Executive Branch

RSS Feed for this category

Obama Declares War on American Drug Users

Speaking in Mexico today, President Obama embraced the exact hard-line drug war philosophy he rejected on the campaign trail:

Obama acknowledged that the United States shares responsibility for bloodshed and kidnappings in Mexico that have spilled across the border into the United States. Acknowledging that U.S. drug use fuels the cartels, Obama said, "I will not pretend this is Mexico's responsibility alone."

"We have a responsibility as well, we have to do our part," Obama said. He said the U.S. must crack down on drug use and the flow of weapons into Mexico. [AP]

Specifically, he said, "We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns," and while I've been accused at times of giving Obama too much credit when it comes to drug policy, there's just no silver lining in any of this. A crackdown is a crackdown. Anyone who talks that way is a full-blown drug warrior. He's always talked tough when it comes to Mexico, but this flat-out endorsement of busting drug users here at home is a new low.

Thus, Obama becomes a rather peculiar specimen as far as drug war politics are concerned. This is a guy who's talked about decriminalizing marijuana and "shifting the model" in the war on drugs, only to then take a step backwards after achieving enough to power to actually move those ideals forward in a meaningful way. Some have questioned his sincerity all along, but I don't. Drug policy reform just makes sense, so when I hear someone talking about it, I assume they understand the words coming out of their own mouth.

…which brings me to the tragic conclusion that Obama is doing all of this even though he knows it's wrong. Lives are being lost in a brutal and escalating war, while billions are being wasted away during an escalating economic meltdown, and he's opting to fan the flames rather than show real leadership. It's arguably even more disgraceful than what we've seen from our opponents in the past, because Obama bears the burden of knowing the truth.

Regardless of whatever the hell is going on in the President's head, it is just a fact that the American people have never been so sick of the war on drugs as they are this exact moment. There is a national dialogue about our drug policy taking place in the press on a daily basis, fueled to no small extent by Obama's own hypocrisy and intransigence. Determined though he may be to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors, Obama will not escape scrutiny as they did. That much is already clear.

Press Release -- Obama in Mexico: Marijuana on the Agenda?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
APRIL 15, 2009

Obama in Mexico: Marijuana on the Agenda?

In Possible Rebuke to Obama, Mexico's Ambassador Said an End to Marijuana Prohibition "Needs to Be Taken Seriously"

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With President Obama leaving for talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday, marijuana policy reformers are wondering if the role of U.S. marijuana laws in subsidizing vicious Mexican drug gangs will get the serious attention that Mexico's ambassador to the U.S. recently said it deserves. Obama's visit comes immediately after Mexico's Congress held a historic debate on ending marijuana prohibition.

     "In his only public statement on the issue since taking office, President Obama treated the question of ending marijuana prohibition as a joke, but the families of the 7,000 murdered by Mexican drug gangs know it's not funny," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "By refusing to bring the massive marijuana industry out of the shadows and regulate it as we do beer, wine and liquor, we've handed a massive subsidy to some of the most brutal thugs on the planet."

     In an April 12  discussion of Mexico's brutal drug cartels on CBS's "Face the Nation," Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan was asked by host Bob Schieffer, "What if marijuana were legalized? Would that change this situation?"

     Rather than dismissing the idea as President Obama did in his recent online town hall meeting, Sarukhan said, "This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously, that we have to engage in on both sides of the border."

     "Ambassador Sarukhan got it exactly right," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "The public in both countries is ready for a serious discussion about the marijuana laws that are directly aiding the murderous gangs that are killing people daily and now operate in 230 U.S. cities. It's time for Presidents Obama and Calderon to show the sort of decisive leadership that's needed to get both of our countries out of this mess."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

The Drug Czar's Office Doesn't Know What to Say About Marijuana

Ever since Obama's awful attempt to duck the marijuana legalization debate last week, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that the issue of marijuana reform is a major challenge for the new administration. They aren't ready to endorse legalization, but they're equally intimidated by the rapidly growing movement to reform marijuana laws.

Another example is found at the drug czar's blog, which posted the video of Obama's statement, yet withheld any further comment on the matter. It 's a subtle, yet profound departure from the way this blog was run during the previous administration. Every post related to marijuana ended with, "Click here to learn more about how marijuana is highly f#$king toxic."

