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FOX News Discusses Drug Legalization

Those liberal hippies at FOX News are at it again. This segment featuring DPA's Ethan Nadelmann confronts drug prohibition head on.

It's a great clip with solid soundbites from Ethan and a neutral, almost vaguely sympathetic-sounding tone from the FOX correspondents (surely baked after a lunchbreak at the CNN offices). Bonus points go to ONDCP's David Murray for calling Ethan Nadelmann a "good friend," even though Murray keeps a collage of Nadelmann photos by his bedside with the words "Die Hippie" smeared across it in pig's blood.

August has been a strong month for the legalization argument. Cliff Shaffer's "Marijuana Dealers Offer Schwarzenegger One Billion Dollars" story took over the web, crashing our servers and generating national headlines. Misha Glenny's "The Lost War" from The Washington Post excited bloggers and even prompted an incredulous response from former ONDCP mouthpiece Robert Weiner. Now Ethan Nadelmann's cover story in Foreign Policy magazine is keeping the conversation going.

Earlier this week, Pete Guither and I lamented the difficulty of taking the reform argument to a mainstream audience. It's a challenge we'll continue to face, but the longer this brutal war continues without results, the better our chances get of being called on if we keep raising our hand. Our opposition is forever stuck claiming that drugs are the most destructive thing in the world, while also arguing that their brilliant drug control strategies are highly effective. It sounds sillier every time, and David Murray's recent decision to start calling himself a "scientist" is just one example of his office's deteriorating credibility. Discussion of drug legalization on FOX News is another.

Location: 
United States

"Marijuana Signature Project" Not as Cool as it Sounds

Watch out folks, the Marijuana Signature Project is not a legalization initiative. It's something far more sinister.

ONDCP's latest blog post, delightfully titled "Relying on Science to Craft Drug Policy," boasts of using our tax dollars to a finance a series of science experiments aimed at figuring out where marijuana is grown:
The drug control policy office is betting on stable isotopes to identify unique markers in marijuana, distinguishing it not just by geography but also by its cultivation method — for example, indoor versus outdoor.

"It’s an epidemiological and forensic public health investigation," said David Murray, chief scientist at the agency and director of its Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center. [NYTimes]
It is just hilarious that ONDCP is spending government funds to find out information that pot growers would gladly share if it wouldn't get them arrested. Dr. Murray, I know people that could tell you for free if your marijuana was grown indoors or out.

For an added touch of cuteness, here's the scientist behind the project feigning agnosticism about the marijuana debate:
Dr. West said his involvement in the project was not tied to any particular policy judgment. "I strongly believe that part of the picture in any policy development has to be the best possible science, and in cases where my work can contribute to that, I think that’s great," he wrote in an e-mail message.
Dr. West, you gullible dork, the point isn't to determine what our marijuana policy should be. They're trying to identify cultivation hotspots and send heavily armed narc-soldiers in there to slash and burn everything. If you're not trying to advance any "particular policy judgment," get the hell away from David Murray and stop collecting research grants from ONDCP.

Honestly, I'm hugely in favor of the feds wasting drug war dollars to discover that marijuana is grown basically anywhere you could think of. This ain't exactly drilling for oil. People grow pot wherever there aren’t a lot of drug cops around and make adjustments as necessary. It shouldn't take a laboratory in Salt Lake City to tell you this.

It is typical drug war hypocrisy that ONDCP sits around conducting forensic research, while they can't find so much as a gram to enable meaningful research into the drug's hotly contested medical applications.

Location: 
United States

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Update -- Richardson Says Full Steam Ahead Despite Attorney General's "Prank"

Late Thursday night we reported in the Chronicle that New Mexico's Dept. of Health had balked at supplying medical marijuana to patients following a warning from state Attorney General Gary King that he wouldn't defend state workers if the feds prosecuted them. Gov. Richardson, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has ordered the Health Dept. to comply with the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions. I'm not surprised by Richardson's stance, given how hard he fought to rescue the bill last spring when its demise had already been pronounced. Looking at the text of the law, I really have to say I think King is full of it. The law does not tell the Health Dept. to have its own employees grow or distribute marijuana; it tells the department to license people to grow it. Then those licensees will be taking their chances with the feds, for their own individual reasons. But that's not the same thing as state employees being subject to federal prosecution themselves. There have certainly been federal raids of medical marijuana providers in states that have licensed them, but not of the state agencies who have issued them licenses to protect them from state prosecution. Good for Bill Richardson, shame on Gary King, did he really think he could put that one over?
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical Marijuana: Feds Seek Oregon Patient Records in Probe of Growers -- Patients Cry Foul

Oregon medical marijuana patients and their supporters are up in arms after it was revealed that a federal grand jury next door in Yakima, Washington, has issued subpoenas demanding medical records for 17 Oregon patients. The subpoenas were issued in April as part of a federal investigation into a small number of Washington and Oregon marijuana growers.

