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Feature: As Afghan Opium Production Goes Through the Roof, Pressure for Aerial Eradication, Increased Western Military Involvement Mounts

To no one's surprise, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that Afghan opium production had reached another record high. The announcement comes against a background of continued high levels of violence between Taliban insurgents reinvigorated in part by the infusion of drug trade money and combined US/NATO/Afghan forces as the insurgency continues to regenerate itself.

The increase in poppy production is lending heft to increasingly shrill calls by the Americans to respond with a massive -- preferably aerial -- poppy eradication campaign. Now, there are signs the Karzai government's firm opposition to aerial spraying is weakening. But US foreign policy, Afghanistan, and drugs and conflict experts contacted by Drug War Chronicle all said such a campaign would be counterproductive -- at best.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
According to UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, the extent of the poppy crop increased 17% this year over 2006, with nearly 450,000 acres under cultivation. But opium production was up 34% over last year's 6,100 tons, a figure UNODC attributed to better weather conditions, with total opium production this year estimated at what the UNODC called "an extraordinary" 8,200 tons of opium.

Afghanistan now supplies around 93% of the world's opium, up just a bit from last year's estimated 92%.

The UNODC reported that the number of opium-free provinces had increased from six last year to 13 this year. It noted that production had diminished in center-north Afghanistan, where Northern Alliance warlords reign supreme, but had exploded in the east and southeast -- precisely those areas where the Taliban presence is strongest. Half of the world supply comes from a single Afghan province, Helmand in the southeast, where, not coincidentally, the Taliban has managed to "control vast swathes of territory" despite the efforts of NATO and Afghan troops to dislodge it.

"Opium cultivation is inversely related to the degree of government control," said UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa in a statement accompanying the report's release. "Where anti-government forces reign, poppies flourish. The Afghan opium situation looks grim, but it is not yet hopeless," he added.

Costa called on the Afghan government and the international community to make a more determined effort to fight the "twin threats" of opium and insurgency, including more rewards for farmers or communities that abandon the poppy and more sanctions on those who don't, as well as attacking the prohibition-related corruption that makes the Karzai government as complicit in the opium trade as any other actor. [Ed: Costa of course didn't use the word prohibition -- but he should have.]

He also called for NATO to get more involved in counter-narcotics operations, something it has been loathe to do. "Since drugs are funding insurgency, Afghanistan's military and its allies have a vested interest in destroying heroin labs, closing opium markets and bringing traffickers to justice. Tacit acceptance of opium trafficking is undermining stabilization efforts," he said.

But this week, NATO appeared unmoved. "We are doing the best we can, we would ask others to do more," NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Operations Jim Pardew told a Brussels news conference Wednesday. "The fight against narcotics is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility but they need help."

NATO spokesman James Appathurai added that: "NATO is not mandated to be an eradication force, nor is it proposed. Eradication is one part of a complex strategy."

NATO's reticence is in part due to rising casualties. So far this year, 82 NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the I-Casualties web site, which tracks US and allied forces killed and wounded in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That's along with 82 US soldiers, at least 500 Afghan National Police, numerous Afghan Army soldiers, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of insurgents, and hundreds of civilians.

In all of last year, 98 US and 93 NATO troops were killed; in 2005, 99 US and 31 NATO troops were killed; and in 2004, only 52 US and six NATO soldiers died. The trend line is ominous, and with public support for intervening in the opium war weak in Europe and Canada, NATO reluctance to get more deeply involved reflects political reality at home.

It's not the same with the US government. Less than a month ago, and anticipating a record crop this year, the government released its US Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan. The strategy called for integrating counterinsurgency and counternarcotics, a resort to mass eradication, and the increased use of the US military in the battle against the poppy.

"There is a clear and direct link between the illicit opium trade and insurgent groups in Afghanistan," the State Department report said. The Pentagon "will work with DEA" and other agencies "to develop options for a coordinated strategy that integrates and synchronizes counternarcotics operations, particularly interdiction, into the comprehensive security strategy."

Bush administration officials have long pushed for aerial eradication, and the UNODC report has added fuel to the flames. On Sunday, Afghan first vice-president Ahmed Zia Massoud broke with President Karzai to call for a more "forceful approach" to tackle the poppies "that have spread like cancer," as he and Karzai both have put it. "We must switch from ground based eradication to aerial spraying," he wrote in the London Sunday Telegraph.

