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Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

We will have a new president in January 2009, and that means we will have a new cabinet as well, including a new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office). Who should the next drug czar be? Do we want another general? Another drug war true believer? (Would that be a job requirement?) A doctor? A public health person? A lawyer? An activist? A politician? The progressive web site The Backbone Campaign is seeking "shadow cabinet" nominations. Anyone can nominate anyone. Here's the list so far for the drug czar position:
Nominee(s): Ethan Nadelmann Dean Becker Tom Hayden Gary Johnson Rep. Maxine Waters Russell Simmons Bill Maher Al Sharpton Keith Stroup
I'd be happy with any of these folks, including our buddy Dean Becker from the Drug Truth Network. I'll also suggest a couple more: Professor Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, co-author of "Drug War Heresies," knows drug policy issues inside and out and is a pretty progressive fellow on these issues. And, of course, in a perfect world, the next drug czar would be Tommy Chong. But I don't know if he could make it through the committee hearings... Who's your nominee?
Location: 
United States

A Peek Inside a Marijuana Dispensary

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
BusinessWeek
URL: 
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/08/0803_marijuana/index_01.htm

Illegal Crops Creep Into the Suburbs

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/04/AR2007080401388.html

Feds strike medical pot growers

Location: 
Portland, OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Portland Tribune (OR)
URL: 
http://www.localdailynews.com/news/story.php?story_id=118609925649231700#comment_section_container

Southwest Asia: State Department Says US Afghanistan Drug Policy Will Shift, But Not Much

In a meeting last week with "a select group of Washington analysts," Thomas Schweich, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, conceded that US efforts to destroy the Afghan opium industry had achieved only "mixed results" and said that the Bush administration would adjust its policies to be more effective. But Schweich's remarks suggested that any changes would be at the margins.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/afghan-farmers.jpg
Chronicle editor Phil Smith interviewed former opium-growing Afghan farmers outside Jalalabad in fall 2005
Afghanistan last year produced more than 90% of the world's opium, and increased production by 49% to more than 6,700 metric tons. This year's crop is expected to be even larger. Profits from the opium trade are widely believed to fund the resurgent Taliban insurgency, as well as line the pockets of warlords, governors, and government officials. But the crop is also a mainstay of the nation's economy and a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan's farmers struggling to feed their families.

In remarks reported by EurasiaNet, a news and information service for Central Asia and the Caucausus operated by the Open Society Institute, Schweich said that it would take at least five years to bring Afghan opium production "under control," but that completely eliminating it would be "impossible." Alternative crops for opium farmers had not been found and proposals to legalize production for the medicinal market were "impractical," he said.

Eradication had been a disappointment, Schweich said, a not surprising admission given large annual increases in the poppy crop in recent years. Schweich implicitly criticized the Afghan government for its limited success in eradication, saying manual and mechanical eradication techniques can at best eliminate 10% of the crop, while Washington wants to see that figure climb to 25%. Washington is itching to use aerial eradication against the poppy crop, but the Karzai government has so far demurred.

Still, he said, the administration's five-point Afghan anti-drug plan was fundamentally correct:

  1. waging an effective public information campaign;
  2. providing opium farmers with alternative and legal opportunities for earning their livelihood;
  3. enhancing the capacity of Afghan law enforcement agencies to prosecute major narco-traffickers through their imprisonment or extradition;
  4. eradicating opium crops; and
  5. interdicting the flow of narcotics within and beyond Afghanistan.

The program is heavy on law enforcement and eradication, an approach that has so far yielded meager results. Since Schweich has already admitted that there are no good alternative crops, it appears US opium policy in Afghanistan will continue to rely on propaganda, some big sticks, and very few carrots.

Law Enforcement: FBI Lowers Bar on Past Marijuana Use by Would-Be Agents

In the midst of a campaign to hire hundreds of new agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has loosened its policies on past drug use by potential applicants. The old policy, in effect since 1994, disqualified applicants who had smoked marijuana more than 15 times or ever used any illegal drug.

Under the new policy, unannounced but in effect since January, applicants who have not used marijuana for the past three years or for more than just "experimentation" will not be barred. Applicants who have not used any other illegal drug for at least 10 years will not be disqualified, either.

FBI Deputy Director Jeff Berkin told USA Today that the previous system had become "arbitrary" and it was difficult for applicants to pass polygraph tests about drug use because they could not remember how many times they had smoked pot.

