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Initiatives: Drug Czar, Prison Guards Gang Up on California's Treatment-Not-Jail Proposition 5

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) director John Walters headed to California this week to try to defeat a ballot initiative that would divert thousands of drug offenders from prison in the nation's most populous state. The state's powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), has entered the fray too, pledging a million dollars to help finance a last-minute opposition campaign.

The target of their ire is the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 5. NORA would profoundly deepen and broaden the shift toward treatment instead of incarceration that began six years ago with Proposition 36. If NORA passes, it would:

  • require the state to expand and increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees;
  • reduce criminal consequences of nonviolent drug offenses by mandating three-tiered probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation;
  • limit courts' authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole;
  • shorten parole for most drug offenses, including sales, and for nonviolent property crimes;
  • create numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation;
  • change certain marijuana misdemeanors to infractions.

All of that is too much for drug czar Walters, who showed up in Sacramento Tuesday to blast the initiative as a back-door move to legalize drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance, which is backing NORA, and its top funder, financier George Soros, cannot achieve drug legalization "by being honest and straightforward," so they deceptively offered up Prop. 5 to undermine the drug court system, Walters charged. Passage of Prop. 5 would "weaken our capacity to help people in the criminal justice system" who still remain subject to punishment if they fail, he said.

That guaranteed a sharp retort from Prop. 5 supporters. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, spokesperson for Yes on 5, called the measure "a common sense response" to prohibition-related crime and blasted Walters as a spokesman for failed policies. "President Bush's drug czar has come to California to insist that we continue with the failed approach that has been so ineffective and has crowded our prisons full of nonviolent offenders," Dooley-Sammuli said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and will cut another $2.5 billion in state costs for prison construction. This doesn't include savings related to reduced crime, lower social costs (e.g. emergency room visits, child protective services, welfare), and increased individual productivity.

But filling California prisons full of nonviolent offenders is a jobs program for the prison guards union. While earlier in the campaign season, the union had been distracted by a failed effort to recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last week it announced it was kicking in a million dollars to defeat the initiative.

"CCPOA never has been shy about making sure that our voice is heard," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said. "We'll continue to do that. We've always put the resources necessary to get the job done," he said.

But while the prison guards and the drug czar join other law enforcement groups in lining up against Prop. 5, the measure has broad support within the treatment community, as well as endorsements from the League of Women Voters of California, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Consumer Federation of California -- among many others.

Press Release: Data Quality Act Complaint Filed Against Drug Czar

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
OCTOBER 17, 2008

Data Quality Act Complaint Filed Against Drug Czar
MPP Charges White House Office with Distributing False Information; Charge Is Latest of Many Controversies Surrounding ONDCP

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ................................. 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Marijuana Policy Project has filed a formal request for correction of erroneous information distributed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, pursuant to the law commonly referred to as the Data Quality Act. The petition seeks correction of false information contained in ONDCP's 2008 Marijuana Sourcebook, released in July.

    The petition, filed late Thursday afternoon pursuant to Pub. L. 106-554, amending Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. §§ 3501 et seq., focuses on the Sourcebook's title, "Marijuana: The Greatest Cause of Illegal Drug Abuse," a claim that is not supported by scientific data, including the data in the Sourcebook -- and is actually contradicted by some of its contents, as well as by other ONDCP materials.

    "The claim that marijuana is 'the greatest cause of illegal drug abuse' is blatantly false," said Aaron Houston, MPP's director of government relations. "Marijuana is widely used, but any claim that it actually causes drug abuse -- much less that it's the greatest cause -- rests on the so-called 'gateway theory,' which has been debunked so often it's hard to believe drug czar John Walters can still mention it with a straight face."

    MPP's complaint notes that guidelines adopted by the Office of Management and Budget and ONDCP pursuant to the Data Quality Act require that information disseminated must be "accurate, reliable and unbiased" and presented in an "accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased manner" -- tests the Sourcebook clearly fails.