But the British government begs to differ. Senior Foreign Office officials dismissed such calls, saying "it is difficult to envisage circumstances where the benefits of aerial eradication outweigh the disadvantages."

The Karzai government, while apparently now split on whether to okay aerial spraying, is turning up the pressure on the West to do more. On Monday, the Afghan government announced it had formally asked NATO and US forces to clear Taliban fighters from opium-growing areas before Afghan troops move in to eradicate.

"For a new plan for this year, we've requested that the foreign military forces go and conduct military operations to enable us to eradicate poppy crops," Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said at a Monday press conference. "In areas where there's insecurity, we need strong military support to be able to eradicate poppy fields. Police can't eradicate poppies and fight insurgents at the same time," he said.

That request came on the heels of criticism of the West last week from President Karzai himself. He accused the international community of dropping the ball when it came to counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, noting pointedly that where his government had control, poppy production had dropped.

UNODC head Costa Wednesday kept up the pressure, telling that Brussels news conference: "There is very strong pressure building up in favor of aerial eradication in that part of Afghanistan. The government has not decided yet and we will support the government in whatever it decides to do," he said.

But while aerial spraying and increased US and NATO military involvement in the anti-poppy campaign look increasingly probable, that route is paved with obstacles, according to the experts consulted by the Chronicle.

"The change in the Afghan position is a direct response to the US upping the pressure on the Karzai government to adopt a Colombian-style model of aerial eradication," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Until very recently, the Karzai government really resisted that because they understood this will antagonize a good many Afghan farmers, but when you are the client of a powerful patron, the pressure is difficult to resist."

While massive eradication may indeed have some impact on the opium trade, it will come at a "horrific cost," said Carpenter. "That will drive farmers into the hands of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies, which is absolutely the last thing we need in pressing the war against Islamic terrorism," he said. "Afghanistan was hailed as a great success as recently as two years ago, but now it's looking very dicey, the security situation is deteriorating rapidly, and a massive eradication campaign will only make it worse."

"Eradication was stronger this year than last, but it still amounted to almost nothing," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in drugs, insurgencies, and counterinsurgencies. "So now, the pressure for aerial eradication is almost at fever pitch. But there is real debate about whether this would really achieve anything or end up being counterproductive. I think it would be a disaster," she said, citing the now familiar reasons of humanitarian problems and increasing support for the Taliban.

When asked to comment by the Chronicle, Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, pointed to his blog posts at Informed Comment Global Affairs. Calling eradication "the most photogenic tool" in counter-narcotics strategy, Rubin wrote that he was often forced to point out that: "The international drug trade is not caused by Afghan farmers."

The key problem is not drugs, Rubin argued, but drug money, which finances the insurgency and corrupts government forces. Embarking on a campaign of eradication does not effectively go after the drug money, he wrote, because 80% of it goes to traffickers. And it will increase the value of poppy crops, making them more attractive to farmers.

"More forcible eradication at this time," Rubin wrote, "when both interdiction and alternative livelihoods are barely beginning, will increase the economic value of the opium economy, spread cultivation back to areas of the country that have eliminated or reduced it, and drive more communities into the arms of the Taliban."

US policy is being driven less by what will work in Afghanistan than by domestic political concerns, Felbab-Brown said. "With presidential elections coming up, Afghanistan is going to be a political issue. The question Democrats will ask is 'Who lost Afghanistan'? Thus, there is a real incentive for the Republicans to demonstrate results in some way, and the easiest way is with aerial spraying. This is a classic case of policy being dominated by politics," she said.

"Lost in all the politics is the fact that eradication has never worked in the context of military conflict," Felbab-Brown noted. "It only comes after peace has been achieved, whether through repression, as in the Maoist model, through alternative development, or through eradication and interdiction. Since the security situation in Afghanistan is not improving, it is very unlikely eradication will work. Karzai likes to talk about drugs as a cancer afflicting Afghanistan, but by embracing aerial eradication, we are prescribing the treatment that kills the patient," she said.

"Counter-narcotics efforts will not be successful until security improves," said Felbab-Brown. "That's the priority, and that will require various components, one of which is inevitably more troops on the ground." But she said she sees no political will for such a move in NATO or in the US. "As a result of Iraq, there is no will to increase troops in this vitally important theater, so I am very skeptical about the prospects for that," she said.