I can't prove that, though, because they deleted everything when Obama took office (which just further demonstrates that the new ONDCP is a very different creature). Considering that ONDCP's charter mandates opposition to drug policy reform efforts, their failure to actually even applaud Obama's statement against marijuana legalization is remarkably tame.  

It almost feels like we're running out of people to argue with.

Obama Compares Drug War to Alcohol Prohibition

Via NORML's Russ Belville, CBS's Bob Schieffer asked President Obama about the drug war violence in Mexico and got this surprising response:

President Obama:  Well, what’s happened is that President Calderon I think has been very bold and rightly has decided that it’s gotten carried away. The drug cartels have too much power, are undermining and corrupting huge segments of Mexican society. And so he has taken them on in the same way that when, you know, Elliot Ness took on Al Capone back during Prohibition, oftentimes that causes even more violence. And we’re seeing that flare up.

I honestly cannot believe the president is looking towards alcohol prohibition for a little perspective on our present predicament. Everyone knows that story. Elliot Ness didn't defeat those cartels. Legalization defeated them.

LEAP: Addiction is not a crime; it's a health issue

LEAP logo

"Help send a strong message that drug policy is a health - not a crime - issue."

Jack Cole pic

Jack Cole
26-year veteran cop
New Jersey State Police

Take Action

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition about an unprecedented opportunity to get our nation's lawmakers to finally realize that drug abuse and addiction is a public health - and not a criminal justice - issue.

As you probably know, President Barack Obama recently appointed Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as his White House "drug czar," more formally known as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

That means that the U.S. Senate will soon hold a hearing to question and confirm Chief Kerlikowske. Historically, the drug czar confirmation hearings are held in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel that handles crime and courts issues.

But, since many observers - including the president himself - have said that drug abuse is primarily a health concern, don't you think that the drug czar confirmation should be handled by the lawmakers who oversee such issues?

That's why I'm writing you today.

Please take one minute to visit http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com/health and send a letter to your two U.S. senators, asking them to support moving the drug czar confirmation hearing to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, a much more appropriate forum.

We've made it really easy for you to take action. All you have to do is enter your contact information and click "send." If you have an extra minute, you can edit our pre-written letter to personalize it for added impact.

With the new Obama administration, we are cautiously optimistic that there will be a humane shift in drug policy: from the current punitive and forceful model, to a more compassionate one founded in public health.

Indeed, President Obama has repeatedly called for a new health-based approach to drug policy, including when he told Rolling Stone magazine that he believes in "shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public-health approach."

Now, we have a brief window of time to get the message to our elected officials that we want to turn this rhetoric into reality.

Please take one minute to visit http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com/health to do your part by taking action. Then, use the simple follow-up form to let your friends know about this opportunity, too.

Thanks so much for all that you do,
Jack Cole
Executive Director
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com

P.S. Did you know that you can get a cool LEAP badge lapel pin just by making a $5 (or more, if you like) one-time donation or montly pledge?  Check out http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com/badge for details.

DEA Ignores New Policy, Raids SF Medical Marijuana Dispensary

DEA Ignores Policy, Raids San Francisco Dispensary
Raids Defy U.S. President and Attorney General, and need your response!

Dear ASA Supporter,

We never expected that the DEA would defy the public statements of both the U.S. President and the Attorney General in such an arrogant and brazen way.

And yet yesterday, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a legal, permitted San Francisco medical cannabis dispensing collective against the will of the President and the Department of Justice... and we need you to respond RIGHT NOW!

In early February national media attention exploded around statements from a White House spokesperson and from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, telling the press that DEA raids would no longer continue, and that an end to such raids, according to Holder, was “now U.S. policy.”

And DEA's response?

They thumbed their noses at the President and immediately raided a legal dispensing collective and, according to the San Francisco Police, did not even inform local cops! DEA claimed that the permit-holding dispensary was "violating state law," but went on to say that evidence was "under seal" and could not be shared with the public.

