is now investing heavily in escalating the violence.

The National Drug Information Center has identified Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the nation's number one criminal threat, and chances are the violence south of the border will begin to ooze across the line. That will only add to the pressure among law enforcement and political figures to "do something." But given the current mindset among policymakers, just about anything they may be inclined to do to "help" is unlikely to be helpful.

The cartel wars in Mexico are also having an impact on Mexican domestic politics, with President Felipe Calderón's popularity suffering a significant decline. The angst over the escalating violence has already provided an opening for talk about drug policy reform in Mexico, with the opposition PRD saying that legalization has to be on the table, and Calderón himself announcing he wants to decriminalize drug possession (although how that would have any noticeable impact on the traffic or the violence remains unclear).

Look for the violence to continue, and watch to see if the resulting political pressure results in any actual policy changes. Drug War Chronicle will likely be heading down to Tijuana before too long for some on-scene reporting.

The Andean Drug War

... is not going well. Despite pouring billions of dollars into Plan Colombia, coca production there is at roughly the same level as a decade ago. Cocaine exports continue seemingly immune to all efforts to suppress them, although more appears to be heading for Europe these days. During the Bush administration, the US war on drugs in Colombia has morphed into openly supporting the Colombian government's counterinsurgency war against the leftist FARC rebels, who have been weakened, but, flush with dollars from the trade, are not going away. Neither are the rightist paramilitary organizations, who also benefit from the trade. Will an Obama administration try something new?

Meanwhile, Bolivia and Venezuela, the only countries singled out by the Bush administration as failing to comply with US drug policy objectives, have become allies in an emerging leftist bloc that seeks to challenge US hegemony in the region. Both countries have thrown out the DEA -- Venezuela in 2005, Bolivia last fall -- and are cooperating to expand markets for Bolivia's nascent coca industry. Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged this week that some coca production is being diverted to cocaine traffickers, but said that he does not need US help in dealing with it.

And in Peru, where President Alan García has sent out the army to eradicate coca crops in line with US policy, unrest is mounting in coca growing regions, coca farmers are pushing into indigenous territories, causing more problems, and the Shining Path insurgency, once thought decisively defeated, has reemerged, although apparently minus its Maoist ideology, as a criminal trafficking organization and protector of coca farmers. The Peruvian government blames the Shining Path for killing 25 soldiers, police, and anti-drug workers in ambushes last year. Look for that toll to increase this year.

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Afghan opium
Afghanistan

More than seven years after the US invaded to overthrow the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, and has been each year since the Taliban were driven from power. While US drug war imperatives remain strong, they are in conflict with the broader objectives of the counterinsurgency there, and any efforts to suppress poppy planting or the opium trade will not only have a huge impact on the national economy, but are likely to drive Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the resurgent Taliban, which is estimated to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year off taxing and protecting the trade. That buys a lot of guns to point at Afghan, American and NATO troops.

President elect Obama has vowed to reinvigorate the US war in Afghanistan by sending 20,000 additional troops, and NATO has reluctantly agreed to attack the drug trade by going after traffickers linked to the Taliban or various warlords -- but not those linked to the government in Kabul. Last year was the bloodiest year yet for coalition forces in Afghanistan; look for this year to top it.

Methamphetamine: Graphic Montana Scare Campaign May Not Work After All, Study Finds

The Montana Meth Project, an anti-methamphetamine campaign based around scary images of the perils of meth use, has been widely touted as a successful public health intervention. Its images showing the extreme consequences of using the popular stimulant "just once" have been touted by supporters as highly effective at deterring teen meth use, and it has even garnered state and federal funding and been adopted by other states based on those claims.

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methamphetamine crystals
Not so fast, said the authors of a new study released this week. In Drugs, Money, and Graphic Ads: A Critical Review of the Montana Meth Project, published this month in the journal Prevention Science, researchers found that the ad campaign produced a number of negative consequences and challenged its impact on meth use rates in the state.

According to the study, teens who had been exposed to six months of the project's graphic ads were three times as likely to say they did not believe meth use was a risky behavior and four times more likely to strongly approve of regular meth use. Half of the teens said the ads exaggerated the dangers of meth use.

The Montana Meth Campaign and its proponents overlooked such unflattering results when presenting findings to the media and policymakers, the researchers said. Instead, the campaign portrayed its results in the most positive light possible.

