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Study: Drug Czar’s Billion Dollar Anti-Drug Ad Campaign is a Failure

The drug czar likes to claim that we criticize his ad campaign because we want more kids to use marijuana. Will he say the same about researchers hired by Congress?

Despite investing $1 billion in a massive anti-drug campaign, a controversial new study suggests that the push has failed to help the United States win the war on drugs.

A congressionally mandated study released today concluded that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign launched in the late 1990s to encourage young people to stay away from drugs "is unlikely to have had favorable effects on youths."

In fact, the study's authors assert that anti-drug ads may have unwittingly delivered the message that other kids were doing drugs, inadvertently slowing measured progress that was being made to curb marijuana use among teenagers.

"Youths who saw the campaign ads took from them the message that their peers were using marijuana," the report suggests as a possible reason for its findings. "In turn, those who came to believe that their peers were using marijuana were more likely to initiate use themselves." [ABC News]

Ironically, if reformers actually wanted more kids to use marijuana, we’d support the drug czar’s ad campaign. His propaganda appears to have encouraged use among those viewing the ads, even as marijuana use among America’s youth was decreasing overall. Based on the data, it's entirely possible that youth drug use would be even lower – and U.S. taxpayers would be $1 billion richer – if the drug czar had never run these ads in the first place.

Another Complete Failure from the Drug Czar

John Tierney at the New York Times points to a new report showing that the drug czar’s office has failed to meet its own performance goals. It’s vital that we point this out, because the drug czar never will. Everything the drug czar does is a glorious success according to the drug czar and there is nothing morbid or awful enough to shatter the drug warriors’ avowed faith in their great war.

Sadly, this includes dramatic increases in overdose deaths, which the drug czar ignores while constantly boasting that overall drug use is down. It seems we’re getting better and better at arresting large numbers of marijuana users who don’t need help, while getting progressively worse at saving those whose battle with drugs is truly a matter of life and death.

Latin America: Bolivia Blocks US Anti-Drug Flights, Says It Doesn't Need or Want US Help With Coca Crop

Relations between Bolivia and the US, already strained by Bolivia's expulsion of the US ambassador last month for allegedly helping to instigate anti-government protests and the subsequent US "decertification" of Bolivia for failure to comply with US drug war aims, grew even colder over the weekend. Last Thursday, Bolivian President Evo Morales rejected a DEA request to overfly the country, and on Saturday, he launched a rhetorical attack on US anti-drug policy.

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Bolivian coca leaves drying in warehouse -- the sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08'' (photo by Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle)
According to the Bolivian Information Agency, Morales last Thursday instructed his government to deny a written request from the US government to conduct surveillance flights over the South American nation. "Two days ago I received a letter from the US DEA asking a government institution for permission to fly over national territory," the agency quoted Morales as saying. "I want to say publicly to our authorities: They are not authorized to give permission so that the DEA can fly over Bolivian territory."

Bolivia is the world's third largest producer of coca, from which cocaine is produced. Since his election as president, Morales, who rose to prominence as a coca grower union leader, has embarked on a policy of "zero cocaine, but not zero coca." Under the Morales government, peasants are allowed to grow specified amounts of coca for traditional and industrial uses. In another sign of tension with the US, coca farmers loyal to Morales recently expelled US AID from the Chapare coca-growing region, saying its programs were ineffective.

On Saturday, Morales stepped up the rhetoric, saying Bolivia does not need US help to control its coca crop. He spoke before a crowd of coca growers outside La Paz.

"It's important that the international community knows that here, we don't need control of the United States on coca cultivation. We can control ourselves internally. We don't need any spying from anybody," Morales said in remarks reported by the Associated Press.

A State Department spokesman told the AP that the US had decertified Bolivia in part because it had chosen to follow its own path instead of Washington's lead. "We've certified Bolivia twice before under the Morales government, even though they have taken a very different approach to counter drugs, especially to eradication, than previous governments," said Thomas Shannon, the top US diplomat for Latin America. "But what we've noticed over the past couple of months," he added, "was a declining political willingness to cooperate, and then a very precise attempt by the part of some of the government ministries to begin to lower the level of cooperation and try to break the linkages" between US and Bolivian anti-drug efforts.

Although the Bush administration decertified Bolivia, it did not cut off anti-drug aid. It did, however, suspend Bolivia's exemption from US tariffs under a regional trade agreement. That could cost Bolivia up to 20,000 jobs, according to Bolivian business leaders. [Ed: What kind of jobs do people turn to sometimes when they lose their legal jobs?]

Feature: War on Marijuana Failing Despite Drug Czar's Happy Talk, New Reports Find

The White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has failed on its own terms when it comes to marijuana policy, according to a pair of reports examining government data by a noted marijuana researcher. It has not significantly reduced marijuana consumption despite constantly increasing annual arrest numbers and ongoing propaganda campaigns, while at the same time it twists and distorts figures on people in treatment for "marijuana dependency" in order to falsely claim that marijuana is a dangerous drug, while in reality, less than half of all people treated for marijuana even fit the standard criteria for substance abuse.

