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Chronicle Book Review: Mexico on the Brink

Hidden Dangers: Mexico on the Brink of Disaster by Robert Joe Stout (2014, Sunbury Press, 210 pp., $16.95 PB)

Today is the official 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. The uprising that began then lasted for nearly two decades and by the time it was over, nearly two million Mexicans were dead, and the country was changed forever. That revolution overthrew a sclerotic, encrusted dictatorship that advanced the country materially and brought it to the brink of the modern era, but which ignored the wishes of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Are we about to see a repeat? That's probably premature, but it's notable that authorities in Mexico City have canceled the official commemorative parade set for today, afraid of trouble breaking out. There has already been trouble in Mexico City today, anyway—with masked demonstrators attempted to block access to the international airport—so that decision may well be a prudent one.

What is motivating the protests today—and for nearly the last two months—is the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of 43 radical students from a provincial teachers' college in the south central state of Guerrero. It seems clear that the students and their threats of demonstrations were seen as a threat by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. Pineda, who has been identified as a leader of the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group (commonly referred to as cartels), is believed to have ordered Iguala municipal police to "take care of" the unruly students.

According to a version of events delivered by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Karam Murillo, Iguala police shot up the commandeered public buses the students were riding in (commandeering buses is not unusual in political protests), killing some of the students on the spot. The remaining students were then allegedly turned over by Iguala police to Guerreros Unidos gang members, who, according to Karam, killed them all, burned their bodies, chopped them to bits, and threw them in a river.

Of course, it took Karam a month to make that announcement, and in the meantime, anger over the disappearances grew by the day. Demonstrators attacked and burnt part of the state capitol complex in Chilpancingo; they attacked and burnt municipal buildings in Iguala; they fought pitched battles with police on the road to the Acapulco airport. And the demonstrations and solidarity protests are spreading.

This is a brutal scandal that has shaken even brutal scandal-plagued Mexico. Federal authorities have now arrested the mayoral couple, along with dozens of police men and gang members (some are undoubtedly both). The governor of Guerrero has been forced to resign. And President Enrique Nieto Pena and his government are now besieged, even though the mayor and the governor belonged to another political party.

This may be the landmine that sets off a long pent-up social explosion south of the border. I use the word "landmine" deliberately, for that is the precise term used by long-time journalist and current Oaxaca resident Robert Stout in his new book, Hidden Dangers. Although it appears to have been largely written before Pena Nieto took office nearly two years ago, it seems remarkably prescient.

In Hidden Dangers, Stout identifies several festering—and interconnected—problems facing Mexico, the result of ongoing economic and political changes.Looming large among the potential landmines are emigration, the war on drugs, rising popular political movements of resistance, official corruption and impunity, and increasing environmental degradation.

With the case of the missing 43 students, Mexico is stepping on two of those landmines: the war on drugs and the problem of official complicity and corruption. As Stout makes clear, Mexico's drug corporations (he never uses the word "cartels") have thrived in an atmosphere of violence and corruption and official complicity. I wouldn't say that drug money has corrupted Mexico's institutions because they have been deeply corrupted for years, as Stout illustrates throughout the book, but it has deepened the corruption and blurred the line between organized crime and state power.

What Stout has to say about the drug cartels and the counterproductive policies adopted on both sides of the border to stop them is probably not new to regular readers of these pages. Through violence and cold, hard cash, the cartels manage to suborn security forces, elected officials, and legitimate businesses alike. And heavy-handed, militaristic attempts to quash them, especially with an army that seems to have no notion of "human rights," has only resulted in more violence and more mistrust of government.

But it is complicated, and looking at Mexico solely through the prism of its war on drugs is too narrow a focus to get a good grasp on the country's realities. Mexico's drug cartel problem doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is part and parcel of a deeper social and political malaise, which, in Stout's view, is related to the country's authoritarian, unresponsive government and its inability or unwillingness to address the country's aching concerns.

And it's not just the PRI, the party that emerged from the Revolution to govern the country as "the perfect dictatorship" until the election of Coca Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000. One of Stout's contributions to our understanding is his explication of the authoritarian character that defines all political parties in Mexico. Whether it’s the PRI or the rightist PAN or the leftist PRD, all have adapted the same top-down, strongman politics that characterized the PRI in its heyday.

