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Drug Prohibition's Cocaine Traffickers Have Proven Both Vicious and Resilient

Location: 
Since the beginning of the drug prohibition war, the drug trade has ballooned, spreading violence and corruption across large parts of the globe. Despite billions spent on combating them drug traffickers have for decades outwitted the authorities, keeping consumers in North America and Europe supplied at a price and purity that remains remarkably consistent despite law enforcement officials around the world frequently heralding the dismantling of trafficking networks.
Publication/Source: 
The Irish Times (Ireland)
URL: 
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/0127/1224288397713.html

US Drug Czar Supports Venezuela Shooting Down "Drug Planes"

Over the weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country should consider shooting down drug-carrying planes. On Tuesday, US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seemed to signal his approval of the idea.

Hugo Chavez is open to shooting down suspected drug planes (image via Wikimedia)
Chavez told lawmakers Saturday he is considering letting the military shoot down drug-laden planes if they ignore orders to land. Drug smugglers often ignore military orders to land and sometimes mock those orders over the radio, Chavez said. He added that he doesn't necessarily like the idea of shooting down planes, but that parliament should debate it.

Although no coca is grown in Venezuela, the country has become a major hub for drug traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine. The Venezuelan government has been criticized by the US over the use of its territory by drug traffickers, but Venezuela contends that despite its lack of cooperation with the DEA, it is doing all it can to stifle the trade.

US drug czar Kerlikowske was in Colombia on a three-day trip when he commented on Chavez's remarks. "Venezuela has expressed clearly its support for curbing drug trafficking by air," he said, adding that other countries in the region should adopt similar measures.

The US supported a similar program in Peru beginning in the Clinton administration and even provided CIA and military personnel to support it. But that program came to a crashing halt after a Peruvian Air Force fighter jet shot down a plane carrying American missionaries in 2001, killing Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter.

Venezuela

Massachusetts Sees First US Drug War Killing of 2011

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement. We didn't have to wait long, did we? We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A 68-year-old Framingham, Massachusetts, man has become the first person killed by police enforcing the drug laws in the US this year. Eurie Stamps Sr. was fatally shot by a Framingham Police SWAT officer shortly after midnight Wednesday as police served a drug search warrant at his residence.

Authorities have not released details of the shooting, which is now under investigation by the Middlesex District Attorney's Office and the Massachusetts State Police. A spokesman for DA Gerry Leone said authorities are investigating whether Stamps was armed. But a family friend told the MetroWest newspaper that authorities said the shooting was accidental.

The friend, Dwayne Barrett of Framingham, described Stamps as "a very good man, the type of man who'd give you the shirt off his back. This shouldn't have happened."

Police said they arrested two men at the residence during the drug raid, one of whom is Stamps' stepson. Those men are charged with possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, conspiracy to violate the state's controlled substances law, and a school zone violation.


(Click here for WBZ news report.)

Framingham, MA
United States

Thursday Press Teleconference: Clinton Commutation Beneficiaries Call on President Obama to Expedite Clemency for Crack Cocaine Prisoners (Press Advisory)

For Immediate Release: December 15, 2010                      

Contact: Nkechi Taifa (202-641-6605) or Tony Newman (646-335-5384)

THURSDAY PRESS TELECONFERENCE: Clinton Commutation Beneficiaries Call on President Obama to Expedite Clemency for Crack Cocaine Prisoners

Recent federal legislation reducing the 100-to-1 cocaine sentencing disparity will not benefitthose in prison

Advocates will fast and pray for justice on December 22, 10-year anniversary of Clinton crack cocaine commutations

WASHINGTON, DC—Advocates for presidential clemency will join together for a press teleconference on Thursday, December 16 to urge President Obama to expedite clemency for people serving excessive terms under the now-reformed federal crack cocaine sentencing laws. Participants will be commemorating the 10-year anniversary of President Clinton’s commutation of Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines, two women sent to federal prison for 24 and 19 years, respectively, for playing peripheral roles in their boyfriends’ drug operations.  Joining the women on the press teleconference will be members of the Crack the Disparity Coalition, a broad coalition of civil rights, faith-based, drug policy, criminal justice reform advocacy groups, and formerly incarcerated people.

