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Feature: CAMP Makes Little Headway Against California Marijuana Growers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certification: White House Says 20 Countries Are Major Drug Producing or Trafficking Nations, But Only Two Political Enemies Get Decertified

In an annual exercise of US prerogative, the White House Monday released this year's Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2008. While the document listed 20 countries as major drug trafficking or producing countries, only two political enemies of the US, Myanmar and Venezuela, were listed as having "failed demonstrably" to live up to US demands about how they fight the drug trade.

Under the US Foreign Assistance Act, countries that fail to live up to US drug-fighting expectations are barred from many forms of US aid. But the US government can waive such a bar if it believes it is in its interests to do so.

Coca leaves drying in warehouse outside Shinahota, Bolivia. The sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08'' (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2007)
The performance of the world's biggest drug consuming county and one of its leading marijuana producers, the United States, was not measured in the annual certification exercise.

The 20 countries on the "Majors List" are Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

While Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world's opium supply, President Bush praised Afghan President Karzai for strongly attacking the drug trade. Similarly, although Mexico remains a major conduit for drugs coming into the US, aggressive drug war efforts by President Felipe Calderón kept it on the US' good side.

The US remains concerned about high-potency marijuana coming from Canada. The problem, Bush said, is that "growers do not consistently face strict legal punishment."

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the certification exercise was the certification of Bolivia despite longstanding and loudly-expressed US concerns over the Bolivian government's "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policy. Calling Bolivian cooperation "uneven," the document noted that "the Bolivian government has cooperated closely on interdiction, and operations and seizures have reached record levels. The government is on track to reach 5,600 hectares of eradication this year, surpassing its goal of 5,000 hectares."

Still, the Bush administration worried that Bolivia has "focused primarily on interdiction, to the exclusion of its other essential complements, especially coca crop eradication." It called on Bolivia to "eliminate permissiveness in licit cultivation."

Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chávez is a major irritant to Washington, was decertified for the third year in a row, a move that appears to be tied primarily to Venezuela's refusal to allow the DEA to operate in the country, although Washington also cited corruption and lax enforcement.

US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and the Chapare, Bolivia, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors (Phil Smith, 2007)
Venezuelan Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez denounced the US decertification as part of Washington's "psychotic" relationship with Caracas. Washington lies about Venezuela, according to Rodríguez, because, "They know that they are exposed to our process of change that... promotes multilateralism and that will put an end to the polarization that the US has maintained as the police force of the world."

The decertification of Venezuela would normally lead to sanctions in the form of reducing financial support to the country by half. However, citing "vital national interests," -- Venezuela is the fourth largest oil exporter to the US accounting for 1.1 to 1.5 million barrels per day -- the Bush administration said it would waive sanctions for a second year.

"The waiver allows us to continue to support some of their democratic institutions and their society," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counter-Narcotics, Christy McCampbell, told a press conference in Washington Monday.

The only reason for the waiver was to further subvert Venezuela, said Rodríguez. "The groups that receive dirty money from the US do it to put the brakes on the process of change and transformation that Venezuela has sovereignly decided to exercise," he said.

Medical Marijuana Advocate Memorialized in US House of Representatives

Joe Zoretic, a founder of the Ohio Patients Network (medical marijuana advocacy group), was memorialized in Congress this week by presidential candidate and US Representative from Ohio Dennis Kucinich. The following transcript comes from the Congressional Record (PDF here or search at Thomas for HTML):
IN REMEMBRANCE OF JOSEPH STEPHEN ZORETIC HON. DENNIS J. KUCINICH OF OHIO IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Monday, September 17, 2007 Mr. KUCINICH. Madam Speaker, I rise today to reflect on the life of a courageous and passionate man, Joseph Stephen Zoretic, who dedicated his life to fighting for sensible drug policy and to free others from suffering. Along with his devoted wife, Dee Dee, he was a founding member of the Ohio Patient Network and its lobbying component, the Ohio Patient Action Network. Joe started his life-long residency in the Cleveland area on December 25th, 1968. He became an active figure in the medical marijuana movement in the 1990s, when his wife was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and needed cannabis to relieve the pain other medications could not. Since then, Joe provided policy ideas and inspiration to the state marijuana legalization activist community, from speaking at mainstream political events to testifying for better drug policy. Even if it meant going to jail, Joe stood up for what he knew: that love and bravery can overcome injustice. Madam Speaker and colleagues, please join me in honoring and remembering an extraordinary husband, father, citizen, and activist, Joseph Stephen Zoretic, who demonstrated the power we all possess to make change in this world.
And let us also honor and remember Joe Zoretic here. We will keep fighting in your name.
Washington, DC
United States

Department of Justice Spends Millions on Munchies

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

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

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

DEA Director Makes Bizarre Remark at Alberto Gonzales Farewell Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latin America: Colombian Vice-President Says Aerial Eradication is Failing

Colombia's vice president said Sunday that the US-backed efforts to wipe out Colombia's coca fields through aerial spraying have not stopped cocaine trafficking. He called for a change of emphasis in anti-drug efforts.

coca seedlings
"After a five-year frontal attack against drug trafficking, the results aren't the most successful or the ones we hoped for," Vice President Francisco Santos told a Bogota news conference. "While Colombia is committed to waging war on drug traffickers," he said, "at the end of the day, the benchmark is whether the street price of cocaine in New York, London or Madrid rises or the quality falls. So far, we haven't found any statistics that bear this out."

