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Feature: UN Anti-Drug Agency Complains Latin American Decriminalization Trend Undermines Prohibition Regime

In its annual report on countries' compliance with the global drug prohibition regime, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) challenged the trend toward the decriminalization of drug possession in Latin America, saying it undermines the three international treaties that define the international framework for drug prohibition. Critics were quick to strike back, saying the INCB was overstepping its boundaries.

Under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the INCB is charged with being the "nattering nanny" of the global prohibition regime. It "identifies weaknesses in national and international control systems and contributes to correcting such situations."

Its powers are primarily rhetorical, and it used them in the annual report to lash out at creeping decriminalization in the Western Hemisphere:

The Board notes with concern that in countries in South America, such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia (and in countries in North America, such as Mexico and the United States), there is a growing movement to decriminalize the possession of controlled drugs, in particular cannabis, for personal use. Regrettably, influential personalities, including former high-level politicians in countries in South America, have publicly expressed their support for that movement. The Board is concerned that the movement, if not resolutely countered by the respective Governments, will undermine national and international efforts to combat the abuse of and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs. In any case, the movement poses a threat to the coherence and effectiveness of the international drug control system and sends the wrong message to the general public.

Brazil quasi-decriminalized drug possession in 2006 (drug users are still charged, but cannot be sentenced to jail terms), a series of Argentine court decisions in recent years culminating in a Supreme Court decision last year has decriminalized marijuana position (and implies the looming decriminalization of the possession of any drug), and Mexico last year decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drug for personal use. In addition, possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in 13 US states.

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The "influential personalities" to whom the INCB critically referred, include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Colombian President Carlos Gaviria, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who, as members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy last year issued a report highly critical of the US-led war on drugs in the region. That report called on the US to decriminalize marijuana possession and treat drug use as a public health -- not a criminal -- matter. To that list could be added former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who just this week reiterated his call for a debate on drug legalization (See related story here.)

While the former presidents have yet to respond to the INCB's critique, non-governmental organizations working in the field have come out swinging. They accuse the INCB of overstepping its bounds and attempting to block necessary and desirable drug law reforms.

"There are too many consumers and small-time drug offenders overcrowding Latin American jails. This is not only inhumane, it also means justice systems are diverting their scarce resources and attention away from big traffickers," said Pien Metaal, Drugs and Democracy Program Researcher for the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI). "Part of the overcrowding problem stems from disproportionate prison sentences for nonviolent offenders."

Decriminalization has not been shown to increase drug use. Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use nine years ago, and its usage rates are squarely in the middle of European averages. Similarly, the Dutch experience with de facto personal legalization has not led to Dutch usage rates outside the European norm, nor are marijuana usage rates in American states where it is decriminalized substantially different from those where it is not.

John Walsh, head of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), criticized the INCB for "reminding" governments that the treaties require that drug possession be criminalized. "Apparently it's the INCB that needs reminding, both about the limits of its own role and about what the treaties actually require," said Walsh. "Not only does the INCB lack the mandate to raise such issues, the INCB misreads the 1988 Convention itself, asserting an absolute obligation to criminalize drug possession when the Convention explicitly affords some flexibility on this matter."

Walsh noted that while the 1988 Convention requires each party to "establish as a criminal offence [...] the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for personal consumption," an article within the convention explicitly states that such laws are subject to each country's "constitutional principles and basic concepts of its legal system." Thus, he argued, countries have "a certain latitude" within the global prohibition regime to reform their drug laws.

"In the case of the Argentine Supreme Court ruling, it is arrogant interference by the INCB to question the judgment of the highest judicial authority of a sovereign State. The INCB has neither the mandate nor the expertise to challenge such a decision," said Martin Jelsma, TNI Drugs and Democracy Program Coordinator.