    Walters has been the subject of multiple controversies in recent days. A report released this week by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform found that Walters attended 19 events suggested by Karl Rove's office in order to help Republican candidates, in apparent violation of the ban on use of public funds for partisan activities. And a study published online Thursday by the American Journal of Public Health found that ONDCP's anti-marijuana campaign had failed to change teen attitudes about marijuana despite expenditures of hundreds of millions of tax dollars.

    For a copy of the full complaint, contact Dan Bernath at 202-462-5747 ext. 2030 or DBernath@mpp.org.

    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.

####

Drug Czar Tells Cartels to Surrender or Die

If the traffickers don’t surrender soon, drug czar John Walters will kill them with his bare hands:

U.S. drug czar John P. Walters, in Mexico City to reassure officials that aid to fight drug gangs is in the pipeline, said traffickers resort to "fear and horror" in their campaign to take over government institutions but will ultimately fail.

Ultimately, he said, the drug lords will face a stark choice: "They surrender, or they die." [LA Times]

Walters then pulled a hand grenade from his vest and destroyed a speeding SUV from 100 yards away.

Feature: Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative Faces Organized Opposition

Michigan's Proposal 1, the medical marijuana initiative sponsored by the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, appears headed for easy victory according to recent polls, but now it is seeing organized opposition, including visits from the drug czar and one of his minions to urge Michiganders to reject the proposal.

When they go to the polls on November 4, Michigan voters will see the following ballot language and be asked to vote yes or no on whether the measure should be adopted:

The proposed law would:

  • Permit physician approved use of marijuana by registered patients with debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, MS and other conditions as may be approved by the Department of Community Health.
  • Permit registered individuals to grow limited amounts of marijuana for qualifying patients in an enclosed, locked facility.
  • Require Department of Community Health to establish an identification card system for patients qualified to use marijuana and individuals qualified to grow marijuana.
  • Permit registered and unregistered patients and primary caregivers to assert medical reasons for using marijuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marijuana.

If passed by the voters, the measure would make Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state and, significantly, the first in the Midwest. Currently, all the medical marijuana states are in the West or the Northeast.

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
That could explain why the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is concerned enough to send its top people to Michigan, but at the state level, the organized opposition is a collection of the usual suspects from law enforcement, moral crusader, cultural conservative, and staid medical groups resorting to the same old medical marijuana bogey-man arguments always made by defenders of the status quo.

State opposition emerged late last month with the public coming out of Citizens Protecting Michigan's Kids. The group's spokesman, state appellate judge Bill Schuette, has been holding news conferences, this week in conjunction with drug czar Walters, and penning op-eds, in order to stoke fear about the initiative through a barrage of distortions, disinformation, misinformation and fabrications.

Schuette is especially fond of warning that -- gasp! -- if the initiative passes, Michigan will turn into California with its "chaos, pot dealers in storefronts and millions of dollars being dumped into the criminal black market," as he put it in the op-ed piece. The Michigan initiative "is just like the California law," he wrote, even though the Michigan law is much more restrictive on who can become a medical marijuana patient and does not provide for medical marijuana dispensaries.

That particular distortion is even embedded in the group's web site URL, www.nopotshops.com, although, again, the Michigan initiative does not allow for dispensaries.

Schuette and company are also hitting the theme that passing the initiative will lead to an orgy of teen marijuana use. "Law enforcement officials in California point to their state's marijuana law as a cause for the dramatic increase in drug use among high school students," he wrote, reprising comments along the same line he made at an earlier press conference.

Again, Schuette was spouting misinformation. According to a June 2008 report from the Marijuana Policy Project based on official state and national survey data, teen marijuana use has gone down in all grades in California and almost across the board in all other medical marijuana states in the 12 years since California passed its medical marijuana law.

"The opposition is using scare tactics out of desperation, which does not diminish the fact that medical marijuana can safely and effectively relieve the pain and suffering of seriously ill patients," Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the Michigan Coalition told the Associated Press earlier this month in response to the opposition claims. "They are just throwing things up in the air and hoping something will stick," she said, emphasizing that Michigan's initiative does not allow for the opening of "pot shops." "This law is nothing like California," she said flatly.

