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NY Pols Call for Marijuana Decriminalization Fix

The New York Times reported Sunday that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) would come out Monday in support of legislation that would halt the NYPD's practice of arresting people for public possession of marijuana after stopping and frisking them and ordering them to empty their pockets. By Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly both agreed, throwing their support behind the proposal.

New York actually decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of pot back in 1977, meaning people caught with small amounts of marijuana would only be ticketed -- not arrested -- but beginning with the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD began violating the spirit of the law (if not the letter) with its policy of forcing people it stopped to pull out their baggies, then charging them with the arrestable misdemeanor of public possession of marijuana. That meant an average 24-hour stay in the city's jails for people who should only have been issued a citation, as well as a criminal record.

Police in New York arrested a little more than 2,000 people a year for marijuana during the 1980s and through the mid-1990s, but as the city's stop-and-frisk campaign began under Giuliani and accelerated in the wake of 9/11, those numbers skyrocketed, averaging more than 40,000 a year since 1995. Last year it was more than 50,000, nearly nine out of 10 of them black or Latino.

Mayor Bloomberg had previously opposed efforts to revise the law to prevent abuses like those practiced by the NYPD, but in a Monday statement, he changed his tune. Because the proposed changes would still allow arrest for actually smoking or selling marijuana, they "strike the right balance," the mayor said.

The legislation the governor and the mayor are getting behind is Assembly Bill 7620 and its companion, Senate Bill 5187. Those bills would standardize penalties for marijuana possession by striking the language about "in public view" and "burning" from the state's marijuana law. But Cuomo and Bloomberg don't want "burning" to be decriminalized, so some haggling is likely to take place.

It's about time, said activists from the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, and VOCAL, a group representing people affected by AIDS, drug use, or exposure to the criminal justice system. The three groups have been spearheading the effort to get the bills through the legislature.

"Governor Cuomo has demonstrated real leadership and with his recognition that the NYPD is unlawfully arresting tens of thousands of young people; this is a tremendous advancement to ending these egregious police practices," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We cannot have laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race. The legislature must now act and reform these policies, and only then will New York fully realize the intent of the 1977 marijuana decriminalization law."

"Governor Cuomo's call is well appreciated and welcomed by a growing coalition of faith and civil rights leaders who have been working to ensure a jail-free future for our youth by investing in community development and resources that are far more effective at guiding our youth in the choices they make towards fulfilling their best potential," said Kyung Ji Kate Rhee of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives.

"By taking up this issue Governor Cuomo is taking a major step forward to ending the criminalization of young men of color. This shows great leadership by our governor to address racially biased practices and restore the relationship between communities of color and our government," according to Alfredo Carrasquillo, community organizer for VOCAL New York and former victim of illegal marijuana arrests.

Those three groups, as well as others, are preparing a big push in the next two weeks to get the bills passed. Plans include an online media campaign and a mass rally in Albany on June 12. Stay tuned.

Albany, NY
United States

DEA Forgets Student in Cell, Pols Want Answers

The DEA and its parent agency, the Justice Department, have come under increasing criticism over the case of a University of California-San Diego student who was swept up in a drug raid, placed in a holding cell, and forgotten. When 23-year-old Daniel Chong was finally discovered five days later, his condition was so poor he was hospitalized for three days in intensive care.

The DEA has since apologized for the incident, but US representatives and senators from California are demanding answers, and Chong and his attorney have filed a $20 million lawsuit against the agency.

Chong was one of nine people swept up in a raid targeting Ecstasy traffickers early in the morning of April 21. Chong said that he had gone to the residence the night before -- the marijuana holiday of 4/20 -- "to get high" and was arrested along with the others the next morning. DEA agents booked all nine, then transported seven to local jails, released one person, and apparently forgot all about Chong.

In an interview with the Associated Press last Wednesday, Chong said that after waiting hours in the cell, which had no toilet or running water, he screamed and kicked the door, to no avail. As the days dragged on, he said he realized he was trapped. On day three, he began to hallucinate. He urinated on a metal bench so he could drink his urine to quench his thirst. He eventually began to accept that he would die in the cell. He bit into his glasses to break them and used a shard of glass to carve "Sorry, Mom" on his arm as a farewell, but only got as far as the letter "S".

He said he was considering using the glass to kill himself and end his suffering. "I pretty much lost my mind," he said. He also admitted ingesting some methamphetamine that had been left hidden in a mattress in the cell by a previous occupant.

Then, on day five, a DEA agent opened the door to find the still handcuffed Chong covered in his own feces. "Where did you come from?" the agent asked.

The engineering student for taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He had lost 15 pounds. He spent three days in intensive care and two more days at the hospital before being released.

San Diego DEA Special Agent in Charge William Sherman apologized to Chong, though not directly, and said in a statement he was "deeply troubled" by the incident. Sherman said he had ordered an extensive review of policies and procedures at the office.

That wasn't good enough several members of the state's congressional delegation, who have demanded answers from the DEA and the Justice Department.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) last Wednesday called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to begin an "immediate and thorough" Justice Department investigation into the matter. "After the investigation is completed, I ask that you please provide me with the results and the actions the department will take to make sure those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment," she wrote.

On Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-San Diego), head of the House Government Oversight Committee, called for in investigation, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego County) sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart asking for a full accounting of Chong's detention, processes in place for accounting for detained individuals, and the steps the DEA is taking to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"The situation involving Chong may in fact be an isolated incident," Hunter wrote. "Regardless, my concern is that this situation could also be a symptom of a bigger problem, with errors in procedure and oversight possibly extending to the division's law enforcement function."