The INCB also expressed its concern about medical marijuana in Canada:

Canada continues to be one of the few countries in the world that allows cannabis to be prescribed by doctors to patients with certain serious illnesses. […] Until 2009, cannabis could be either obtained from a Government supplier or grown in small amounts by the patient, or a person designated by the patient, with the sole limitation that only one patient could be supplied by a licensed supplier. In 2009, following court decisions stipulating that that approach unjustifiably restricted the patient's access to cannabis used for medical purposes, the Government increased the number of cultivation licenses a person could hold from one to two. The Government intends to reassess the program for controlling medical access to cannabis. According to article 23 of the 1961 Convention, a party to the Convention, if it is to allow the licit cultivation of cannabis, must fulfill specific requirements, including the establishment of a national cannabis agency to which all cannabis growers must deliver their crops. […] The Board therefore requests the Government to respect the provisions of article 23.

But as with the case of the decriminalization decision by the Argentine Supreme Court, the Canadian courts were acting within their "constitutional principles and basic concepts of its legal system."

And in the US:

While the consumption and cultivation of cannabis, except for scientific purposes, are illegal activities according to federal law in the United States, several states have enacted laws that provide for the 'medical use' of cannabis. The control measures applied in those states for the cultivation of cannabis plants and the production, distribution and use of cannabis fall short of the control requirements laid down in the 1961 Convention. The Board is deeply concerned that those insufficient control provisions have contributed substantially to the increase in illicit cultivation and abuse of cannabis in the United States. In addition, that development sends a wrong message to other countries.

The INCB also again went after Bolivia, which enshrined the coca leaf in its constitution as part of its cultural heritage in 2008 and which has called for coca to be removed from the 1961 Single Convention. The tone, however, was a bit softer than last year, when it reprimanded Bolivia over coca production, coca chewing, and other traditional uses of the Andean plant:

The Board wishes to remind the Governments of all countries concerned, in particular the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, that unless any further amendments to the 1961 Convention are put into effect, the use or importation of coca leaf from which cocaine has not been extracted, for purposes other than those allowed under the 1961 Convention, constitutes a breach of obligations under the Convention.

"The INCB again shows itself to be out of touch with reality by demanding that Bolivia stamp out coca use, also wrongfully prohibited in the Conventions," said TNI's Pien Metaal. "The controversies around Article 3 of the 1988 Convention and the erroneous treatment of the coca leaf in the 1961 Convention are two examples of why the drug control treaty system, including the role played by the INCB, needs to be revised."

Along with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the INCB is the bureaucratic backbone of the global prohibition regime. That it continues to work to uphold the prohibitionist principles of the regime is no surprise. That it is now subject to increasing criticism and attack in the face of the myriad failures of global drug prohibition is no surprise either.

Feature: Mexico Conference Calls for New Direction in Drug Policy, Says Prohibition Has Failed

On Monday and Tuesday in Mexico City, political figures, academics, social scientists, security experts, and activists from at least six countries came together for the Winds of Change: Drug Policy in the World conference sponsored by the Mexico City-based Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CUPHID). Coming as Mexico's war on drugs turns bloodier by the day, the conference unsurprisingly concluded that current prohibitionist policies are a disaster.

"The principal conclusion is that we need a more integrated drug policy based on prevention, scientific evidence, and full respect for human rights," summarized CUPHID president Jorge Hernandez Tinajero. "It remains clear that, yes, there exist alternatives to the current strategy."

In a press release after the conference, CUPHID emphasized the following points:

  • The so-called war on drugs has failed and, without doubt, we need "winds of change" to advance toward alternative policies to address the problematic of drugs across the globe.
  • The prohibitionist paradigm has been ineffective, and furthermore, for the majority of countries it has implied grave violations of human rights and individual guarantees, discrimination, and social exclusion, as well as an escalation of violence that grows day by day, ever broadening the scope of impunity for organized crime.
  • Drugs are never going to disappear. Thus, a more realistic drug policy should focus on minimizing the harms associated with drug use -- overdoses, blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS, and violence. This concept is known as "harm reduction," and must be the backbone of any drug policy.