The DEA is out of line and out of control, and this raid is nothing if not vindictive. Even if there was a violation of state law:

1. Why where there no arrests?
2. Why were local cops not involved?
3. Why are United States Federal Agents interpreting and enforcing California state law without consulting California officials?
4. Why was the collective not given due process through the proper authorities, but rather ransacked with a "smash and grab" raid?

DEA has twisted the words of the U.S. Attorney General, and thought that by saying publicly "they violated state law" that they could continue raiding whenever they want. Well that doesn’t fly. We DEMAND that the DEA stop immediately, and that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reprimand DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart for her blatant insubordination and violation of the “new American policy.”

Now it's up to you, and all it takes is two phone calls, one to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the other straight to the DEA.

Please call the U.S. Attorney General at (202) 353-1555 and say:

Hi, my name is _____________. First I want to thank you for your numerous public statements verifying the end of DEA raids on legal medical marijuana dispensaries in California. But on Wednesday the DEA went against your word and the word of the President of the United States by raiding a permitted dispensary in San Francisco. We respectfully demand that you issue a statement condemning and officially ending these raids until the Obama Administration has had a chance to review the new policy.

When you’re done, call the DEA at (202) 307-8000, ask for Administrator Michele Leonhart, and say:

Hi, my name is ___________. The U.S. Attorney General and the President of the United States have both made high-profile public statements, saying DEA raids on legal medical marijuana dispensaries is no longer U.S. policy. Yet your DEA raided a legal, permit-holding San Francisco dispensary yesterday, in conflict with these statements. This disgraceful and anti-democratic. Why is your agency not listening to the policy statements of our elected leaders and your boss? Is this how you'll run DEA if you are appointed in the Obama Administration? We demand that you STOP it immediately!

Sincerely,

George Pappas
Field Coordinator
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. Please forward this message to all your friends and family so that we can generate a response big enough to get officials to act!

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Raid Raises Questions About Obama Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
MARCH 26, 2009

Medical Marijuana Raid Raises Questions About Obama Policy
Patients, Advocates Wonder Whether DEA Is Conducting Business as Usual Despite Change Announced by Attorney General Holder

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA -- Wednesday's Drug Enforcement Administration raid on Emmalyn's California Cannabis Clinic, a licensed medical marijuana collective in San Francisco, has raised serious questions among medical marijuana supporters about implementation of the new policy announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Emmalyn's had obtained a temporary city permit and was actively working with the city to meet all the requirements for a permanent license.

     On March 18, Holder told reporters that the DEA would only raid medical marijuana providers if it found violations of both state and federal laws.

     "It is disturbing that, despite the DEA's vague claims about violations of state and federal laws, they apparently made no effort to contact the local authorities who monitor and license medical marijuana providers," said Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith. "For an agency that for eight years said it couldn't care less about state law to suddenly justify raids as an effort to uphold state law simply doesn't pass the smell test."

     "Because so little information has been released thus far, we have more questions than answers," added Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "But with an actual shooting war along our Mexican border, not to mention federal law enforcement there being so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through the border with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, it's very hard to believe that this is the best use of DEA resources, especially in a city with an active program to license and regulate medical marijuana providers."

    With more than 26,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana: In Wake of Holder Comments, Federal Judge Postpones Sentencing of California Medical Marijuana Provider Charles Lynch

Charles Lynch expected to be sentenced to a mandatory minimum federal prison term Monday for operating a medical marijuana dispensary legal under state and local laws, but it didn't happen. Instead, US District Court Judge George Wu postponed the proceedings, telling prosecutors he wanted more information about what appears to be a Justice Department change of heart and policy regarding such prosecutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/charlielynch.gif
Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would only prosecute medical marijuana providers who violated both state and federal law. Lynch's case is one where he was clearly in compliance with state law in operating his Morro Bay dispensary.

Under Bush administration policy, which did not recognize any distinction between medical and non-medical marijuana, California dispensary operators were targeted for DEA raids and federal prosecutions with no regard for their compliance with state laws. Prosecutions like those of Lynch, who was found guilty in federal court last August, generated loud and boisterous solidarity movements, protests, and scorn toward the federal government.

Judge Wu said he did not believe the apparent change in policy would affect Lynch's conviction, but he said he wanted to consider any new information about the policy change before he imposed sentence on the 47-year-old Lynch.