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too much ''happy talk'' from John Walters
The reports, by George Mason University senior fellow Jon Gettman, are available here. They examine official government data from the annual National Household Survey on Drugs and Health and the Treatment Episode Data Set.

Based on the government's own numbers, ONDCP has failed to achieve its stated 2002 goal of reducing marijuana use by 25% by 2007, Gettman found. According to the national survey, last year there were 14.5 million pot smokers, compared with 14.6 million in 2002. From 2002 to 2007 annual use of marijuana declined slightly from 25.9 to 25.1 million. The number of Americans who have used marijuana at some point in their lives actually increased, from 95 million in 2002 to over 100 million in 2007.

Similarly, teenage marijuana use -- the reduction of which is one of ONDCP's stated goals -- remains high. More than one in nine (12%) of 14- and 15-year olds and one in four (23.7%) 16- and 17-year-olds used marijuana in 2007. But disturbingly, there were 472,000 12- and 13-year-olds and 627,000 14- and 15-year-olds who did not use marijuana in 2006 but still used illegal drugs. Nearly half of them used inhalants and illegally obtained pain relief drugs.

More broadly, there were 35.7 million annual illicit drug users in the United States in 2007, 14.4% of the population. Of all illicit drug users, 41% used only marijuana. Another 29% used marijuana and at least one other illicit drug, while 30% used other illicit drugs, but not marijuana.

"The Bush Administration has failed to reduce or control marijuana use in the United States," Gettman concluded. "Marginal changes in marijuana and other drug use have been distorted to support false claims that incremental progress in reducing marijuana and other drug use has been achieved. Marijuana use is fundamentally the same as when the Bush Administration took office and illicit drug use overall has increased. Drug use data do not support Bush Administration claims that its policies have had a significant impact on illicit drug use in the United States."

The stability -- not reduction -- in marijuana use comes despite at least 127 different anti-marijuana TV, radio, and print ads by ONDCP, in addition to at least 34 press releases focused mainly on marijuana and at least 50 reports from ONDCP or other government agencies on marijuana or anti-marijuana campaigns.

For ONDCP head John Walters, slight reductions in teen marijuana use meant that "teens are getting the message about the harms of marijuana and are changing their behavior -- for the better", as he noted in a September 2007 press release. Still, he was forced to admit in the next breath that "youth abuse of prescription drugs remains a troubling concern."

Similarly, in a July press release, Walters called for an "intervention" against adult marijuana use, and tried to define the pot experience as he did so. "Marijuana is the blindspot of drug policy," said Walters. "Baby Boomers have this perception that marijuana is about fun and freedom. It isn't. It's about dependency, disease, and dysfunction. As the data released today reveal, marijuana is a much bigger part of our Nation's addiction problem than most people realize. While teen marijuana use is down sharply [sic], adult use, with all the social, economic, and health consequences that go along with it, will not improve until we start being more honest with ourselves about the seriousness of this drug. Too many of us are in denial, and it is time for an intervention."

"The government's own statistics demolish the White House drug czar's claims of success in his obsessive war on marijuana," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, DC. "The most intense war on marijuana since 'Reefer Madness,' including record numbers of arrests every year since 2003, has wasted billions of dollars and produced nothing except pain and ruined lives."

If ONDCP has failed to reduce marijuana use, it has been quite successful in driving up the number of people forced into drug treatment for marijuana use. The problem is that many of the people seeking treatment for "marijuana dependency" aren't dependent and don't need treatment. The percentage of admissions in which marijuana was the primary substance of abuse referred by the criminal justice system increased from 48% in 1992 to 58% in 2006. But less than half (45%) of admissions met the criteria for dependence established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association.

"Increases in drug treatment admissions for marijuana, often cited by officials as evidence that marijuana is dangerously addictive, are driven by criminal justice policies rather than medical diagnosis," Gettman noted. "These policies increase public costs for providing drug treatment services and reduce funds for and availability of treatment of more serious drug problems."

Your tax dollars are paying for unnecessary drug treatment for marijuana users. Government programs will pay for drug treatment in 62% of admissions where marijuana is the primary drug of abuse, and 60% of marijuana treatment admissions referred by the criminal justice system.

"In thousands of cases, taxpayers appear to be funding treatment for non-addicts whose only problem is that they got caught with marijuana," said Gettman.

Based on the official data, Gettman also found that ONDCP had demonstrably failed to meet its 2002 two-year goal of a 10% reduction in drug use by teens and by adults or its five-year goal of a 25% reduction in drug use among those two groups. Teen drug use did decline, but by less than ONDCP goals. There was a 7% population reduction in current illegal drug use from 2002 to 2004, and a 16% reduction from 2002 to 2007. But among adults, while the population of current illegal drug users fell 1.5% from 2002 to 2004, it actually increased 4.8% from 2002 to 2007. That increase in adult use of illicit drugs was due to the use of opioid pain relievers, according to the national use survey.

And so goes the war on America's most popular illicit drug. While the drug czar rails against pot, the kids and the adults are turning to pain pills. That's progress?