Subpoenas were served to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, the state office that issues permits to patients and growers, as well as The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a private Portland clinic where doctors examine patients to see if their conditions can be alleviated by medical marijuana.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/donald-dupay.jpg
Donald DuPay, official 2006 election photo
As part of the same investigation, DEA agents in June raided the home of medical marijuana patient and caregiver Donald DuPay, seizing 135 plants he was growing for other patients. DuPay, who hosts a local cable TV show about marijuana, was not arrested. He is among the 17 people whose records were subpoenaed.

For Oregon patients, the experience has been frightening and disturbing. "It's crazy. It's really scary. If they can get my records, they can get Gov. Kulongoski's, they can get yours," DuPay, a former Portland police officer and 2006 candidate for Multnomah County sheriff, told The Oregonian on Saturday.

For medical marijuana advocates, it looks like a new tactic deployed by the feds in their ongoing effort to thwart state medical marijuana laws. The grand jury subpoenas are the first ever issued for patient records in a marijuana case, "and of course, it is very worrisome," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "People have an expectation of medical privacy, and I think they have a right to expect medical privacy," Mirken said. "It's one thing to talk about people selling a product that is in fact not legal under federal law. We may think that's stupid. But that's in a whole different realm than obtaining people's medical records."

"This sends a message to the other states and their programs that they're vulnerable to federal interference," said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access. "It doesn't take a brick to hit you over the head to know that the federal government is trying to undermine California's medical marijuana law, given all the raids and threats to landlords. This is one step further that shows the federal government is very serious about going after patients."

Patients and their advocates are fighting the subpoenas. On August 1, attorneys representing the state of Oregon, and the ACLU representing The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, went before Chief US District Court Judge Robert Whaley in Yakima to urge him to throw out the subpoenas.

In that hearing, Assistant US Attorney James Hagery, who is leading the federal investigation, admitted that the subpoenas were too broadly written. He told the judge the grand jury is investigating "four or five" Washington and Oregon growers for using the medical marijuana laws to cover up their marijuana sales, that the 17 patients were people who got medical marijuana from the growers in question, and that the grand jury wants only current addresses and phone numbers, not "medical records" for those patients.

Hagerty did not explain why, if he is investigating alleged non-medical marijuana sales, he needs to look at registered medical marijuana patients.

A ruling on the subpoenas will come soon, the judge said.

Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Balks At Growing It

Update: Gov. Richardson has ordered the Health Dept. to implement the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions.

When the New Mexico legislature passed the state's medical marijuana law this year, the law was unique in mandating that the state would oversee the production and distribution of the herb. But Wednesday, the state health department announced it would not comply with that portion of the law for fear of the feds arresting state employees.

"The Department of Health will not subject its employees to potential federal prosecution, and therefore will not distribute or produce medical marijuana," said Dr. Alfredo Vigil, who heads the agency.

The decision was not exactly a surprise. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King warned last week that the department and its employees could be criminally prosecuted by the feds and that his office could not defend state workers in criminal cases.

But while lifting the threat of potential federal prosecution from the health department and its employees, the move may open them to legal action from supporters of the law. The agency is "leaving itself open for a lawsuit," Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski told the Associated Press Wednesday. "I remember certain legislators talking about how they didn't want their grandmother to have to go into some alley and deal with some criminal element," said Szczepanski.

Latin America: Nicaraguan President Warns of DEA's "Unexpected Interests" and "Terrible Things"

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Monday he does not trust the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because its operations hide "unexpected interests" and "terrible things." Ortega did not elaborate, but he undoubtedly has keen memories of the DEA and the Reagan administration attempting to portray his Sandinista government in the 1980s as major drug traffickers while the CIA and Oliver North were, at best, turning a blind eye to cocaine running operations funding the US-backed anti-Sandinista Contra rebels.

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Daniel Ortega (courtesy Wikimedia)
"You have to be careful with the DEA. You can't be blind," Ortega said in remarks during the celebration of the Nicaraguan Navy's 27th anniversary. "We have to wage the war against drugs, but don't come to us with stories about involving your Cobra helicopters and troops," Ortega said, apparently addressing the US government. "The best combatant is the Nicaraguan soldier."