On Monday, the feds arrived. Deputy drug czar Scott Burns flew in to hold a press conference with Schuette and a roomful of law enforcement officials.

"Proposal 1 is bad for Michigan and it is bad for America," Burns said. "This issue is about dope, not about medicine."

Burns also argued that the initiative is backed by wealthy individuals who have supported similar measures in other states. "They are funded by millions of dollars from millionaires who live in Washington, DC, to hire people to come to Michigan to try and con voters from the state to pass it," he said without apparently noting the irony that he, if not a millionaire himself, had come from Washington, DC, representing an agency with a multi-billion dollar budget to tell Michigan voters what to do.

On Tuesday, the big dog himself, drug czar Walters showed up. In a Lansing press conference that same day, Walters repeated some of Schuette's misinformation about the possible increase of teen marijuana use and his deceptive comparisons with California.

Walters also said that the initiative "gives people who are addicted a way to say I have a medical problem" to obtain more of the herb. He also argued that marijuana, unlike opiate pain medications, is unregulated with varying potency, and that a pharmaceutical form of marijuana, Marinol, is already on the market. "To say we need to smoke a weed to make people high because that's the best we can do for them is an abomination," the Michigan native declared.

But the emergence of Michigan Citizens and the arrival of the drug czar and his deputy may be too little too late. The measure was well ahead in the most recent poll, and the state press has balanced the dire warnings of Walters and his local counterparts with interviews with patients and initiative supporters, so it is unclear how much ground the opposition offensive can gain.

For Bruce Mirken, communications director for MPP, which has confronted ONDCP interference with state initiatives in the past and which is supporting the Michigan initiative, the drug czar's schtick seemed time-worn and grasping.

"We're about equal parts amused and horrified," he said. "It's the same old disinformation campaign at taxpayers' expense that Walters has done again and again. This time, not only did he go to Michigan on our dime, he even brought along a medical cannabis vending machine the DEA seized a few months ago from a dispensary in Los Angeles, even though the Michigan initiative doesn't allow for dispensaries, let alone vending machines. It's the Walters Disinformation Tour 2008," Mirken groaned.

The campaign of false attacks on the initiative suggests that the opposition is desperate, said Mirken. "In some ways, that's a good sign for our side," he argued. "They don't have any actual facts and are reduced to making stuff up."

The voters of Michigan will have the final say in a little more than two weeks from now. Stay tuned.

Marijuana campaign turns ugly in Massachusetts

Dear friends:

Last week, I sent you MPP's new video about the lies being spread about marijuana by the Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF).

DFAF is now taking its lies into Massachusetts, where a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is on the ballot this Election Day. Its new radio ad — which you can listen to here — claims that the initiative will “put marijuana, a dangerous and addictive drug, into the hands of our children.”

If you want to fight back against the dishonorable attempts to keep Massachusetts voters from passing a far more sensible law, please give what you can to the campaign today. With just three weeks remaining until Election Day, every dollar you can give will help. 

Bizarrely, the ad criticizes the campaign for accepting “out-of-state” contributions — yet the opposition ad itself is sponsored by the Florida-based Save Our Society from Drugs (SOS). SOS is DFAF's lobbying arm.

Even more disgustingly, DFAF was previously known as Straight Inc., one of the most notorious drug war abominations: It ran a network of “treatment facilities” that were shut down amid lawsuits and investigations regarding horrifying physical and emotional abuse of the young people in its care.

That's the sort of shady opposition that the campaign is up against in Massachusetts. They're willing to say and do anything to keep the initiative from passing on November 4. Would you please consider donating $10 or more today so that the campaign has the resources to continue fighting back?

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

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

Location: 
MA
United States

MPP: Watch these lies about marijuana!

Dear friend:

“Saying that marijuana is harmless is like saying that a dog is a cat.”

“Scientific research does not indicate marijuana is medicine.”