Press Release: ONDCP Has Failed to Cut Marijuana Use, Misused Treatment Stats, New Report Shows

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
OCTOBER 8, 2008

ONDCP Has Failed to Cut Marijuana Use, Misused Treatment Stats, New Report Shows

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-668-6403 or 202-215-4205
                   Jon Gettman, Ph.D. ..........................................................540-822-5739

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The major U.S. government study of drug use shows that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has badly failed to meet its own goals for reducing use of marijuana and other illegal drugs, according to a pair of new reports by George Mason University senior fellow Jon Gettman, Ph.D. In addition, ONDCP and its chief, "Drug Czar" John Walters, have misused treatment statistics to suggest that marijuana is dangerously addictive when the government's own data suggest that arrest-driven treatment admissions have wasted tax dollars by treating thousands who were not truly drug-dependent.

    Both reports and a summary of all the findings are available at http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr5/bcr5_index.html.

    "The government's own statistics demolish the White House drug czar's claims of success in his obsessive war on marijuana," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.  Kampia noted that during Walters' tenure, ONDCP has released at least 127 separate anti-marijuana TV, radio and print ads and 34 press releases focused mainly on marijuana, in addition to 50 reports from ONDCP and other federal agencies on marijuana or anti-marijuana campaigns. "The most intense war on marijuana since 'Reefer Madness,' including record numbers of arrests every year since 2003, has wasted billions of dollars and produced nothing except pain and ruined lives."

    Gettman, who made international headlines in December 2006 with an analysis showing that marijuana is the top cash crop in the United States, noted the following in his new report:

    **In 2007 there were 14.5 million current users of marijuana in the United States, compared with 14.6 million in 2002, while the number of Americans who have ever used marijuana actually increased.

    **ONDCP has not come close to meeting its goal of reducing illegal drug use by 25 percent by 2007.

    **There was a marked jump in the percentage of marijuana treatment admissions referred by the criminal justice system from 1992 to 2006, while just 45 percent of marijuana admissions met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for marijuana dependence.

    With more than 25,000 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.

####

Feature: Number of Schools Embracing Random Drug Testing on the Rise -- So is Opposition

Emboldened by a pair of US Supreme Court decisions and spurred by the Bush administration's push to expand drug testing of students, an increasing number of school districts across the country are embracing drug testing as a drug abuse prevention measure. While the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) and anti-drug activists applaud the trend, the resort to random drug testing of junior and senior high school students has also sparked a counter-movement that tries to persuade schools to instead embrace drug prevention strategies that do not treat students as guilty until proven innocent.

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Allie Brody
In Vernonia in 1995 and Earls in 2002, the Supreme Court okayed the random drug testing of student athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities, respectively. Beginning in 2004, the Bush administration and drug czar John Walters began a push to get schools to create drug testing programs, seeding them with millions of dollars in federal grant money.

While earlier statistics on the number of schools resorting to student drug testing are hard to come by, the National Association of School Boards told the Chronicle that year that it thought the top-end figure stood at about 5%. Federal estimates at that time, put the number of schools doing random drug testing at somewhere between 500 and 2,000, or a top-end figure of about 3.5%.

"We don't take a specific position on drug testing, but we wrote briefs in support of the districts in the Supreme Court cases," said Lisa Sawyer, senior staff attorney for the National Association of School Boards. "That's because we believe in local control. We like the idea that school districts have the ability to drug test if they choose."

But by the time the Centers for Disease Control published the results of its school survey in October 2007, it reported the number of schools with random drug testing programs was 4,200. That is about 7% of the nation's 59,000 junior and senior high schools.

The Student Drug Testing Coalition, an off-shoot of the Drug-Free Projects Coalition, which advocates for increased random drug tests of students, put the number even higher in a May 2008 report. According to the coalition, some 14% of school districts had random drug testing policies during the 2004-2005 school year.

The coalition also reported that the number of school districts resorting to random drug tests is increasing by about 100 per year, or 1% annually. That number is difficult to verify, but a Google News or similar search for "student drug testing" will show that the issue is being debated by school boards across the country every week.

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drug testing lab
"When the Bush administration started pushing for testing after the Earls decision, schools didn't know about that policy, and the administration has had some success in convincing some districts this is a good policy to try," said Jennifer Kern, youth policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, which, along with groups such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, and NORML, is leading the charge against student drug testing. "Although they have not had much success convincing the public health and educational community this is the way to go, they have been barnstorming the country, and some districts have gone for it."

Since 2004, the drug czar's office has organized student drug testing "summits" around the country to push more districts to embrace testing and to sweeten the pot by aiding them to apply for federal student drug testing grants. They had been occurring at a rate of about four a year, but this year that number has jumped to eight, with two set next month for Omaha, Nebraska, and Albany, New York.

As at past summits, the opposition will be in Omaha and Albany, said Kern. "We'll be doing what we did in the past, getting people to come out, providing materials, talking to educators, who we've found to be quite receptive to our message," she said. "Hopefully, this is the drug czar's last hurrah," she said, with an eye on the November elections.