Chong is "still recovering" from his ordeal, San Diego attorney Gene Iredale, who is representing him, said at a press conference last Wednesday. "He thought he was going insane," Iredale added.

Iredeale filed preliminary papers for the $20 million law suit last Wednesday. The suit alleges Chong was treated in a way that constitutes torture under US and international law.

"He is glad to be alive," Iredale said of Chong. "He wants to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else."

San Diego, CA
United States

Jacksonville Police Kill Armed Man in Drug Raid

A Jacksonville, Florida, narcotics detective shot and killed an armed man during a drug raid aimed at arresting a small-scale crack dealer last Thursday. Juan Montrice Lawrence, 40, becomes the 22nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in a one-week period.

According to the Florida Times-Union, citing Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman John Hartley, detectives had spent six weeks buying crack out of an apartment in the Casa del Rio St. Johns complex, and, after making one last purchase at the apartment door Thursday afternoon, a "take-down team" attempted to arrest their target, Nathaniel Phillip Hill, 39.

But Hill struggled, and the officers were pulled into the apartment as they took Hill to the floor. A second male, later identified as Hill's teen-age son, was also tackled. At that point, veteran narcotics Detective Valentino Demps saw Lawrence standing in a hallway with a gun in his hand. Demps ordered Lawrence to drop the gun, then shot him twice when he did not comply.

"He gave multiple commands for the suspect to drop the gun. He refused to obey the commands," Hartley said. "He was shot at least twice, once in the face, once in the hip."

Lawrence was taken to Shands Jacksonville Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Witnesses described seeing officers in black uniforms and ski masks gathered at the apartment complex.

By Friday, police had identified Lawrence as an "armed felon" whose previous convictions including carrying a concealed weapon and cocaine possession and were saying that the decision to shoot him had probably saved several officers' lives.

"If he'd let him get down that hallway, we could have three or four dead officers at the scene," Hartley said. "Certainly he [Lawrence] was ready to fire on them."

Nathaniel Hill was arrested and charges with distribution of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. An ounce of cocaine, a pistol, and rounds of ammunition were seized at the apartment. Hill's teenage son was detained, but later released without charges.

Jacksonville, FL
United States

Protestors Challenge NYC Mayor on Mass Marijuana Arrests [FEATURE]

New York City has the dubious -- and well-earned -- reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital, with more than 50,000 people being arrested for pot possession there last year alone at an estimated cost of $75 million. It also has a mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has famously said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, yet who presides over a police force that has run roughshod over the state's marijuana decriminalization law in order to make those arrests, almost all of which are of members of the city's black and brown minority communities.

Protestors call on Mayor Bloomberg (DPA)
Last Thursday, activists and concerned citizens organized as the New Yorkers for Health & Safety campaign marched to the mayor's home, an apartment building in Manhattan's Upper East Side, to call him on his hypocrisy, chastise the NYPD for its racially-skewed stop-and-frisk policing, and demand that the city quit wasting tens of millions a dollar a year on low-level marijuana arrests even as it proposes cuts to other vital New York City services.

The campaign, consisting of members of the Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, and Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH), among others, brought out dozens of people for a march to the mayor's residence, followed by a brief rally. Protestors, some wearing Mayor Bloomberg masks, held signs and chanted as they rallied across the street from the apartment building.

"Bloomberg is doing more than wasting $75 million a year on marijuana arrests, he is wasting the future our youth," said Chino Hardin, lead know-your-rights trainer for the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "We don't want kids using drugs, so why not put money into real programs that will help them make better choices, not give forever lasting criminal records."

On the march to the mayor's place, with Bloomberg masks (DPA)
Under New York state law, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized, punishable by a ticket and fine. But NYPD practice, designed to get around that law and generate arrests, is to stop and frisk citizens going about their business, almost always young people of color, order them to empty their pockets (which they are not required by law to do), then arrest them for possession of marijuana in public when a baggie containing weed emerges. That is not an infraction, but a misdemeanor, and the victims are then arrested and jailed, typically for 24 hours or more, before being arraigned and released.

Last year, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered an end to that practice, but that has yet to be reflected in declining marijuana possession arrest numbers. And those numbers are huge: In addition to the more than 50,000 arrested last year, another 350,000 have been arrested since Bloomberg took office in 2002, at an estimated cost to the city of $600 million.

Even though whites use marijuana at higher rates than any other ethnic or racial group, nearly 85% of those arrested for pot possession are black and Latino, and most are under 30. Being arrested for pot means more than a day or so in jail; it also creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be accessed by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks, damaging the life prospects of those saddled with a rap sheet.

"For a mayor who celebrates diversity as a key staple of the city, he sure has a horrible way of demonstrating his appreciation for certain communities in our City," said Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Black and Latino New Yorkers cannot walk down the street without fear of being stopped, frisked, illegally searched, and then falsely charged and arrested for something that was decriminalized over 30 years ago. This is costing us millions of dollars as taxpayers. It's an insult, and must end now."

Academic marijuana arrest researcher Harry Levine has a few words for the mayor (DPA)
Mayor Bloomberg last year launched a new $130 million Young Men's Initiative, "the nation's boldest and most comprehensive effort to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of black and Latino young men," but continues to preside over a marijuana arrest policy seemingly designed to increase those disparities. That makes the mayor a hypocrite, the protestors charged.

"Mayor Bloomberg is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to helping young Black and Latino men like me," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY who has been targeted under stop-and-frisk practices, illegally searched and falsely arrested for marijuana possession. "The money for his Young Men's Initiative goes to waste along with the taxpayer dollars he's wasting on pursuing his marijuana arrests crusade in my community."