"The situation is growing grimmer and grimmer, and the US response has been to move in the wrong direction," she summarized. "Now, it appears the train has left the station, and the voices that tried to stop it are falling by the wayside. American Afghan policy is being held hostage to domestic political concerns."

"Nobody has a good answer for Afghanistan," said Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann, who recently published an article calling for the creation of a global vice district there. "The question is what are the choices? One, we can keep doing what we're doing, which is not accomplishing anybody's objectives. Two, we could embark on an aggressive aerial eradication campaign, which would be a humanitarian disaster and push people into the hands of the Taliban," he said, summarizing the most likely policy options to occur.

"Three, there is outright legalization, but that isn't on anybody's political horizon," Nadelmann continued. "Four, there is the notion of just buying up the opium. That might work for a year or so, but it would almost inevitably become a sort of price support system with the country producing twice as much the following year. There's no reason why farmers wouldn't sell some to us and some to the underground; it would only inject another buyer into the market."

Finally, said Nadelmann, there is the Senlis Council proposal to license opium production for the licit medicinal market. "The Senlis proposal is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of issues with it, including the question of whether there really is a global shortage of opiate pain medications. It is good that Senlis put that provocative idea out there, but the question is whether it is workable," Nadelmann said.

There is another option, he explained. "Let's just accept opium as a global commodity," he said, "and let's think of Afghanistan as the global equivalent of a local red light district. It has all sorts of natural advantages in opium production -- it's a low-cost producer and there is a history of opium growing there. With global opium production centered almost exclusively in Afghanistan, as it is now, there is less likelihood it will pop up somewhere else, possibly with even more negative consequences," he argued.

"We are not talking about a place with a vacuum of authority that fosters terrorism, but a regulated activity serving a global market that cannot be eradicated or suppressed, as we know from a hundred years of history," Nadelmann continued. "We have to accept the fact that it will continue to be grown, but we should manipulate the market to ensure that the US, NATO, and the Karzai government advance their economic, political, and security objectives."

While the notion may sound shocking, the US government has historically been unafraid of working with criminal elements when it served its interests, whether it was heroin traffickers in Southeast Asia or the docks of Marseilles or cocaine traffickers during the Central American wars of the 1980s or Afghan rebels growing poppies during the war against the Soviets. "We've gotten in bed with organized criminals and warlords throughout our history when it served our objectives," Nadelmann noted.

Such a move would not require public pronouncements, Nadelmann said; in fact, quite the opposite. "Bush wouldn't come out and declare a policy shift, but you just sort of quietly allow it to happen, just as during the Cold War you made deals with strongmen because you were pursuing a more important objective. There have to be moral limits, of course, but to the extent you can semi-legitimize it you increase the chance of effectively regulating and controlling it," he said.

"You can call this suggestion Machiavellian," Nadelmann said, "or you can call it simple pragmatism, but given a lot of crummy choices, this could be the least worst."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana: WAMM Lawsuit Hits Bump

A Santa Cruz medical marijuana cooperative that was raided by the DEA in 2002 was dealt a setback August 28 when a federal judge granted a US Justice Department motion to stop them from suing it. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) and the city and county of Santa Cruz sought to sue US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to prevent his office from continuing raids on medical marijuana providers in California.

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2005 WAMM march, downtown Santa Cruz (courtesy santacruz.indymedia.org)
The lawsuit cited California's Compassionate Use Act, approved by voters in 1996, which makes the medical use of marijuana legal in the state. But the Justice Department successfully argued that marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel agreed, granting its motion to block the lawsuit.

"Naturally, we're disappointed. I had hoped for something better," said Mike Corral, who, along with his wife Valerie, were cofounders of WAMM.

WAMM and Santa Cruz may be down, but they're not out just yet. Judge Fogel left two of the county's claims intact: a 10th Amendment argument that the states -- not the federal government -- have say over marijuana, and an argument that medical necessity trumps federal drug laws. The county's legal team says it will continue to argue those claims while trying to build a stronger case that the federal government is improperly intervening in areas that should be the purview of the states.

Asset Forfeiture: ACLU Sues DEA Over Trucker's Seized Cash

A trucker who lost nearly $24,000 in cash after it was seized by a New Mexico police officer and turned over to the DEA is suing the federal drug agency to get his money back. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) New Mexico affiliate is handling the case. It filed the lawsuit on August 23.