Recent changes under the Fair Sentencing Act, signed in August, reduce the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 but do not provide relief to thousands of individuals who are already serving time for crack cocaine offenses. Prior to the law’s passage, an individual in possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine (roughly the amount of sugar in a couple of sugar packets) would be sentenced to a federal 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. It took 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same 5-year sentence.

The campaign has set up a site (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/pres_obama-useyourpowertocorrectinjustice/) and a Facebook page, “Holiday Fast and Prayer for Justice,”(http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=173873379301719) where others can commit to fasting and prayer and sign a petition to President Obama on behalf of those behind bars under the old crack cocaine sentencing structure.

                        WHAT:           Press Teleconference to urge President Obama to expedite clemency

WHEN:           Thursday, December 16, 1 p.m. ET

CALL IN #:    1-800-311-9402   Passcode: Fairness

WHO:

Kemba Smith Pradia was sentenced as a first time non-violent drug offender to 24.5 years in federal prison even though the prosecutor handling her case said she never handled, used or sold any of the drugs involved. Currently, she is a national public speaker, advocate and founder of the Kemba Smith Foundation.

Dorothy Gaines is a single mother of three who was convicted of minor involvement in her boyfriends’ small-scale crack distribution and served 6 years of a 19 ½ year sentence before she was granted commutation. She currently works with at-risk youth in Mobile, AL.

Hilary O. Shelton is the Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. He played an integral role in the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and other policy measures affecting equality in our society. 

Margaret Love was the former U.S. Pardon attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She now represents people applying for executive clemency and advocates for sentencing and corrections reform.

Moderated by: Nkechi Taifa, the Senior Policy Analyst for the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center, focusing on issues of criminal justice and racial equality.  She also convenes the Crack the Disparity Working Group of the Justice Roundtable, and has worked for over 17 years to eliminate the crack/powder disparity.

Cocaine Smuggling Increase in New Zealand

Location: 
New Zealand
Exemplifying the failure of prohibition, New Zealand has seen a dramatic increase in cocaine smuggling in recent months, Customs says, and it looks like an attempt by figures in South America to establish a syndicate there.
Publication/Source: 
TV3 (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://www.3news.co.nz/Cocaine-smuggling-increase-in-NZ/tabid/423/articleID/191009/Default.aspx

Drug Trafficking Organizations Buy Jets for Trans-Atlantic Coke Flights

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Federal investigators are piecing together details of an audacious new trend in drug smuggling: South American traffickers are buying old jets, stuffing them full of cocaine and flying them across the Atlantic to feed Europe's growing coke habit. "The sky's the limit," one Sierra Leone trafficker boasted to a Drug Enforcement Administration informant. In some ways it is a throwback to the 1970s and '80s, when pilots flew drugs freely between Colombia and staging areas near the U.S. border.
Publication/Source: 
WAFB (LA)
URL: 
http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=13502102

Alcohol More Harmful Than Heroin or Crack, British Study Finds

A study published Monday in the Lancet assessed the harms of various substances and found that alcohol caused more harm in the United Kingdom than heroin or crack cocaine. The study was done by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, which is headed by Professor David Nutt.

drug harm comparison chart, from the Lancet study
Until this time last year, Nutt was head of the governmental Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but he was fired for criticizing the then Labor government as basing its decision to reclassify marijuana on politics rather than science. He also offended government sensibilities by saying that riding horses was more dangerous than taking ecstasy. After his firing, he and other scientists formed the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

The study, Drug Harms in the UK: A Multicriteria Decision Analysis, assessed the relative harms of different legal and illegal drugs to drug users and to society and concluded that "alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack (54) in second and third places."

It also demonstrated that Britain's drug classification scheme bears little relation to the harms caused by the various substances it regulates or fails to regulate. Alcohol, ranked most harmful in the study, is not a controlled substance, but cannabis (20 points) is Class B, the second most serious drug schedule. LSD (7 points) is a Class A drug, the most serious drug schedule, while tobacco (26 points) is not a controlled substance.

"Our findings lend support to previous work in the UK and the Netherlands, confirming that the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm," the authors said.

