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DEA Director Resigns, Says She Had an Awesome Time

DEA Administrator Karen Tandy announced her resignation today, marking her 4-year tenure with another trademark Tandyism:
"It just doesn't get any better than this," Tandy said in a statement about her time at DEA. [Washington Post]
Well, at least somebody had a good time. Now Tandy is moving into the telecom industry:
Tandy told employees she was leaving to take a job as a senior vice president of Motorola, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said. Motorola is a leading sponsor of a DEA traveling museum exhibit about global drug trafficking and terrorism…

Did you guys hear that? Motorola is a major private funder of insidious drug war propaganda and decorates its highest offices with exhausted anti-drug soldiers. Let's all make a mental note of how socially conscious this company is.

In the meantime, I would encourage the Bush administration to takes its sweet time finding exactly the right replacement for her. Formerly a DOJ prosecutor, Tandy rose to fame by successfully taking down menace-to-society Tommy Chong for selling water bongs. She was appointed to DEA's top office forthwith.

In light of the Bush administration's already notorious difficulties filling the vacant directorships of various federal agencies, let me offer a couple possible replacements:

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan is a hardcore drug war legal genius who fought for 5 years to get Ed Rosenthal a one-day sentence for supplying marijuana to sick people. Bevan is so aggressive that U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer had to throw out some charges and accuse him of malicious prosecution.

Better yet, former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty prosecuted the totally-innocent pain management doctor William Hurwitz and was subsequently forced to resign in the U.S. Attorney firings scandal. If you need the law mutilated for political ends, this guy is a total pro.

Ultimately, finding qualified applicants to head the DEA shouldn't be too hard considering how famously delightful it is to work there.

Location: 
United States

Editorial: Yes, the Drug War Really is Still Failing, DEA and ONDCP

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
When the drug czar announced a few weeks ago that cocaine prices had gone up -- a sign of success in the drug war, so he claims -- I was surprised but not shocked. I was surprised -- slightly -- because in most years for the last few decades the price has dropped and dropped and dropped. Retail, or "street" cocaine prices are about 40% of what they were in the early 1980s, and that's without adjusting for inflation. Factor in inflation and it's closer to 20%, a five-fold decrease.

The reason I wasn't shocked is simply because within this steep, long-term decline, there have been upticks now and then, maybe once every four or so years. I was surprised in the way that one is surprised when flipping two coins and seeing both of them come up heads. Most of the time that doesn't happen -- you either get two tails, one is heads and the other tails, or the first one comes up tails and the second one comes up heads. But in one out of every four tries, on average both of them will come up heads.

I was surprised again on Wednesday, when I saw the same story come up a second time a few weeks later, this time in the Los Angeles Times. But not very surprised -- ONDCP and DEA have an obvious incentive to continue to pitch a story that seems favorable to them for as long as there's interest in it.

Unfortunately, the key word here is "seems." It certainly seems like a big jump when you read what they told the Times: "[T]he cost of cocaine increas[ed] 24%, from $95.89 to $118.70 per gram over the six-month period ending in June." Okay, but when looking at the DEA information sheet, one learns that that number is an average including all cocaine purchases during the time period, both wholesale (trafficker to dealer) and retail (seller to customer). The retail average -- the meaningful quantity when it comes to the end result -- went from $145.42 to $166.90, a lesser 15% increase.

Ultimately, price is not really the end result to judge the drug program, of course. The final result of importance, setting aside civil liberties issues, is the net harm to society of both drugs and drug policies. Driving up prices can lead to more crime, for example, and more of those who are addicted suffering financial destitution and driven to extreme circumstances. Price -- in this case, the adjusted price for a pure gram -- is considered a measure of a drug's availability -- the higher the price of the drug, the less available it is, and the fewer expected users. Or at least that's the theory. In this discussion, retail price is defined as purchases of up to 10 grams, the range used by the DEA in its STRIDE data collection program.

If so, it seems pretty silly to talk about prices rising over half a year to $167, in light of this:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cocaine-prices.gif

(You'll notice I'm missing a few years. I had trouble finding 2001-2006 data online this morning. I'd appreciate if someone could point me in the right direction, and I'll post a complete chart back here then and in our blog. The price data is from the aforementioned STRIDE program, divided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index figures.)

Given how small the street price of cocaine still is compared with the past, this recent news just doesn't seem to me like something to brag about. Also, the DEA's write-up says they analyzed data going back to April 2005, but only goes on to discuss what happened from December of last year. I wonder what that means.

Bottom line, when you're only presenting the last six months to reporters, after multiple decades of data show something different -- when you don't even present the entire time range that you analyzed in the very study you just completed, your argument is weak. Sorry, the drug war really is still failing, just like it always has.