“All major national medical associations have rejected it.”

Sound wrong to you? It is. Blatantly so. But these lies, and others like them, are being spread by the Drug Free America Foundation, in a cynical campaign to undermine the enormous progress that marijuana policy reform has made. As we rack up more and more victories, our opposition gets more and more willing to lie outright.

Watch MPP's new video fact-checking these lies — and send it to your friends:

And as always, we need the help of people like you to continue fighting lies with the truth. If what you see in this video angers you, would you fight back against it, by making a donation of $10 or more to MPP's work today?

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)
Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Feature: Scholarship Fund Honoring 9/11 Hero John W. Perry Assists More Students Losing Financial Aid Because of Drug Convictions

A decade ago, Congress approved an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) authored by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). That amendment, variously known as the HEA drug provision or the Aid Elimination Penalty, denied loans, grants, even work study jobs to would-be students with drug convictions. Since its inception, more than 200,000 would-be students have been denied aid, and an unknown number have simply not applied, believing rightly or wrongly that they would not be eligible.

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In response to the amendment, StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet), in association with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a group founded as a result of the drug provision, and other friends of civil liberties and believers in the value of higher education, founded the John W. Perry Fund to provide financial assistance to students losing financial aid because of drug convictions.

The fund reflects the goals and views of its namesake, New York City Police Officer John William Perry, a Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who often spoke out against the war on drugs. In addition to wearing the NYPD uniform, Perry was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist, and humanitarian. He was filing his retirement papers at One Police Plaza when the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He rushed at once to the scene, where he died attempting to help others.

The Perry Fund has its goal not only providing educational opportunities to those denied them by the provision, but also to raise the issue of the provision's unfair and counterproductive consequences, and ultimately, to repeal the Souder amendment entirely. Although some progress has been made it scaling back the drug provision, it is still on the books. Two years ago, in response to a rising clamor for repeal from the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), Rep. Souder himself offered an amendment that would restrict the loss of aid eligibility to people who were already in school and receiving aid when arrested.

Efforts to win outright repeal as part of HEA reauthorization faltered this year when House Democrats failed to act when push came to shove. However, future applicants will have the opportunity to regain eligibility by passing two unannounced drug tests administered by a treatment program. Depending on how this is implemented, it could create a shorter and less expensive way for students to regain their financial aid.

"We regret that the Perry Fund remains necessary because Congress has not fully repealed its ill-conceived anti-financial aid law," said David Borden, executive director of DRCNet and founder of the Fund. "Along with helping a few deserving students each year, the fund also makes a statement -- we don't just think this is a bad law, we're actually handing out scholarships to individuals targeted by the government's drug war. We don't believe people should lose their financial aid because of drug convictions," he said.

With only partial reforms, there is still a sizable pool of potential HEA drug provision victims. This semester, the Perry Fund is helping two of them.

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Brandi McClamrock
Brandi McClamrock attends Forsyth Technical Community College for Healthcare Management in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After being arrested in a pot bust, she found herself ineligible for financial aid.

"I was in school, and my roommate was dealing pot, and I helped her and one of her customers out by giving him a couple of bags," said McClamrock. "My roommate was setting me up; she had been busted and the cops offered her a deal: If she could get them somebody bigger, they would drop the charges. The cops raided my house and arrested me and charged me with three felonies, even though it was all less than an ounce."

After two years of court dates and legal expenses, McClamrock pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possession with the intent to distribute. She escaped without jail time, but had to serve two years of unsupervised probation. But the consequences of her marijuana conviction were just beginning to be felt.

"I started getting turned down for jobs because of my criminal record," she said. "I've been waiting tables because I couldn't get a job in my field, so I decided to go back to school in health care management at my local community college. I can't afford to pay for college -- I can barely pay my own bills -- but when I filled out the FAFSA, they denied me."

That was a huge disappointment, said McClamrock. "I had no idea they weren't going to let me have financial aid because of that. I'm 25 years old, my criminal record is holding me back, and now I can't even go back to school? Even when I'm trying to better myself and my prospects?"

