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Drug Czar Mixes Cannabis, Caffeine, and Cartography With Catastrophic Results

The Drug Czar claimed today that San Francisco has more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks coffee shops.

As we've noted previously, state "medical" marijuana laws breed confusion, abuse, and violence in neighborhoods and communities.

Here's our latest analysis of this phenomenon. In downtown San Francisco alone, there are 98 marijuana dispensaries, compared to 71 Starbucks Coffee shops

As is typical considering the source, this is just totally wrong. There are 25 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco, not 98. I contacted Americans for Safe Access today and they had no idea what’s up with this crazy map. Most of the "dispensaries" on the map simply don’t exist. It’s incomprehensible. My best guess is that they’re including doctors' offices, which might write prescriptions, but certainly don’t provide medicine. It might be something even crazier and more dishonest than that.

The thing is, everyone in San Francisco knows where the dispensaries are. They’re only allowed in certain areas. It’s not a secret. This page includes a list of addresses for all of them and, believe me, a lot of people wish it were longer.

So if "marijuana laws breed confusion" as the drug czar claims, it would appear that the confusion remains confined to his office. Regardless of how many Starbucks and medical marijuana dispensaries there are, there is only one place to go if you’re looking for worldclass bullshit drug war propaganda maps.


ONDCP's fake marijuana dispensary map

Could the Next Drug Czar be William Bratton?

The Politico looks at rumored cabinet selections if Obama is elected and identifies Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton as a possible choice for drug czar. Of course, the election isn’t over yet and this is just a rumor, the origins of which we know nothing about. So I don’t want to go too far here, but if true, this could become big news and a source of concern for reformers.

Bratton is a proponent of the "broken windows" theory of policing which prioritizes enforcement of minor offenses in pursuit of a trickle-up effect on crime control. He served as New York City police commissioner in the 1990’s, overseeing a dramatic increase in petty marijuana arrests. On medical marijuana, Bratton has claimed to be "totally supportive," but has shown concern about profiteering by dispensary operators. While his views on medical marijuana would appear to be an improvement over previous drug czars, the question is whether he’d retain his respect for California’s laws after moving to Washington, D.C. to lead the federal drug war.

Having said all that, I believe it’s quite likely that other names will emerge if Obama wins tomorrow and I’m hopeful that his call for "shifting the model" in our drug policy would mean looking beyond law-enforcement circles when it comes to managing our national approach to drug abuse. In fact, it's really kind of hard to understand what he meant if not that.

(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.)

Latin America: US Drug Czar Supports Mexico Drug Decriminalization

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has been vocal in its condemnation of various moves to decriminalize marijuana possession in the US, but it is now singing a different tune when it comes to a similar proposal in Mexico. Drug czar John Walters told the New York Times last Friday that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent call to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs.

Under Calderon's proposal, people caught possessing drugs could avoid criminal sanctions if they agree to submit themselves for evaluation and treatment of their "drug problem." Calderon is touting the measure as a means of concentrating Mexican law enforcement efforts on the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations rather than wasting time and resources picking on drug users.

"I don't think that's legalization," said Walters, who supports Calderon's tough approach to the drug trade and lobbied vigorously for the multi-year, multi-billion dollar anti-drug aid package for Mexico approved by Congress earlier this year.

That prompted the Marijuana Policy Project to issue a press release headed "Hell Freezes Over." "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but John Walters is right," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "We heartily second his support for eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana users in Mexico, and look forward to working with him to end such penalties in the US as well," Kampia said.

"It's fantastic that John Walters has recognized the massive destruction the drug war has inflicted on Mexico and is now calling for reforms there, but he's a rank hypocrite if he continues opposing similar reforms in the US," Kampia continued. "The Mexican proposal is far more sweeping than MPP's proposals to decriminalize marijuana or make marijuana medically available, both of which John Walters and his henchmen rail against."