It is worth noting that the mayor of Iguala and his wife are members of the PRD, which is a sad reflection on the Mexican left. But Mexicans don't need to read Stout's book to understand that the same rot grips all the parties, and that's part of the reason even the PRIista Pena Nieto is feeling the heat over the Iguala disappearances. The problem is systematic, Mexicans understand this, and that's why they're so angrily taking to the streets right now.

Hidden Dangers does a very good job of tying together the disparate "landmines" facing Mexico right now. Especially for readers who have approached the country primarily through the lens of drug policy, it is a welcome opening of perspective. And, at only a bit more than 200 pages, it's a relatively quick read, packed with information and plenty to ponder. Check it out. 

Chronicle AM: Philly Decrim in Effect, Facebook Chides DEA, Mexico Mayhem, More (10/20/14)

New pot polls in New Hampshire and North Dakota, Philly decrim goes into effect, NYC marijuana arrests continue, Nevada senator wants heroin clinics, Massachusetts' chief justice slams mandatory minimums, Facebook sends a stern letter to DEA, mayhem continues in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Cartel's deadly warning: Hacked tweet from account of murdered Mexican citizen journalist.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative Wording. It's back to the drawing board for Mary Berry and her legalization initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of the initiative, citing "ambiguities" in the text and telling her to "redesign" it. McDaniel has already approved the wording for two other initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one that would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana.

New Hampshire Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has 59% of respondents favoring marijuana legalization, with 35% opposed. Support for legalization is up eight percent over last year. Only 27% favored maintaining the pot prohibition status quo. New Hampshire is one of the states activists are eyeing for a legalization push in the next year or two.

North Dakota Poll Has Only 24% Supporting Legalization. In what must be one of most anti-marijuana poll results in recent years, a University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration poll found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents opposed marijuana legalization, with only 24% in favor. Even medical marijuana, which typically polls in the 70s or 80s with a generic question, garnered only 47% support. At least that's more than the 41% who opposed it. Click on the link for more poll details.

Dallas March for Legalization and Medical Marijuana. An estimated 5,000 people showed up in Dallas Saturday to rally for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. The Dallas Marijuana March was sponsored by Dallas-Ft. Worth NORML.

New York City Marijuana Arrests Continue. In a report released today, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project finds that, despite campaign promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio, marijuana possession arrests are on track to equal or even surpass the number of arrests made under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Despite a new mayor and new police commissioner, the NYPD continues its practice of making penny-ante pot arrests, especially of non-white people. Some 86% of those busted under de Blasio were black or Latino. New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual "empty their pockets," thus exposing marijuana to public view.

Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect in Philadelphia. As of today, getting caught with a little pot in Philadelphia will face no more than a $25 fine ($100 if caught smoking it) and, possibly, up to nine hours of community service. The city council approved the measure in June, and Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed the bill into law October 1.

Wichita Advocates Try Again With New Decriminalization Initiative. Hoping that the second time is the charm, Kansas for Change is plotting a new municipal decriminalization initiative. An effort earlier this year came up short after more than half the signatures turned in turned out to be invalid. They will need to gather 3,000 valid signatures by February 19 to make the deadline for the April 2015 ballot.

NORML PAC Endorses Cory Booker in New Jersey US Senate Race. NORML is standing by Sen. Cory Booker (D) in his bid for reelection in New Jersey. The advocacy group's political action committee has again endorsed Booker, as it did during his 2013 election campaign. "Senator Booker kept the promises he made to champion crucial criminal justice and marijuana reform issues in his first term," said NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri. "If reelected for a full six year term this fall, he will be a strong crusader for rolling back our failed war on cannabis at the federal level. We encourage New Jersey voters to support him in his campaign."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Judge Dismisses Lawsuit; Medical Marijuana Vote to Go Ahead. A US district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging next month's vote on a legislative medical marijuana initiative. Attorney Howard Trapp had sued to block the vote last month on the grounds that a "legislative submission" was illegal under Guam law, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Trapp didn't have legal standing to bring it.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Tribal Police Seize Student's Car Over Single Joint. An Arizona State University student is going public with her complaint that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribal police seized her vehicle over a single marijuana cigarette. The student, identified only as Kayla, said she was pulling over for a traffic infraction, admitted to having a joint, and was then arrested for possession and DUI and her car seized. The Indian tribe's laws allow for forfeiture even for minor marijuana possession. Kayla got her car back 4 ½ months later, but only because it was registered to someone else. The tribe remains unrepentant.