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Colombia Cesar Gaviria, former President of Colombia, on left (courtesy comunidadsegura.org)
The conference opened Monday morning by putting its star power on display. In its opening session, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, who, as a member of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy coauthored a report a year ago with former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo denouncing drug prohibition as a failed policy, returned to the theme. Noting that as president of Colombia in the 1990s, he had been a firm supporter of prohibition, Gaviria said he had changed his tune.

"With the passing of time, prohibitionism, in which I believed, has demonstrated itself a failure," he told an attentive crowd jammed into a conference room of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in upscale Colonia Napoles. The attendant human rights abuses were a big reason why, he said.

"You have to be very careful in the matter of human rights," Gaviria said. "The issue of militarization is so risky because militarization of the struggle against the drug trade, even though it may seem necessary and imperative at a given time, almost always veers into violations of human rights."

Militarization is an especially prickly issue in Mexico, where President Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in the war against drug trafficking organizations. While the military has failed to stop the so-called cartels or reduce the violence -- it has, in fact, increased dramatically since the military was deployed three years ago -- it has generated an increasing number of human rights complaints. According to the official National Commission on Human Rights, more than 1,900 complaints alleging abuses by the military -- ranging from harassment, theft, and illegal entry to torture, murder, and disappearances -- were filed in Mexico last year.

Referring specifically to the Mexican situation, Gaviria added: "In the long run, one of the things that most delegitimizes public policies against drugs is when human rights are violated."

Gaviria's comments sparked a quick reply from Deputy Carolina Viggiano of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who called Calderon's decision to send in the military "the worst mistake" of his administration and one that was likely to ruin the prestige of the Mexican military by the time his term ends in three years.

While arguing that organized crime must sometimes be fought with extreme measures, such as anti-mafia laws and integrated counterintelligence operations, Gaviria also said that at some point, governments have to bring the traffickers in from the cold, perhaps by agreeing to let them plead guilty to offenses with short prison sentences. "Not 40 or 50 years in prison, but maybe eight or 10, and then the person can say, 'I'm done with this, I confess my crimes, I'll do my time, and that's that.' That is a solution with the justice system, not through militarization," he said.

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Jorge Castañeda
If Gaviria was looking for reconciliation with the traffickers, his co-panelist former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda was a bit more provocative. He suggested that Mexico needs to go back to the "good old days" of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), at least when it comes to dealing with drug trafficking organizations.

The PRI, of course, ruled Mexico in a virtual one-party state for 70 years before being defeated by Vicente Fox and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in the 2000 elections. It was widely (and correctly) seen as not fighting the drug trade so much as managing it.

Given the bloody mess that is the Mexican drug war today, perhaps it is time to return to a quiet arrangement with the cartels, Castañeda suggested. "How do we construct a modus vivendi?" he asked. "The Americans have a modus vivendi in Afghanistan," he noted pointedly. "They don't care if Afghanistan exports heroin to the rest of the world; they are at war with Al Qaeda."

Castenada's comments on Afghanistan rang especially true this week, as American soldiers push through poppy fields in their offensive on Marja. The US has made an explicit decision to arrive at a modus vivendi with poppy farmers, although it still fights the trade by interdiction and going after traffickers -- or at least those linked to the Taliban.

Casteneda also came up with another provocative example, especially for Mexican leftists in the audience. "We had a modus vivendi with the Zapatistas in Chiapas," he noted. "We also pretended they were real guerrillas with their wooden rifles. We created a liberated zone, and the army respected it, and it's still there. But it is a simulation -- the army could eliminate it in 90 seconds."

And in yet another provocative comment on the theme, Casteneda suggested that somebody may already have arrived at a modus vivendi with the Sinaloa Cartel -- a suggestion that is getting big play in Mexican newspapers these days. "Why is it that of the 70,000 drug war prisoners in Mexico, only 800 are Chapo Guzman's men?" he asked. "Many people think the government has made a deal with the Sinaloa cartel. I don't know if it's true."

The Mexican government was forced Wednesday to deny such claims, a clear sign they are getting wide circulation.

