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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.

ONDCP Random Student Drug Testing Summit

There is no cost to attend the summit but, because space is limited, people are encouraged you to register as soon as possible at http://summits.csrincorporated.com or send an email to summits@csrincorporated.com or call (703) 312-5220 if you have additional questions. AGENDA 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. Registration 9:00 - 9:05 a.m. Welcome and Introductions 9:05 - 9:25 a.m. Opening Remarks 9:25 - 9:45 a.m. Presentation: Legal History/Current Legal Issues 9:45 - 10:15 a.m. Presentation: Current Drug Testing Technology 10:15 - 11:00 p.m. Presentation: Developing a Student Drug Testing Policy 11:00 - 11:15 a.m. Break 11:15 - 11:45 p.m. Presentation: Student Assistance Programs - Help When It's Needed 11:45 - 12:15 p.m. Panel: Success Stories from Local Local Programs 12:15 - 12:30 p.m. Presentation: The Student Drug Testing Institute - Support for Schools that Drug Test 12:30 - 12:50 p.m. Q&A 12:50 - 1:00 p.m. Closing Remarks
Date: 
Wed, 10/29/2008 - 9:30am - 2:00pm
Location: 
State and Dodge Street
Albany, NY 12207
United States

Wow, I almost forgot it was Drug Free Work Week

Fortunately, the drug czar remembered, which makes sense because it’s his third favorite drug war theme-week. And having burdened us with this annoying ritual, he goes on to explain unintentionally how unbelievably unimportant it is:

October 20-26th is Drug Free Work Week

Every year, the Department of Labor sponsors a Drug Free Work Week to raise awareness of the consequences of drug use on the workplace.  According to recent research this is a serious problem:

•    75 percent of the nation’s current illegal drug users are employed—and 3.1 percent say they have actually used illegal drugs before or during work hours.

That means 97% of drug users don’t go to work high. Seriously, these numbers show that the overwhelming majority of drug users have jobs and scrupulously avoid drugs on workdays. That’s not a problem, that’s awesome.

And it goes to show how completely nuts you are if you think we have to drug test everybody to keep them from spilling bong water in the copier. Even at my office – where we oppose drug testing and advocate drug legalization – we’ll still throw you the hell out if you come in drooling and screwing around. If there’s ever been a solution in search of a problem, it’s the little plastic cup that proves you smoked pot at some point in the past month.

Unfortunately, in the drug war, we always do things the hard way and that’s why the federal government would rather prosecute purveyors of prosthetic piss-test penises than admit that anyone with half a brain shouldn’t need laboratory results to identify the dumbass in the department.

Meanwhile, Joe Sixpack, the very epitome of traditional American values, is far more likely to mix business with pleasure than the average illegal drug user:
•   79 percent of the nation’s heavy alcohol users are employed—and 7.1 percent say they have actually consumed alcohol during the workday.
But nobody drug tests for that, so the workplace drug testing tyranny tinkles on, untethered by the towering absurdity of busting employees for smoking pot over the weekend, while vastly larger numbers get drunk on their lunch break with impunity. The whole thing is such a monument of stupidity and craziness, I suppose it’s fitting that the drug czar must set aside a whole week each year to bask in it.

Punk Rock Bonus: Here’s NOFX with "Go To Work Wasted"