Heroin

Nevada State Senator Calls for Prescription Heroin Clinics. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) is calling for the creation of heroin clinics, where addicts could get prescribed doses of the drugs, as a means of dealing with addiction and issues associated with it. He said he will introduce a bill to that effect in the 2015 legislative session. The clinics would also provide counseling and therapy. "The goal is to get people off the street, out of the criminal element, address their addiction and then hopefully figure out a way to get them off of the drug," Segerblom said.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Calls for end to Mandatory Minimums. New chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants has called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences in his first public address since assuming the office. Gants, a former federal prosecutor, noted the "disparate impact" of such sentences on racial and ethnic minorities and challenged drug war orthodoxy. "How well is the status quo working?" he asked. "Heroin is cheaper, more easily available, and more deadly than it has been in my lifetime," he added. "Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding motor vehicle accidents."

Law Enforcement

Facebook Tells DEA to Stop Creating Fake Accounts. The social media giant has sent a strongly-worded letter to the DEA telling the agency to stop creating accounts impersonating real people in its bid to catch drug criminals. The Facebook move comes after the agency was revealed to have used the identity of a real woman, including posting revealing photos of her, as part of its drug-fighting efforts. Facebook is "deeply troubled" by the incident, the letter says, especially since it violates its rules about only using real identities.

International

Mexico Social Media Cartel Watcher Kidnapped, Killed, Body Shown on Her Hacked Twitter Account. Reynosa physician Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio participated in social media crime watch activities, reporting on the doings of drug cartel members, and it cost her her life. She was kidnapped last week and her Twitter account hacked. A photo of her dead body appeared on it, along with a message warning others on her network to close their accounts. "Today my life has reached its end," read one hacked tweet. "I can only tell you not to make the same mistake I did," said another. The hackers also directly threatened another citizen journalist, @ValorTamaulipas, warning that "death is closer than you think."

Mexico Police Arrest Drug Gang Leader Linked to Missing Students. Mexican authorities said last Friday they had arrested Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, head of the Guerrero Unidos drug trafficking organization. The group has been linked to the disappearance of 43 radical teachers' college students, who went missing after participating in political demonstrations in Iguala. Several mass graves have been found, but it's not clear if the bodies in them are those of the missing students. The incident has led to massive public protests and become a serious crisis for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The same day Casarrubias was arrested, thousands marched in Acapulco to demand the students be found alive. Days earlier, demonstrators set fires in government buildings in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Honduras Beefs Up Air Force for More, Better Drug War. The Honduran Air Force has purchased two combat fighters from Brazil's Embraer for $29 million and been donated four helicopters worth $36 million from Taiwan as part of an effort to step up its fight against drug traffickers. Honduran President Juan Hernandez has pledged to crack down on drug trafficking, and the Honduran Congress has given the okay to shoot down suspected drug planes transiting national air space.

Marijuana Smoke-In in Melbourne Goes Unimpeded by Police. Some 200 people gathered in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday for a marijuana reform rally that included lots of people smoking pot. Victoria State Police didn't bother to show up.

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.)

Chronicle AM: OR Init Foes May Be Using Federal Funds, Infamous Anniversary, More (9/5/14)

Are federal funds helping to oppose the Oregon initiative? Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wants to know. Plus, Hawaii dispensary hearings loom, Charles Bowden dies, and today marks an infamous anniversary. Let's get to it:

George HW Bush and his infamous bag of crack, September 5, 1989 (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Representative Calls for Federal Investigation into Use of Public Funds to Oppose Legalization Initiative. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to SAMSHA calling for immediate federal investigation into the possible misuse of federal funds to sponsor the "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour," which is filled with anti-legalization operatives and which comes as Oregonians prepare to vote on Measure 91, the legalization initiative. Click on the title link to read the letter and associated attachments.

Medical Marijuana

Princeton Employee on Paid Leave over Medical Marijuana Use. Princeton University campus dining manager Don DeZarn, who had been told to choose between his job and his medicine after he began legally using medical marijuana this summer, is now on paid leave as the school attempts to resolve the issue. The problem arose after DeZarn said he might use the drug while at work and school public safety officials raised concerns he could be impaired and might accidentally give a student with food allergies the wrong item (or something).