The researchers also scoffed at claims the program had reduced meth use. "Meth use had been declining for at least six years before the ad campaign commenced, which suggests that factors other than the graphic ads cause reductions in meth use. Another issue is that the launch of the ad campaign coincided with restrictions on the sale of cold and flu medicines commonly used in the production of meth. This means that drug use could be declining due to decreased production of meth, rather than being the result of the ad campaign," said review author David Erceg-Hurn in a Society for Prevention Research news release Thursday.

Ereceg-Hurn also attacked the theoretical underpinnings of the campaign. "The idea behind the ad campaign is that teenagers take meth because they believe it is socially acceptable, and not risky, and the ads are meant to alter these perceptions," he said. "However, this theory is flawed because the Meth Project's own data shows that 98% of teenagers strongly disapproved of meth use and 97% thought using meth was risky before the campaign started," Erceg-Hurn said.

Spending government funds on Meth Project-style campaigns is a waste of money, Erceg-Hurn concluded. Or, in more diplomatic terms: "Based on current evidence, continued public funding and rollout of Montana-style anti-methamphetamine graphic ad campaign programs is inadvisable."

Southeast Asia Plans to be Drug-Free by 2015

The plan is to get all the kids to stop smoking and drinking, which will result in the elimination of all drug use within 6 years:

KUCHING, Dec 10 (Bernama) -- The International Federation of Non-governmental Organisations for the Prevention of Drug and Substance Abuse (IFNGO) has targeted a drug-free Asean by 2015 to counter the widespread abuse of "gateway drugs" among the region's younger generation, who are susceptible to the lure of alcohol and tobacco.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said today children and the youth who were addicted to such "gateway drugs" provided the recruitment base for addiction to illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

"Fighting the war against drugs is a formidable and difficult task. I am certain that with concerted effort from all members of the Asean IFNGO network, we can bear down on the problem of gateway drugs and achieve our goal of a drug-free Asean by 2015," he said. [Bernama.com]

And I am certain that by 2015 I will have, through deep concentration, mastered the art of levitation and learned to shoot laser beams from my eyes. If I fail, it will be everyone’s fault but my own.

Parents Are Using Drug Dogs on Their Own Children

I suppose it was just a matter of time:

Ali is a highly trained German shepherd that spent eight years on narcotics patrol with the New Jersey police force, hunting down drug smugglers at airports and drug dealers on inner-city streets. Post-retirement, he's working in the private sector, sniffing teenagers' bedrooms.

Ali and his handler are now working for a new company in New Jersey called Sniff Dogs.

The company, which also conducts business in Ohio, rents drug-sniffing canines to parents for $200 an hour. It was started this year by Debra Stone, who says her five trained dogs can detect heroin, cocaine, crystal meth and ecstasy.

The dogs' noses are so sensitive that they can smell a marijuana seed from up to 15 feet away and marijuana residue on clothing from drugs smoked two nights before.

One of the selling points of this service? Avoiding the kind of confrontation that comes with a drug test. [ABC News]

Yeah, unless Derrick walks in while you’re marching a snarling drug dog around his room. This is ridiculous. Anyway, it makes no sense to do it when your kid isn’t home. The drugs are usually on them, so there’s gonna be a confrontation after all. And subjecting your children to dog sniffs is at least as likely to provoke animosity as a urine test. Who are they kidding?

Parenting is hard and teenage drug abuse is almost impossible to handle exactly the right way. But bringing drug sniffing dogs into your house is just totally crazy, it really is. It’s the sort of approach that only occurs to parents whose over-the-top hysteria about drugs has already eliminated the possibility that their kids would actually tell them anything voluntarily.

Update: In response to this comment, I don't think the point is really to help parents who are already dealing with a drug abuse problem in their home. At that point, you don't need a drug dog to tell you what you already know. If you start doing stuff like that, your kid just won't bring it in the house. One of the mothers quoted in the story is using the dog as an extra precaution even though her kids seem fine. And that's weird. Seriously. If your kids say they're not using drugs and they're happy and doing well in school, etc. and yet you're still marching drug dogs around their rooms...you're the one with a problem.