Peruvian drug policy analyst Ricardo Soberon told the conference that while Latin America has been a loyal follower of the UN's and the US's prohibitionist drug policy discourses, it was time for something new. "The UN anti-drug paradigm is broken," he said. "We have to change the paradigm. We have to offer something other than prohibition and the criminal justice system, but what? A regulated market? What does that mean? What we need in any case are policies that are fundamentally based on human rights and deal with it from a public health viewpoint."

Human rights and the drug war remained a key theme of the conference on its second day, with Luis Gonzalez Placencia, president of the Federal District (Mexico City) Commission on Human Rights, and Monte Alejandro Rubido, Subsecretary for Human Rights for the Secretariat of Public Security, speaking and being grilled by the audience.

"The violent and militaristic policy against drugs generates more violence and has produced more dead," said Placencia. "We have to consider whether this anti-drug policy has become counterproductive," he added.

But Rubido, a federal functionary, stood fast, saying the Calderon government remained firm in its commitment to keep drugs criminalized. Far from being a failure, the strategy is working, he said, to hoots and groans from the crowd. "It is achieving good results," he said.

During a question and answer session that followed the pair, Rubido was raked over the coals by questioner after questioner, but remained stolidly unshakable in his support for current policy.

"How many people has marijuana killed and how many has the policy of repression killed?" asked one conference-goer, but Rubido just smirked in silence.

"People have consumed drugs forever," said Haydee Rosovsky, the former head of Mexico's national commission on addiction, from the floor, as she called out the bureaucrats. "You functionaries have to come out like Gaviria and Zedillo, and not wait until you are ex-functionaries."

National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) researcher Luis Astorga presented graphs showing which party governs which Mexican states and which coastal and border municipalities and how they appear to be affiliated with different blocs of cartels. "The PRI governed states on the Gulf Coast are where the cocaine flows," he said, "and the PRI controls most border municipalities."

That is the province of a bloc of cartels consisting of the Gulf (los Zetas) and Juarez cartels and the Beltra Leyva breakaway from the Sinaloa cartel, Astorga suggested, while taking pains to say his research is only "a work in progress." On the other hand, the ruling National Action Party (PAN) controls the northwest states of Baja California, Sonora, and Sinaloa, playground to the Sinaloa, and La Familia cartels, and breakaway factions of the Tijuana cartel. Echoing Casteneda, Astorga suggested it might be time for a "pax mafioso," although he admitted it would be difficult to find political cover for such a move.

Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance briefed the crowd on the US medical marijuana experience at event organizers' request, although he expressed bemusement at the issue's relevance to Mexico and its drug war and labored to make a useful connection.

"Medical marijuana provided the angle of attack that broke the marijuana policy logjam in the United States," he noted. "What Mexico needs is to find some sort of similar issue, some sort of similar angle. Perhaps the best approach is to argue that by legalizing marijuana we can deprive the cartels of a significant income stream," he suggested.

The Mexico City conference this week is just one more indication that the cracks in the wall of drug prohibition in Latin America are spreading. But while the drug reform movement in the hemisphere has some big names behind it, it is still going to take on the ground, grass roots organizing in countries across the hemisphere to move forward. The conference in Mexico City helped lay the groundwork for that, at least in Mexico.

Tell the President: Don't Just Say It. Do It!

You Can Make a Difference

 

Dear friends,

Tell the president:  We need a new direction for U.S. drug policy, not the status quo. 

Take Action
Email the President

President Obama is saying all the right things when it comes to drug policy reform, but not enough has changed since he took office.

You and I need to show President Obama that we won't stand for the status quo on drug policy.

After a promising start on drug policy issues, the Obama administration has gone astray.  The president’s proposed drug war budget looks a whole lot like the Bush administration’s drug war budget, with funding for failed enforcement policies far outweighing funding for treatment.

Tell the Obama administration you’re tired of Bush-era drug policy and ready for some change you can believe in!

Last month, President Obama nominated an anti-reform Bush holdover to head the DEA.  Under the Bush administration, nominee Michele Leonhart coordinated numerous medical marijuana raids and stood in the way of scientific research.  A new drug policy requires new leadership, especially when the nominee was so closely associated with the failed policies of the past.