"New York City is spending $75 million dollars a year to arrest and prosecutor mostly young people of color simply for possessing marijuana -- which is not a crime in New York State." said Harry Levine, Queens College Professor and founder of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. "It is long past time for this outrage to stop."

The sign says it all (DPA)
It isn't just activists who have taken notice. Lawmakers in Albany have crafted bipartisan legislation, Assembly Bill 7620, introduced by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D, WFP-Brooklyn), and companion measure Senate Bill 5187, introduced by Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), that would standardize marijuana possession penalties statewide, enforcing the original legislative intent of the 1977 decriminalization law. Dozens of New York City council members have signed onto a resolution supporting those bills and calling to end to the mass marijuana arrests.

"The explosion of low level marijuana arrests in New York City is a tremendous waste of precious law enforcement resources and needlessly scars thousands of young lives," said Jeffries. "Our legislation is an additional step toward a more equitable criminal justice system that treats everyone the same, regardless of race or socioeconomic status."

Activists in the city aren't waiting for Albany to ride to the rescue. They are planning more street actions, including one next month, said the Drug Policy Alliance's Frederique, and they're looking for some white guys.

"We will be having an action in April, but haven't yet decided on the date and location, or the exact nature of the action," she said. "We're trying to get white men under 30 to show up, since those are the people who actually smoke marijuana, but don't get arrested. And we are cordially inviting New York City's most famous pot smoker, Mayor Bloomberg, to attend."

An organizing meeting for the April action will take place next Wednesday, April 4, at 113 West 13th Street in Manhattan. Contact the organizations linked to above for more information.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 50,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and another 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, January 20

In Durango, a high-ranking aide to Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was shot and killed by an army special operations unit. Luis Alberto Cabrera Sarabia, "the Engineer," is thought to have been responsible for cartel operations in Durango and parts of Chihuahua. One gunman was killed in the operation and eleven were taken into custody. Four soldiers were wounded during the gun battle.

Saturday, January 21

In Ciudad Juarez, a police officer was shot and killed on his way to work. A police spokesman said the officers were in a private vehicle when they were cut off by another car and several men opened fire.

In Sonora, a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel figure was captured near the city of Cananea. Fidel Mancinas Franco is thought to have been in charge of cartel operations in Nogales, Agua Prieta, Naco and Cananea. He is also wanted in the United States in connection with the deaths of 11 migrants in 2009.

Sunday, January 22

In Atoyac de Alvarrez, Guerrero, eight men were killed at a funeral for a man shot days earlier. The men were attacked by men wielding automatic weapons.

In Acapulco, three bodies were found in an empty lot. Another individual was found decapitated in a car and a fifth died during an exchange of fire with the police.

Monday, January 23

In Veracruz, Mexican marines took over the duties of the local transit police. The move is designed to root out corrupt elements of the force, which, like the Veracruz municipal police, is thought to have been thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime groups.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were murdered. In one incident, four men were shot and killed when gunmen stormed a house in the south of the city. Earlier in the day, a naked body bound in duct tape was thrown from a moving car, along with a note from a criminal group.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, four gunmen were killed by the army. A local university was temporarily locked down during the incident.

Also in Saltillo, army and police forces conducted operations inside several penal facilities looking for drugs, weapons and other suspicious items.

Tuesday, January 24

Near Mexico City, five police officers were ambushed and killed as they made a traffic stop in Ixtapaluca. The officers had stopped a vehicle when a taxi and a minivan pulled up and they were shot at by gunmen with assault rifles. Police suspect the incident was an attempt to free people who had been taken into police custody.

Across Ciudad Juarez, banners threatening the municipal police were hung at various locations. Some of the notes also mention police Chief Julian Leyzoala by name. The banners were taken down and police stations in the city were put on high alert.

Two officers were shot and killed as they traveled in a private Ford Mustang in the city. At least five municipal police officers have been killed so far in 2012.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people have been killed by the end of 2011.

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and approximately 12,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, January 4

In Altamira Prison in Tamaulipas, a clash between groups of rival inmates left 31 dead. Another 13 were wounded in the incident, which began when a group of men stormed a wing of the prison which they were forbidden from entering. Local media reported that the fighting was between members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, but that has not been confirmed. Later on, twenty prisoners were detained for their part in the fight.

Thursday, January 5

In Michoacan, five bodies were found abandoned in a burning SUV. Authorities believe the five men were all cartel gunmen killed during intense gun battles between rival local criminal organizations.

In Tijuana, a Sinaloa Cartel figure was arrested. Omar Cabrera Bengoecha, "R-12," is alleged to be a former municipal police officer who worked for a faction of the Tijuana Cartel that broke away from the Arellano-Felix Organization and allied with El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. In 2008, Cabrera Bengoecha was dismissed from the police force for his involvement in illicit narcotics transport.

Saturday, January 7

In Nuevo Leon, authorities announced the arrest of four men for participating in a kidnapping cell. One of the men was suspended professional goalkeeper Omar "El Gato" Ortiz. It is alleged that the gang -- which is tied to the Gulf Cartel -- participated in at least 20 kidnappings.

Monday, January 9

In Michoacan, 13 bodies were discovered dumped at a gas station near the town of Zitacuaro. At least two of the dead were minors. All the dead individuals were male and most had been shot in the head and tortured. A message left at the scene led authorities to believe the killings are in relation to the ongoing struggle between La Familia Michoaca and an offshoot group known as the Knights Templar.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered in two multiple homicides. In one incident, a woman and three men were taken from their home by five heavily armed gunmen and executed. According to reports, the suspects wore black uniforms and said they were federal police officers. While the five men searched the home for drugs, at least ten other gunmen stood watch outside.