You can learn more about the drug czars' data shenanigans by picking up a copy of "Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics." Better yet, order one from us.

Update: Some good info on this from WOLA, and discussion in the Washington Post blog.

Record Marijuana Seizures Mean There's More Pot, Not Less

The Drug Czar's blog once again demonstrates a remarkable misunderstanding of how drug enforcement works. Or they're just pretending not to understand:

Pot Seizures Way Up in Oregon

More bad news for Mexican drug cartels:

"Harvest season this year has law enforcement scrambling to deal with the largest crop of marijuana in Oregon history.

From counties long known for illegal foliage to those where marijuana is rare, narcotics agents say they are tracking and hacking an unprecedented number of plants in remote and rugged rural areas.

By mid-September, they had seized about 220,000 plants statewide, nearly a 100 percent jump from last year's haul of about 120,000 plants. Almost all of the crops, DEA officials say, are grown by Mexican drug cartels expanding their California operations." [Oregonian]

Government anti-drug officials, of all people, should understand that high seizures mean there's just lots of marijuana to be found. The article even says it's "the largest crop of marijuana in Oregon history." This isn't bad news for Mexican drug cartels, it's bad news for the 20-year-old federally-funded marijuana eradication effort that hasn't accomplished anything. The problem is just getting worse.

What could be more dishonest than pretending that a record crop is good news for marijuana eradication? That is just like saying that record forest fires are good news because we're putting out more fires than ever before.

As usual, the DEA eagerly claims that "almost all of the crops" are grown by Mexican drug cartels, as though white people in Oregon want nothing to do with marijuana cultivation. Um, have you seen those people? Seriously, I've met lots of white people from Oregon, and I swear half of them were just waiting for me to stop talking so they could go water their pot plants in the woods.

And, as I've explained previously, no one ever gets caught planting pot in the woods anyway, so how could police possibly know who's doing it? They have no clue, and it's precisely because no one ever gets caught growing pot in the woods that more and more people are planting more and more pot in the woods. How long must all of this go on before the Drug Czar's office stops citing it as evidence of the effectiveness of marijuana eradication?

Location: 
United States

The DEA is raiding California right now -- 4:45 p.m. on 9/26/07

Right now, the DEA is currently raiding the River City Patient Center in Sacramento, California — the longest established medical marijuana dispensary in the city. Protesters have gathered outside the building in support of the collective.

And yesterday, the DEA began threatening landlords in the Santa Barbara area who lease space to medical marijuana dispensaries — activity that’s legal under California state law — with federal prison time and forfeiture of their properties. Several dispensaries closed right away.

This follows a similar move in Los Angeles in July — a maneuver that was condemned in a Los Angeles Times editorial as "a deplorable new bullying tactic."

No matter what state you live in, will you please take a few minutes to write all three of your members of Congress to protest this federal interference in state law? MPP’s action center is easy to use: You can send one of our pre-drafted letters, or you can personalize the letter.

This is just the latest in the campaign of terror the DEA is waging on the sick. In June and July, the DEA conducted extensive medical marijuana raids in several California counties and in Oregon, including raids on at least 10 Los Angeles clinics in late July. Most were aimed at medical marijuana dispensaries operating legally under state and local laws, and in several cases the DEA detained and terrorized individual patients.

If this outrages you like it does me, would you help MPP hire a new grassroots organizer in California, as well as to retain a lobbyist to help push legislation in Sacramento to protect these dispensaries? If enough supporters on this e-mail list donate today, MPP will be able to fully pay for both positions.

These reprehensible DEA attacks — which run counter to state law, as well as the 78% of the American people who support "making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe in order to reduce pain and suffering" — are preventing effective local regulation of medical marijuana: Cities and counties in California are passing ordinances to ensure that medical marijuana dispensaries follow the law and serve patients properly. But by treating all who provide medical marijuana to the sick as common drug dealers, the DEA has become the single largest obstacle to effective regulation of these establishments.

A major Los Angeles raid actually occurred at the exact moment that members of the city council were holding a press conference to discuss an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana providers.

Local officials and major newspapers are outraged by the DEA's actions. After the July raids in Los Angeles, L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine — a Republican and former police officer with the L.A. Police Department — said, "I am greatly disturbed that the Drug Enforcement Administration would initiate an enforcement action against medical marijuana facilities in the City of Los Angeles during a news conference regarding City Council support of an Interim Control Ordinance to regulate all facilities within the City. This action by the DEA is
contrary to the vote of Californians who overwhelmingly voted to support medicinal marijuana use by those facing serious and life threatening illnesses. The DEA needs to focus their attention and enforcement action on the illegal drug dealers who are terrorizing communities in Los Angeles."