The president has repeatedly said that science, not politics, should guide drug policy, and his drug czar called for an end to the war on drugs.  The Obama administration isn’t spouting drug war rhetoric, but it hasn’t abandoned drug war policies either.

Write to the president and urge him to deliver on his promise to improve U.S. drug policy.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

 

Drug Truth 02/22/10

Cultural Baggage * Century of Lies * 4:20 Drug War NEWS Cultural Baggage for 02/21/10 29:00 Casper Leitch, host of Time4Hemp invites DTN host Dean Becker as guest, Abolitionist's Moment & Request for Respondents to Pain Killer Survey LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2787 TRANSCRIPT: ASAP Century of Lies for 02/21/10 29:00 Dr. Rick Doblin, Pres. of Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies + Keith Stroup of NORML from Time4Hemp program LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2788 TRANSCRIPT: ASAP 4:20 Drug War NEWS, 02/22 to 02/28/10 Link at www.drugtruth.net on the right margin - Sun - Dr. Rick Doblin re K2 the synthetic marijuana Sat - Dr. Rick Doblin, Pres. of Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies Fri - Dean Becker guests on Time4Hemp 2/2 Thu - Casper Leitch, host of Time4Hemp invites DTN host Dean Becker as guest Wed - Drug War Pissing Contest Winner/Loser Tue - Advice from Dr. Hochman + Request for Respondents to Pain Killer Survey Mon - Abolitionist's Moment & American Dream Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston, 90.1 FM. You can Listen Live Online at www.kpft.org - Cultural Baggage Sun, 7:30 PM ET, 6:30 PM CT, 5:30 PM MT, 4:30 PM PT (Followed Immediately By Century of Lies) - Century of Lies, SUN, 8 PM ET, 7 PM CT, 6 PM MT & 5 PM PT Who's Next to "Face The Inquisition?": Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org We have potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates i You can tune into both our 1/2 hour programs, live, at 6:30 central time on Pacifica's KPFT at http://www.kpft.org and call in your questions and concerns toll free at 1-877-9-420 420. The two, 29:00 shows appear along with the seven, daily, 3:00 "4:20 Drug War NEWS" reports each Monday morning at http://www.drugtruth.net . We currently have 72 affiliated, yet independent broadcast stations. With a simple email request to dean@drugtruth.net , your station can join the Drug Truth Network, free of charge. Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, DTN Producer, 713-462-7981, www.drugtruth.net

Decriminalization: New Hampshire Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for House Floor

The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted February 11 to approve House Bill 1653, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana. The measure passed on a 16-2 vote.

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New Hampshire Statehouse
The bill now heads for the House floor. It is scheduled for action on March 3.

Under current New Hampshire law, possession of up to a quarter-ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Under the bill, possession of that amount would be a non-criminal infraction punishable by a $200 fine.

Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston) told the Eagle Tribune the bill would probably pass the House. Continuing to spend law enforcement resources on pot smokers "seems foolish," he said. "It's no worse than tobacco and possibly not as bad."

The measure is supported by the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. Coalition executive director Matt Simon told the Eagle Tribune he was pleasantly surprised by the victory. Similar legislation died two years ago, but now committee members are more comfortable, he said.

"In two years, much has changed," Simon said. "The committee has become much more knowledgeable about decriminalization and heard from constituents."

If the bill passes the House, it still must get through the Senate, and even then, it faces a probable veto from Gov. John Lynch (D) who opposes decriminalization. Lynch vetoed a medical marijuana bill last year. The House voted to override that veto, but the effort fell two votes short in the Senate.

Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession. The most recent was neighboring Massachusetts, which did so last November via the initiative process.