"At past summits, most attendees were undecided about school drug testing," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane. "They wanted to hear the government's pitch and find out how to apply for grant money, but we found them generally very receptive to our points of view. We stuck to our specific concerns about drug testing, and our message was generally well-received."

Opponents of student drug testing aren't limited to reform organizations. Not surprisingly, high school students themselves and their parents form another bloc where opposition can and does emerge. Kern reported being contacted by numerous students and parents as drug testing becomes an issue in their communities.

When Allentown High School in Allentown, New Jersey, instituted a drug testing program, it did so in the face of student and parent opposition, and that opposition hasn't ended. Allie Brody, a senior at Allentown High, is taking a stand against student drug testing -- and it's costing her. Carrying a 3.96 Grade Point Average, Brody is a member of the National Honor Society. Last year, she was in the school travel club, founded the school philosophy club, and helped out on the school musical, among other extracurricular activities. This year, she can't do any of that because she refused to sign a consent form for drug testing.

"Drug testing goes very strongly against my principles. It is taking the choice about what happens to my body out of my parents' hands. That's not the school's responsibility, and I'm not willing to give it to them," she said Wednesday.

"Now I can't participate in extracurricular activities, I've been removed as vice-president of the French Honor Society, and my National Honor Society membership is in question," she said matter-of-factly. "I have to park off campus. This may even affect where I can go to college," the honor student said. "I'm making a personal statement about drug testing and I hope colleges will understand. If they don't, I don't think that's the kind of place I would want to attend anyway."

Brody and other students worked to stop the board from establishing the drug testing policy, to no avail, she said. "My friend Brendan Benedict [cofounder with Brody of Students Morally Against Drug Testing (SMART)] and I got a lot of students to come out, and my parents have been really supportive, and we've gotten a lot of support from the community. I tried to stop it by attending board meetings, but it was like the board had made up its mind before we even heard about it, and I didn't have a vote on the board."

Kern and other reformers are determined to provide whatever assistance they can to students, parents, and educators opposed to student drug testing. They have prepared a kit to prepare people attending the drug czar's summits, they have created the Safety 1st web site with alternative approaches to drug testing, and even a "Drug Testing Invades My Privacy" Facebook page. (You must log in to Facebook to view it.)

They can also point interested parties to New Mexico, where the Drug Policy Alliance has received a grant to do youth substance abuse education. The New Mexico office has just produced a new video about meth and materials for training educators.

While some of the opposition to student drug testing is moral or philosophical, opponents also cite various studies showing that drug testing has no impact on student drug use rates or even that it has a negative impact. A 2003 study headed by University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston of Monitoring the Future fame put it this way:

"Drug testing still is found not to be associated with students' reported illicit drug use -- even random testing that potentially subjects the entire student body. Testing was not found to have significant association with the prevalence of drug use among the entire student body nor the prevalence of use among experienced marijuana users. Analyses of male high school athletes found that drug testing of athletes in the school was not associated with any appreciably different levels of marijuana or other illicit drug use."

On the other hand, the drug czar's student drug testing web site and the Student Drug Testing Coalition's drug testing effectiveness web page offer up additional studies that attempt to rebut or refute Johnston's and similar findings.

But it's not just about student drug testing's much-debated effectiveness; it's also about how schools view their students and vice versa, said SSDP's Krane.

"School drug testing really breaks down the trust between students and teachers, counselors, and administrators," he said. "If they do have a substance abuse problem, they need to see authority figures as people they can trust, not as people constantly viewing them as suspects. Drug testing tells these kids they're guilty until proven innocent," Krane continued.

"If we only drug test students in athletics and extracurricular activities, and they might be experimenting or smoking a little pot, we're actually driving them away from participating in those activities. Is that what we want?" Krane asked rhetorically. "I think these kinds of policies actually create more drug abuse among young people."

While the battle is being fought district by district across the country, reform organizations are also keeping an eye on the prize in Washington, where Congress must decide whether to continue funding the Bush administration's drug testing grant program. While no further action is expected this year, activists are planning ahead.

School drug testing politics on Capitol Hill is done for this year, Krane, whose organization has fought student drug testing for years. "There is nothing to be done legislatively for the rest of the year," he said. "It looked like the ONDCP grants would be cut, the Senate version did cut it, but in the end, the Congress merged everything into an omnibus spending bill and they just re-upped at last year's spending levels."

"What we would like to see is a prohibition on using federal money to fund these student drug testing programs because funds under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act must go to programs that are evidence-based, and student drug testing is not evidence-based," said Kern. "But realistically, we can try to cut funding for the program and the drug czar's road trips to promote this."

Much depends on how the November election turns out, Kern said. "If we get a new drug czar who takes a public health approach to these issues, there is a really good chance of curtailing this ideologically-based federal push. There is already a lot of resistance at the state and local level because random suspicionless student drug testing goes against many best practices in prevention, school environment, and relationships and trust between students and teachers."