After a series of DEA medical marijuana raids in San Francisco, the city's health director, Dr. Mitchell Katz, wrote to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, "These actions have resulted in 4,000 persons with chronic illness left without access to critical treatment upon which they rely. Certainly in this post-September 11 environment, it seems that a DEA priority punishing organizations for distributing cannabis for medical purposes to chronically ill individuals is misplaced."

Would you help us fight back against the DEA's deplorable attacks on sick patients? Please write your three members of Congress now, and then consider making a donation to MPP today.

Sincerely,

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Feature: CAMP Makes Little Headway Against California Marijuana Growers

Fall has arrived, and with it the annual effort by law enforcement across the country to eradicate the outdoor marijuana crop. Nowhere is the effort more elaborate or impressive than California, where the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) has been heading out into the countryside to rip up pot crops since 1983. CAMP, an amalgam of 110 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, racks up big numbers every year, but there is little indication that the program has any impact whatsoever on the price or availability of marijuana in California.

Last year, CAMP raiders seized more than 1.6 million marijuana plants, the majority of them from large gardens nestled within the state's national parks and forests. This year, the total will be significantly higher, according to CAMP.

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CAMP photo (calguard.ca.gov)
"Our plant count is definitely higher this year, and we still have a few more weeks to go," said CAMP spokeswoman Bureau of Narcotics Affairs Special Agent Holly Swartz to Drug War Chronicle. "This year so far, we're at 2.49 million."

The numbers sound impressive at first glance, but not so much when compared to estimates of outdoor marijuana production in the state. According to researcher and policy analyst John Gettman's Marijuana Production in the United States (2006), which relied on official government statistics to arrive at its estimates, the 1.6 million plants CAMP eradicated made up less than 10% of the 17.4 million plants planted.

Similarly, while CAMP proudly boasts that over its near quarter-century history it has eradicated $27.6 billion worth of pot plants, Getttman puts the value of last year's outdoor crop alone at $12.3 billion. (Never mind for now that CAMP apparently values each plant at about $4,000, while Gettman assesses them at under $1,000).

While CAMP cannot claim to make a significant dent in California marijuana production, neither can it offer evidence that its efforts have increased prices or decreased availability. "We don't evaluate prices or availability," CAMP spokeswoman Swartz conceded, while insisting that the program was having an impact. "The majority of the gardens are run by Mexican trafficking organizations, and taking them out must have an impact," she said.

"Nobody has seen anything on price or availability from these folks for a long time, and as far as I can tell, prices here have been steady for a decade," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML.

"What they achieve is virtually nothing," said Bruce Mirken, the San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The number of plants they manage to eradicate has risen twelve-fold over a decade, yet marijuana is by far the number one cash crop in the state. If the idea is to get marijuana off the streets, this is as crashing a failure as any program you've ever seen."

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CAMP photo (calguard.ca.gov)
But CAMP is also protecting the public safety, said Swartz. "It's a huge threat to public safety," she said. "You have people out enjoying public lands and they come across drug trafficking organizations and people with guns."

CAMP has seized a total of 34 weapons so far this year, up slightly from the 29 seized in 2006.

The threat is not just to the public, said Swartz. "Every year since the mid-1990s, there have been shots fired during at least one garden raid."

CAMP has brought it on itself, said Mirken. "CAMP has literally driven the growers into the hills," said Mirken. "There's a good case to be made that all this stuff they're moaning about being so terrible -- growing in the forests, the wilderness areas -- is the direct result of their efforts. All they do is aggravate the problems associated with marijuana production, all of which could be resolved if we treated it the same way we treat California's wine industry."

"This thing with the huge plantations in the national forest has really taken off since 2001, and I suspect it has to do with the border crackdown since then," said Gieringer. "I think some Mexican groups may find it easier to just grow it here. There has been really striking growth in the number of plants they are eradicating, and it will be even higher this year."

But the resort to the use of public lands by marijuana growers predates this decade and was driven by tough war on drugs tactics a generation ago, Gieringer noted. "This whole problem started during the Reagan administration, with the asset forfeiture laws they passed. Before that, people grew on their own land," he said. "Growing in the forests is one of the fruits of that aggressive enforcement strategy."

But despite the seeming ineffectiveness and unforeseen consequences of CAMP, the program is not facing any threat to its existence. Part of the reason is that it is relatively inexpensive. According to Swartz, the California general fund paid only $638,000 to fund CAMP last year, while the DEA and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program kicked in another $1.4 million and the Forest Service $20,000.