Federal marijuana law calls for mandatory minimum sentences in cases involving more than 100 pounds or plants, as was the case with Lynch. We can only hope, given the apparent turnaround in federal policy, that Judge Wu finds a way to make his sentence fit the new reality.

Feature: More Than A Quarter Million Marijuana Smokers in Drug Treatment Each Year -- Are We Wasting Valuable Treatment Resources?

Even as the demand for drug treatment slots continues to grow, an increasing number of people who enter drug treatment are being treated for marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, leading some observers to question whether scarce drug treatment resources are being wasted on people who don't need drug treatment. In its most recent set of drug treatment statistics released last week, the 2007 Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS), the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that some 288,000 people underwent treatment for marijuana that year, or 15.8% of all drug treatment episodes.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuana-plants.jpg
marijuana -- sometimes but not usually a reason for treatment
The number is actually down slightly from its 2005 peak of 301,000 people in treatment for marijuana, but in line with trends for the past decade. Since 1997, the number of people getting treatment for marijuana each year has increased by roughly 50%, or about 100,000 people.

Former drug czar John Walters was fond of using the increase in the number of people being treated for marijuana to argue that it showed the increasing seriousness of marijuana use as a drug problem, but a closer look at the SAMHSA paints a different picture.

Of the people getting treatment for marijuana in 2007, 37.7% had not even smoked in the past month, raising questions about whether they even met the standard (but still arguable) definitions of marijuana abuse or dependence. When you add in the number who had smoked 1-3 times in the past month, the number rose to 53%. Other data set numbers raise similar questions. Only 14.8% of people in treatment for marijuana were self-referrals, as opposed to 56.9% getting treatment because they were ordered to by a court and another 28% in treatment because of referrals from family, schools, employers, or substance treatment or medical providers.

By way of contrast, the self-referral percentages for other drugs are much higher. Among alcohol users in treatment, 29% were self-referrals, for heroin, 58%; cocaine, 36%. Only methamphetamine users had a similar self-referral rate, with 20%.

People in treatment for marijuana are also younger than people in treatment for other drugs. For marijuana, 40% were under 19 at the time of admission, compared to 9% for stimulants, 11% for alcohol, 5% for opiates, and 3% for cocaine. A whopping 75% of people in treatment for marijuana were under age 30, compared to no more than 40% for any other of the major drugs.

The American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) defines substance abuse as "a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one or more of the following occurring within a twelve-month period:

(1) Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g. repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use, substance related absences, suspension, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household).

(2) Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g. driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use).

(3) Recurrent substance related legal problems (e.g. arrest for substance related disorderly conduct).

(4) Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by effects of substance (e.g. arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights).

While it would appear questionable that all those people being treated for marijuana fit those criteria, a SAMHSA researcher said this is indeed the case. Deborah Trunzo, DASIS team leader for SAMHSA's Office of Applied Statistics, said that DSM diagnosis is not reported by all states, but in those states that did report: "Almost three quarters of marijuana admissions for whom DSM diagnosis was reported in 2007 had a DSM diagnosis of marijuana abuse or dependence. The remaining quarter had a DSM diagnosis of abuse or dependence on another substance or a psychiatric disorder. The data from 2006 were similar."

The no use in the past month figures for marijuana are not that shocking either, said Dr. Peter Delaney, Assistant Surgeon General and director of the Office of Applied Studies at SAMHSA. "You may have noticed that 29% of all admissions report no use of their primary substance in the 30 days prior to admission ranging from a low of 16% for heroin to a high of 50% for hallucinogens," Delaney pointed out. "There are a number of explanations for this including individuals coming into treatment may have been on a wait list and may not be currently using their primary drug of choice while preparing to enter treatment -- individuals enter treatment from the jail, other treatment settings, or are referred from court even though they have been abstinent for some time."

There are other explanations, too, Delaney said. "Some people may not be using marijuana presently but report it as the 'favorite' drug, others who are referred for marijuana problems may actually be reporting that alcohol is the problem but the referral trumps the report and finally, as one of the state representatives noted when asked about this phenomenon, many individuals entering treatment do not tell the truth about their use, and providers often see increases in reporting of use at discharge because treatment works."