Tuesday, January 10

In Nuevo Leon, an army patrol killed four gunmen during an engagement near the municipality of Cerralvo, about 50 miles from the Texas border. A woman was seriously wounded in the fighting, but it is unclear if she was a kidnapping victim or lived at the rural location. Several weapons and vehicles were captured.

In Washington, the Treasury Department said in a statement that they were placing two Mexicans and a Colombian national on Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers list for their involvement with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, whom they called the world's most powerful drug trafficker.

In Ciudad Juarez, one municipal police officer was killed and five others wounded after being attacked by a group of gunmen. Five civilians were also wounded in the attack.

In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, authorities disarmed a car bomb left outside a state police facility.

Wednesday, January 11

In Mexico City, two bodies were found in a burning SUV left outside a high-end shopping mall in the city's Sante Fe area. A note left at the scene was signed by a local organization known as the "Hand with Eyes." Both victims had been decapitated.

[Editor's Note: Our 2011 estimated death toll is 12,150, pending the release of official figures. Our new 2012 death toll is also an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,150

Total Body Count for 2012: (approx.) 100

TOTAL: > 46,000

Mexico

Recreational Drug User Asks Newt Gingrich if She Should Be Arrested

…And for like the first time ever, the most notorious blowhard in the GOP has very little to say.

Did I hear that right? It sounds to me like Newt Gingrich just endorsed not arresting recreational drug users (or at least this particular one), and where I come from we call that decriminalization. Too bad he beat it the hell out of there so fast. I wanna know more about this man's formula for determining who should and should not be arrested (and/or killed) for breaking our drug laws. Inquiring minds want to know!

*Thanks to our friends at Students for Sensible Drug Policy for hitting the ground in New Hampshire and making this happen.

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

The Top Ten Domestic US Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/usmap-small.jpg
We can put 2011 to bed now, but not before looking back one last time at the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a year of rising hopes and crushing defeats, of gaining incremental victories and fending off old, failed policies. And it was a year in which the collapse of the prohibitionist consensus grew ever more pronounced. Let's look at some of the big stories:

Progress on Marijuana Legalization

Last year saw considerable progress in the fight for marijuana legalization, beginning in January, when Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) got President Obama to say that legalization (in general) is "an entirely legitimate topic for debate," and that while he does not favor it, he does believe in "a public health-oriented approach" to illicit drugs. Before the LEAP intervention, which was made via a YouTube contest, legalization was "not in the president's vocabulary." While we're glad the president learned a new word, we would be more impressed if his actions matched his words. Later in the year, in response to "We the People" internet petitions, the Obama White House clarified that, yes, it still opposes marijuana legalization.

In June, Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) made history by introducing the first ever bill in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition, H.R. 2306. It hasn't been scheduled for a hearing or otherwise advanced in the legislative process, but it has garnered 20 cosponsors so far. Sadly, its lead sponsors are both retiring after this term.

Throughout the year, there were indications that marijuana legalization is on the cusp of winning majority support among the electorate. An August Angus Reid poll had support at 55%, while an October Gallup poll had it at 50%, the first time support legalization has gone that high since Gallup started polling the issue. A November CBS News poll was the downside outlier, showing support at only 40%, down slightly from earlier CBS polls. But both the Angus Reid and the Gallup polls disagreed with CBS, showing support for legalization trending steadily upward in recent years.

Legalization is also polling reasonably -- if not comfortably -- well in Colorado and Washington, the two states almost certain to vote on initiatives in November. In December, Public Policy Polling had legalization leading 49% to 40% in Colorado, but that was down slightly from an August poll by the same group that had legalization leading 51% to 38%.

In Washington, a similar situation prevails. A January KING5/SurveyUSA poll had 56% saying legalization would be a good idea and 54% saying they supported marijuana being sold at state-run liquor stores (similar to what the I-502 initiative proposes), while a July Elway poll had 54% either definitely supporting legalization or inclined to support it. But by September, the Strategies 360 Washington Voter Survey had public opinion evenly split, with 46% supporting pot legalization and 46% opposed.

The polling numbers in Colorado and Washington demonstrate that victory at the polls in November is in reach, but that it will be a tough fight and is by no means a sure thing. "Stoners Against Proposition 19"-style opposition in both states isn't going to help matters, either.

Oh, and Connecticut became the 14th decriminalization state.

Medical Marijuana Advances…

In May, Delaware became the 16th state to enact a medical marijuana law. Under the law, patients with qualifying conditions can legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana, but they cannot grow their own. Instead, they must purchase it from a state-licensed compassion center. That law will go into effect this year.

Meanwhile, New Jersey and Washington, DC, continue their achingly slow progress toward actually implementing existing medical marijuana laws. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) finally got out of the way and okayed plans for up to six dispensaries, but early efforts to set them up are running into NIMBY-style opposition. In DC, a medical marijuana program approved by voters in 1998 (!) but thwarted by Congress until 2009 is nearly at the stage of selecting dispensary operators. One of these months or years, patients in New Jersey and DC may actually get their medicine.

And late in the year, after the federal government rejected a nine-year-old petition seeking to reschedule marijuana, the governors of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington formally asked the Obama administration to reschedule it so that states could regulate its medical use without fear of federal interference. As the year came to an end, Colorado joined in the request for rescheduling.