Not everyone was so excited. Writing for Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog, Jacob Sullum agreed with Walters that Calderon's proposal is not legalization. "In fact, it's a stretch even to call Calderon's proposal 'decriminalization,'" he wrote. "It is surely an improvement if illegal drug users don't go to prison, even if the alternative is a treatment program that may be inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Yet under Calderon's plan the threat of jail still hangs over anyone who violates the government's pharmacological taboos and is not prepared to undergo re-education, which entails identifying himself as an addict, even if he isn't, and playing the role of the drug dealer's helpless victim. Walters correctly sees that such compelled affirmation of drug war dogma, which he likens to the treatment-or-jail option offered in American 'drug courts,' poses little threat to current policy."

Sullum also noted that Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, had supported a 2006 bill that would have lifted criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of drugs before he pulled it in the face of pressure from the Americans. At that time, a US embassy spokeswoman said the Mexican government should "ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs." As Sullum noted: "The Calderon proposal satisfies that criterion and differs little from current practice in many American jurisdictions, so it's not surprising Walters is on board."

Latin America: Citing Continuing Human Rights Violations, Amnesty International Urges US to Halt Military Aid to Colombia

The human rights group Amnesty International harshly criticized Colombia in a 94-page report issued Tuesday and urged the US to halt military aid to Colombia unless and until it manages to rein in the killings of civilians and other human rights abuses.

The US government has provided more than $5 billion in assistance to Colombia, the vast majority of it military, since the Clinton administration initiated Plan Colombia in 1999. Originally sold as a purely counter-narcotics package, the US assistance has since 2002 morphed into a counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism mission aimed primarily at the guerrilla army of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC supports itself in part through participation in Colombia's coca and cocaine industry.

Washington has lauded Colombian President Álvaro Uribe for taking the fight to the FARC, and Colombia has seen a decrease in kidnappings and an increased sense of security in some big cities. But in the report, Amnesty questioned Uribe's claims that Colombia "is experiencing an irreversible renaissance of relative peace" and "rapidly falling levels of violence."

"Colombia remains a country where millions of civilians, especially outside the big cities and in the countryside, continue to bear the brunt of this violent and protracted conflict," the report says, adding that "impunity remains the norm in most cases of human rights abuses."

According to the report, more than 70,000 people, the vast majority civilians, have been killed in the past two decades of the 40-year-old war between the FARC and the Colombian state, with somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 "disappeared" and another 20,000 kidnapped or taken hostage. Colombia is also the scene of one of the world's worst refugee crises, with between three and four million people forcibly displaced.

And despite Uribe's protestations, for many Colombians, things aren't getting any better. According to the report, 1,400 civilians were killed in 2007, up from 1,300 the previous year. Of the 890 cases where the killers were known, the Colombian military and its ally-turned-sometimes-foe the rightwing paramilitaries were responsible for two-thirds. Similarly, the number of "disappeared" people was at 190 last year, up from 180 the year before.

Colombia's internal refugees didn't fare any better, either. More than 300,000 were displaced last year, up substantially from the 220,000 in 2006. Much of the displacement and many of the killings took place as paramilitaries attempted to wrest control of coca fields from the FARC and its peasant supporters.

In addition to pressure from donor countries, one key to improving the human rights picture is to get the Uribe administration to admit that it is in a civil war. Uribe refuses to do so, instead labeling the FARC belligerents as "terrorists."

"It's impossible to solve a problem without admitting there is one," said Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at Amnesty International. "Denial only condemns more people to abuse and death."

The report also found that despite Uribe's claim that demobilization of the paramilitaries has succeeded, the paramilitaries remain active and continue to commit human rights abuses. Disturbingly, the report concluded that the FARC in the last year has been creating "strategic alliances" with the paramilitaries in various regions in the country as both groups seek "to better manage" the primary source of income, the cocaine trade.

Southwest Asia: US, UN Squabble Over Afghanistan Opium Production Drop, But Taliban Stash Suggests No Shortages Any Time Soon

In August, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual survey of Afghan opium production, reporting for the first time in several years a slight -- 6% -- decrease in overall production. Last Friday, the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), released its own US government estimate, claiming that production was down a whopping 31%.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/afghanistanopiummap08.gif
opium security map, ONDCP, July 2008, from whitehousedrugpolicy.gov
Both the UNODC and ONDCP concurred that acreage devoted to poppy production was down, but the UNODC said increased productivity in remaining poppy fields meant the decrease in production was not as great as the decrease in acreage. The ONDCP report said yields were decreasing, not increasing. Both UNODC and ONDCP agreed that 18 provinces were now poppy-free, up from 12 two years ago.