"It encourages honesty and allows us to look at the whole person," Berkin said as his agency sought to increase the number of applicants for the 221 agent positions and 121 intelligence analyst positions it has open.

The FBI is only the latest law enforcement agency to amend its policies on past marijuana use. Increasing numbers of departments are reporting problems with applicants being excluded over past pot-smoking, and increasingly, departments are loosening their standards. Even the drug czar's office understands.

"Increasingly, the goal for the screening of security clearance applicants is whether you are a current drug user, rather than whether you used in the past," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It's not whether you have smoked pot four times or 16 times 20 years ago. It's about whether you smoked last week and lied about it."

D.C. Drug Policy Softball Team Ranked #1

Just when you thought reformers couldn’t play ball on Capitol Hill:

WASHINGTON, DC – The One Hitters, a softball team sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, took over the #1 ranking in the Congressional Softball League last night. The team’s 13-3 record has vaulted them to the top of the league, which is made up of Congressional offices, lobbying and consulting firms, non-profit organizations, and local businesses. [Dare Generation Diary]

With players from SSDP, MPP, NORML, and of course StopTheDrugWar.org, the One Hitters represent the athletic side of the drug policy reform movement. Opponents who arrive expecting clumsy Cheech & Chong antics get slaughtered and humiliated. It's been a while since the One Hitters surprised anyone, however, since they are now well known throughout the Congressional League for raising hell on the field.

The One Hitters garnered national media coverage two years ago when the Office of National Drug Control Policy started a team and promptly refused a face off. ONDCP's Tom Riley was not at his best attempting to explain why ONDCP was unwilling to challenge the "stoner" softball team:

"I wouldn't think we would play any team that promotes drug use," Riley said, adding, "that includes teams that promote smoking meth or smoking crack." [MAPinc]

A more likely explanation is that ONDCP heard rumors of a severe and inevitable beating if such a game were to take place, and now that the One Hitters have risen to the top of the league, it seems they made the right call. It's too bad though. A picture of sheepish ONDCP staffers sulking off the field would be worth a thousand blog posts.

Location: 
United States

Opposition to Medical Marijuana is a Conspiracy to Prevent Broader Legalization

An important fact to understand about the medical marijuana debate is that the federal government knows perfectly well that marijuana is an effective medicine:

*They've been providing it for decades to a select group of seriously ill patients, and continue to do so.
*They've approved a synthetic drug with the same active ingredient (THC).
*They commissioned a huge study in 1999, which explicitly said it works.
*They've been blocking research, which makes no sense if they think the results will favor them.

So the debate over medical marijuana isn't even about whether it has medical properties. It is about something else entirely, stated perfectly by ONDCP's Tom Riley just the other day:
"…a lot of the people who are behind this aren't really interested in sick people who need medicine, they're interested in marijuana legalization and they're playing on the suffering of genuinely sick people to get it." [Reuters]
As silly as it is, this argument explains everything there is to know about why the government actually opposes medical marijuana. Though countless mainstream medical, legal,  and religious organizations support medical marijuana, the federal government remains fixated on drug policy reformers and our role in defending the rights of patients.

The simple truth is that they are afraid that medical marijuana could lead to full-blown legalization of marijuana for recreational use. And it's not an irrational concern. If you're struggling to prevent accurate information about marijuana's effects from reaching the scientific community and the public, the last thing you want is a huge user population that can speak openly about their experiences with the drug.

Ironically, it is ONDCP's obsession with legalization that has turned medical marijuana into a great controversy, not ours. Similarly, it is ONDCP that exploits patients for political purposes, not us. Opposition to medical marijuana is not championed by doctors or scientists. It is funded and carried out by political operatives who want to keep marijuana illegal for everyone. That's the real medical marijuana conspiracy.

Location: 
United States

Important Exchange Re: Clinton & Obama on Needle Exchange

Ben Smith's blog on The Politico web site today discussed an important exchange of comments between Hillary Clinton and Charles King, the executive director of Housing Works, at a private appearance earlier this month, as well as comments by Barack Obama at a different meeting in the same series. King had asked Clinton if she would lift the ban on use of federal AIDS funds to support needle exchange programs, an issue that previously came to a boil in 1998 during her husband's second term. (Some activists believe that Bill Clinton would have lifted the ban if Donna Shalala rather than Barry McCaffrey had boarded a certain Air Force One flight.) According to Smith:
Clinton responded to King's question, after some prodding, by saying, "I want to look at the evidence on it" to see whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug abuse. Shalala, King responded, had "certified" the safety and effectiveness of the programs. "And then she refused to order it, as you remember," Clinton said. King replied that that had been her husband's decision. "Well, because we knew we couldn't maintain it politically," Clinton said, and went on to discuss the trade-offs in that dispute with Congress. "I wish life and politics were easier," she said. King then referred back to Clinton's opening remarks. "You made a great comment earlier about how our next president needs to have some spine," he said. "We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances," Clinton responded.