On August 8, truck driver Anastasio Prieto of El Paso was stopped at a weigh station on US Highway 54 just north of El Paso. A police officer there asked for permission to search the truck for "needles or cash in excess of $10,000," according to the ACLU. Prieto said he didn't have any needles, but he was carrying $23,700 in cash. Officers seized the money and turned it over to the DEA, while DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto despite his objections, then released him without charges after he had been detained for six hours. Border Patrol agents sicced drug-sniffing dogs on his truck, but found no evidence of illegal drugs.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the state police and DEA violated Prieto's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him. "Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure," the lawsuit said.

DEA agents told Prieto that to get his money back, he would have to prove it was his and not the proceeds of illegal drug sales. That process could take up to a year, the agents said.

But New Mexico ACLU state director Peter Simonson told the Associated Press Prieto needed his money now to pay bills. "The government took Mr. Prieto's money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night," Simonson said. "In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator."

According to the lawsuit, Prieto does not like banks and carries his savings as cash.

That's not a crime. But what the DEA did to him is, or should be.

Office of National Grub Control Policy

Milo Bryant at the Colorado Springs Gazette is so impressed with what the Drug Czar has accomplished, he wants to create a similar office to stop people from being so damned fat:
The country needs somebody qualified to help whip our butts into shape. That somebody would have the power to command, influence and draw resources from various aspects of the government to help us get in better shape.

This person, with our help, would lay out a comprehensive plan to help fight childhood obesity and, on a grander scale, obesity in general.

The United States needs an obesity czar, akin to John P. Walters, the director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy — our drug czar.
Um, the drug war attacks people. It's unscrupulous. We need the government to attack less people, not more. I'm not sure Milo Bryant really understands what ONDCP advocates. Basically, it's a two-pronged approach:

1. Arrest as many people as possible
2. Exaggerate the government's role in activities other than arresting people

I'm just not sure any of this would carry over very well into the arena of trying to make people healthy. Would store clerks be deputized to identify customers suspected of planning unhealthy meals by flagging suspicious combinations of ingredients? Would students be subject to random non-punitive "weigh-ins," including parental notification and referral to a weight-reduction counselor? Would children found in possession of unapproved foods be denied access to federally subsidized athletic programs?

Let's get real. Childhood obesity is probably caused by the drug war somehow, so if we really want to make a difference, we must attack the problem at its roots. It's time these losers started worrying more about what comes out of their mouths than what goes into ours.
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DPA: A Tipping Point in Congress - Take Action

If you told me a year ago we were near a tipping point in Congress on rolling back one of the worst excesses of the war on drugs, I probably would have thought you were crazy. But the movement to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has grown so strong that Senators are tripping over themselves to support reform. Three different bi-partisan reform bills have already been introduced in the Senate - all by unlikely allies - and the Judiciary Committee is set to have hearings on the issue in September. Please take a minute today to fax your Senators and help build momentum against these draconian mandatory minimums.

 

Take action now.

 

Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are different forms of the same drug, and have similar effects on the brain and nervous system. Federal law, however, sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms.

 

This disparity, enacted in the 1980s at the height of drug war hysteria, was based largely on the myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior. Since then, copious amounts of scientific evidence and an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission have shown that these assertions were not supported by sound data and were exaggerated or outright false.

 

Regardless of why the disparity was enacted, its impact is clear: tremendous racial disparities in the criminal justice system, wasted tax dollars, and a less safe America.

 

The solution is clear: Completely eliminate the disparity. Raise the amounts of crack cocaine it takes to trigger long sentences to equal those of powder cocaine, and reprioritize federal drug war agencies towards violent drug cartels.

DPA is launching a major grassroots campaign to boost support for reform, including holding town hall forums in key Congressional districts. We've already held one forum in
Alabama in conjunction with the ACLU; and we're planning forums in California, New York, and Texas. Additionally, we've teamed up with The Sentencing Project, the ACLU, and the Open Society Policy Center to launch a public relations campaign (you can view the campaign's really cool print ads here).

 

Three U.S. Senators have already introduced reform bills - Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has pledged to have hearings on the issue in September. There is growing bi-partisan support for reform.