Drug Truth 02/15/10

Cultural Baggage * Century of Lies * 4:20 Drug War NEWS Cultural Baggage for 02/14/10 29:00 El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke on the ultra violence in their sister city of Ciudad Juarez & Michael Blunk, board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2778 TRANSCRIPT: ASAP Century of Lies for 02/14/10 29:00 Courtesy Seattle Channel's "City Inside Out" King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, state senator Pam Roach, Sensible Washington founder Douglas Hiatt, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, ACLU-WA Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb, and Chemical Dependency Professionals Kelly Kerby and Gary Hothi LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2779 TRANSCRIPT: ASAP 4:20 Drug War NEWS, 02/15 to 02/21/10 Link at www.drugtruth.net on the right margin - Sun - Michael Blunk, board member Students for Sensible Drug Policy Sat - Beto O'Rourke 5/5 Fri - El Paso Councilman Beto O'Rourke 4/5 Thu - Beto O'Rourke + Michael Blunk of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Wed - El Paso Councilman Beto O'Rourke 2/5 Tue - Beto O'Rourke, El Paso councilman regarding the barbaric war in sister city Ciudad Juarez Mon - Huffington Post Blog: "Drug War Mistaken" Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston, 90.1 FM. You can Listen Live Online at www.kpft.org - Cultural Baggage Sun, 7:30 PM ET, 6:30 PM CT, 5:30 PM MT, 4:30 PM PT (Followed Immediately By Century of Lies) - Century of Lies, SUN, 8 PM ET, 7 PM CT, 6 PM MT & 5 PM PT Who's Next to "Face The Inquisition?": TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org We have potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates i You can tune into both our 1/2 hour programs, live, at 6:30 central time on Pacifica's KPFT at http://www.kpft.org and call in your questions and concerns toll free at 1-877-9-420 420. The two, 29:00 shows appear along with the seven, daily, 3:00 "4:20 Drug War NEWS" reports each Monday morning at http://www.drugtruth.net . We currently have 71 affiliated, yet independent broadcast stations. With a simple email request to dean@drugtruth.net , your station can join the Drug Truth Network, free of charge. Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, DTN Producer, 713-462-7981, www.drugtruth.net

Feature: El Paso City Council Passes Resolution Criticizing Drug War, But Only After Killing Marijuana Regulation Language

A year ago, dismayed at the violence rocking its sister city of Ciudad Juárez just across the Rio Grande River, the city council in the remote Texas border city of El Paso unanimously passed a resolution calling for serious consideration of ending drug prohibition, only to see it vetoed by Mayor John Cook. Then, after heavy-handed warnings from US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and the city's delegation in the state legislature that such a resolution could threaten the city's funding, the city council backed down, failing to override Cook's veto.

With those votes and the controversy surrounding them, El Paso was thrust into -- and helped ignite -- a national debate on the country's drug policies. This week, the El Paso city council returned to the issue when, led by Councilmembers Beto O'Rourke and Steve Ortega, it considered a resolution calling for a "comprehensive examination of our country's failed War on Drugs," and advocating for "the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws" and their replacement with taxed, regulated, and controlled marijuana production, sales, and consumption for adults.

The resolution also called for an immediate meeting between Mexican President Felipe Calderon and US President Obama to address prohibition-related violence in Mexico, rejected the "militaristic" approach of Plan Merida, the three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance scheme for Mexico and Central America, called for that aid to be tied to strict human rights reporting requirements, and called for any additional aid to Mexico to be aimed at improving the country's "social, educational, and economic development."

"It's up to us to act and make some tough decisions and do some uncomfortable things," said O'Rourke, as he urged his colleagues to support the resolution.

"The fuel to the fire in Juárez is the profits of a black market," said Councilwoman Susie Byrd, explaining why she supported the marijuana regulation language.

But not all the council members were in accord. "We didn't talk about demand reduction. We didn't talk about prevention, and we didn't talk about treatment," said Councilman Carl Robinson, explaining his vote against the resolution.

The public also joined in the debate, with University of Texas-El Paso political science professor Tony Payan refreshing the council's member about the city's historic role in marijuana prohibition. "It was the first city council a hundred years ago that passed the first resolution forbidding the use of marijuana," he said. "One hundred years later we've come full circle, and now we're debating 100 years of a failed policy."