"Afghanistan needs peace, a flourishing economy and the rule of law to succeed as a democracy," said drug czar John Walters as he announced the figures. "Each of these conditions is undone by narcotics production. That is why today's news is so encouraging to the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been victimized for too long by the violence, misery, and addiction caused by the illegal drug trade. We look forward to continuing cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan and our allies as we work to defeat the narcotics industry and the terrorist groups that rely on the drug business to kill innocent people and attack democracy and freedom across the globe."

Despite the US report, UNODC officials in Afghanistan were sticking to their numbers. At a Kabul press conference Monday, UNODC Afghanistan head Christina Orguz said she had "high confidence" in the UNODC numbers because they were based on ground inspections, analysis of the actual opium yield of the latest crop and satellite imagery.

"Whichever figure it would turn out to be right would be a tragedy because it's still far too much produced, in any case," she said.

Both the US and the UN reported some successes in luring farmers away from the poppy crop with public information campaigns and alternative development programs. Eradication and interdiction have been less successful, but now NATO and the US have committed their forces to deeper involvement in the anti-drug effort. Still, Afghanistan remains the world's leading opium producer by far, accounting for 93% of global production.

And, if UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa is correct, Afghanistan has for the past several years produced more opium than the global illicit market can absorb. According to the UNODC, global demand for illicit opium is steady at about 4,500 tons a year, while Afghanistan has been producing considerably more for the past few years. Some 6,000 to 8,000 tons are surplus, and Costa thinks he knows where they are.

"Where is it? We have been asking," he told Time. Because of the surplus, "the prices should have collapsed," said Costa. "But there has been no price collapse."

Costa said he believed the missing opium was being stockpiled by the Taliban for lean times and as a price control mechanism. "This is classic market manipulation," he said.

So, while the US and the UN can congratulate themselves on production reductions and squabble over how big they really are, the Taliban is sitting on a gold mine of opium. At an estimated $465,000 a ton for opium, that adds up to a $3.2 billion war chest, and even a dramatic drop in production or successful eradication will not impede the Taliban's ability to wage war against the West and the government in Kabul.

Drug War Chronicle Video Review: "Prince of Pot: The US v. Marc Emery," Directed by Nick Wilson (2008, Journeyman Pictures)

Let me say right up front that Marc Emery sometimes pays me money to write articles for his magazine, Cannabis Culture, so I am not a completely disinterested observer. That said, "Prince of Pot" director Nick Wilson has done a superb job of explaining who Emery is, where he came from, and what he is all about -- and in tying Emery's trajectory to the larger issues of marijuana prohibition, the drug war in general, and Canadian acquiescence to US-style prohibitionist drug policies.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/emeryprotest1.jpg
Marc Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture magazine)
I assume that anyone reading these words already knows who Marc Emery is: Canada's most vocal advocate of marijuana legalization, founder of the BC Marijuana Party, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine, operator of POT-TV, and former proprietor of the Marc Emery Seed Company. Emery made lots of money with his seed company, and plowed much of it back into the marijuana legalization movement, not only in Canada, but also bankrolling activists in the US Marijuana Party south of the border and putting some loonies (Canadian nickname for their one-dollar coin) into various Global Marijuana Marches. For Emery, the seed company was merely a means to an end, a method of raising money to subvert marijuana prohibition, or, as he nicely put it, to overgrow the government.

But all that came to a crashing halt three years ago, when Emery and two of his employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on marijuana trafficking charges for his seed sales. Now, the Vancouver 3, as they have come to be known, face up to life in prison in the US if and when they are extradited.

The documentary, which is available from Journeyman Productions, opens with some vintage Emery, addressing the crowd at a pro-legalization, anti-extradition rally in Vancouver, the headquarters of his operation. "The DEA says I am responsible for 1.1 million pounds of pot," he said to cheers from the crowd. "I would be happy to believe that. That's the problem -- the DEA and I agree on the facts."