Not surprisingly, drug reformers, academics and treatment professionals had significantly different takes on the SAMSHA marijuana treatment numbers and what they mean.

"There really is marijuana dependence, and there is an effective treatment for it, but, as the SAMSHA data reveal, it has little to do with what's going on in treatment programs around the US," said Dr. Mitch Earleywine, associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York -- Albany and author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence."

The problem is with the way marijuana fits into the hallmark symptoms of dependence, which are tolerance and withdrawal, Earleywine said. "It is hard to document marijuana tolerance, but the Marinol (THC) studies show tolerance so everyone assumes there must be marijuana tolerance. Also, novice users are less good at knowing how much of a hit they can hold, so experienced users often look more sensitive to marijuana because they're really just more efficient about how they smoke," he said.

Marijuana withdrawal is so subtle it took 2,000 years to document, Earleywine added. "The symptoms are irritability, moodiness, disturbed sleep, craving for marijuana, and -- get this -- loss of appetite," he noted. "When withdrawal occurs, it appears to dissipate within about three weeks, at most." For Earleywine, marijuana withdrawal is about as serious as withdrawal from caffeine.

"The SAMSHA data's suggestion that folks in treatment haven't used marijuana in a month makes it pretty clear that they aren't really dependent at the time of treatment," Earleywine said. "That fact doesn't mean they couldn't benefit from some therapy, but it confirms that an inpatient stay is ridiculous. And yes, someone addicted to crack or meth is missing the chance if some marijuana user is in the program instead."

Noting that only about 15% of people in treatment for marijuana sought treatment themselves and more than half are there because of the courts, Earleywine suggested that most of the rest don't need to be there, either. "Usually, those remainder folks are in there because some family member found a joint and demanded treatment. As you can imagine, clinical work with these guys can be a complete waste of time."

He cited a case in point. "I remember one case that involved a woman in her early twenties in a wheelchair who lived with her parents," he related. "Her folks found her stash and sent her to a ritzy place filled with Betty Ford types. The poor woman had no negative consequences at all. The first week she kept stating this fact but it was interpreted as 'denial,' so she had to spend the next two weeks pretending she really had a problem so the staff would tell her parents that she was making progress."

Earleywine was similarly critical of the DSM-IV criteria for dependency that included repeated legal problems related to smoking pot. "Obviously, these are a confounding of drug laws and enforcement practices. If abuse statistics rise, it can have little to do with the drug or the rates of misuse and everything to do with how much the cops feel like busting people."

"These figures show that there are an awful lot of people in treatment for supposed marijuana abuse or dependency who, by everything we can glean from the numbers, don't look very much like addicts," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "They are disproportionately employed compared to people in treatment for other drugs, especially when you consider how young the population in treatment for marijuana is. Their lives have not been rendered unlivable by a drug problem, but because of an arrest, they are given a choice between treatment and jail when they actually need neither," he said.

"What is really striking is the extraordinarily high percentage of people referred by the criminal justice system versus the amazingly low percentage of self-referrals. These are not people who walked into the clinic saying 'I need help,'" Mirken said.

"These are people being coerced into treatment mandated by the courts," said Paul Armentano, Deputy Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Nationally, more than half have been referred to treatment by the criminal justice system. These are people who have been arrested, they're likely not regular users, they quit using while going through the court system, but are mandated to take treatment to avoid going to jail. You don't see this pattern when it comes to other drugs, where people are much more likely to seek treatment themselves."

"These figures reflect the obsessions and myopia of the Bush administration," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Part of it reflects the ideology of abstinence -- that once you're in the system you have to stay clean. But it means that people who are recreational marijuana users are unnecessarily put into treatment, wasting their time, money, and energy, and wasting valuable treatment resources. Most people understand that marijuana treatment programs are mostly silly, but everyone has to participate in the charade because possession or use of marijuana remains a criminal offense."

Patricia Greer, president of the executive committee of the Association for Addiction Professionals, was reluctant to downplay marijuana abuse or dependency, but did hint that perhaps some people in treatment did not need to be there. "If you are a chronic user, you could probably use treatment," she said, "but if you're a recreational user just smoking on the weekend, why not treat it like a DWI with a little counseling?" she suggested.

