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Drug Czar Sets New Standard for Stoner Stereotyping

Just when you thought anti-marijuana propaganda couldn't get any more frivolous and shallow, the drug czar arrives with a new slogan: "Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren’t many jobs out there for potheads."

The whole thing is just absurd on its face, released days after a former marijuana user was elected president and weeks after the drug czar’s own blog observed that 75% of illicit drug users have jobs.

These new ads read like a mockery of typical drug czar propaganda, devoid of facts and premised on the self-evidently false proposition that marijuana use is some kind of physical handicap. It is just so over-the-top crazy and childish that I must keep reminding myself that it is the nation’s top drug policy official who is responsible for this.

Feature: Big Day for Pot -- Decriminalization Wins in Massachusetts, Medical Marijuana in Michigan, All Local Initiatives Win, Too!

Barack Obama wasn't the only big winner in Tuesday elections; marijuana polled just as well, if not better. A medical marijuana initiative in Michigan -- the first in the Midwest -- and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts both won by convincing margins, and scattered local initiatives on various aspects of marijuana policy reform all won, too.

marijuana plants
In both the statewide initiatives, reform forces overcame organized opposition on their way to victory, mostly from the usual suspects in law enforcement and the political establishment. Michigan enjoyed the dubious distinction of a visit from John Walters, the drug czar himself, who popped in to rail against medical marijuana as "an abomination."

"We could be seeing a sea change in more ways than one in this election," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed both state initiatives. "These are not just wins, but huge wins. In two very blue states, marijuana reform outpolled Barack Obama. At this point, we can look members of Congress in the eye and ask them why exactly they think marijuana reform is controversial."

The results are also an indicator of the decreasing influence of the drug czar's office, said Mirken. "A clear public mandate has emerged, and it's particularly noteworthy coming as it does after eight years of the most intense anti-marijuana campaign from the feds since the days of Reefer Madness," he said. "Despite all the press releases and press conferences, despite all the appearances and campaigning Walters has done to try to convince Americans that marijuana is some sort of scourge, the voters just said no."

In Michigan, the medical marijuana initiative organized by the local Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and backed in a big way by MPP won a resounding 63% of the vote. Michigan's new medical marijuana law will go into effect quickly -- ten days after the elections are certified, with the Department of Community Health having 120 additional days to come up with regulations for a registry.

The law will allow patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other conditions to obtain a doctors' recommendation to cultivate, grow, and possess marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law. Registered patients may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and have up to 12 plants in a secure indoor facility, or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them.

"Michigan voters have clearly signaled in no uncertain terms their support for a compassionate medical marijuana law," the committee said in a victory statement Tuesday night. "Our opposition threw the kitchen sink at us, hoping one of their false claims and outright lies would cost enough votes to tank this effort. But Michigan voters saw through the deception, and soon numerous seriously ill patients across the state will no longer need to live in fear for taking their doctor-recommended medicine."

Tuesday's win makes Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state, and, more importantly, the first one in the Midwest. The Michigan victory means planned or ongoing efforts in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois just got a little easier.

In Massachusetts, Question 2, the marijuana decriminalization initiative, overcame the opposition of every district attorney in the state to win a resounding 65% of the vote. Now, instead of an arrest and possible six months in jail, people in the Bay State caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a simple $100 fine. Equally importantly, small-time possession offenders will not be saddled with a Criminal Record Information Report (CORI), a state arrest report that lingers long after the offense and can impede an offender's ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans.

Again backed by MPP, the Bay State's Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) took the organizing lead in Massachusetts this year. Building on nearly a decade's worth of winning local questions on marijuana policy reform by groups like the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the state NORML affiliate, MassCann/NORML, the committee was able to go over the top statewide with decrim this year.

"It's great to see the people of Massachusetts were able to see what a sensible, modest proposal Question 2 is," said CSMP head Whitney Taylor. "It's going to end the creation of thousands of new people being involved in the criminal justice system each year and refocus law enforcement resources on violent crime."

While some prosecutors are already whining about having to implement the will of the voters, there appears little chance that legislators will attempt to step in and overturn the vote, as they could do under Massachusetts law. A spokesman for House Speaker Sal DiMasi told local WBZ-TV as much Wednesday afternoon.

"Question 2 now has the force of law and the Speaker sees no reason to consider a repeal or amendment at this time," said David Guarino, DiMasi's deputy chief of staff.