Feature: Serious Crime Down, Drug Arrests Hold Steady, But Marijuana Arrests Increase to 872,000

Nearly 1.9 million people were arrested on drug charges in the United States last year, some 872,000 for marijuana offenses, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released Monday. While overall drug arrest figures declined marginally (down 84,000), marijuana arrests increased by more than 5% and are once again at an all-time high. Drug arrests exceed those for any other type of offense, including property crime (1.61 million arrests), driving under the influence (1.43 million), misdemeanor assaults (1.31 million), larceny (1.17 million), and violent crime (597,000).

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People arrested for drug offenses face not only the distinct possibility of serving time in jail or prison -- drug offenders account for roughly 20% of all prisoners, and well more than half of all federal prisoners -- but also face collateral consequences that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. In addition to carrying the burden of a criminal record, drug offenders can lose access to various state and federal benefits, including students loans, food stamps, and public assistance, as well as being barred from obtaining professional licenses, and in some states, other consequences such as having their drivers' licenses suspended.

The high level of drug arrests comes as overall drug use rates remain roughly at the level they were 30 years ago. In the meantime, state, local, and federal authorities have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and arrested tens of millions of people in the name of drug prohibition.

The increase in drug arrests comes as the overall crime rate decreased. Violent crime was down 0.7% over 2006 and property crime was down 1.4%, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining numbers. All seven categories in the FBI's list of serious criminal offenses -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and car theft -- saw declines last year. But not drug arrests.

The rate of drug arrests was highest in the West (677.5 per 100,000), followed by the South (664.5), the Midwest (549.6), and the Northeast (508.0). Nationally, the drug arrest rate was 614.8 per 100,000.

Of those arrested on pot charges, 775,000, or 89%, were charged only with possession, a figure similar to that for drug arrests overall. Another 97,000 pot offenders were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation or sales offenses, even those involving small-scale violations. Marijuana arrests last year accounted for 47.5% of all drug arrests. Almost three-quarters of marijuana arrests involved people under the age of 30.

The continuing high levels of drug arrests and the increase in marijuana arrests prompted sharp responses from drug reformers. "For more than 30 years, the US has treated drug use and misuse as a criminal justice matter instead of a public health issue," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Yet, despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent and millions of Americans incarcerated, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community; and the harms associated with them -- addiction, overdose, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis -- continue to mount. Meanwhile, the war on drugs has created new problems of its own, including rampant racial disparities in the criminal justice system, broken families, increased poverty, unchecked federal power, and eroded civil liberties. Continuing the failed war on drugs year after year is throwing good money and lives after bad."

Marijuana reform organizations naturally zeroed in on the pot arrest figures. "Most Americans have no idea of the massive effort going into a war on marijuana users that has completely failed to curb marijuana use," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC. "Just this summer a new World Health Organization study of 17 countries found that we have the highest rate of marijuana use, despite some of the strictest marijuana laws and hyper-aggressive enforcement. With government at all levels awash in debt, this is an insane waste of resources. How long will we keep throwing tax dollars at failed policies?"

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor cannabis offenders," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a cannabis consumer is arrested every 37 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

"It's time for a new bottom line for US drug policy -- one that focuses on reducing the cumulative death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drug misuse and drug prohibition," said Piper. "A good start would be enacting short- and long-term national goals for reducing the problems associated with both drugs and the war on drugs. Such goals should include reducing social problems like drug addiction, overdose deaths, the spread of HIV/AIDS from injection drug use, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and the enormous number of nonviolent offenders behind bars. Federal drug agencies should be judged -- and funded -- according to their ability to meet these goals."

Piper agreed with the marijuana reform advocates that the marijuana laws are a good place to start. "Policymakers should especially stop wasting money arresting and incarcerating people for nothing more than possession of marijuana for personal use," he said. "There's no need to be afraid of what voters might think; the American people are already there. Substantial majorities favor legalizing marijuana for medical use (70% to 80%) and fining recreational marijuana users instead of arresting and jailing them (61% to 72%). Twelve states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 12 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana use (six states have done both)."

As Piper noted, marijuana law reform is happening, but it's not happening at fast enough a pace to slow the number of pot arrests. Alaska remains the only state to allow for the legal possession of marijuana (in one's home). A federal decriminalization bill was introduced this year for the first time since the Jimmy Carter presidency, but no one thinks it will get anywhere anytime soon. And even decriminalization means that marijuana users are still punished for their choice of substance, as well as having their property stolen by law enforcement.

The situation is even more bleak when it comes to non-pot drug offenders. There is virtually no impetus to rein back the war on them, and even the reform efforts that could reduce their numbers in prison, such as the Nonviolent Drug Offender Rehabilitation Act on the California ballot this fall, would not do anything to reduce the number of arrests. It would merely funnel those arrested into coerced treatment instead of prison.

Barring serious radical reform efforts to end the war on drugs -- and not merely ameliorate its most outrageous manifestations -- there is little reason to expect we will have anything different to report when it comes to drug arrests next year or the year after that.