Greer was also hesitant to differentiate between problems with different drugs. "Empirically, they may look different, but in terms of psychological dependence, they are very much alike," she said. "The question is whether your life is unmanageable, are you experiencing employment, school, or relationship consequences. If so, you have a problem. Marijuana may not look that serious, but if it's serious to the people around you, then, yes, it's serious."

There is a small percentage of the marijuana using population who can fairly be identified as dependent, said Armentano. "The Institute of Medicine study said that among those who smoked marijuana, about 9% may exhibit some symptoms of dependency at some point in their lives. Other reviews have placed that number much lower," he noted. "Still, there are a small number who probably are, and those are the people who are voluntarily checking themselves in for treatment."

But there is dependency and then there is dependency, Armentano argued. "People become dependent on all sorts of things, but it's important to delineate marijuana from many other substances when we're talking about physical dependence," he argued. "If alcohol addicts try to quit cold turkey, they can die from withdrawal, and alcohol is not alone in that. But if we're talking about marijuana, we're not talking about serious withdrawal symptoms; we're talking about a little irritability and maybe a couple of nights of trouble falling asleep."

"The majority of our people are being treated for alcohol dependence," said Christine Jones, clinical supervisor for the Pennington County City/County Alcohol and Drug Program in Rapid City, South Dakota. "People with chronic alcoholism remain our biggest problem. For a few years, we had an awful lot of meth, but now it's OxyContin and prescription opiate abuse."

When asked specifically about marijuana, Jones said it is common as a secondary drug of abuse, but her facility was mainly treating alcoholism and meth and opiate dependence. "We have a few who are primary marijuana abusers, but the numbers are way higher for alcohol," she said. "Most of our clients are court ordered."

That led Jones to ask whether the treatment community was doing its job properly. "The question is how well does the substance abuse field do at gate-keeping so that it is addressing clinical needs rather than judicial concerns," said Jones. She said that treatment providers should be assessing clients through procedures such as the American Society for Addiction Medicine's patient placement criteria, which uses a six-dimensional matrix to assess treatment needs. "It is the responsibility of the drug and alcohol field to ensure that the level of treatment they are obtaining is appropriate for what their needs are," she said.

"If you have a marijuana smoker, and he is using occasionally and holding a job and maintaining his responsibilities, it's a misuse of money to send him to a treatment center," said Jones. "Use isn't an automatic indicator that someone needs treatment, but if someone is having repeated problems with marijuana and lots of other problems in his life, you might want to take a look at how the problems and the marijuana use are related," she said.

But drug reformers remained unconvinced, and had suggestions for what to do. "We need to change our marijuana laws," said Mirken. "There is probably a small percentage of people who have a genuine problem with marijuana, and treatment should be available for them, but not coerced treatment for marijuana possession, which is leading to a completely dysfunctional situation. In most states, there are waiting lists for treatment slots. You have to ask how many treatment slots are being occupied by court-ordered marijuana treatment when there are folks with serious problems with cocaine and heroin sitting on waiting lists and not getting help. If that's the case, it's an outrage."

"The single most important thing we can do is make treatment available for people who want it before they get arrested," said Nadelmann. "To the extent that people are being diverted to treatment in the criminal justice system, we have to insist on the primacy of treatment principles over criminal justice principles. When the criminal justice system is involved in drug treatment, that means coerced abstinence, and that's a fundamental problem. Abstinence may work for some people, but it is a mistake to apply that to entire populations of people with drug issues caught up in the criminal justice system," he said.

"There's a superb treatment for marijuana dependence developed by Roger Roffman at the University of Washington and his colleagues," said Earleywine. "It consists of about 12 sessions of outpatient meetings that focus on identifying why you want to quit, what situations usually lead to use, how to change your thoughts about use, how to prevent relapse, how to handle various life stressors, and great ways to plan alternative fun activities. Extremely few programs around the country use this approach. Most of the drug treatment centers around the country have inpatient stays and 12-step meetings with the occasional watered-down group version of some of the topics from the established treatment."

"It's absurd to mandate people attend treatment who don't need it, it's a waste of taxpayer and private dollars," said Armentano. "There are hundreds of thousands of people seeking treatment for real drug problems who can't get it because treatment slots are limited. To think that we are sending hundreds of thousands of marijuana users to treatment who don't need it at a time when treatment resources are so limited is just ridiculous. This is a policy that is purposefully endangering the health of those who most desire or need drug treatment."