Press Release: Hemp Advocates Ask Pro-Hemp Hedge Fund Manager for Help

[Courtesy of Hemp Industries Association] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 21, 2008 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671 or adam@votehemp.com Hemp Advocates to Andrew Lahde: “Can You Spare a Million to Make Your Vision Reality?” Hemp Food and Body Care Sales Stronger than Ever in 2008 U.S. Farmers Suing DEA to Grow Hemp are Back in Court November 12 BOSTON, MA – The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a trade association made up of hundreds of hemp businesses meeting in Boston today, is appealing to millionaire retired hedge fund manager Andrew Lahde to use a portion of his recent windfall made betting against sub-prime mortgage-backed securities to help bring back hemp farming in the United States. Mr. Lahde garnered media attention for stating in a resignation letter that hemp is needed as an alternative food and energy source and should be grown again in the U.S. “Mr. Lahde’s perspective is right on the money,” says HIA out-going President David Bronner. Retail sales of hemp food and body care products in the United States have continued to set record sales over the past twelve months, according to new data released by the HIA. The strong sales of popular hemp items like non-dairy milk, shelled hemp seed, soaps and lotions have occurred against the backdrop of state-licensed hemp farmers in North Dakota fighting a high stakes legal battle against DEA to grow hemp for U.S. manufacturers. The new sales data validates U.S. farmers’ position that they are being left out of the lucrative hemp market that Canadian farmers have cashed in on for eleven years. The sales data, collected by the market research firm SPINS, was obtained from natural food retailers only, excluding Whole Foods Market and mass-market food and pharmacy stores, and thus under-represents actual sales by a factor of two to three. The new report shows that hemp grocery sales grew in the sampled stores by 65% over the previous year (from August 2007 to August 2008), or by $2.4 million, to a total of $6.12 million. Based on the representative growth of this sample, the HIA Food and Oil Committee now estimates that the total retail value of hemp foods sold over the past 12 months in North America grew from $20 million last year to approximately $33 million this year. In addition, the SPINS data show that sales of hemp body care products grew 10% over the past 12 months in the sampled stores to $12.24 million. Due to the large hemp body care line sold by The Body Shop, as well as the fact that many unreported leading mass-market brands of sun tan lotion and sunscreen products include hemp oil, the HIA estimates the total retail value of North American hemp body care sales to be at least $80 million. “Farmers who want to grow hemp to support the steady double-digit growth are mad as ever about being shut out by our backward federal government,” says Mr. Bronner, who makes Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and uses hemp oil in all his top-selling products. “The HIA is confident that the total North American hemp food and body care market over the last 12 months accounted for at least $100 million in retail sales,” adds Mr. Bronner. Over the last three years, hemp food sales have averaged 47% annual growth, making hemp one of the fastest-growing natural food categories. "Last fall we expected the double-digit growth of the hemp food sector to continue in 2008, as the excitement about hemp milk had led to more brands in the market," comments Eric Steenstra, HIA Executive Director. "We project that growth in the markets for hemp food and body care will keep pace into 2009,” says Steenstra. CORRECTION: In Mr. Lahde’s letter, he said that; “Hemp is the ‘male plant’ [metaphorically speaking, hemp is, like the male Cannabis plant, useless as a drug] and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term." This is not quite correct, however, as hemp is both female and male, but is distinct from the drug varieties of Cannabis because it contains virtually no THC, the chemical that generates a high. # # #

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.

Drug Testing: Coal Miner Unions, Owners Balk at Proposed Federal Rules, But for Different Reasons

During a Tuesday hearing on its proposed drug testing rule covering more than 116,000 coal miners, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) got it from both sides, with mine workers criticizing the proposed rule as unnecessary and mine owners criticizing it for not being tough enough.

Out of a US ministry industry (including oil and gas extraction) of more than 300,000 workers, nearly two-thirds are already subject to drug testing, mostly out of agreements negotiated between employers and unions. Federal law currently mandates drug testing for public safety (truck drivers, train engineers) and national security reasons. It does not mandate it for "risky" occupations.

The MHSA proposed rule would bar the use or possession of drugs or alcohol at coal and other mineral mines, would require pre-employment drug testing, and would mandate random suspicionless drug testing of workers. Workers who test positive would have to complete drug treatment before being allowed back on the job. Companies that don't already have drug testing programs in place would have one year to comply with the new rule. MHSA estimates the rule would cost the industry $16 billion the first year and $13 billion a year after that.

According to MHSA, drug and alcohol use in the mines is "a risk to miner safety" and "because mining is inherently dangerous, MHSA is proposing a standard to address this risk." But the proposed rule admittedly contains little more than anecdotal evidence, newspaper stories, and recitations of national substance abuse estimates to make its case that drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the mines or that drug testing is the best way to address it."