"Prince of Pot" follows Emery's career from his beginnings as an Ontario bookstore owner who loathed stoners, but came to embrace their cause as he fought the Canadian government's censorship of "drug-related" magazines like High Times. Early on, Emery displayed the same qualities that propelled his meteoric rise to the heights of the pot legalization movement: a libertarian sensibility, "an ego that takes up 40% of his body weight," as one observer put it, an aggressive, abrasive personality, a penchant for the publicity stunt, and a mouth that never stops working.

The documentary also shows that Emery's exhibitionism isn't limited to the sphere of the political. Early on, viewers are treated to a shot of Emery's backside as he gets out of bed, and another scene shows him naked on a Vancouver nude beach being anointed with cannabis oil by his young wife Jodie in an experiment to see whether it could have an impact on "any cancerous or pre-cancerous cells." (No word on how that turned out.)

But if Marc Emery's ass is on the screen, it's also on the line, and this is where "Prince of Pot" really shines. The documentary makers interviewed the unrepentant US attorney in Seattle who indicted him and a Seattle DEA agent who justified the bust, and confronted DEA head Karen Tandy at a 2006 international DEA conference in Montreal.

"Prince of Pot" hones in with precision accuracy on Tandy's post-bust press release where she bragged about how Emery's arrest was "a blow to the legalization movement." That press release may be Emery's best long-shot chance at avoiding extradition because it provides evidence that his prosecution was politically motivated.

All of the feds, of course, deny that was the case, but, in tracing Emery's career, his succession of trivial arrests by Canadian authorities, and growing US frustration with Canada's seeming indifference to his activities, the documentarians make a strong case that Marc Emery was busted not because he sold seeds, but because he was a burr under the saddle of Washington.

The documentary also features a strong cast of Canadian supporters, including former Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell ("The drug czar is an idiot"), Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, Toronto attorney Alan Young, Ottawa attorney and criminal justice professor Eugene Oscapella ("Why should we emulate the failed drug policies of the United States?"). Vancouver activist David Malmo-Levine, shown smoking a foot-long joint at one point, makes a compelling observation, too: "They want to send him to prison for life," he exclaims, recounting the DEA's argument about the harm Emery has caused by promoting marijuana production. "What harm? Show me the bodies," he demands. "There has to be at least one body if they want to send him away for life. There has to be at least one person who suffered more than bronchitis."

Washington state marijuana defense attorney Douglas Hiatt's brief appearance is also powerful and worth noting. Visibly angry at the injustice of the marijuana laws, Hiatt lashes out at prosecutors and the DEA. "If the DEA wants to talk about destroying families," he growls, "they can talk to me about the families they've destroyed for trying to use medical marijuana. The only thing I see ruining people's lives is the government's policies," Hiatt spits out. His righteous wrath is refreshing.

At one point in the documentary, film-maker Wilson says that for him, "It's not about seeds, it's about sovereignty." From the Canadian perspective, he's right, of course, but it's really about marijuana prohibition, and Wilson does a wonderful job of sketching its history and ugly current reality.

At the end, the documentary speculates about a possible deal for Emery to serve a shorter prison term in the US. That didn't happen. Neither did a proposed deal that would have seen charges dropped against Rainey and Williams and Emery serving a few years in a Canadian prison. Now, it's back to fighting extradition, and given that the decision to extradite is ultimately a political one made by the Justice Minister and given that the Canadian federal government is in bed with the US on drug policy, extradition remains the most likely outcome.

In a touching scene, Emery and his wife argue over whether he will serve his cause by martyring himself, something he seems determined to do. I have personally counseled him otherwise. I suggested that he become the marijuana movement's Osama bin Laden. No, not that he blow up DEA headquarters, but that he escape to a hidden cave complex somewhere in the Canadian Rockies and bedevil his enemies with communiques from his hidden sanctuary. I, for one, would rather see Marc Emery figuratively flipping the bird to the US government than disappearing, like so many others have, into the American gulag.

Check out this documentary. It's a good one. It'll give you goose bumps at some points, make you want to cry at some, and make you want to cheer at others.

The Drug Czar Can’t Stop Panicking About Medical Marijuana

Here we go again:



Pete Guither couldn’t make it all the way through. I’m not even going to try. We’ve heard all of this before. We heard the same thing in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Yet no one is demanding the repeal of those laws. Medical marijuana works and so do the laws that protect patients from arrest.