Hawaii Dispensary Task Force to Hold Public Hearings This Month. A task force created by the state legislature to address dispensary issues will hold public hearings next week in Hilo and on September 24 in Honolulu. Click on the link for more details and information about how to submit public comments.

Drug Policy

25 Years Ago Today, George HW Bush Waved a Bag of Crack on TV. Today is the 25th anniversary of President George HW Bush's infamous oval office speech escalating the war on drugs. In that speech, he waved at viewers an evidence bag containing crack cocaine that he warned had been sold in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House. Only later was it revealed that the dealer who delivered the crack had no idea where the White House or Lafayette Park were, and that he had to be given directions by DEA agents. Bush used the speech to ask for "more jails, more prisons, more courts, and more prosecutors" to fight the drug war, and largely got them.

Obituaries

Charles Bowden, Chronicler of the Southwest's Drug Wars, Dead at 69. Chronicler of the American Southwest and the brutal violence along the border sparked by Mexico's drug wars Charles Bowden has died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at age 69. A vivid and evocative writer, Bowden's "Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America" achingly described environmental and social alienation in the Southwest (and turned your correspondent on to him), but in the last two decades he focused increasingly on the border and the drug wars. His insightful, critical, and horrifying books on the subject include "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," "Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family," and "A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior." Bowden is gone, but his work remains. Check it out.

International

Austrian Activists Seek Parliamentary Inquiry on Marijuana. Legalize Austria is demanding a parliamentary inquiry into its proposal to remove marijuana from the country's drug laws. The group so far has more than 20,000 signatures on a petition to that effect and is seeking 80,000 more. The move comes as the Austrian Young Greens are also on a legalization campaign.

End the Drug War "For the Kids" Coalition Forms [FEATURE]

In a move precipitated by the child immigration border crisis, but informed by the ongoing damage done to children on both sides of the border by law enforcement-heavy, militarized anti-drug policies, a broad coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations came together late last week to call for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting the kids.

The failures of the war on drugs transcend borders. (wikimedia.org)

"The quality of a society can and should be measured by how its most vulnerable are treated, beginning with our children," said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that coordinated the letter. "Children have every right to expect that we will care for, love and nurture them into maturity. The drug war is among the policies that disrupts our responsibility to that calling."

The groups, as well as prominent individuals such as The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, signed on to a letter of support for new policies aimed at ending the war on drugs.

"In recent weeks," the letter says, "the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the US border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."

Organizations signing the letter include a broad range of groups representing different issues and interests, but all are united in seeing the war on drugs as an obstacle to improvement. They include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization. For a complete list of signatories, click here. [Disclosure: StoptheDrugwar.org, the organization publishing this article, is a signatory.]

In the past few months, more than 50,000 minors fleeing record levels of violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have arrived at the US border seeking either to start a new life or to reconnect with family members already in the country. The causes of the violence in Central America are complex and historically-rooted, but one of them is clearly the US war on drugs, heavy-handedly exported to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in the past several decades.

Those northern Central American countries -- the so-called Northern Triangle -- have been especially hard hit by drug prohibition-related violence since about 2008, when, after the US helped Mexico bulk up its war on the drug cartels via the $2.4 billion Plan Merida assistance package (President Obama wants another $115 million for it next year), the cartels began expanding their operations into the weaker Central American states. Already high crime levels went through the roof.

Honduras's second largest city, San Pedro Sula, now has the dubious distinction of boasting the world's highest murder rate, while the three national capitals, Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, are all in the top 10 deadliest cities worldwide. Many of the victims are minors, who are often targeted because of their membership in drug trade-affiliated street gangs (or because they refuse to join the gangs).

Protesting for schools, not prisons in California (Ella Baker Center)
The impact of the war on drugs on kids in the United States is less dramatic, but no less deleterious. Hundreds of thousands of American children have one or both parents behind bars for drug offenses, suffering not only the stigma and emotional trauma of being a prisoner's child, but also the collateral consequences of impoverishment and familial and community instability. Millions more face the prospect of navigating the mean streets of American cities where, despite some recent retreat from the drug war's most serious excesses, the war on drugs continues to make some neighborhoods extremely dangerous places.

"In the face of this spiraling tragedy that continues to disproportionately consume the lives and futures of black and brown children," the letter concludes, "it is imperative to end the nefarious militarization and mass incarceration occurring in the name of the war on drugs. So often, repressive drug policies are touted as measures to protect the welfare of our children, but in reality, they do little more than serve as one great big Child Endangerment Act. On behalf of the children, it is time to rethink the war on drugs."