Despite years of aerial eradication using the herbicide glyphosate, the US drug czar's office conceded in June that Colombia is producing more coca now than when Washington enacted the $5 billion Plan Colombia five years ago. Coca production is estimated to be up 9% this year over last, despite massive spraying efforts both years.

Santos said Colombia would concentrate on manual eradication of coca crops, which is more dangerous and labor-intensive, but allows the plants to be pulled out by the roots. Manual eradication would require the presence of Colombian military or law enforcement to protect eradicators.

Colombia has historically been loathe to criticize any aspect of Washington's anti-drug strategy, but with both the House and the Senate voting this year to make hefty cuts in the annual anti-drug aid package to Colombia, Bogota may feel that the era of aerial eradication is about to come to an end. The Senate voted last week to cut almost $100 million in military aid, while the House earlier this year passed even deeper cuts. The two bills must be reconciled before going to President Bush, who opposes any reduction in military aid to Colombia, the largest US aid recipient outside of Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Rising Cocaine Prices Don't Mean We're Winning the Drug War

After reading Donna Leinwand's cover story in USA Today, "Cocaine flow to 26 cities curbed," you'd think we've turned a major corner in the war on drugs.
Tough action by Mexico is driving down the cocaine supply in 26 U.S. cities, a recently declassified Drug Enforcement Administration analysis shows, an encouraging drop in narcotics crossing the border that law enforcement officials hope will continue.

This new Calderón government is really taking a tough stance, and it's really taking its toll on the trafficking organizations," says Tony Placido, the DEA's intelligence chief.
It just goes on like this. Cocaine is more expensive! The Drug Czar is optimistic! Mexico is kicking some serious drug trafficker ass! Amazingly, Leinwand entirely fails to explain that cocaine prices are still just a fraction of what they used to be. The real story behind cocaine prices is that they've rather consistently continued spiraling downward despite decades of drug war demolition tactics.

It is just so strange to leave this out because it actually makes the story more interesting. Wouldn't the rise in cocaine prices be more exciting if people understood how rare it is? It's like the drug war equivalent of a solar eclipse. For God's sake, don't stare directly at it or you'll fry your retinas. Such phenomena are best observed under expert supervision.

It is almost more frustrating, therefore, to read Leinwand's companion piece, which perfectly articulates how premature and overblown the Drug Czar's pronouncements truly are:
[drug policy expert Peter] Reuter says this isn't the first time the Mexicans have gotten tough on traffickers. "The Mexican government is clearly cracking down, but the government has cracked down before to no effect," Reuter says. "It's sort of early days for declaring that something important has happened."

Eventually, drug traffickers will develop new routes to get around whatever is stopping them, says Alfred Blumstein, a professor who specializes in criminology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"It's a resilient process," Blumstein says. "I would anticipate that over a period of time, like six months to a year," the drug traffickers will "be back in shape."
These revealing perspectives are relegated to bowels of a different article on page 3, while Leinwand's above-the-fold cover story reads like an ONDCP press release. This is unacceptable. With opposing viewpoints safely quarantined in an entirely separate – and less prominent – article, ONDCP can now tout their USA Today coverage without directly exposing anyone to Reuter or Blumstein's skepticism. And that's exactly what they've done.

Everything we know about the cocaine economy tells us that it won’t be long before prices drop again to unprecedented new lows. That is just a fact, and I'm still not sure why anyone thinks it's worth their time to suggest otherwise.

United States

More Fun With Numbers at ONDCP

Press releases from the Office of National Drug Control Policy are so distorted and misleading, they are better suited to make paper airplanes than inform the public.

Yet another example of their ritualistic deception campaign occurred this week with the announcement that youth drug use has reached exciting lows:

New Survey Shows Youth Drug Use at Five Year Low, 25 Percent Drop in Pot Use Among Teen Boys

Overall illicit drug use among teens ages 12-17 is at a five year low, according to the largest and most comprehensive study of drug use in the United States, released today. [PushingBack.com]

You'd be forgiven for thinking this means youth drug use has been going down recently. But alas, it has not.

Illegal drug use among U.S. teens didn't drop for the first time since 2002, according to a government report released Thursday.

Overall drug use rates had fallen steadily before last year. But last year's slowdown threatens to undermine President Bush's stated goals to cut drug abuse by 25% by 2007. [WebMD]

Kudos to WebMD for doing some actual research instead of mindlessly repeating ONDCP's predictable propaganda. If there's a story here, it is that a downward trend in youth drug use may be leveling off and that ONDCP's goals might not be achieved.

Now, to be fair, ONDCP isn't really lying here. They're merely feigning excitement about a downward trend that actually ended a year ago. Ultimately, youth drug use rises and falls for reasons so far beyond the government's control that they should be neither credited nor blamed regardless of what happens.

Jacob Sullum has more.

United States

Sacramento: Please Attend Medical Marijuana Activist Bryan Epis Federal Resentencing Hearing Friday

Bryan Epis, a former medical marijuana provider who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, and served two years before being released in the wake of the Raich medical marijuana decision, is returning to court for resentencing pending the filing of his appeal. Bryan asks that reformers in the area attend the hearing as a show of support. It is taking place at 10:00am this Friday morning (9/14) in Sacramento, California -- courtroom of Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr., 501 I Street, 15th floor, courtroom two. Click here to read our 2005 interview with Bryan, and click here to read about possible misconduct committed by the prosecution in his case. We will report in our blog Friday afternoon (or as soon as information becomes available) on what happens.
Sacramento, CA
United States

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