Statewide decrim wasn't the only marijuana-related issue on the ballot for some Massachusetts voters. Continuing the tradition of placing questions on representative district ballots, voters in four districts were asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use?"

As with past medical marijuana questions, the question passed overwhelmingly in all four districts.

The question passed with 74% In the 1st Middlesex Representative District (R – Robert S. Hargraves), 71% in the 21st Middlesex Representative District (D – Charles A. Murphy), 73% in the 13th Norfolk Representative District (D – Lida E. Harkins), and 71% in the 6th Plymouth Representative District (R – Daniel K. Webster).

Meanwhile, in other local marijuana-related initiatives:

  • Berkeley, California's, Measure JJ, essentially a zoning initiative that would allow dispensaries operating in the city to expand into more non-residential districts, won with 62% of the vote. The campaign was organized by Citizens for Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation.
  • In Hawaii County, Hawaii (the Big Island), a lowest law enforcement priority initiative for adult marijuana possession won with 66% of the vote. The campaign organized by Project Peaceful Skies was an outgrowth of the movement to end intrusive marijuana eradication raids.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, another lowest priority initiative passed. Some 62% of voters in the Northwest Arkansas college town agreed with Sensible Fayetteville and its director, Ryan Denham, that police had better things to do than bust pot smokers. Sensible Fayetteville itself is an umbrella organization including the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas, The Omni Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, the Green Party of Washington County, University of Arkansas NORML and the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas Inc.

"We think these election results send an extremely important message," Denham told the Northwest Arkansas Times Wednesday. "I'm not surprised since national statistics say that 70% of Americans feel that misdemeanor marijuana offenses should be a low priority. It clogs courts and jails and puts a burden on taxpayer resources."

Election day was a good day for marijuana reform. Let's hope that activists and politicians alike are now prepared to press for more in the near future.

Latin America: Bolivia Suspends Operations By DEA

Already cool relations between Bolivia and the US grew even chillier over the weekend, as Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Saturday that he was suspending anti-drug operations by the US DEA within Bolivian territory. In making the announcement, Morales accused the DEA of interfering in internal Bolivian affairs and trying to undermine his government.

US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2007)
"From today all the activities of the US DEA are suspended indefinitely," Morales said Saturday in remarks reported by the BBC. "Personnel from the DEA supported activities of the unsuccessful coup d'etat in Bolivia," he added, referring to a September massacre of Morales supporters that left 19 people dead. "We have the obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the Bolivian people."

Morales, a former coca grower union leader who won the presidency in 2006, has embarked on a policy of "zero cocaine, not zero coca" in the Andean nation where the coca plant is widely chewed or drunk as a tea by indigenous people. Under Morales' program, farmers in specified areas are allowed to grow small amounts of coca for traditional and industrial uses.

While US officials earlier this year acknowledged Bolivian successes in the fight against cocaine trafficking, tensions have been rising -- not all of them to do with coca and cocaine. The Bolivian government limited DEA activities earlier this year, then expelled the US ambassador, charging that he had supported an effort to overthrow the government by separatist leaders of eastern provinces in September. The US retaliated by expelling Bolivia's ambassador to Washington, and last month, by adding Bolivia to the list of nations that had not adequately met US drug war goals.

Although Bolivia is only the third largest coca producer in the region, behind Colombia and Peru, it and Venezuela were the only countries in Latin America that were decertified. Venezuela kicked out the DEA in 2005, citing internal interference as well.

US officials denied Morales' claim of DEA interference. "These accusations are false and absurd," an unnamed senior State Department official told Time in response to Saturday's announcement. "The DEA has a 35-year track record of working effectively and professionally with our Bolivian partners," the official added.

Some 70 Bolivian citizens have been killed and about 1,000 wounded combating DEA-led coca eradication efforts since the late 1980s. Unrest over coca control policies helped vault Morales to the presidency in 2006.

The US currently funds Bolivian anti-drug efforts with $35 million a year. It is unclear what will happen to that funding.

ONDCP: Who Will the Next Drug Czar Be? Not William Bratton

With Tuesday's election now behind us, and the incoming Obama administration turning its attention to filling all those cabinet and White House posts, speculation is already starting about who will replace outgoing drug czar John Walters as head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Actually, the speculation began even before the election was over.