Obama, by contrast, had responded that he supports lifting the ban. Click here to read Smith's full post, which includes the video footage. A little background: Housing Works has for years been a stalwart in the harm reduction movement. (Harm reduction is the idea that people who use drugs should be helped in reducing the harm they do, to themselves or others, whether they are about to stop using drugs or not.) The organization is very well known in New York City, which successfully beat back a late 1990s attempt by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani to bankrupt them. In 2000, activists from Housing Works stormed the Ashcroft confirmation hearings to denounce his record on needle exchange. King's co-founder and co-executive director of Housing Works for years, the late Keith Cylar, was a member of DRCNet's board of directors (and a friend).

(This blog post 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.)

Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Taking it to the Drug Warriors--Is It Time for Direct Action?

You know, a guy gets tired fighting for decades for the right to do something which should be our right anyway. Yeah, I know the litany: We've got to play the game...if you don't like the law, change it...the political process is slow...we can't be impatient...we have to educate politicians and cultivate law enforcement....blah blah blah. Well, in the face of the no-progress Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote and the continuing defiance of the will of California voters by the DEA, not to mention all the other drug war horrors, I'm prepared to once again make inciteful (if not insightful) calls for direct action against these downpressors. 1. Let's take the DEA's war on medical marijuana patients and providers to the DEA. Let's shut 'em down in California. Blockade their offices, and not for symbolic civil disobedience purposes, but for the actual purpose of disrupting their activities. 2. Let's really take it to the DEA. These black-suited, paramilitary-style goons presumably have homes in the area. I'd like to see protestors on the sidewalk in front of their houses. Ooh, but you say it's not polite or uncouth to do that sort of thing! Well, I frankly find DEA goons kicking down doors and arresting harmless people who didn't do anything to anybody pretty impolite and uncouth. Maybe they'll enjoy explaining to their neighbors (two out of three of whom voted for Prop 215) how they earn a living. These thugs need to pay a price for what they do, and I personally don't care if it offends the sensibilities of some of our more delicate members. And I don't buy their "I'm only following orders" excuse, either. It didn't fly at Nuremburg, and it shouldn't fly now. It's time for public shaming and shunning. 3. And maybe we should be focusing on a mass march aimed at national DEA headquarters one of these months. Again, the purpose would be practical--not symbolic--to shut the monster down. This is an agency that needs to be abolished, and until we can accomplish that, the least we can do it make it impossible for it to function properly. 3. More broadly, let's attack the snitch system that underpins the drug war. Last week, we did a newsbrief on the couple in Philadelphia indicted for posting flyers outing a snitch. They copied information from the Who's A Rat? web site, which is protected by the First Amendment. The folks in Philadelphia are charged with intimidating witnesses--by making public information about what they are doing--and I hope they fight that case all the way. Snitches have no right to have their exploits go unsung. In solidarity with the Philadelphia folks, and everyone who has suffered from drug war snitchery, I propose that DRCNet enter into a collaboration with Who's a Rat? by posting the information about one undercover officer (they list more than 400) or one snitch (they list over 4000) online each week. Personally, I would rather go after the narcs than the snitches, most of whom are victims themselves. ("You're gonna go to prison for 30 years and get raped by hardened cons if you don't give up the names..."). Snitches may be victims of circumstance (and a weak values system), but narcs do this horrid work for a living, either because they believe in or they like it. I want to see their names and mugs plastered across the internet. I don't suppose my boss will agree with me on this one, although I'd like to hear why not. 5. Police on a drug raid in Belfast this week were met by a rock-throwing mob. Mindful of the incitement statutes, I have no comment. Whaddya think, folks? I'm really, really tired of waiting for lamebrain politicians to protect me from these thugs. I guess I'm going to have to do it myself. With your help. More "responsible" members of our movement generally shy away from tactics like these. Let them be responsible. I want to fight back.
Location: 
United States

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