DEA Thrills Schoolchildren With Awesome Drug War Parade

Sometimes, with all the innocent people being killed, it’s easy to forget how much fun the drug war can be:

Educators in West Seattle may have discovered a new way to control 484 wildly cheering children: a burly federal agent wearing camouflage and brandishing a bullhorn.

It was unclear who was having more fun, the kids or the cops, at the culmination Thursday of several days of drug prevention programs at the Holy Rosary School in West Seattle.

The three letter agencies were there: DEA, ICE, FBI. As children wearing red sweaters and blue pants or tartan skirts lined 42nd Avenue Southwest, agents in raid jackets, swat gear and even hazardous-material suits slapped palms with the pumped-up youngsters. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Jodie Underwood -- dressed in black and packing her service revolver -- looked armed and dangerous until she turned toward a bunch of 8-year- olds with a grin on her face and asked: "Are you guys having fun?" [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

Well, at least the cops and a bunch of 8-year-olds are having a good time.

Latin America: UNODC Head Again Blames Drugs -- Not Drug Prohibition -- for Crime and Violence

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Antonio Maria Costa used the occasion of the October 8 meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Safety in Mexico City to again blame the drug trade for the crime and violence caused by drug prohibition. In so doing, he also took a pot-shot at drug reformers, calling them the "pro-drug lobby."

"As a hemisphere, the Americas face the world's biggest drug problem," Costa told the assembled drug fighters in a speech opening the event." Whether we measure it in hectares of cultivation, tons of production, its market value or even by the gruesome number of people killed in the dirty trade," the drug crisis affecting the security of the ordinary people in the area is huge.

"Your citizens indeed say that what they fear the most is not terrorism, not climate change, not a financial crisis. It is public safety. And in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetrated by organized crime," he stated.

But Costa ignored the incontrovertible fact that the threat to public order and safety from illicit drug trafficking is a direct result of drug prohibition, which creates the conditions in which such lawlessness and violence thrives, and not of some property inherent to currently proscribed drugs. He blamed everything from urban violence in the US to Canadian biker gangs to Mexican drug wars to Colombia's insurgency and Brazil's drug "commandos," on "drug crime," not drug prohibition.

And even as more and more Latin American governments, tired of trying to achieve UN and US drug policy goals, ponder drug decriminalization and/or legalization (see related story here), Costa sounded the tocsin about the temptations of legalization. "At this point, we know what some people -- the pro-drug lobby, for example -- would say: 'Legalize drugs and crime will disappear.' In other words, while facing an undeniably tough problem, we are invited to accept it, hide our head in the sand and make it legal."

In the face of decades of failed international drug control policies that rely on prohibition enforcement, demand reduction, and to a lesser degree, drug treatment and prevention, Costa called for more of the same, although he seemed to admit that the world could not enforce its way to total sobriety. "Until more resources are put into drug treatment and prevention as well as viable alternatives for illicit crops, narco-traffickers will continue to ply their lucrative and deadly trade across the Western hemisphere," Costa warned.

Study: Drug Czar’s Billion Dollar Anti-Drug Ad Campaign is a Failure

The drug czar likes to claim that we criticize his ad campaign because we want more kids to use marijuana. Will he say the same about researchers hired by Congress?

Despite investing $1 billion in a massive anti-drug campaign, a controversial new study suggests that the push has failed to help the United States win the war on drugs.

A congressionally mandated study released today concluded that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign launched in the late 1990s to encourage young people to stay away from drugs "is unlikely to have had favorable effects on youths."

In fact, the study's authors assert that anti-drug ads may have unwittingly delivered the message that other kids were doing drugs, inadvertently slowing measured progress that was being made to curb marijuana use among teenagers.

"Youths who saw the campaign ads took from them the message that their peers were using marijuana," the report suggests as a possible reason for its findings. "In turn, those who came to believe that their peers were using marijuana were more likely to initiate use themselves." [ABC News]

Ironically, if reformers actually wanted more kids to use marijuana, we’d support the drug czar’s ad campaign. His propaganda appears to have encouraged use among those viewing the ads, even as marijuana use among America’s youth was decreasing overall. Based on the data, it's entirely possible that youth drug use would be even lower – and U.S. taxpayers would be $1 billion richer – if the drug czar had never run these ads in the first place.

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