William Bratton
On October 31, the Washington insider news organization Politico reported that Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton was on the short list to replace Walters. In fact, Bratton was the only name on the list.

It was an interesting, if not particularly inspiring, call. As police chief in Los Angeles, Bratton has not been a serious foe of medical marijuana, but in his earlier incarnation as New York City police commissioner in the mid-1990s, his NYPD arrested tens of thousands of people a year for petty marijuana offenses, subjecting them to an average 24-hour stay in the city's stinking jails before arraignment. Bratton is also an advocate of the "broken windows" model of policing, which in the mutated form it took in New York under his and Rudy Giuliani's leadership insists that the way to control serious crime is to control not-so-serious crime -- despite rumors of privately-held reformist views on Bratton's part, New York City's marijuana arrest rate increased by a whopping factor of ten, and have yet to decrease again.

But surveying Bratton's career for how he might behave as drug czar is already an exercise in futility. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Bratton has said he is not heading for Washington to replace Walters. "That is not something I am seeking, it's not something I have been approached about," Bratton said. "No reason to leave Los Angeles -- they pay me very well."

So now, it's back to the drawing board for drug czar speculators. Drug War Chronicle will be touching base with various people in the next week to try to get a better handle on who may end up running federal drug policy, or whether we even need a drug czar. Stay tuned.

Latin America: Plan Colombia Didn't Work, GAO Report Says

coca eradication in Plan Colombia (courtesy SF Bay Area IndyMedia)
Washington's ambitious $6 billion investment in wiping out Colombia's coca crops and cocaine production has been a failure, the GAO said in a report released Wednesday. The aid program, known as Plan Colombia, had a goal of reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production by half between 2000 and 2006, but instead of shrinking, coca production was up 15% and cocaine production was up 4%, the review found.

Or, as the GAO diplomatically put it: "Plan Colombia's goal of reducing the cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by 50 percent in 6 years was not fully achieved."

By all accounts, Colombia has been and remains the world's number one coca and cocaine producer. It is estimated that 90% of the cocaine reaching the US is from Colombia. Despite years of aerial eradication with herbicides, as well as manual eradication, Washington and Bogotá have been unable to put a serious dent in the Colombian coca and cocaine trade. The inability to suppress coca and cocaine production "can be explained by measures taken by coca farmers to counter US and Colombian eradication efforts," the report said.

anti-Plan Colombia poster (courtesy Colombia IndyMedia)
The report was commissioned by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It could provide powerful ammunition for congressional foes of Plan Colombia, who are seeking to reduce US assistance to the government of President Álvaro Uribe, many of them citing human rights violations by the Colombian military and the right-wing paramilitaries, who have an ambiguous relationship with the Colombian government.

The report calls for aid cuts and advises US and Colombian officials to "develop a joint plan for turning over operational and funding responsibilities for US-supported programs to Colombia." It also called for USAID, which has administered more than $1.3 billion in alternative development funding, to come up with methods of measuring whether its efforts were having any impact.

The GAO did give Washington and Bogotá credit for improving Colombia's security climate "through systematic military and police engagements with illegal armed groups and by degrading these groups' finances." But, as we reported last week, Amnesty International has found that the human rights situation in Colombia remains atrocious, with thousands of killings each year and between two and three million Colombians displaced and living as refugees.

With Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, Plan Colombia's days could be numbered, and a report like this one ought to kill the beast. But don't be surprised if it doesn't.

Drug Czar Appointment Watch: William Bratton Says 'No Thanks'

I’ve noted speculation that LA Police Chief William Bratton could be the next drug czar, but it looks like that isn’t exactly set in stone:

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton said that he is not seeking a position in Washington, D.C., and has no intention of leaving the LAPD. "That is not something I am seeking, it’s not something I have been approached about," Bratton said. "No reason to leave Los Angeles — they pay me very well." [LA Times]

Of course, Joe Biden said the same thing days before his nomination for VP, so such denials don’t mean so much. But I’d prefer to believe this because I’m hopeful we can do better than Bratton.

Regardless, anyone interested in the appointment process with regards to drug policy should read this helpful post from Eric Sterling, which indirectly highlights the absurdity of expecting the next drug czar to be revealed anytime soon. I agree, but I’ll continue tracking rumors because I’m obsessive and impatient. And so are you.

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.

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