A group of experts looked at drug-specific mortality, drug-related mortality, drug-specific damage, drug-related damage, drug-specific impairment of mental functioning, drug-related impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles, loss of relationships, injury, crime, environmental damage, family adversities, international damage, economic cost, and harm to the community and assessed weighted values for each to arrive at a final figure.

"The weighting process is necessarily based on judgement, so it is best done by a group of experts working to consensus," Nutt and his coauthors said. "Extensive sensitivity analyses on the weights showed that this model is very stable; large changes, or combinations of modest changes, are needed to drive substantial shifts in the overall rankings of the drugs."

Science-based drug policy, anybody?

United Kingdom

New Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Crack Cocaine Now in Effect

New federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses went into effect Monday, a week after the US Sentencing Commission promulgated them. The commission acted on a temporary basis to implement the Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed into law last summer. It will vote in May to make the changes permanent.

The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in the face of growing uneasiness over racial disparities in federal drug sentences. From the 1980s until the act was passed, people caught with as little as five grams of crack cocaine faced mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences, while people caught with powder cocaine had to be caught with 500 grams before being hit with the mandatory minimum. More than 80% of federal crack prosecutions were aimed at blacks, even though more whites than blacks used crack.

Under the new law, it will take 28 grams of crack to trigger the mandatory minimum five-year sentence. Under the old law, 50 grams of crack earned a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence; under the new law, the threshold rises to 280 grams. That means the old 100:1 sentencing disparity has been reduced to 18:1.

That's not enough for groups like the November Coalition and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which have fought for years for federal drug sentencing reform. Still on the agenda for reformers is eliminating the remaining sentencing disparity and making the law retroactive to benefit people already serving draconian federal crack sentences.

It's not all good news. The new guidelines will also add months to some drug offender sentences. "Aggravating factors" such as intimidating girlfriends or elderly family members to sell drugs could earn drug gang leaders extra prison time. On the other hand, some low level offenders who were intimidated into participating in drug sales could see months shaved off their sentences.

Washington, DC
United States

Bolivia Repeals New Law Limiting Coca Leaf Sales

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/presidential-palace-la-paz.jpg
Presidential Palace, La Paz (Phil Smith for Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
Faced with protests and road blockades from angry coca growers, the Bolivian government said Monday it was annulling a new coca production law that would reduce by two-thirds the amount of coca leaves producers could sell. But even that move may not be enough to end the dispute between the government of President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower union leader, and the main Yungas growers' association.

The government last month approved the new law, which limited coca growers to selling five pounds of leaf a month, down from the current 15. The now-repealed law would also have given the central government control over sales, which are currently controlled by local communities. The government said it passed the bill in a bid to reduce the sale of coca leaf to cocaine traffickers.

Minister of Government Sacha Llorenti Solid told a Monday press conference that the law would be repealed because the government had failed to consult with all coca growers. "Because of this, and recognizing this mistake, we have gone back and annulled the law, and make clear that any changes will be made in consultation, by consensus and in coordination with social organizations," he said.

coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region (Phil Smith for Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
Llorenti also called on growers to stop blocking roads in the Yungas coca-producing region, saying there was no reason to continue the protests. But Ramiro Sanchez, head of ADEPCOCA (the Coca Growers' Association of the Department of Yungas), said not so fast.

"These are not guarantees for us and are not enough to lift the road blocks," he said. "That's why they need to come down here. We can't engage in dialogue up there" in La Paz.

Sanchez said protestors, which he numbered at some 4,000, would stay despite the repeal of the coca law because coca growers still had issues they wanted the government to address. He cited improvements in roads and the construction of a coca industrialization plant.

While Morales has long been sympathetic to coca growers and their needs, and while coca growers have traditionally supported his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, tensions have flared this year. In May, two people were killed after police were sent in to clear another roadblock.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer, behind Peru and Colombia.

La Paz
Bolivia

Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations Involved in Cocaine Surge in Australia

Location: 
Australia
Drug prohibition isn't stopping Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). The Australian Crime Commission says highly sophisticated Mexican DTOs are having a significant impact on the Australian cocaine market. The surge is linked to one of the most powerful and brutal syndicates involved in the drug war in Mexico, the Sinaloa organization.
Publication/Source: 
Radio New Zealand (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/56994/mexican-drug-groups-involved-in-cocaine-surge-in-australia

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