Fortunately for McClamrock, an advisor suggested she look online for scholarships she could apply for, and she found the Perry Fund. While the amount she received from the Fund was only in the hundreds of dollars, it was critical. "It was absolutely the difference between me being in school and not being in school," she said. "This is a really good thing."

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Matt Daigle
Matt Daigle is in his second year at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida, where is taking pre-chiropractic courses. He was also in school when he got busted selling marijuana to an undercover agent. He is this year's second Perry Fund recipient.

"I was ineligible for assistance for two years," he said. "I took a full semester off to work, then paid for one class last semester, but now I can afford to go back. One of the counselors at the college went online and found the Perry Fund, and it was really a big help. I only have one more semester of ineligibility for financial aid, and this is keeping me in school until then," said a pleased Daigle.

"The Fund is really a big help for a lot of people," he said. "The way that law is, they want to punish you. They want you to be a better person, but then they make it more difficult to do that. The Perry Fund lets you know there are people backing you up, and I'm grateful for that."

"These students have been sent to jail or prison, they've paid fines, they've paid lawyers, they've spent countless hours resolving their legal situations," said Borden. "Why, after all of that punishment already handed down, should they continue to get treated differently?"

"It's not just that we oppose having drug prohibition, which I do, and John Perry also did very strongly," Borden continued. "But this is also a second punishment of people who have already been punished by the criminal justice system. Staying in school to finish your education is almost by definition a positive step. It's foolish to make that more difficult."

Outright repeal -- not more limited reform -- is necessary for another reason, too, said Borden. "As long as this law is on the books, large numbers of people will continue to mistakenly assume they are permanently ineligible for financial aid. Many people just assume the worst, and having this law on the books just winds up pushing people to the margins. We get emails almost every day from people who think they aren't eligible when they are."

Latin America: Walters Continues US Attack on Venezuela Anti-Drug Efforts, Calls Chávez Policies "Global Threat"

The US government continued its attack on Venezuelan anti-drug efforts this week, with Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters saying that President Hugo Chávez's stance toward the cocaine trade represents a "global threat," especially for Europe. In recent weeks, ahead of looming US government certification of other countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives, US officials have accused Venezuela of being responsible for about one-quarter of the cocaine smuggled out of Latin America.

Venezuela has repeatedly denied that it is shirking on anti-drug efforts. It says that it has cooperative anti-trafficking agreements with other countries, but it refuses to allow the US DEA to operate in its territory and accuses the US of heavy-handedness.

Drug czar Walters wasn't showing a light touch Tuesday in Stockholm, where he addressed an international anti-drug conference. "The problem is not that Chávez needs or doesn't need US help, the problem is that Hugo Chávez is not acting," Walters told the Associated Press during a break in the conference. "He is not only threatening the safety and security of the people of Venezuela," Walters said. "It is a growing global threat; he is putting Europe at risk."

But Venezuela can point to large seizures over the past few years, including some 20 tons of cocaine seized so far this year, according to figures made available by the Venezuelan embassy.

Curiously, Walters did not mention US ally Colombia as a "global threat" because of cocaine production. Venezuela produces no cocaine, but Colombia is the world's largest producer. Similarly, while it is entirely possible that Venezuela, which shares a long and wild border with Colombia, may indeed see a quarter of the Colombian cocaine supply transit its territory, Walters had nothing to say about the other countries in the region responsible for the other three-quarters of Colombia's cocaine traffic.

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.

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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."

More Video of Drug Reformers and Their Encounters with the "Other Side" at the UN in Vienna Last Month

Last month I posted some video highlights, filmed by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, from a recent NGO session convened by the United Nations drug agency in Vienna where many of our friends participated. HCLU has released some more videos from the session, "Abstinence First?," discussing the flaws of the abstinence-only model; "Student Drug Testing"; and War on Drugs: The New Jim Crow." Follow the links to read introductory comments by HCLU's Peter Sarosi before watching the videos, or just watch them here:

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