Although the signatory groups represent diverse interests and constituencies, coming together around the common issue of protecting children could lay the groundwork for a more enduring coalition, said Jeronimo Saldana, a legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The idea was to get folks together to make a statement. Now, we have to figure out how to move forward. The letter was the first step," he said.

"The groups have been very positive," Saldana continued. "They're glad someone was speaking up and putting it all together. What's going on in Central American and Mexico is tied into what's happening in our own cities and communities. This crosses partisan lines; it's really obvious that the failed policies of the war on drugs affects people of all walks of life, and the images of the kids really brings it home. We hope to build on this to get some traction. We want folks to continue to make these connections."

Different signatories do have different missions, but a pair of California groups that signed the letter provide examples of how the drug war unites them.

Child refugee in a US border detention facility (presente.org)
"We have a history of working on behalf of youth involved in the criminal justice system and their families," said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We see desperate families trying to stay connected, strong, and healthy, but mass incarceration is really making that difficult. We work both with families whos kids are involved in the justice system and with families with one or both parents in prison or who have lost custody of their kids because of their involvement in the criminal justice system," she explained.

"We are working to combat this, and we think the war on drugs overall has had disastrous consequences for families, both here and abroad," Zohrabi continued. "The trillions poured into policing and militarization has just produced more misery. It's time for drugs to be dealt with as a public health issue, not a crime."

"We signed on because the letter is very clear in addressing an important component of the discussion that hasn't really been out there," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the Latino social justice group Presente.org. "This crisis on the border is not the result of deferring actions against immigrant child arrivals, as many right-wing Republicans have been saying, but is the result of one of the most deadly peaks in crime and violence in the Northern Triangle in recent memory," he argued.

"The violence there is one of the main push factors, and when we talk about this in the US, it's critical that we acknowledge these push factors, many of which are connected to the war on drugs," Carmona continued. "You'll notice that the kids aren't coming from Nicaragua, where we haven't been supporting the war on drugs, but from countries that we've assisted and advised on the drug war, where we've provided weaponry. This is very well-documented."

While Presente.org is very concerned with the immigration issue, said Carmona, there is no escaping the role of the war on drugs in making things worse -- not only in Central America and at the border, but inside the US as well.

"We're very concerned about the chickens coming home to roost for our failed war on drugs policy," he said. "The American public needs to be made very aware of this, and we are starting to see a greater understanding that this is a failed policy -- not only in the way we criminalize our young Latino and African-American kids here in the US, but also in the way this policy affects other countries in our neighborhood. As Nicaragua shows, our lack of involvement there has seen a lower crime rate. Our military involvement through the drug war is an abysmal failure, as the record deaths not only in Central America, but also in Mexico, shows."

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Law Enforcement

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

Chronicle AM -- July 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- June 24, 2014

Your fearless reporter has been traveling, so the schedule is off, but the drug policy news continues. Paul Stanford calls it quits in Oregon, pot shops are coming within days in Washington, an Alabama drug task needs to reconsider its priorities (or maybe the people funding it need to reconsider theirs), and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a store near you -- if you live in Washington state.
Marijuana Policy

Paul Stanford Pulls Plug on Oregon CRRH Initiative. Paul Stanford, the man behind the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp legalization initiatives, announced Friday that had given up the effort to qualify for the November ballot. That leaves the New Approach Oregon initiative, which is well over 100,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and the campaign still has another week to get more signers.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Says First Marijuana Retail Stores Will Open July 8. The board, which is charge of legal marijuana commerce, said it will issue the first licenses July 7, but that the licensees would have to spend that first day getting their product into their store tracking programs.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Legislature Amends Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

Collateral Consequences

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons -- With Conditions. Gov. Jay Nixon signed into a law a bill that would allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps, but only if they submit to drug tests and an assessment to see if they need drug treatment, which they must enroll in and complete if they are determined to need it. The bill is Senate Bill 680. The 1996 federal welfare reform law banned drug felons from obtaining food stamps, but allowed states to opt out. By now, more than 30 have.

Opiates

Federal Bill Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates Filed. US Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation that seeks to respond to rising levels of opiate use by creating a "Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force" to develop prescribing practices that aim to ensure "proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse." Along with federal agencies such as HHS, Defense, the VA, and the DEA, the task force would include treatment providers, people from pain advocacy groups and pain professional organization, and experts in pain research and addiction research. Pain advocates will be watching carefully. The bill, Senate Bill 2504, would also provide grants to expand prescription drug monitoring programs.