"We've got this war that's cost us billions of dollars in Iraq and there's a huge problem next, right next door!" said El Paso resident Eric Contreras.

"It is time to change the laws because drug prohibition is a failed policy," said El Paso resident Richard Newton, a retired veteran US Customs agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "The bottom line is that the reason you have cartels in Juárez fighting each other is to sell drugs in the United States. They sell drugs because they can make money. Get rid of the money and you get rid of the cartels."

Not everyone was on board, however. "Quit calling it our sister city. No one wants a disease-riddled prostitute as a sister," said El Paso resident Armando Cardoza. [Ed: That was rude.]

After debating the resolution on Monday, the council voted, arriving at a 4-4 tie vote. Once again, Mayor Cook swooped in to block reform, even in the form of a resolution. His vote against the resolution broke the tie.

But that wasn't the end of it. The council then amended the resolution by dropping the paragraph referring to marijuana regulation and unceremoniously passed the amended resolution on a 6-2 vote. O'Rourke was one of the no votes, saying that regulating marijuana was an integral part of his approach.

Still, the El Paso city council has gone on record as condemning current US drug policies and demanding a shift to a smarter, more humane approach to drug sales and use. And it has clearly called on the US government to take a smarter, more humane approach to the drug violence just across the river in Juárez.

When asked what is was about El Paso that made it amenable to passage of such a resolution critical of the drug war, LEAP's Newton mentioned the city's unique location. Tucked into the triangular tip of far West Texas, El Paso not only borders bloody Ciudad Juárez, with its daily prohibition-related killings, but it also borders New Mexico, a state that has been a leader in drug policy reforms, ranging from medical marijuana to passing the country's first Good Samaritan drug overdose law to working with the Drug Policy Alliance on methamphetamine prevention and education programs.

"This is a strange city for Texas," Newton continued. "The state is very Republican, but there aren't any Republicans in El Paso. Bush didn't carry El Paso County. Silvestre Reyes has not had a Republican run against for several elections now. I wouldn't say El Paso is especially liberal or progressive, but it is Democratic."

Last year, Mayor Cook and Congressman Reyes pulled the plug on the resolution, but there is no sign yet that we will see a repeat this year. That would be progress, even if O'Rourke lost his marijuana regulation language. And he and the rest of the council still have three years to make up for city council's 1913 vote to criminalize marijuana. The city was a leader then; it can be a leader once again, only this time in the right direction.

Pres. Obama’s Proposed 2011 Budget Bolsters War on Drugs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                               February 9, 2010

Pres. Obama’s Proposed 2011 Budget Bolsters War on Drugs

Obama administration to expand drug war by tilting funds heavily toward law enforcement and away from treatment

CONTACT: Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations …… 202-905-2009 or ahouston@mpp.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to 2011 funding “highlights” released this week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Obama administration is expanding the war on drugs and focusing its funds toward law enforcement over treatment. The budget puts America’s drug war spending at $15.5 billion for fiscal year 2011; an increase of 3.5 percent over 2010 and an increase of 5.2 percent in overall enforcement funding ($9.7 billion in FY 2010 to $9.9 billion in FY 2011). Addiction treatment and preventative measures are budgeted to increase from $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion.

         Furthermore, President Obama chose to continue funding the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which is run by the drug czar’s office and has for years emptied its coffers on absurd anti-marijuana ads that veer far from the truth. One such ad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9B-h_bU-uI) released in 2006 insinuates that marijuana use can lead to rape, a particularly dishonest claim considering that alcohol, a legal drug, is a factor in a huge majority of sexual assaults.

         “This budget reflects the same Bush-era priorities that led to the total failure of American drug policy during the last decade,” said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. “One of the worst examples is $66 million requested for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign when every independent study has called it a failure. The president is throwing good money after bad when what we really need is a new direction.”