The mines are currently governed by an MHSA regulation that already prohibits the use or possession of alcohol or drugs at the work site and says succinctly that intoxicated workers are not permitted on the job. During the 30 years they have been in place, some 270 miners have been cited for violating that regulation -- not a high number in an industry of 300,000 workers -- or fewer than 10 a year. And only 10% of those came from subsurface mines.

The lack of strong evidence showing that drug testing is required in the coal mines was a point United Steelworkers official Mike Wright hit on as he told MHSA reps at Tuesday's hearing why his union opposed the proposed new rule. "MSHA has not shown that the proposed rule is necessary," he said. "In this rule, MSHA is relying on limited anecdotal and sometimes irrelevant information."

Wright also told the MHSA reps their proposed rules were unconstitutional. With federally-mandated drug testing limited to public safety and national security-related occupations, he said, MHSA had demonstrated no such link. "This proposal is unconstitutional and unnecessary. It's a distraction from real worker safety and it should be withdrawn," Wright said.

The United Mine Workers also called on MHSA to drop the proposed rule, and so did the National Mining Association, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, the West Virginia Coal Association and major coal producers Arch Coal and Consol Energy. But unlike the unions, the industry wanted not less but more drug testing and fewer restrictions on its ability to fire workers who test positive. The industry called for rules that allow them to test hair, saliva, and blood for drugs, rather than limiting testing to urine samples, as the MHSA proposed rule does.

Now, after reviewing public comments on the new rule and listening to the sole public hearing it held on the proposed rules, MHSA will take several months to publish its final rule. Coal miners who like to smoke a joint while watching the Mountaineers on Saturday afternoons better be on the alert.

Search and Seizure: Long Island Woman's Strip Search Suit Can Move Forward

A federal appeals court ruled October 8 that a Long Island, New York, woman's rights were violated when police strip searched her in a room with a video camera after finding a marijuana stem in the vehicle she was driving. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the $1 million lawsuit filed three years ago by Stacey Hartline against the Village of Southampton and four of its police officers.

Hartline was driving a work vehicle owned by her construction company in 2001 when she was pulled over for lack of a rear license plate. After the arresting officer spotted a pot stem on the floorboard, he cuffed Hartline, then searched the vehicle, finding a roach and other small amounts of pot debris. Hartline was placed under arrest for marijuana possession, taken to the police station, and subjected to a strip search by a female officer in a room with a video camera while male officers allegedly watched on monitors.

Hartline was "crying hysterically" while she was forced to remove her lower garments and allow the officer to inspect her orifices, then lift up her bra and allow the officer to inspect her breasts, according to her account.

Hartline sued, alleging two violations of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. First, she argued, police had no probable cause to think she was hiding contraband, and second, the search was unconstitutional because the Village of Southampton had a policy of strip searching all female arrestees while it did not have such a policy for male arrestees.

Her civil suit was thrown out in 2006 by US District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip. Hurley held that police did have reason to believe she was hiding contraband and that no higher courts had dealt with such circumstances.

But in last week's opinion from the 2nd Circuit, the appeals court judges sharply disagreed with Hurley. It was irrelevant that no other court had ruled on the circumstances, the judges said, and whether police had "a reasonable suspicion that she was secreting contraband on her person" was a question to settled by a trial court, not Judge Hurley.

"Ultimately, if the facts of this case amount to reasonable suspicion, then strip-searches will become commonplace," the judges further wrote in a 15-page opinion. "Given the unique, intrusive nature of strip-searches, as well as the multitude of less invasive techniques available to officers confronted by misdemeanor offenders, that result would be unacceptable in any society that takes privacy and bodily integrity seriously."

Now, Hartline's case will go to trial. No trial date has yet been set.

Hartline told the Associated Press after the decision that she was relieved. "It's very hard to sit back and challenge a municipality," she said. "It's frightening. I've lived in this town my whole life. I love Southampton. The relief I feel is tremendous. I'm so pleased this won't happen to anyone else."

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.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuana-plants.jpg
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.