…But the Empire Strikes Back

Last year saw the Obama administration recalibrate its posture toward medical marijuana, and not for the better. Throughout the year, US Attorneys across the country sent ominous signals that states attempting to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries could face problems, including letters to state governors not quite stating that state employees involved in regulation of the medical marijuana industry could face prosecution. That intimidated public officials who were willing to be intimidated, leading, for example, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delaying his state's medical marijuana program, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) to kill plans for dispensaries there, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) to veto key parts of a bill there that would have regulated dispensaries.

Then the feds hit hard at Montana, raiding dispensaries and growers there, even as the state law was under attack by conservative Republican legislators. Now, Montana medical marijuana providers are heading to federal prison, and the state law has been restricted. What was once a booming industry in Montana has been significantly stifled.

There have also been raids directed at providers in Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, but California has been the primary target of federal attention in the latter half of the year. Since a joint offensive by federal prosecutors in the state got underway in October, with threat letters being sent to numerous dispensaries and their landlords, a great chill has settled over the land. Dispensary numbers are dropping by the day, the number of lost jobs number in the thousands, and the amount of tax revenues lost to local jurisdictions and the state is in the millions. That's not to mention the patients who are losing safe access to their medicine.

It's unclear whether the impetus for the crackdown originated in the Dept. of Justice headquarters in Washington or with individual US Attorneys in the states. Advocates hope it will stay limited mainly to states that are not effectively regulating the industry, and a coalition in California has filed a ballot initiative for 2012 that would do just that. Either way there is plenty of pain ahead, for patients and for providers who took the president's and attorney general's earlier words on the subject at face value.

Synthetic Panic

Last year, Congress and state and local governments across the land set their sights on new synthetic drugs, especially synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and a number of methcathinone derivatives ("bath salts") marketed for their stimulating effects similar to amphetamines or cocaine. Confronted with these new substances, politicians resorted to reflex prohibitionism, banning them as fast as they could.

Some 40 states and countless cities and counties have imposed bans on fake weed or bath salts or both, most of them acting this year.

At the federal level, the DEA enacted emergency bans on fake weed -- after first being temporarily blocked by retailers -- and then bath salts until Congress could act. It did so at the end of the year, passing the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011. The bill makes both sets of substances Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which will pose substantial impediments to researching them. Under the bill, prison sentences of up to 20 years could be imposed for the distribution of even small quantities of the new synthetics.

But the prohibitionists have a problem: Synthetic drug makers are responding to the bans by bringing new, slightly different formulations of their products to market. Prosecutors are finding their cases evaporating when the find the drugs seized are not the ones already criminalized, and retailers are eager to continue to profit from the sales of the new drugs. As always, the drug law enforcers are playing catch-up and the new drug-producing chemists are way ahead of them.

The Drug War on Autopilot: Arrests Hold Steady, But Prisoners Decline Slightly

overcrowded Mule Creek State Prison, CA
Last year saw more evidence that drug law enforcement has hit a plateau, as 2010 drug arrests held steady, but the number of prisoners and people under correctional supervision declined slightly.

More than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US in 2010, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report 2010, and more than half of them were for marijuana. That's a drug arrest every 19 seconds, 24 hours a day, every day last year. The numbers suggest that despite "no more war on drugs" rhetoric emanating from Washington, the drug war juggernaut is rolling along on cruise control.

Overall, 1,638,846 were arrested on drug charges in 2010, up very slightly from the 1,633,582 arrested in 2009. But while the number of drug arrests appears to be stabilizing, they are stabilizing at historically high levels. Overall drug arrests are up 8.3% from a decade ago.

Marijuana arrests last year stood at 853,838, down very slightly from 2009's 858,408. But for the second year in a row, pot busts accounted for more arrests than  all other drugs combined, constituting 52% of all drug arrests in 2010. Nearly eight million people have been arrested on pot charges since 2000.

The vast majority (88%) off marijuana arrests were for simple possession, with more than three-quarters of a million (750,591) busted in small-time arrests. Another 103,247 people were charged with sale or manufacture, a category that includes everything from massive marijuana smuggling operations to persons growing a single plant in their bedroom closets.

An analysis of the Uniform Crime Report data by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research added further substance to the notion that drug enforcement is flattening. The center found that the arrest rate for drug violations has decreased for the last four years, but still remains more than twice as high as rates in the early 1980s. The all-time peak was in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that for the first time since 1972, the US prison population in 2010 had fallen from the previous year and that for the second year in a row, the number of people under the supervision of adult correctional authorities had also declined.

In its report Prisoners in 2010, BJS reported that the overall US prison population at the end of 2010 was 1,605,127, a decrease of 9,228 prisoners or 0.6% from year end 2009. The number of state prisoners declined by 0.8% (10,881 prisoners), while the number of federal prisoners increased by 0.8% (1.653 prisoners). Drug offenders accounted for 18% of state prison populations in 2009, the last year for which that data is available. That's down from 22% in 2001. Violent offenders made up 53% of the state prison population, property offenders accounted for 19%, and public order or other offenders accounted for 9%.

In the federal prison population, drug offenders made up a whopping 51% of all prisoners, with public order offenders (mainly weapons and immigration violations) accounting for an additional 35%. Only about 10% of federal prisoners were doing time for violent offenses. Overall, somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000 people were doing prison time for drug offenses last year.

Similarly, in its report Correctional Population in the US 2010, BJS reported that the number of people under adult correctional supervision declined 1.3% last year, the second consecutive year of declines. The last two years are the only years to see this figure decline since 1980.