Law Enforcement

Texas to Spend $1.3 Million a Week on "Border Surge" Aimed at Immigrants, Drugs. Using the influx of underage immigrants across the US-Mexican border as a jumping off point, Texas authorities announced last week they plan to spend $30 million this year tightening border security, with a major emphasis on law enforcement and cutting drug flows. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has also asked President Obama to send a thousand National Guard troops, to be joined by hundreds of Texas troopers Perry is deploying to the border. What this will mean on the ground is more troopers patrolling the highways, more surveillance, more undercover operations -- in an area already sinking under the weight of the billions spent beefing up border security since 9/11.

Alabama Drug Task Force Gets Busy With Chump Change Drug Round-Up. The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force based in Tuscaloosa arrested 24 people last Friday in a round-up that "stemmed from multiple ongoing investigations." But they were almost entirely charges like "unlawful sale of marijuana within three miles of a school" ($30,000 bond), "unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia" ($5,000 bond), and "unlawful possession of marijuana" ($15,000 bond). Only five of the charges didn't involve marijuana, and of those, three were for possession of a controlled substance, two were "unlawful sale of cocaine within three miles of a school," and one was for "interfering with government operations."

International

Vietnam Upholds Death Sentences for 29 Drug Smugglers. A Vietnamese appellate court last Thursday upheld the death sentences for 29 people convicted. The court reduced one other death sentence in the case to life in prison. The sentences came in what is Vietnam's largest heroin case ever, with 89 defendants and 1.5 tons of heroin involved.

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Drops to 11-Year Low. Coca cultivation declined 9% in Bolivia last, reaching the lowest level since 2002, according to the annual Bolivian coca survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This is the third straight decline, in line with the Bolivian government's commitment to reduce production to 50,000 acres by 2015. The 2013 crop was about 55,000 acres.

British Medical Association to Debate Legalizing Marijuana. Britain's largest doctors' organization will debate a motion calling on it to legalize marijuana as its Annual Representatives Meeting continues this week after a weekend hiatus. "The current law isn't working and only by adopting a different approach can we regulate, educate and exert a level of quality control," the motion says. "Cannabis use should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

Key Sinaloa Cartel Figure Reported Dead

Reports are emerging from Mexico that Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, a key figure in the Sinaloa cartel, has died of natural causes. After the capture of cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman by Mexican authorities earlier this year, Esparragoza and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada were viewed as the effective leaders of the cartel. Now, only Zambada remains.

The story was broken Sunday by the Culiacan, Sinaloa-based investigative weekly Rio Doce, which cited people close to the Esparragoza family, as well as anonymous police sources. On Monday, Radio Formula reported that the Mexican attorney general's office had opened an investigation into "rumors" of his death.

According to Rio Doce, Esparragoza had suffered spinal injuries in an auto accident about two weeks ago and was convalescing in a hospital in either Cuernavaca or Mexico City when he suffered a heart attack while attempting to get out of bed. He was 65. His body was reportedly cremated, with plans to return his ashes to his native Sinaloa.

[Editor's Note: We covered a 2008 conference in Culiacan organized by the folks at Rio Doce. You can read our report here.]

Along with Guzman and Zambada, Esparragoza was part of a generation of Sinaloa narcos who came to dominate the trade across Mexico, including running cartels in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and Guadalajara. Now, Zambada is about the only one left. The rest are dead or behind bars.

Esparragoza was known as a shrewd negotiator, one who could make peace among warring drug trafficking groups. Much of that reputation was based on his years working for the Juarez cartel in the 1990s, the era of famed narco Amado Carillo Fuentes, known as "the Lord of the skies" for his fleet of planes ferrying cocaine from Colombia.

He was also reportedly an efficient corrupter, as good at greasing palms as he was at cooling down hot heads. And he preferred a low profile. While not as well known as some of his more infamous counterparts, Esparragoza was a key player and a deal-maker. This could portend more strife within the Sinaloa cartel.

Mexico

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The killing is bound to put CBP's new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP's new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used "solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject," but can only be justified when the person "has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death" and the person's escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn't stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.

Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made "punching out" motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at that in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff's deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.

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