Feature: NATO, US Deepen Anti-Drug Operations in Afghanistan in Bid to Throttle Taliban

The NATO and US forces battling Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents in Afghanistan are on the verge of expanding their counterinsurgency efforts by getting more deeply involved in trying to suppress the country's booming opium trade. In so doing, they are stepping into tricky territory because they risk alienating large swathes of the population that are dependent on the trade to feed themselves and their families and driving them right into the tender embrace of the Taliban.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/afghanistan-map-small.jpg
The new, more aggressive anti-drug stance will come in two forms. On one hand, NATO has committed for the first time to actively target and track down drug traffickers and heroin-processing laboratories. On the other hand, US military forces training the Afghan military will now begin accompanying Afghan soldiers as they provide force protection for Afghan government poppy eradication teams.

The more aggressive posture comes as the political and military situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen. Some 242 NATO and US troops have been killed in fighting there this year, 10 more than last year with two and a half months to go, and last year was the worst so far for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Some 33,000 US troops, including 13,000 under the command of the ISAF and 20,000 under direct US command, and nearly 40,000 NATO soldiers, are now in Afghanistan, and the Bush administration is calling for an additional 20,000 US troops to be deployed there next year.

The Taliban and related insurgents have shown increased military capabilities, in part because they are able to supply themselves with funds generated by the opium trade. The United Nations estimates that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are making perhaps $100 million a year from taxing poppy farmers and providing protection to drug traffickers.

A leaked draft of an as yet unreleased US National Intelligence Estimate last week revealed that US intelligence agencies believe the war in Afghanistan is "on a downward spiral," with part of the problem resting with a corrupt government under President Hamid Karzai and part of the problem linked to the "destabilizing impact" of the opium trade.

That deteriorating situation impelled US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to head to Europe to try to bring reluctant NATO members on board for a more aggressive anti-drug strategy last week. European countries have been reluctant to step into the morass of anti-drug efforts there, citing the risk of alienating the population and arguing that law enforcement is the responsibility of the Afghan government.

"Part of the problem that we face is that the Taliban make somewhere between $60 million and $80 million or more a year from the drug trafficking," Gates said at the NATO meeting in Budapest. "If we have the opportunity to go after drug lords and drug laboratories and try to interrupt this flow of cash to the Taliban, that seems to me like a legitimate security endeavour."

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Chronicle editor Phil Smith in formerly opium growing village near Jalalabad
By last Friday, NATO had signed on. According to a Saturday NATO press release, "Based on the request of the Afghan government, consistent with the appropriate United Nations Security Council resolutions, under the existing operational plan, ISAF can act in concert with the Afghans against facilities and facilitators supporting the insurgency, in the context of counter-narcotics, subject to authorization of respective nations."

"At the request of the Afghan government, I am grateful that the North Atlantic Council has given me the authority to expand ISAF's role in counter-narcotics operations," added NATO Supreme Allied Commander US Gen. John Craddock in a statement the same day. "We now have the ability to move forward in an area that affects the security and stability of Afghanistan. It will allow us to reduce the funding and income to the insurgents, which will enhance the force protection of all ISAF and Afghan National Security Force personnel."

That's what Gates and the Bush administration wanted to hear. "It is just going to be part of regular military operations. This is not going to be a special mission," Gates said Saturday," adding that the counter-drug effort was likely to focus on the southern part of the country. "It starts with the commander of ISAF, and then it would be a question of what forces are available. Obviously the United States and the UK are interested in doing this. I think several others would but didn't speak out," he said. "I am fairly optimistic about the future," Gates said. "There is also an understanding that NATO can't fail in Afghanistan."

To that end, the US is taking another step deeper into the Afghan drug war: Using US ground troops to help eradicate poppy fields. The London Daily Mail, among other media, reported that a small number of US soldiers who are training the country's Poppy Eradication Force will accompany their charges as they head into the poppy fields around the beginning of the new year.

The idea is to target land owned by corrupt Afghan power brokers, especially in southern Helmand province, which accounts for the majority of Afghanistan's 93% share of global opium production. That is also an area where the Taliban presence is heavily felt. Some 75 Afghan eradicators were killed last year.