 

The Sessions bill (S. 1383) would reduce the crack/powder sentencing disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and raising penalties for power cocaine. Since Hispanics are disproportionately prosecuted for powder cocaine offenses, the practical effect of the Sessions bill would be to reduce racial disparities for blacks, while increasing them for Hispanics. The Hatch bill (S. 1685) would reduce the disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and leaving powder penalties unchanged (it is, thus, significantly better than the Sessions bill). The Biden bill (S. 1711) would completely eliminate the disparity by lowering crack penalties to equal those of powder.

Of the three bills, Senator Biden's bill is the only one to completely eliminate the disparity; and it would accomplish this without subjecting more Americans to draconian mandatory minimum sentences. His bill is the one the Senate should pass. Please take a minute to fax your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor Senator Biden's reform bill (S. 1711).

 

Take action now.

 

If you live in Delaware, please take a moment to call Senator Biden's Wilmington office and thank him for introducing a bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The office number is 302-573-6345.

 

More Information:

 

While it takes just five grams of crack cocaine (about two sugar packets worth) to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence. 50 grams of crack cocaine triggers a ten-year sentence, but it takes 5,000 grams of powder cocaine - 5 kilos - to receive that much jail time.

 

Even though 66% of crack users are white, blacks make up more than 80% of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. No other federal law is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system.

 

And although the crack mandatory minimums were enacted to punish major traffickers, the vast majority of people subjected to them are low-level offenders. A recent report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that almost 70% of federal crack cocaine defendants had only low-level involvement in drug activity.

 

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Feds Raid Wheelchair-bound Paraplegic For Medical Marijuana [Updated]

The federal government is so desperate to undermine New Mexico's new medical marijuana law, they've started arresting harassing handicapped people:
MALAGA, N.M. — Agents with a regional drug task force raided Leonard French’s home in southeastern New Mexico on Tuesday and seized several marijuana plants [Ed., it was actually just 6 seedlings]
But the wheelchair-bound man said he’s certified by the state Health Department to possess and smoke marijuana for medical reasons. The 44-year-old lost the use of his legs about 20 years ago as the result of a motorcycle crash and now suffers from chronic pain and muscle spasms. [Santa Fe New Mexican]
Normally, the DEA would avoid this kind of bad publicity. But since New Mexico's medical marijuana program just started, they're trying to intimidate patients and confuse legislators in other prospective medical marijuana states:
A press release jointly issued by the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force illustrates the political nature of the raid, reading in part, "Citizens of New Mexico need to be aware that they can still be prosecuted on the federal level even though New Mexico has a law permitting marijuana for medicinal use." [DPA]

Drug warriors keep arguing that medical marijuana laws create conflict between state and federal laws, but all they have to do is stop arresting threatening patients and there'd be no problem. They're creating confusion and then citing that confusion as an argument against state laws that protect patients. Meanwhile, sick people like Leonard French are caught in the crossfire, and countless other patients are afraid to try medicine that could help them.

Revealingly, Mr. French has not yet been charged with a crime. You see, DEA is tough enough to arrest wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients, and even boast about its authority to continue doing so. All of that serves their interest in scaring people and creating doubt as more and more states pass laws to protect their citizens from precisely this sort of foul treatment. But they won't actually try to put him in jail because that would be just hideous.

So the real message here, for those reading between the lines, is that the feds aren't always going to enforce federal law. And that tells you everything you need to know about the debate over medical marijuana. This is all a big stupid publicity stunt, and while there are casualties to be sure (getting arrested and losing your medicine does suck), the whole "conflict with federal law" argument is largely a hoax.

Regardless, we cannot tolerate any federal efforts to scare people out of treating their illnesses with doctor recommended medicine that is legal in their state. That is obscene, and it's no surprise presidential candidates are lining up in opposition to it.

Update: My mistake. Leonard French wasn't taken into custody, so "arrested" was the wrong way to describe what happened to him. I've updated the post accordingly. It's important, because patients in New Mexico should understand that you're not in any great danger if you choose to participate in the medical marijuana program. I should have been more careful about this, because I certainly don't want to perpetuate these intimidation tactics. The fact that he wasn't even arrested is significant.