Feature: Failed Drug War Policies in Mexico? Let's Try More of the Same

Mexico and its wave of prohibition-related violence were front and center in Washington this week as the Obama administration unveiled its "comprehensive response and commitment" to US-Mexico border security and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico to preach renewed support in the fight against the powerful drug trafficking organizations, but also to enunciate a mea culpa for the US role in the bloody situation.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borderpatrol.jpg
US Border Patrol
More than 9,000 people -- including more than 600 police and soldiers -- have been killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon sent out the Mexican armed forces to subdue the cartels at the beginning of 2007, with the pace of killing accelerating last year and early this year. Now, some 45,000 Mexican army troops are part of the campaign, including more than 8,000 that are currently occupying Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, which has seen some of the highest levels of violence anywhere in the country. More than 1,600 were killed there last year, and more than a hundred so far this year.

Calderon intervened in ongoing rivalries between various trafficking organizations, helping to turn what had been turf wars for valuable drug smuggling franchises into a multi-sided battle pitching the cartels against each other and Mexican police and soldiers. The prize is a cross-border smuggling fortune estimated at anywhere between $10 billion and $40 billion and based on Americans' insatiable appetite for the drugs it loves to hate (or hates to love).

On Tuesday, the White House presented its plan to secure the border, including the disbursement of $700 million in previously authorized Plan Merida assistance to Mexico, ramped up enforcement on the US side of the border, and an increased emphasis on demand reduction in the US.

The Plan Merida aid will provide surveillance and information technologies, training for rule of law and justice reform, assistance to Mexican prosecutors in crafting effective witness protection programs, and five helicopters for the Mexican Army and Air Force and a surveillance aircraft for the Mexican Navy. Here in the US, the Department of Homeland Security is bringing its numerous resources to bear, including doubling Border Enforcement Security Task Forces, tripling the number of DHS intelligence analysts working the border, beefing up Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff in Mexico, bringing more surveillance technology to ports of entry, bringing more drug dogs to the border, and targeting flows of guns and money south as well as drugs north.

The DEA is adding 16 new agents on the border to its current 1,170 already there and forming four new Mobile Enforcement Teams to go after Mexican meth traffickers, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is moving 100 agents to the border and continuing its program of tracing guns used in drug cartel violence. Even the FBI is getting in on the act by forming a Southwest Intelligence Group to act as a clearinghouse for all FBI activities involving Mexico.

"The whole package we announced today is not only about enforcement and stopping the flow of drugs into the United States and helping Mexico against these very brutal cartels, but it includes money for more drug courts and reduction in demand," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview Tuesday. "So, we look forward to working on the demand side as well as the supply side, but I'll tell you, where the Department of Homeland Security is concerned, it's all about border safety and security and making sure that spillover violence does not erupt in our own country."

Secretary of State Clinton sang much the same tune in Mexico this week, but also bluntly accepted US responsibility for the violence, saying that decades of US anti-drug policies have been a failure and that US demand for drugs drove the trade.

"Clearly what we've been doing has not worked," Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of her two-day trip. "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she added. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians."

Clinton's visit came as the chorus calling for change in US prohibitionist drug policies is growing louder. Last month, former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico called on the US to radically reassess its drug policies, and increasing concern over the violence in Mexico and its spillover in US border states is only turning up the volume of the calls for legalization.

Law enforcement on the border wants much more help -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has called for 1,000 more agents or even National Guard troops -- but Zapata County (Texas) Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, Jr., head of the Southwestern Border Sheriff's Association, said the administration move was a start. "The plan the president announced is a help," said Gonzalez. "But we still haven't seen the plan that was supposed to be in place last year."

Gonzalez's remote Zapata County has not seen much spillover from the violence across the river, but that's not the case elsewhere, the sheriff said. "As chairman of the association, I hear regularly from my colleagues that what we are seeing is spillover that has been going on for some time -- extortions, kidnapping, robberies. What we're concerned with now is that with the squeeze on in Mexico, there will be even more spillover here."