"There shouldn't be any no-go areas for eradication teams in Helmand, and in order to do that they are going to need more force protection," an unnamed British embassy counter-narcotics official told the Daily Mail. "Land that's controlled by major land owners, corrupt officials or major narco-figures is land that should be targeted. Having force protection is more likely to make that possible.'"

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
A US military spokesman told the Daily Mail there are 11 US soldiers training the Afghan Counter Narcotics Battalion in Kandahar. They will deploy along with Afghan soldiers on eradication missions, he said.

The US has long argued for stronger eradication efforts, but was rebuffed by the Karzai government when it floated the idea of aerial spraying earlier this year. But with manual eradication wiping out only 3.5% of the crop this year, pressure to do more is strong. The question is whether doing more to fight the drug trade will help or hinder the effort to build a strong, stable government in Kabul.

"This whole issue has been discussed in different forums in Afghanistan for some time now, said Sher Jah Ahmadzai, an associate at the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "The government rejected aerial eradication for various reasons, even though it was desired by the US. But this NATO move is being welcomed by the government and the international agencies because now they are targeting the drug lords, not the farmers themselves. If you go after the farmers, it could backfire on NATO and the Afghan government, so going after the big drug lords is the viable option now. Everyone knows who they are," he said.

But not all drug lords are equal, said Ahmadzai. "There are many drug lords who are involved in the government, there are high ministers who are believed to have been drug lords before they were appointed, there are a number of people in the provincial governments who are involved, but the government is not going to go after them because that could create a backlash," he said. "But the other drug lords, the ones who are openly supporting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they will go after them."

Only with a stronger Afghan state sometime in the future would it be feasible to actually go after all drug traffickers, said Ahmadzai. "The next phase would be strengthening the Afghan government so it can purge itself," he said.

But Ahmadzai's view is much rosier than some. Critics of the move said it would only worsen the insurgency. "The NATO governments did say they will try to target drug trafficking operations that seem to be in league with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which makes this policy shift merely unwise instead of egregiously unwise," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "But pressuring NATO and the Karzai government on this simply guarantees that we will drive many people back into the arms of the Taliban, and that's a short-sighted strategy," he argued.

"The Americans have been training Afghan counter-narcotics forces, but they were creating problems for the government because they were aiming straight at the farmers, and the farmers would go straight to the Taliban," agreed Ahmadzai. "If you go after the farmers, you risk alienating them. If you don't, the Taliban and Al Qaeda profit. It's really a double-edged sword."

"The underlying problem is that the drug trade is such a huge part of the Afghan economy," said Carpenter. "The UN says there are some 509,000 families involved in growing or other aspects of the drug trade. If you just consider a standard nuclear family, that's about 15% of the population involved in the drug trade, but when you consider that Afghanistan is very much an extended family- and clan-based society, the real number is more like a third to 40% of the population earning a livelihood off the drug trade. There is no realistic way to shut that down."

There is an alternative, said Carpenter. "US policy-makers could just look the other way, ignore the drug commerce, and focus on trying to weaken the Taliban and Al Qaeda, our mortal adversaries," he said.

While that would leave the Taliban and Al Qaeda free to fund themselves from opium profits, that's a price we would have to pay, Carpenter said. "No doubt those groups derive revenue from the drug trade, but unfortunately for our strategy, so do Karzai's allies. Most major power brokers are involved in some way with the illegal drug trade. It's such a lucrative enterprise because of the black market premium that anyone who exercises power and influence in that society is tempted to get involved."

Noting that the NATO plan to go after only traffickers linked to the insurgency would in effect remove the competition for government-linked drug traffickers, Carpenter said the decision was no surprise. "I don't think that is a deliberate motive, but to the extent that the Karzai government is interested in cooperating, it will be precisely because it will eliminate the competition for those traffickers with backing in Kabul. Expecting the Kabul government to truly suppress the trade would be like asking Japan to eliminate its auto and high-tech industries. It isn't going to happen," he said.

And deeper into the morass we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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