If you’re in Michigan, vote Yes on Prop. 1. Pass it on.

Prevention: Drug Czar's Billion Dollar Anti-Drug Media Campaign a Waste of Money, Study Finds

Despite spending more than $1 billion between 1999 and 2004, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has failed to demonstrate any measurable positive effects -- and it some cases, it may even have made youths more likely to use drugs, a new study has found.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnwalters2.jpg
John Walters
The campaign, memorable for its over-the-top TV ads linking marijuana smokers to terrorists and drivers who run down children in fast-food parking lots, was initiated in 1998 and originally derived from a Partnership for a Drug-Free America program. Its goal is to reduce teen drug use.

The findings come from a congressionally-mandated study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication. The researchers conducted four rounds of interviews conducted between 1999 and 2004, each involving about 5,000 to 8,000 youths between the ages of 9 and 18 years. The study will be published in the December edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

"The evidence does not support a claim that the campaign produced anti-marijuana effects," concluded the authors, led by Professor Robert Hornik. "There is little evidence for a contemporaneous association between exposure to anti-drug advertising and any of the outcomes... Non-users who reported more exposure to anti-drug messages were no more likely to express anti-drug beliefs than were youths who were less exposed," they wrote.

"Despite extensive funding, governmental agency support, the employment of professional advertising and public relations firms, and consultation with subject-matter experts, the evidence from the evaluation suggests that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign had no favorable effects on youths' behavior and that it may even have had an unintended and undesirable effect on drug cognitions and use," the report said.

The authors found that the anti-drug ads may have inadvertently suggested to youth that other kids were doing drugs. That could have had pushed more kids to try drugs, they suggested.

"Youths who saw the campaign ads took from them the message that their peers were using marijuana," the report found. "In turn, those who came to believe that their peers were using marijuana were more likely to initiate use themselves."

While the anti-drug message may have been muddled, the ads were seen. Overall, 94% of the youths interviewed reported seeing one or more ads a week, with an average frequency of two or three a week.

Still, teen marijuana use is down, declining by 40% between 1997, before the campaign began, and 2007, according to the annual Monitoring the Future surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders.

In an interview with ABC News last week, lead author Hornik said that the reported decline in marijuana use "could be due to lots of influences, not just the campaign." He said he had gone into the study expecting positive results, "but we couldn't find 'em."

This would appear to be a program ripe for the chopping block when Congress returns next year. After all, we are in for a time when we can't afford to be paying for unproven programs.

South Pacific: DEA Mass Body Search of Plane Passengers Spurs Angry Reaction in Marianas

Lawmakers and travel industry spokesmen on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, are furious with the DEA over an October 4 incident where the agency conducted a mass body search of passengers arriving on a charter jet from China. Tourism officials have apologized to China over the incident, the local congress has passed a resolution condemning the searches, and in the latest reverberation, the Marianas government has pulled its police from the local DEA task force.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marianaislands.jpg
Northern Mariana Islands (map from 4uth.gov.ua)
The Marianas, formally known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), is a US territory situated roughly three-quarters of the way to Australia from Hawaii. The islands have a population of about 80,000 and rely heavily on tourism.

The October 4 incident occurred in the pre-dawn hours when a Shanghai Airlines charter flight arrived at Saipan International Airport. Acting on what it said was a tip about drugs on the flight, the DEA subjected 147 of 187 arriving passengers -- all Chinese nationals -- to intensive body searches. The agents forced passengers into a small room, then forced them to remove their clothing to be searched. No drugs were found, although the DEA reported it had seized some contraband plant and animal items.

Many of the passengers were outraged by their treatment and reported it to their government. They also vowed never to return to the CNMI again. That had local officials scrambling to undo the harm.

"I want to let you know that my administration is extremely displeased with the manner in which this activity was conducted," said Gov. Benigno Fitial in an October 10 letter to the tour company and hotel involved in the deal that brought the Chinese tourists to Saipan. "We did not approve of this and do not support such treatment of visitors to our islands."