At the end of 2010, about 7.1 million people, or one in 33 adults, were either in prison or on probation or parole. About 1.4 million were in state prisons, 200,000 in federal prison, and 700,000 in jail, for a total imprisoned population of about 2.3 million. Nearly 4.9 million people were on probation or parole.

America's experiment with mass incarceration may have peaked, exhausted by its huge costs, but change is coming very slowly, and we are still the world's unchallenged leader in imprisoning our own citizens.

Federal Crack Prisoners Start Coming Home

Hundreds of federal crack cocaine prisoners began walking out prison in November, the first beneficiaries of a US Sentencing Commission decision to apply retroactive sentencing reductions to people already serving time on federal crack charges. As many as 1,800 federal crack prisoners were eligible for immediate release and up to 12,000 crack prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions that will shorten their stays behind bars.

The releases come after Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, which shrank the much criticized disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. After Congress acted, the Sentencing Commission then moved to make those changes retroactive, resulting in the early releases beginning in November.

Despite the joyous reunions taking place across the country, the drug war juggernaut keeps on rolling, and there is much work remaining to be done. Not all prisoners who are eligible for sentence reductions are guaranteed to receive one, and retroactivity won't do anything to help people still beneath their mandatory minimum sentences. A bill with bipartisan support in Congress, H.R. 2316, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, would make Fair Sentencing Act changes to mandatory minimum sentences retroactive as well, so that crack offenders left behind by the act as is would gain its benefits.

And the Fair Sentencing Act itself, while an absolute advance from the 100:1 disparity embodied in the crack laws, still retains a scientifically unsupportable 18:1 disparity. For justice to obtain, legislation needs to advance that treats cocaine as cocaine, no matter the form it takes.

But even those sorts of reforms are reforms at the back end, after someone has already been investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced. Radical reform that will cut the air supply to the drug war incarceration complex requires changes on the front end.

Also in November, the US Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether the Fair Sentencing Act should be applied to those who were convicted, but not sentenced, before it came into effect -- the so-called "pipeline" cases. The decision to take up the issue came after lower courts split on the issue. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June.

Drug Testing the Needy

drug testing lab
With state budgets strained by years of recession and slow recovery, lawmakers across the country are turning their sights on the poor and the needy. In at least 12 states, bills have been introduced that would require people seeking welfare or unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing and risk losing those benefits if they test positive. Some Republicans in the US Congress want to do the same thing. In a thirteenth state, Michigan, the state health department is leading the charge.

The race to drug test the needy appears to be based largely on anecdotal and apocryphal evidence. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Hailey (R), to take one example, cited reports that a nuclear installation there couldn't fill vacancies because half the applicants failed drug tests, but had to retract that statement because it was nowhere near to being true. In Florida, where welfare drug testing was briefly underway before being halted by a legal challenge, 96% of applicants passed drug tests, while in an Indiana unemployment drug testing program, only 2% failed.

While such legislation appeals to conservative values, it is having a tough time getting passed in most places, partly because of fears that such laws will be found unconstitutional. The federal courts have historically been reluctant to approve involuntary drug testing, allowing it only for certain law enforcement or public safety-related occupations and for some high school students. When Michigan tried to implement a welfare drug testing program more than a decade ago, a federal appeals court ruled that such a program violated welfare recipients' right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

That ruling has served to restrain many lawmakers, but not Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Florida legislature. Scott issued an executive order to drug test state employees, but had to put that on hold in the face of threatened legal challenges. The state legislature passed and Scott signed a bill requiring welfare applicants and recipients to undergo drug testing or lose their benefits.

But the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed suit in federal court to block that law on the grounds it violated the Fourth Amendment. In October, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from implementing it. A final decision from that court and decisions about whether it will be appealed are eagerly awaited.

Marking 40 Years of Failed Drug War

Drug War 40th anniversary demo, San Francisco
June 17 marked forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1," declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, a political consensus is emerging that the war on drugs is a counterproductive failure. The Drug Policy Alliance led advocates all across the country in marking the auspicious date with a day of action to raise awareness about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition and to call for an exit strategy from the failed war on drugs. More than 50 events on the anniversary generated hundreds of local and national stories.

In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

Congress Reinstates the Federal Ban on Funding Needle Exchanges

Two years ago, after years of advocacy by public health and harm reduction advocates, the longstanding ban on federal funding for needle exchanges was repealed. Last month, the ban was restored as the Senate took the final votes to approve the 2012 federal omnibus spending bill.

It was a Democratic-controlled House and Senate that rescinded the ban two years ago, and it was House Republicans who were responsible for reinstating it this year. Three separate appropriations bills contained language banning the use of federal funds, and House negotiators managed to get two of them into the omnibus bill passed Saturday.

A Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill including the ban on domestic use of federal funds for needle exchanges and a State Department bill including a ban on funding for needle exchange access in international programs both made it into the omnibus bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

Needle exchange supporters said restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

US Drug War Deaths

As far as we know, nobody has ever tried to count the number of people killed in the US because of the war on drugs. We took a crack at it last year, counting only those deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement activities. The toll was 54, including three law enforcement officers.

Most of those killed were shot by police, many of them while in possession of firearms (some in their own homes) and some of them while shooting at police. Some were shot in vehicles after police said they tried to run them down (why is it they never were merely trying to get away?). But not all died at the hands of police -- several died of drug overdoses from eating drugs while trying to evade arrest, several more died from choking on bags of drugs they swallowed, one man drowned after jumping into a river to avoid a pot bust, and another died after stepping in front of a speeding semi-trailer while being busted for meth.