While security officials and law enforcement were talking more drug war, other observers doubted that the initiative would have much impact on the cartels and could make an intractable problem even worse. But they also saw an opportunity to advance the cause of ending America's reliance on drug prohibition as the primary approach to drug use.

"This is not a major departure from what was budgeted under the Bush administration," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The most important assistance the US can provide is intelligence-related assets, as in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s -- CIA or NSA-type information that helps the Mexicans target the most violent and powerful of the traffickers. Providing financial assistance to help pay local police more is also helpful, but beefing up the border is largely symbolic and is responding to both legitimate concerns as well as media and political hysteria around this. This is not a departure, not a major new initiative."

"The biggest problem in all this is that Calderon's policies have thrown gasoline on the fire," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "It was utterly foolish of Calderon to get in the middle of a cartel turf war. Those people are all about making money, and the violence isn't going to decline until the cartels reach a modus vivendi among themselves. There are rumors they are trying to do that; they want the killing to stop so they can get back to business."

Neither should we take much comfort in Mexico's ability to occasionally kill or capture a leading cartel figure, said Tree. "It's like killing Al Qaeda's number three man," he laughed grimly. "All it means is someone below him is going to move up, or there will be a struggle to see who replaces him."

For Tree, the situation in Mexico is taking on the ominous aspect of Colombia in the 1990s, where the breakdown of public security led to vigilantism and death squad activity, the predecessors of the Colombian paramilitaries. "When people became to realize the state was powerless to stop prohibition-related violence, it opened the door for other criminal activities, including kidnapping, and what makes this really dangerous is that now the ability of the state to protect individuals comes into question."

But Tree also noted that the situation in Mexico is forcing American media and policymakers to at least address calls for drug legalization. "This is doing what Colombia and Afghanistan couldn't do, which is to bring the violence of prohibition right to our door step and rub our faces in it," said Tree. "Calderon got in between some hornets' nests with a fly swatter, and now people in both countries have to make a choice. Mexicans supported this at first, but when they realized this isn't ending but is instead getting worse, they asked why he picked this fight."

"I'm worried about the militarization of the border and the assumption that that will fix this," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC. "On the other hand, it seems to be causing a growing crescendo of people wanting to talk about drug legalization. It's as if a critical mass has been arrived at. The recent statement by the three Latin American presidents was a voltaic shock to get the discussion going, and with the violence in Mexico, one has to acknowledge that a preponderance of the evidence shows the present model for drug control is not working. Even though there is a huge, formidable self-interested drug prohibition lobby, the logic of legalization is becoming so compelling it becomes all but impossible not to address it."

That political space to discuss legalization is changing things, Birns said. "Organizations like my own, which were timorous about taking on this issue now feel much more at ease with the clear recognition that everything else has failed. The possibility of legalization has to be seriously reviewed, inspected, and debated now."

Nadelmann suggested the current crisis could and should open debate about effective demand reduction strategies. "If we want to help Mexico by reducing demand, and want to give the notion more than lip service, then we have to remove the ideological inhibitions that limit our ability to effectively reduce demand," he said. "A small number of drug users consume a significant portion of all drugs. The traditional answer is to get more serious about drug treatment and rehab, but it could also mean providing addicts with legal sources of the drugs they are consuming. We know it works with heroin; the same approach deserves to be tried with cocaine and meth."

"The other thing we can do," Nadelmann argued, "is to move in the direction of legalizing marijuana. We know have 40% of Americans in favor of it, and it's approaching 50% out West. This is the first time a furor over drug-related violence has been so powerfully linked with marijuana prohibition. That mere fact that so many law enforcement people are saying it lends it credibility. This is putting the notion of marijuana legalization as a partial solution to prohibition-related violence on the edge of the mainstream political discussion in the US. With the Ammiano bill in California, Barney Frank's bill waiting to be introduced, Sen. Webb pushing for his commission, the conversation is really bubbling up now."

And so it goes. As the prohibition-related violence in Mexico continues and as the US appears to be heading down the reflexive path of fighting drug war failure with more drug war, the prohibitionist consensus grows ever more brittle. It's a shame that so many Mexicans have to die to get us to shift the direction of our dialogue on drugs.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School