Feature: US Lists "Major" Drug Producing and Trafficking Countries, Names Only Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as Not Complying

In their annual exercise in congressionally-mandated diplomatic hubris, the Bush administration and the US State Department Tuesday released its FY 2009 List of Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries, but only placed three countries -- Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela -- on their list of countries that had "failed demonstrably" to adhere to the US interpretation of the international anti-drug conventions and to the mandates of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

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Bolivian coca (source: US State Dept.)
President Bush named 20 countries as major drug producers or transit countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. But while Afghanistan dominates global opium production, Colombia is the world's leading cocaine exporter, and Mexico is the primary conduit for drugs entering the US, Bush and his spokespersons aimed most of their criticism at Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela.

Bolivia is the third largest coca producer, behind Colombia and Peru, and the US has been critical of President Evo Morales' "zero cocaine, not zero coca" policies that have allowed a gradual expansion of the coca crop while at the same time working to interdict cocaine produced from coca diverted to the black market. Burma is a distant second to Afghanistan in opium production, but also a leading source of methamphetamine for Asian black markets. Venezuela does not produce drug crops, but is accused by US officials of not adequately fighting the flow of Colombian cocaine through its territory on the way to European markets.

More importantly, all three countries are current political foes of the Bush administration. The Burmese military junta has been criticized for years by Washington on numerous grounds, while Bolivia's Morales and Venezuela's Chávez are at the core of a Latin American leftist bloc that is challenging US domination in the region and is now in the midst of a diplomatic showdown with Washington. Both Venezuela and Bolivia threw out US ambassadors last week in the midst of a still-unresolved dispute between Morales and conservative opposition governors in Bolivia's resource-rich eastern provinces.

"The Venezuelan government's continued inaction against a growing drug trafficking problem within and through its borders is a matter of increasing concern to the United States," said Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs David Johnson at a Tuesday afternoon briefing on the determination. "Despite Venezuelan assurances that seizures have increased, the amount of drugs bound for the United States and Europe continues to grow," he said. Perhaps as importantly: "Venezuela has refused to renew its counternarcotics cooperation agreements with the United States, including refusing to sign letters of agreement to make funds available for cooperative programs to fight the trafficking of drugs from and through Venezuela to the United States," Johnson said.

And although Johnson conceded that Bolivia "does have a number of effective, US-supported coca eradication and cocaine interdiction programs," he warned that "its official policies and actions have caused a significant deterioration in its cooperation with the United States. President Morales continues to support the expansion of licit coca leaf production, despite the fact that current legal cultivation far exceeds the demand for legal traditional consumption and exceeds the area permitted under Bolivian law."

The expansion of cultivation had resulted in an increase of 14% in coca cultivation and an increase of potential cocaine production from 115 to 120 metric tons, Johnson claimed. He also cited the recent departure of US AID workers and DEA agents from Bolivia's Chapare coca-producing region at the firm request of the coca growers' unions backed by the Bolivian government.

"The US government's determination that Bolivia 'failed demonstrably' to adhere to counternarcotics obligations seems to demonstrate the political nature of this process," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network. "It is worth noting that in his press statement, Assistant Secretary Johnson felt the need to highlight that the determination was not 'a hasty decision,' because it was just that -- a hasty response to the expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg," she said.

"Word from several Capitol Hill sources just days before Goldberg's expulsion was that while there were concerns, there was no way to justify saying Bolivia had 'failed demonstrably' in its obligations," Ledebur continued. "This is the third determination since Morales was elected and the fourth since the adoption of the cato system [allowing selected farmers to grow small coca crops], yet this is the first time they chose to decertify Bolivia."

Ledebur also pointed out that while the US criticized Bolivia for growing coca in excess of legal traditional consumption and above the 12,000 hectare ceiling established by Law 1008, that ceiling had never been honored. "At the peak of US-funded forced eradication and other repressive eradication policies, coca production was never reduced to the ceiling," she noted.

"I'm not at all surprised because the drug certification process has been so tainted and archly politicized," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington, DC-based think tank. "So you can predict that if the US has taken a certain line toward Bolivia and Venezuela, there will be a negative drug certification. The US always has a hidden test, and that's the nature of Washington's relationship with the country in question."

Birns pointed to the Clinton administration's refusal to decertify Mexico in the wake of the 1993 NAFTA agreements, although Washington had ample evidence of significant drug corruption in the Mexican government. At the same time, it refused to certify Colombia as cooperating in the drug war despite its real efforts because it accused then President Ernesto Samper of having received funding from drug traffickers during his presidential campaign. There are also non-drug examples of the politicization of certification exercises, according to Birns, who cited Reagan administration claims that El Salvador was improving its human rights situation during their civil war in the 1980s, and the Bush administration's use of the terrorism designation in order to pressure North Korea on its nuclear ambitions.

The Bolivian government was quick to challenge US figures and the whole certification process. In a Wednesday speech in La Paz, Morales countered with a UN report from earlier this summer that saw only a 5% increase in cultivation, then went on the offensive. "There should be a certification process for those who are fighting drug trafficking by eliminating the consumer market,'' Morales said. "Drug trafficking responds to the market." Morales also attacked the entire notion of US certification: "These are political decisions,'' Morales said. "We're not afraid of these campaigns against the government using black lists."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was similarly -- if predictably -- scathing Wednesday in remarks reported by Agence France-Presse "The United States can say whatever it likes," Chávez said. "That is pure garbage. It is not true. They can release whatever list they like. What do we care about this list? They can shove it in their pocket, they are no moral authority to make any lists."