People were killed in "routine traffic stops," SWAT-style raids, and undercover operations. Hardly any of those cases made more than a blip in local media, the two exceptions being the case of Jose Guerena, an Iraq war vet gunned down by an Arizona SWAT team as he responded to his wife's cry of intruders in his own home, and the case of Eurie Stamps Sr., a 68-year-old Massachusetts man accidentally shot and killed by a SWAT team member executing a warrant for small-time crack sales.

Our criteria were highly restrictive and absolutely undercount the number of people who are killed by our drug laws. They don't include, for instance, people who overdosed unnecessarily because they didn't know what they were taking or medical marijuana patients who die after being refused organ transplants. Nor do they include cases where people embittered by the drug laws go out in a blaze of glory that wasn't directly drug law-related or cases, like the four men killed last year by Miami SWAT officers during an undercover operation directed at drug house robbers.

The toll of 54 dead, then, is an absolute minimum figure, but it's a start. We will keep track again this year, and look for a report on last year's numbers in the coming weeks.

In Conclusion...

Last year had its ups and downs, its victories and defeats, but leaves drug reformers and their allies better placed than ever before to whack away at drug prohibition. This year, it looks like voters in Colorado and Washington will have a chance to legalize marijuana, and who know what else the new year will bring. At the least, we can look forward to the continuing erosion of last century's prohibitionist consensus.


 

Medical Marijuana Update

So much is going on in the world of medical marijuana that we cannot adequately cover it all through news briefs and the occasional feature article. The news briefs and feature articles will, of course, continue, but we now include a weekly medical marijuana update at least noting all those stories we are unable to cover more comprehensively. Here's the second one:

National

Last Friday, responding to questioning from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated the Justice Department's support for its 2009 Ogden memo, which said the use and sale of medical marijuana in states where it is legal should be a low priority for federal prosecutors.

"What we said in the memo we still intend, which is that given the limited resources that we have, and if there are states that have medical marijuana provisions... if in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that's not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way," Holder said. "Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law and people are acting in conformity with the law -- not abusing the law -- that would not be a priority with the limited resources of our Justice Department," Holder said.

Arizona

Last Friday, a former nurse fired from Verde Valley Community Hospice because she is a medical marijuana user filed a lawsuit seeking damages in Maricopa County Superior Court. Arizona's medical marijuana law contains an anti-discrimination provision that says an employer may not make decisions on hiring, firing or discipline based on the person's status as a registered medical marijuana patient. The law even says that a positive drug test for marijuana from someone who is a registered user cannot be used against that employee unless the person either used, possessed or was impaired at the worksite. This case will be the first test of that law.

On Monday, a US district court judge harshly criticized the state's medical marijuana lawsuit, saying Arizona had to pick a side in the conflict over state and federal law. Judge Susan Bolton did not dismiss the case, saying she would issue a ruling later, but she told state attorneys she would throw it out unless the state decides whether or not to support its own law. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) filed the lawsuit in May, stalling the state's medical marijuana dispensary permit process.

On Wednesday, responding to the court's criticism, Gov. Brewer decided the state will argue that federal law preempts the state medical marijuana law and ask Judge Bolton to rule the state cannot regulate and permit medical marijuana dispensaries.

California

On December 7, the Live Oak City Council voted to ban residents from growing their own medical marijuana. The council cited "an unbearable stench and fear of violence." A final vote on the ban is set for next week, and the ban would take effect 30 days after that, on January 20.

On December 8, the La Puente City Council voted to order one dispensary shut down and gave another until February to show that it has not recouped costs of opening. The city banned medical marijuana dispensaries last year, but allowed some to continue operating temporarily during an amortization period while they attempt to recoup their investment costs.

On December 8, a Pomona police SWAT team raided the Natural Remedies dispensary. Police had a search warrant. A Rialto man was arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale. Police seized a pound of weed, cash, and weapons.

Last Friday, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana announced it would close its doors as of this weekend. MAMM, the state's oldest dispensary, had been targeted by federal prosecutors. Another Marin County collective, Medi-Cone, shut down last week because of scrutiny by federal authorities.

On Tuesday, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county and narrowly passed a second law hours later regulating pot growth for county residents. The cultivation ordinance bans growing inside residences, but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

On Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to support the idea of lifting federal marijuana prohibition for states that have marijuana laws in place. "Inconsistencies in local, state and federal law create challenges within our public safety system network and criminal justice system. There are a record number of ballot initiatives in the coming election cycle calling for the legalization of marijuana. Mendocino County supports the regulation, legalization, and taxation of marijuana," the supervisors said.

On Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted to close all dispensaries in the county's jurisdiction. The board had approved an ordinance allowing up to five dispensaries in August, but that ordinance was overturned after advocates began a referendum petition to undo it. Supervisors then voted to rescind the ordinance, making dispensaries illegal in the county. The 10 dispensaries in the county will have 30 days to shut down.

On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries. The board cited uncertainty about whether local governments can regulate dispensaries in the wake of the Pack vs. Long Beach case, in which the court held that federal law preempted Long Beach's right to regulate marijuana. The moratorium will not affect the county's three existing dispensaries.

On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize its attorneys to sue any dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county unless they close immediately. The county has banned dispensaries from operating in unincorporated areas of the county since 2006. Nonetheless, county officials estimate that at least 36 dispensaries are open in violation of the ban.

Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will not join fellow governors Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island, Christine Gregoire (D) of Washington, and Peter Shumlin (D) of Vermont in petitioning the federal government to reschedule marijuana, but the state of Colorado will independently seek rescheduling. Colorado's medical marijuana law requires the Colorado Department of Revenue to make the same request of the feds by no later than January 2012. State officials said that will be done.