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It's Time for Medical Marijuana "Plan B"

Did you know that along with raiding medical marijuana clinics and prosecuting people, the DEA is actually blocking research into medical marijuana too -- research that if allowed to take place could lead to marijuana's approval as a medicine through the FDA? Yet at the very same time, DEA hypocritically cites a lack of research as justification for keeping medical marijuana illegal! Most recently, DEA has stalled an application from the University of Massachusetts to grow research-grade marijuana in a secure facility for FDA- and DEA-approved medical studies. Though DEA's own Administrative Law Judge has said it should be approved, we expect them to show bad faith and reject it -- after waiting as long as they can -- unless they are pressured to do otherwise. A group of US Representatives is preparing to send a sign-on letter to the DEA, next month, for just that purpose. Please visit our web site to write your member of Congress asking him or her to sign on! We encourage you to personalize your email. When you're done, please forward this alert to everyone you know who might support it too. Thank you for your help on this -- and thanks to the thousands of you who used our site to lobby for the Hinchey medical marijuana amendment last fall too. With your help, we believe that this "Plan B" will help get us closer to the goal. (Click here to read the text of the Congressional sign-on letter on the MAPS web site, and click here to read the results of this summer's Hinchey medical marijuana vote on ours.)
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MPP: Help stop DEA obstruction of medical marijuana research

Would it surprise you to learn that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is refusing to allow medical marijuana research to move forward — despite a clear recommendation from its own administrative law judge to let such research happen?

If you’re like me, this will be just the latest outrage from the same agency that insists on terrorizing and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers who are complying with state law and their doctors’ advice.

Would you please take one minute to ask your U.S. House member to direct the DEA to permit medical marijuana research to move forward? MPP’s online action center has done all the work for you; just click a few buttons and your letter will be sent.

(Congress provides the DEA with 100% of its funding — all of it taxpayer money — so the DEA is more likely to listen to members of Congress than just about anyone else.)

In February of this year, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Bittner recommended that Professor Lyle Craker and the University of Massachusetts be granted a license to grow research-grade marijuana that would be used in FDA- and DEA-approved clinical studies into marijuana’s therapeutic uses, noting that it would be “in the public interest” to do so. But the DEA has ignored her recommendation and continued to block the research.

And earlier this month, during a hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, DEA official Joseph Rannazzisi refused to commit to a timeline for ruling on the University of Massachusetts’ application ... even implying that the DEA might just wait until after a new presidential administration takes power in January 2009!

This is the height of hypocrisy. The DEA continually cites insufficient research as a reason for keeping medical marijuana illegal — while simultaneously blocking the very research that’s needed to persuade the FDA to approve marijuana as a prescription medicine.

How can the DEA hide behind the FDA in arguing against medical marijuana access, and then block any attempt to move marijuana through the FDA approval process?

Would you please take one minute to ask your U.S. House member to stop letting politics interfere with research into the medicinal value of marijuana?

Thank you,

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

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Washington, DC
United States

Obama: What New Orleans Needs is More Drug War

When Barack Obama speaks of "change," he's not talking about the war on drugs. He likes it just fine the way it is. Obama's faith in the drug war is so strong, he even thinks it can help revitalize New Orleans:
If elected, Mr. Obama said he would establish a Drug Enforcement Agency office in New Orleans that would be dedicated to stopping drug gangs across the region. [NYTimes]

Mr. Senator, the drug war causes crime, it doesn't prevent it. The problem is not, and has never been, a lack of drug law enforcement. New Orleans already has a DEA office and it has not made life any easier for anyone. It should go without saying that increased drug activity in the region is a result of economic disorder, which inevitably empowers the black market. Bringing in the feds might disrupt local drug networks temporarily, but that would merely increase violence as new dealers take over for their fallen competitors.

As we've documented in the Drug War Chronicle, Katrina revealed the frailty of Louisiana's drug war-ravaged criminal justice system. It is precisely in the aftermath of a great catastrophe like Katrina that the ridiculous quest to stop people from getting high is revealed as utterly wasteful and counter-productive.

Obama's drug war revitalization plan for New Orleans is the latest step in his successful bid to be the worst on drug policy among the democratic presidential contenders. He's lamented the "political capital" required to repair the despicable crack/powder sentencing disparity, a no-brainer racial justice issue that even drug war hall-of-famer Joe Biden wants to fix. At Howard University's Democratic Debate on minority issues, he stood there like an idiot while every other candidate managed to address some type of criminal justice reform. He was also the last democratic candidate to pledge an end to federal medical marijuana raids, and not because they're heartless and evil, but because they're "not a good use of resources."

Well, Barack Obama, you know what else is a poor use of resources? Creating a second DEA office in New Orleans when people still have holes in their roofs and mud in their basements.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School