At the Tuesday State Department press briefing, an anonymous reporter used the last question to ask about the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Referring to the criteria for a country's inclusion on the "majors list," he asked: "If the Majors was applied to the United States, it would be on the list, too, correct? 5,000 hectares of cannabis and a major -- and a place through which drugs flow?"

"I don't know," Assistant Secretary Johnson evaded. "I don't want to tell you something I don't know. And I'll look into that for you. I'm not trying to dodge your question. I just don't -- I don't know."

Feature: Venezuela, US Governments Spar Over Drug Fighting

The tense relations between the Bush administration and Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez grew even more strained this week as Washington and Caracas traded charges and counter-charges over Venezuela's fight against cocaine trafficking. While it seems indisputable that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela has increased in recent years, the two governments are trading barbs over the extent of official Venezuelan complicity in the trade, whether Venezuela is doing enough to combat trafficking, and whether it needs to comply with US demands in order to effectively fight the drug trade.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/venezuelamap.gif
Venezuela (from the CIA World Factbook)
Venezuela does not grow coca or process cocaine, but like other countries in Latin America, it has been used as a conduit, especially by traffickers from neighboring Colombia, the region's largest coca and cocaine producer. The rise of the European cocaine market in recent years has undoubtedly made the country an attractive way station for cocaine headed east.

"The flow of cocaine through Venezuela -- both north particularly through the Dominican Republic and Haiti but also into Europe through Africa and other places -- has increased dramatically," US drug czar John Walters told the Associated Press in a recent interview. He said smuggling through Venezuela had quadrupled since 2004, to about 250 metric tons last year, or about one-quarter of total regional (and thus global) cocaine production.

The remarks come as the US is pressing Venezuela to renew cooperation with it on drug trafficking, and are probably laying the groundwork for a looming decertification of Venezuela's compliance with US drug war goals. Relations between the US DEA and the Venezuelan government have been almost nonexistent since Chávez expelled the DEA in 2005, charging that it was spying on his country. Only two DEA agents are currently stationed in Venezuela, and their activities are very circumscribed.

But Venezuela last weekend brusquely rejected renewed calls from Washington to accept a visit from Walters and resume cooperation on the drug front, saying it had made progress by itself and working with other countries. "The anti-drug fight in Venezuela has shown significant progress during recent years, especially since the government ended official cooperation programs with the DEA," Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement. Renewing talks on drugs would be "useless and inopportune," the statement said.

Walters had tried to "impose his visit as an obligation," the foreign ministry complained. "The government considers this kind of visit useless and ill-timed and feels that this official would better use his time to control the flourishing drug trafficking and abuse in his own country," the statement said. "Venezuela has become today a country free of drug farms, neither producing nor processing illicit drugs, and which has smashed records one year after another for seizing substances from neighboring countries," it added.
That statement came one day after US Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy ruffled feathers in Caracas by saying that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the US was leaving an opening for traffickers. "The drug traffickers are taking advantage of the gap that exists between the two governments," Duddy told reporters, citing the estimated fourfold rise in trafficking.

President Chávez responded to those remarks Sunday by calling them "stupid" and warning that Duddy would soon be "packing his bags" if he is not careful. Chávez also suggested that the US concentrate on its own drug use and marijuana production.

On Monday, Venezuelan Vice-President Ramón Carrizales echoed his chief, telling reporters in Caracas that Venezuela was cooperating internationally, just not on US terms. "The DEA asks for freedom to fly over our territory indiscriminately," Carrizales said. "Well, they aren't going to have that freedom. We are a sovereign country."

Venezuela has seized tons of cocaine in recent years and has some 4,000 people behind bars on trafficking charges, he added. Most US-bound cocaine moves north by sea, he said, largely along Colombia's Pacific Coast.

But the Bush administration wasn't backing down. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said: "Our officials, including Ambassador Duddy, are going to continue to speak out on the state of US-Venezuelan relations... (and) what we see happening inside Venezuela. That does not foreclose the possibility of a better relationship... and certainly we're prepared to have a better relationship," he added, saying Washington first needed to see some unspecified actions by the Venezuelan government.

Good luck with that, said a trio of analysts consulted by the Chronicle. "There is little chance of increased cooperation," said Ian Vasquez, director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, who cited corruption within the Venezuelan government.

Prospects for a rapprochement on drug policy are low, said Adam Isaacson of the Washington-based Center for International Policy. "There is so much distrust between the two governments," he said. "Chávez's threat scenario is a US invasion, and a US military, security, or even police presence would be seen as probing for weaknesses. On the other hand, the US thinks Venezuela is on a campaign to bring Iran and Russia into the region, and Walters is an ideologue who thinks Venezuela is doing this to destabilize the region, you know, the idea of a leftist leader making common cause with drug traffickers. There is no trust, and there's not going to be any trust. The drug war stuff is really only one aspect of that larger context," he said.