The Ortega government has cooperated with the DEA. Nicaraguan soldiers seized more than 6,100 pounds of cocaine with DEA collaboration in the past year. Ortega said he would continue cooperating with the DEA in order take advantage of the agency's technology and experience.

But with one eye on Colombia, where hundreds of US soldiers and mercenaries are stationed as part of the US counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency effort there, and one eye on Mexico, which is apparently about to reach a major counter-narcotics assistance agreement with Washington, Ortega is signaling that such a massive US intervention would not be welcome in Nicaragua.

Feature: In Strategy Shift, US Troops to Join Battle Against Opium in Afghanistan

The United States military is melding counterinsurgency with counternarcotics missions in Afghanistan in what officials called "a basic strategy shift" in its Afghan campaign. Up until now, the US military has shied away from anti-drug operations in Afghanistan, leaving them to the DEA, the British, and Afghan authorities in a bid to avoid alienating Afghan peasant populations dependent on the poppy crop for an income.

But with Afghan opium production at an all-time high last year and predicted to go even higher this year -- Afghanistan accounted for 92% of the global opium supply in 2006 and will account for close to 100% this year--despite nearly a billion dollars in US anti-drug aid, officials in Washington have decided after long discussion that the Afghan drug war must be ratcheted up.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium_poppy1986_2006.jpg
(source: state.gov/p/inl/rls/rpt/90561.htm)
US officials are increasingly concerned about links between drug traffickers, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda militants, especially in southeastern Afghanistan, where both the insurgency and poppy production are most deeply rooted. Some 70 US soldiers, 69 NATO soldiers, and hundreds of Afghan police and soldiers, Taliban fighters, and Afghan civilians have been killed in fighting so far this year, the third year of the Taliban resurgence.

The new policy was announced in a new report US Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan released last week and rolled out at an August 9 State Department briefing by Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) head John Walters and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Thomas Schweich.

"We know that opium, maybe second only to terror, is a huge threat to the future of Afghanistan," said Walters. "The efforts by the Afghan people to build institutions of justice and rule of law are threatened not only by the terror, but the drug forces that are both economic, addictive and, of course, support in some cases terror, not only through money, but through influence and moving people away from the structures of government toward the structures of drug mafias and violence," he said.

The new strategy is a combination of carrots and sticks, heavily weighted toward the sticks. Out of the $700 million budgeted for anti-drug activities this year, only about $120 million to $150 million will go to alternative development, with the remainder dedicated to eradication, interdiction, building up the Afghan criminal justice system, and going after high-level traffickers.

Some $30 million will go to farming communities that agree to give up poppy production, but this is a pittance compared to the $3.1 billion the trade is estimated to be worth, or even the roughly $700 million estimated to end up in the hands of peasant farmers. While most of the incentive money will go to the north, where production is down, the more Taliban-friendly east and southeast will get forced eradication and increased efforts to go after high-level traffickers. Ambassador Schweicher qualified the tougher approach as "substantially harsher discincentives" for those areas. And the US military will be involved.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"There is a clear and direct link between the illicit opium trade and insurgent groups in Afghanistan," the State Department report said. The Pentagon "will work with DEA" and other agencies "to develop options for a coordinated strategy that integrates and synchronizes counternarcotics operations, particularly interdiction, into the comprehensive security strategy."

What exactly that means remains unclear. At the August 9 briefing, Walters dodged repeated questions about the exact nature of US military involvement. "We expect a more permissive environment for these operations, given the plans and commitments here," Walters said. "Again, what -- your question was what counter-narcotics operations is the military going to do. That's not what this is doing, is saying the military is going to become the eradication force or the interdiction force. What we're going to do is create -- we've now created, we believe, the structures to allow counter-narcotics operations, whether they're arrests of people by Afghans, whether they're interdiction, whether they're eradication to be integrated into the security effort that's going on."

It might work, but there are gigantic obstacles in the way, said Raheem Yaseer of the Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Improving the security situation is critical, said Yaseer.

"The bombers and the Talibans are crossing the border from Pakistan with all these weapons and getting across the checkpoints and getting in among the villagers, where they shoot at the allied forces. Then the allies bomb the villages, and that creates a lot of resentment, and the people won't listen to the allies," he said. "The US can track a bullet crossing the border, but they can't find the Talibans," he said, a note of frustration in his voice.