The number of registered medical marijuana patients has declined dramatically from its peak of more than 128,000 in June. As of the end of October, the state's registry showed only 88,000 patients. It's unclear what the decline means. Some patients could be dropping out temporarily because registration costs will drop next year, but the state has at least 4,200 applications on hold because of problems with doctors' signatures, and 30,000 applications were in the system as of the end of last month.

Michigan

Last Friday, state and local police raided three medical marijuana dispensaries in Tuscola, Sanilac and St. Clair counties Friday for alleged involvement in the the illegal trafficking of marijuana. They included the Blue Water Compassion Center and a private residence in Kimball Township, as well as Blue Water Compassion Centers in Denmark Township in Tuscola County and Worth Township in Sanilac County. Police confiscated marijuana and marijuana-laced tinctures, topical oils, capsules, and medicated edibles. Patient files, money and toys donated to Toys for Tots also were taken, but no arrests were made. The three centers are owned by Jim and Debra Amsdill. Combined, the centers have about 26 staff and roughly 3,500 members.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the state Agriculture Development Committee ruled that medical marijuana may be grown and processed on preserved farms. Preserved farms are areas designated only for agricultural usage. The committee's move came after residents of Upper Freehold implored it not to recognize medical marijuana as an agricultural crop allowed on preserved farmland. They also criticized the process that allowed a federally outlawed drug to be grown and distributed here in the first place. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center has expressed interest in at least five properties in Upper Freehold as sites for growing medical marijuana, and some of them are preserved farms.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, November 18

In Tijuana, $15 million -- thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel -- was confiscated from a safe house. Six kilos of cocaine and four weapons were also found during the army raid, although no arrests were made.

Monday, November 21

In Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, three police officers were kidnapped while on patrol and executed.

In Harris County, Texas, a controlled-delivery by police officers attempting to catch a drug shipment went awry when suspected Zetas cut off and shot dead a truck driver who had secretly been working with the authorities. A nearby Sheriff's deputy was also wounded, possibly by friendly fire in the chaos. Four men, three of whom are Mexican citizens, were taken into custody and charged with capitol murder. It is still unclear if the men were targeting the informant or attempting to rip off his 300-pound load of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 22

In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers were killed while riding in an unmarked car. Authorities recovered 44 bullet casings at the scene.

Wednesday, November 23

In Sinaloa, at least 20 people were killed in several incidents. In Culiacan, 13 people were found dead inside two vehicles which had been set fire in two different locations. Near Guasave, three men were shot and killed. In the municipality of Mocorito, four people were murdered. Mexican media has speculated that at least some of the killings may be related to a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization.

Thursday, November 24.

In Tamaulipas, the army announced that a large weapons cache and almost two tons of marijuana were captured during a series of operations in the city of Miguel Aleman, across the Rio Grande from Starr, Texas. The weapons cache included a rocket launcher and ten explosive devices, including pipe bombs. Miguel Aleman is currently controlled by a faction of the Gulf Cartel.

In Guadalajara, 26 men were found bound, gagged, executed and dumped in three vehicles. Many of the men had been asphyxiated, and some appear to have been shot. Notes left written on the victims and a banner left at one of the crime scenes suggest that the killings were carried out by the Zetas and by members of an allied organization, the Millenium Cartel. Some Mexican media outlets have speculated that the killing is in response to the September dumping of 35 men, many purportedly Zetas killed by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Friday, November 25

In the Hague, Mexican activists filed a war crimes complaint against Mexican President Felipe Calderon. According to the coalition behind the complaint, Mexican security forces have been involved in approximately 470 cases of human rights violations. The complaint filed in the Netherlands also mentions crimes committed by drug cartels, and specifically mentions Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The Mexican government immediately denied the accusations.

In Mexico City, the city's police chief announced that an investigation would take place to determine the circumstances behind a journalist's video, which shows a police officer dunking a man's head into a bucket following a firefight between gunmen and police in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Tepito.

In Matamoros, the son of a deceased Gulf Cartel boss was captured. Antonio Ezequiel "El Junior" Cardenas Guillen, 23, is the son of Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen Sr., "Tony Tormenta," who was killed in a firefight with Marines in November 2010. El Junior was arrested with four associates -- including two suspected cartel accountants -- as he left a party.

Saturday, November 26

In Nuevo Leon, three alleged Zetas suspected of involvement in the July killing of two men who served as bodyguards for the state's governor were arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities said the men also confessed to four other killings, three of whom were police officers murdered in May.

In the city of Chihuahua, two men and a woman were shot and killed. The two men tried run away after their car was cut off by gunmen, but were shot as they ran. The female was killed in the automobile. Police have no leads in the case.

Monday, November 28

In Ciudad Juarez, a four-year-old boy was shot and killed while playing outside a neighbor's house. Alan David Carrillo was playing with several other children outside the home when it was sprayed with automatic weapons. He was rushed to a hospital but died there shortly after arriving.

In Hermosillo, Sonora, a prominent member of Mexico's Movement for Peace and Justice and Dignity was shot and killed. Nepomuceno Moreno, 56, was shot at least seven times by a gunman in a passing car. Last year, Moreno had accused hooded police officers of kidnapping his 18-year old son, who was never seen again. For their part, the Sonora Attorney General’s office has said that the principal line of investigation in the case is that Moreno was somehow involved with organized crime groups. In 1979, he was arrested in Arizona for heroin smuggling and possession, and is also said to have been involved in more recent criminal activity.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,300

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

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