"The Venezuelans have repeatedly stated they want to cooperate with the US on drugs, but Chávez deeply distrusts the US government," said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "He has had a terrible time with activist US ambassadors and he feels they have intervened repeatedly in Venezuela's sovereign affairs, but this could be a propitious moment. The Bush administration will get nowhere with any new anti-Chávez initiatives, so they just might be interested in taking some steps toward normalizing relations with Venezuela simply to show that the US is capable of using diplomacy."

Still, said Birns, don't look for any dramatic breakthroughs. "There won't be any effective agreement on drug trafficking unless it's part of a larger mix of confidence-building measures," he said. "Hugo Chávez has a confrontational, combative personality, but he's relatively clean when it comes to human rights violations or other derelictions, and that's very frustrating for Washington. There will not be any comprehensive agreement on this issue, just some de facto improvements on a graduated basis because the necessary confidence between the two governments just doesn't exist."

All three agreed that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela is increasing, but none thought it was a matter of official policy. "It's true there is now a lot of cocaine going through Venezuela," said Isaacson. "While I don't think that Chávez is actively trying to turn the country into a narco playground, I haven't seen any major effort to root out drug-related corruption. Chávez also has problems controlling his national territory; there are security and public security problems, common crime is a serious problem, and organized crime is growing."

"Venezuela has an income of $100 billion a year from oil revenues, why would they be interested in drug revenues?" Birns asked. "I'm sure there are some rogue elements in the government, but this is not a matter of state policy," he said. "You can't deny there is drug trafficking in Venezuela, but I can't imagine that Chávez has anything to do with or gain from it. After all, he's giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year around the world, including the US, in oil and heating oil, so this just doesn't seem like an income opportunity he would be interested in."

The war on drugs is just a waste of time and resources, said Vasquez. "Asking countries to enforce US drug prohibition is asking them to do the impossible," said Vasquez. "It hasn't succeeded in Colombia, Mexico, or anywhere in the Andes. You see some ephemeral victories -- you might kill a drug lord or shut down a cartel, but this is a multi-billion dollar multinational industry that can easily adapt to whatever is thrown at it."

Asking for more enforcement is only asking for trouble, said Vasquez. "The more prohibition, the more law enforcement, the more violent it becomes," he said. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel. To the extent that the drug war is more aggressively pursued, we can expect more violence and corruption."

Still, there are things Venezuela could do to ease tensions, said Isaacson. "Venezuela could be more cooperative in monitoring its airspace, sharing radar information, even allowing occasional US verification flights like the other Latin American countries do," he said. "And as Fidel Castro has done, they need to take a hard line against drug corruption in the state -- it can eat a state from the inside out."

But if Chávez can be accused of playing politics with the drug issue, so can the US, said Isaacson. "US anti-drug goals look even more politicized. I'm sure Venezuela will be decertified, and people will fairly say they're singling out Venezuela because they're leftists and say bad things about the US. Meanwhile, Colombia, with the world's largest coca crop, and Mexico, which has a huge drug trafficking industry, will get a pass because they're pro-US."

"The US certification process on drugs is very tarnished," agreed Birns. "All of these annual mandates from Congress on drugs and terrorism and the like have been carried out in an archly political manner. The US minimizes the sins of its friends and maximizes those of its enemies."

Washington's problems with Venezuela are just part of an overall decline in US influence in the region, said Birns. "With countries like Peru having high growth rates because of the increased valuation of natural resources across the board and new resource discoveries, with Brazil on the verge of becoming a superpower, with various new organizations of which the US is not a part, like the Rio Group and the South American security zone, our leverage over Latin America is waning. The only way to achieve real results on any of these issues is earnest negotiation where real concessions are made."

Drug Use: Prescription Pills Up, Cocaine and Meth Down, Marijuana Holds Steady

Nearly 20 million Americans used illicit drugs in the month before responding to an annual national survey last year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That figure includes not only illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs used for non-medical purposes. The numbers come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which interviewed 67,500 people for its annual report.

The numbers for overall drug use are similar to those for recent years, although the survey reported marginal declines in cocaine and methamphetamine use among young people. Among 18-to-25-year-olds, cocaine use dropped to 1.7%, down 23% from 2006, while meth use dropped to 0.4%, down about a third from 2006.

Drug control officials attributed the decline to increased interdiction and enforcement leading to higher prices. But the decline could reflect the generational learning curve typically observed in drug use patterns over time.

The declines in illegal stimulant use were countered by an increase in the non-medical use of prescription pain pills. According to the survey, 4.6% of young adults reported using pain pills for non-medical reasons last year, a 12% increase over 2006.

Marijuana remains by far the most commonly used illicit drug, with an estimated 14.4 million people reporting use in the previous month. That is about 5.8% of the population, down slightly from 6% in 2006.

Baby boomers moving into their fifties are taking their drug habits with them, according to the survey. Illicit drug use among those 55 to 59 more than doubled to 4.1% last year.

Despite millions of drug arrests and hundreds of billions of dollars spent enforcing drug prohibition in the past three decades, drug use levels remain roughly where they have been for the entire period.

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