         With more than 29,000 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 mpp.org

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Campaign to Tax and Regulate Marijuana Urges Gov. Gibbons to Put that Option on the Table

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE           

FEBRUARY 8, 2010

Campaign to Tax and Regulate Marijuana Urges Gov. Gibbons to Put that Option on the Table

Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws points to tens of millions of dollars in potential revenues and thousands of new jobs

CONTACT: Dave Schwartz, NSML campaign manager ………………………. 702-727-1080

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Tonight, Gov. Jim Gibbons will deliver his State of the State address, in which he will discuss the serious financial crisis facing Nevada. The state reportedly needs to cut nearly $900 million in spending in order to bring its budget into balance. According to some reports, Gov. Gibbons is seeking new ways to close the budget gap and is willing to put all options on the table. With this financial crisis looming, and Gov. Gibbons’ speech coming up in just hours, Dave Schwartz, campaign manager for Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, released the following statement:

            “As a longtime resident of Nevada, I am seriously concerned about the state’s financial situation. The down economy has caused devastating job losses and dramatically diminished revenues. In order to get the state back on sound financial footing, the governor must consider not only cuts in spending, but also new sources of tax revenue. There is no greater opportunity than regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana to adults.

            “A legal marijuana market would likely generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state, just based on excise and sales taxes. It would also create thousands of new tax-paying employees in the state, as well as new businesses in areas revitalized by the existence of marijuana retail stores.

            “One important piece of information to keep in mind is that marijuana is far less harmful than a substance already widely available to Nevadans—alcohol. By giving adults in the state the legal option of using marijuana instead of alcohol, we could make our communities healthier and safer while generating new revenues that can be used to improve our roads and our schools. This is a no-lose opportunity, and we sincerely hope the governor will seriously consider it.”

            Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws is a ballot advocacy group formed in Nevada to support a 2012 ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state.

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Marijuana: It's Pot Week in Providence as Rhode Island Solons Introduce Decrim Bill, Ponder Prohibition

It's been a big week for marijuana at the statehouse in Providence, with lawmakers Tuesday introducing a decriminalization bill and hearing testimony on the effects of marijuana prohibition Wednesday. Also this week, the state Department of Health held the final round of public comment on proposed rules for the state's new medical marijuana compassion center program.

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Rhode Island Senate Chamber
Introduced by Rep. John Edwards (D-Tiverton), HB 7317 would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of weed. People caught with less than an ounce would be subject to a $150 fine, but no criminal record. Fines would go to the state general fund if the person is cited by state police, but to localities if cited by local police. Simple possession is currently a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

"This legislation is less about the ongoing debate over the decriminalization of marijuana and more about providing some relief to the taxpayers of this state," Edwards said. "The average cost to keep someone [in prison] is more than $44,000 per year. Rhode Island taxpayers should not be paying to keep someone locked up due to a simple possession charge."

Edwards said his bill would help in three different ways. "First, we wouldn't tie up our criminal courts with these minor offenses. Second, the entity that catches the individual keeps the fine and finally, we save some money by not having to house and feed these individuals at taxpayer expense," he explained.

On Wednesday evening, the state Senate Commission on Marijuana Prohibition held what should be its final hearing -- it was supposed to report back to the General Assembly by last week. Created by a legislative resolution last summer, the commission is charged with undertaking a thorough evaluation of the impact of marijuana prohibition.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition head Jack Cole, a former undercover narc in New Jersey, told the committee in written testimony that arresting marijuana users is a luxury Rhode Island can't afford. "A tremendous amount of the staff time and funding for law enforcement is wasted arresting nonviolent drug users who hurt no one,'' said Cole. "Let police get back to protecting all of us from violent criminals and child molesters. We will all be much better off.''

Also this week, the state Department of Health held what is likely to be its final hearing on draft regulations for licensing up to three nonprofit "compassion centers," or dispensaries. For the next two weeks, anyone can submit written comments to the department, then it will decide how to proceed. It can file the regulations as is, make minor changes, or make major changes. If the latter, another public hearing must be held.

Once the regulations are filed, they will take effect in 20 days. Then, Rhode Island's more than 1,200 medical marijuana patients will have one more option in addition to growing it themselves or having a caretaker do it for them.

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