Alternative development could attract peasant farmers if the security situation were stabilized, he said. "It's the bigger warlords and drug lords who are the problem," Yaseer argued. "And yes, there are some high government officials, big shots, involved in drug trafficking, too. All of them have been nourished by this money for years and don't want to see it go away. But ordinary people would be satisfied with a little money because they know growing poppies is condemned by their tradition and religion."

Endemic corruption is another problem. Even anti-drug aid and alternative development assistance is likely to be siphoned off, said Yaseer. "The corruption is very deep, and a lot of money will vanish into people's pockets. You have to watch the people at the top, too, or it won't be effective," he said. "You'll only be spending money uselessly."

Congressional leaders called the new strategy a "welcome recognition" that new initiatives had to be hatched to address the Afghan opium problem, but worried that it wasn't enough. "What the plan lacks is the recognition that Afghanistan is approaching a crisis point, and that immediate action is required to eliminate the threat of drug kingpins and cartels allied with terrorists so we can reverse the country's steady slide into a potential failed narco-state," said House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and ranking minority member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in a statement responding to the new strategy.

Lantos and Ros-Lehtinen aren't the only members of Congress concerned. Others have called for an entirely different approach. Following the lead of the French defense and drug policy think tank the Senlis Council, which has been calling since 2005 for licensing the poppy crop, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has suggested licensing Afghan farmers to grow the crop for legal pain medications, similar to the way the international community diminished the drug trafficking problem in India and Turkey. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) has suggested the US buy opium crops from the farmers and destroy them. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) has suggested switching the focus away from poor farmers and toward disrupting the cartels that are moving the drugs.

But the drug czar and the State Department explicitly rejected licensing as an impractical "silver bullet" that would not work and have similarly rejected proposals to buy up the crop. And they will definitely be going after poor farmers as well as high-level traffickers.

But more of the same isn't going to do the trick, said the Drug Policy Alliance. "The so-called 'carrot and stick' approach has failed in every country it has been tried in, including our own," said Bill Piper, the group's director of national affairs. "As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply to meet it. Drug prohibition makes plants more valuable than gold."

More of the same may even make matters worse, Piper argued. "The US is dangerously close to turning Afghanistan into the next Iraq," said Piper. "Forced eradication of opium crops is driving poor Afghans into the hands of our enemies, strengthening the Taliban, and feeding the insurgency there. The war on drugs is undermining the war on terror and pushing Afghanistan to the brink of civil war."

The Bush administration has belatedly figured out it has a very serious problem in Afghanistan. The question now is whether this vigorous new strategy will calm the situation or only inflame it.

Latin America: Massive US-Mexico Counter-Drug Aid Package in the Works

The government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the Bush administration are quietly negotiating a drug war aid package that could see a deepening of US involvement south of the border. The negotiations come as drug prohibition-related violence has killed around a thousand people so far this year in Mexico and 3,000 since the beginning of 2006. 2007 is on track to be even bloodier than last year.

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Mexican anti-drug patrol
Calderon has responded vigorously to prohibition-related violence since taking office at the end of last year. Currently, more than 20,000 Mexican army troops and federal police are patrolling cities like Monterrey, Tijuana, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Culiacan, and troops are also out in the fields in drug-producing regions of the country. While the troops have made some well-publicized arrests and drug seizures, the effort has not had a noticeable impact on either the flow of drugs north or in reining in the competing drug trafficking organizations.

Mexican drug organizations make tens of billions of dollars each year funneling cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin north to the insatiable consumer markets in the US. They have used their profits to buy off the police and other public officials who are susceptible, and to buy weapons to fight those who aren't.

According to an account Wednesday in the Christian Science Monitor, the package being discussed "could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars and include everything from Blackhawk helicopters and other sophisticated military equipment to increased training and surveillance capabilities." If that turns out to be the case, it would mean Mexico will be receiving US anti-drug aid at a level before seen only in Colombia.

In fact, the proposed assistance is already being referred to as "Plan Mexico" in some circles, a not so arch reference to Plan Colombia, which, after years of fruitless US spending, finally looks to be cut back by Democrats in Congress this year. Currently, US anti-drug assistance to Mexico stands at about $40 million a year.

Feds Bust Former Portland Police Detective for Medical Marijuana

Location: 
Portland, OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
Salem-News.com (OR)
URL: 
http://www.salem-news.com/articles/august072007/federal_rogues_8707.php

Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

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

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