"It's not a huge amount of state money, but it would pay for a bunch of students who are getting their fees increased every year to go to the University of California," said Mirken. The figure also does not include the resources and staff time local law enforcement entities are putting into the program, he noted.

"It's just not that expensive," said Gieringer, "especially because they don't generally bother to chase down, arrest, and prosecute people."

In its more than 475 raids last year, CAMP arrested a grand total of 27 people. Swartz did not have arrest figures for this year.

There is another reason CAMP seems almost irrelevant, said Mendocino County Supervisor John Pinches. Mendocino is part of the state's famed Emerald Triangle, where marijuana-growing has been a local industry for decades now.

CAMP doesn't engender the hostility among his constituents that it once did, Pinches said, in part because it doesn't seem to have any effect on the county's number one industry. "Marijuana growing is out of control here," he said. "We hired economic consultants to analyze our economy, and they found that two-thirds of our economy is the marijuana business. With the medical marijuana and the cards and the caregivers, it's just blooming like crazy. Legal businesses can't hire help; they can't compete with growers paying $25 or $30 an hour to trimmers," he said.

But Pinches, who earlier this year authored a successful resolution at the Board of Supervisors calling for marijuana to be legalized, taxed, and regulated, said he now voted to participate in CAMP. "I had always voted against CAMP; I called it the best government price support system for any farm crop in the country," said Pinches. "But now it's so out of hand with gardens of tens of thousands of plants that we're almost forced to do something," he said. "Still, CAMP gets such a small percentage of the crop that I bet deer and wild hogs get more of it than CAMP, and they do it for free," he snorted.

For Pinches, a situation where his county's largest cash crop and economic mainstay is also the subject of continuing, though largely ineffective, law enforcement efforts is mind-boggling. "This is what inspired me to write that resolution we sent to all our congressmen and the president," said Pinches. "Didn't we learn anything from Prohibition days? Whether you love it or hate it, it's time to legalize marijuana."

That looks like the only way CAMP will be stopped. As Swartz noted: "We're law enforcement. We enforce the law. If they change the law, we will change our activities, but until then, we will enforce the law."

Department of Justice Spends Millions on Munchies

I suppose you can't go around raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting legitimate pain doctors on an empty stomach:
An internal Justice audit, released Friday, showed the department spent nearly $7 million to plan, host or send employees to ten conferences over the last two years. This included paying $4 per meatball at one lavish dinner and spreading an average of $25 worth of snacks around to each participant at a movie-themed party.

More than $13,000 was spent on cookies and brownies for 1,542 people who attended a four-day "Weed and Seed" conference in August 2005, according to the audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. [AP]
As galling as it is that we're footing the bill while federal narc soldiers gorge themselves and plot new ways to arrest us all, I'd rather see this money spent on munchies than machine guns. But it does suck that my tax dollars are helping subsidize a brownie-infested "Weed and Seed" conference that I didn’t even get invited to. I guess there's no reason to waste a press pass on a malicious blogger who's just gonna call the whole thing evil and whine that the brownies at the NORML conference were more memorable.

If nothing else, it's now clear that waging a callous barbaric war on their fellow citizens hasn't cost the feds their appetite.
Location: 
United States

DEA Director Makes Bizarre Remark at Alberto Gonzales Farewell Ceremony

DEA Administrator Karen Tandy babbled incoherently at a going away reception for disgraced former (boy, that feels good) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
KAREN TANDY: If you filled the stadium at FedEx Field, which happens to be the largest football stadium in the NFL, if you filled that will all of the teenagers who are no longer using drugs, you’d have to fill that stadium nine times. Empty it, and refill it. [ThinkProgress]
What on earth is that supposed to mean? In fairness, it must be excruciatingly difficult to think of nice things to say about Alberto Gonzales. But this is just weird.

I think she's trying to say that Gonzales stopped lots of teenagers from doing drugs, but I'm sure he was way too busy rationalizing torture and perjuring himself to do that. Personally, just thinking about Alberto Gonzales and his shameful legacy makes me want a drink.

Ironic Anecdotal Afterthought: I actually witnessed FedEx Field filled with teenagers once at a rock festival. It smelled like pot everywhere. Cypress Hill performed. Karen Tandy and Alberto Gonzales were nowhere to be seen, fortunately.
Location: 
United States

Prohibition: Terror Groups Profit From Drugs, DEA Says -- Missing Forest For Trees

Nearly half of the groups officially listed by the US government as foreign terrorist organizations fund their activities through drug trafficking, a top DEA official said Sunday. Nothing is more profitable for terrorist organizations than drugs, said Michael Braun, the DEA's assistant administrator, speaking at a conference on "The Global Impact of Terrorism" in Israel.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-exhibit.jpg
misleading DEA traveling exhibit on drugs and terrorism
The DEA has "linked 18 of the 42 officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) to drug trafficking activities of some sorts," Braun said. The resort to financing political violence through drug trafficking profits is a result of receding state support for terrorism, Braun said, as well as the fact that Al Qaeda has "shifted from a corporate structure to a franchise structure," making its affiliates pay their own way.