That same day, Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio sent a similar letter to the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles. "We hope that this regrettable and isolated incident does not alter your affection for the CNMI and its people," Tenorio said.

Late last week, still fuming over the DEA's actions and unresponsiveness, the CNMI House of Representatives passed a strongly worded resolution demanding that the US Department of Justice investigate the mass search. The resolution also called for the department to inform China that the DEA -- not local customs or immigration officials -- was responsible for the searches.

"The House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands hereby calls for a full and complete investigation into the activities and the causes of those activities that led to an episode at the Francisco C. Ada Saipan International Airport that embarrassed and degraded honored guests of the Northern Mariana Islands and may have violated their civil rights," stated the resolution.

"These searches, and the abhorrent treatment of the passengers subjected to it, caused extreme embarrassment, discomfort, fear, and a feeling of perverse violation to the affected tourists and other guests of the Commonwealth," the resolution said. It also called the searches "harsh and irrational" and said they had caused irreparable harm "to the reputation of the Commonwealth and to the psyches of the victims of this demeaning episode."

And that's the watered down version. After Federal Relations Committee Chair Diego Benavente expressed concern over harsh language, the House voted to remove a provision of the resolution containing the phrase "multiple fondling of the passengers' private parts."

The fall-out continued this week. The CNMI Department of Public Safety announced Monday that it was pulling four Saipan police officers from the DEA Northern Marianas task force. That comes just days after the CNMI withdrew six other police officers and one customs officer from the task force. That withdrawal will be in effect until the DEA provides a complete explanation of the October 4 incident, government officials said.

At this point, the government of the CNMI doesn't seem to care much what impact the withdrawal will have on the DEA's work. When asked if the pull-out would hamper DEA operations, a police spokesman replied only, "That remains to be seen."

Initiatives: Drug Czar, Prison Guards Gang Up on California's Treatment-Not-Jail Proposition 5

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) director John Walters headed to California this week to try to defeat a ballot initiative that would divert thousands of drug offenders from prison in the nation's most populous state. The state's powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), has entered the fray too, pledging a million dollars to help finance a last-minute opposition campaign.

The target of their ire is the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 5. NORA would profoundly deepen and broaden the shift toward treatment instead of incarceration that began six years ago with Proposition 36. If NORA passes, it would:

  • require the state to expand and increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees;
  • reduce criminal consequences of nonviolent drug offenses by mandating three-tiered probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation;
  • limit courts' authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole;
  • shorten parole for most drug offenses, including sales, and for nonviolent property crimes;
  • create numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation;
  • change certain marijuana misdemeanors to infractions.

All of that is too much for drug czar Walters, who showed up in Sacramento Tuesday to blast the initiative as a back-door move to legalize drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance, which is backing NORA, and its top funder, financier George Soros, cannot achieve drug legalization "by being honest and straightforward," so they deceptively offered up Prop. 5 to undermine the drug court system, Walters charged. Passage of Prop. 5 would "weaken our capacity to help people in the criminal justice system" who still remain subject to punishment if they fail, he said.

That guaranteed a sharp retort from Prop. 5 supporters. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, spokesperson for Yes on 5, called the measure "a common sense response" to prohibition-related crime and blasted Walters as a spokesman for failed policies. "President Bush's drug czar has come to California to insist that we continue with the failed approach that has been so ineffective and has crowded our prisons full of nonviolent offenders," Dooley-Sammuli said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and will cut another $2.5 billion in state costs for prison construction. This doesn't include savings related to reduced crime, lower social costs (e.g. emergency room visits, child protective services, welfare), and increased individual productivity.

But filling California prisons full of nonviolent offenders is a jobs program for the prison guards union. While earlier in the campaign season, the union had been distracted by a failed effort to recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last week it announced it was kicking in a million dollars to defeat the initiative.

"CCPOA never has been shy about making sure that our voice is heard," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said. "We'll continue to do that. We've always put the resources necessary to get the job done," he said.

But while the prison guards and the drug czar join other law enforcement groups in lining up against Prop. 5, the measure has broad support within the treatment community, as well as endorsements from the League of Women Voters of California, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Consumer Federation of California -- among many others.

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