Money from the illegal drug trade is funding the FARC in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru, Maoist rebels in India, and Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, while various Islamic groups on the terror list are also suspected of profiting from hash and heroin.

With an illicit drug trade estimated at $322 billion annually by the United Nations, the black market dollars are an irresistible source of income for such groups, which may then morph into something resembling traditional drug trafficking organizations. Braun pointed to the FARC, which originated in the 1960s as a leftist guerrilla army as "the case study for this evolution," and estimated its annual revenue from the drug trade at between $500 million and $1 billion each year.

"That's what the Taliban are doing now in Afghanistan," said Braun. "They are taxing farmers, but we have indications that they started providing security. That's what happened to the FARC 15 years ago," he added. "We'll have to deal with more and more hybrid" organizations in the future, Braun told the conference in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. "When your job takes you to the swamps to hunt snakes, you can end up taking crocs too -- they live in the same place."

What Braun did not say is that this lucrative source of funding for political violence around the world could be effectively dried up by repealing the current global drug prohibition regime enshrined in the UN drug conventions. It is, after all, illicit drugs' status as a prohibited commodity that both makes them extremely valuable and leaves them to be trafficked by violent criminals.

DEA Agent Admits Medical Marijuana Laws Work

This piece in the Providence Journal is remarkable for several reasons. The stories of the real people who benefit from Rhode Island's medical marijuana law are simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. This is required reading for anyone who doesn't understand why medical marijuana advocacy is so important.

One seemingly minor point caught my eye, and raises issues that need to be discussed at the national level:
Anthony Pettigrew, agent for the New England field office of the DEA, said that while marijuana possession is against federal law, "the DEA never targets the sick and dying." The agency is more interested in organized drug traffickers, Pettigrew said. "I've been here for 22 years," he said, and "realistically, I've never seen anyone go to federal jail for possessing a joint."
This is a significant and unusual concession on DEA's part. Pettigrew's argument essentially refutes the typical ONDCP strategy of intimidating patients and legislators in prospective medical marijuana states by arguing that medical users will remain vulnerable under federal law.

If DEA won't arrest patients and state police can't arrest patients, then medical marijuana laws work very well. DEA continues to raid dispensaries in California, but the totality of this activity utterly fails to undermine patient access or the spirit of the state's medical marijuana law. In fact, dispensary raids continue for the sole purpose of obscuring the otherwise obvious benefits of laws that protect patients.

It doesn't matter whether DEA's policy of not arresting patients is motivated by compassion, political sensibilities, funding constraints, or some combination thereof. The fact of the matter is that state laws are effective at protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution, which is their intended purpose. This simple fact demonstrates the importance of these laws, while also revealing how empty and fraudulent the federal government's threats against medical marijuana states truly are.
Location: 
United States

Latin America: Nicaraguan Leader Asks for $1 Billion in Anti-Drug Aid

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has asked the US government for $1 billion to help Central American countries fight drug trafficking. Ortega has sent a formal request for funds to buy helicopters, boats, radar equipment and anything else necessary to fight the drugs war in the region.

The request comes only two weeks after Ortega said he didn't trust the DEA because its operations mask "unexpected interests" and "terrible things." Ortega could well have been recalling his first stint at Nicaragua's leaders in the 1980s, when the US attempted to portray his government as drug smugglers while -- at the least -- turning a blind eye to cocaine running operations connected to the US-backed Contra rebels attempting to overthrow his socialist government.

But Nicaraguan governments since 1990, including Ortega's current government, have cooperated with the DEA in the face of cocaine trafficking organizations using the isthmus as a smuggling corridor.

Ortega said US officials had "reacted positively" to his request, although the US government has not commented officially on the matter. "If the United States government has the luxury of spending more than $400 billion on the war in Iraq, it can give $1 billion to Central America," he said.

The US government has provided several billion dollars to the Colombian government to fight drug trafficking and leftist guerrillas there, and is on the verge on announcing a large anti-drug aid deal with Mexico. Despite his concerns about the DEA and US dislike for his government [Ed: and despite the failure and injustices of the war on drugs and the harm the program will undoubtedly do to people in his country], Ortega seems to want a piece of the anti-drug aid money pie.

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