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Heading Down South America Way

Very early on January 12, I will board a plane in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and that night I will be sleeping in a hotel in downtown Lima, Peru. That will be the first of 21 nights in the Drug War Chronicle's Coca Tour 2007, which will take me deep into the indigenous Andean coca heartland (but not to Colombia, where, for the most part, coca production is not tied to ancient tradition but to the global cocaine market). I will be meeting with coca farmers, coca growers' union leaders, academics, harm reductionists, and government officials in Peru and Bolivia, as well, I hope, with US government officials in the embassies in Lima and La Paz. I will spend a week in Lima and the vicinity, then take a tourism break to visit Machu Picchu and the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. From there, it'll be a bus ride across the 12,000 foot high altiplano to the Bolivian border and on to La Paz. I'll spend 10 or 11 days in Bolivia, where I hope to travel to both major coca producing areas, the Chapare and Las Yungas. The road from La Paz to Las Yungas, from the heights of the Andes to the edge of the Amazon basin is known as "the world's most dangerous road." Yee-haw! In Peru, I'm working on setting up meetings with ENACO, the Peruvian government coca monopoly, as well as with DEVIDA, the anti-drug agency. Maybe I'll even have to try some of that coca salad President Garcia was praising this week. In Bolivia, I'll be talking to the Ministry of Coca, NGOs, and companies that produce coca products, as well as growers and union leaders. I will be blogging from the Andes throughout the journey. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

Peru President Favors Using Cocaine-Producing Leaf for Salad

Location: 
Lima
Peru
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/19/america/LA_GEN_Peru_Coca.php

Mexicans weed out new super marijuana

Location: 
Lazaro Cardenas
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Chicago Sun-Times
URL: 
http://www.suntimes.com/news/world/179186,CST-NWS-mex20.article

Analysis: Cocaine Fuels War, Undermines Peace in Colombia

Location: 
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19266469.htm

Government to Open Opium Processing to Private Firms

Location: 
New Delhi
India
Publication/Source: 
Times of India
URL: 
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/India/Govt_to_open_opium_processing_to_private_firms/articleshow/843197.cms

Mexican Officials Find Nearly 1,800 Marijuana Fields

Location: 
MIC
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Fox News
URL: 
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,237260,00.html

Afghanistan: Government Warns of Possible Poppy Crop Spraying

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
United Nations Integretated Regional Information Networks (IRIN News)
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/52be6f726b83c13d72b098c292febb74.htm

Half of prisoners in for drugs

Location: 
Greece
Publication/Source: 
Kathimerini (Greece)
URL: 
http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100010_18/12/2006_77902

Feature: Belgian Bud Brouhaha Unfolds as Antwerp's First Open Marijuana Garden Gets Busted Before Beginning

Belgian activists Tuesday planned to inaugurate the country's first publicly known marijuana garden, but Belgian police intervened, arresting four of them after a press conference to announce their plans but before they could actually transport their clones to the garden site. While the press conference was covered by the media and police were present, the cops waited until the media had left and the activists were on the way to the garden to swoop down.

The action was undertaken by Draw Up Your Plant, an Antwerp consumer group, working in conjunction with the broader European Cannabis Social Clubs movement, which seeks to regularize consumer marijuana production across the continent. The cannabis club movement is an outgrowth of the Freedom to Farm campaign targeting United Nations bans on the cultivation of cannabis, coca, and opium, sponsored by European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD).

ENCOD coordinator Joep Oomen was one of those arrested as the group headed for the garden after its public event. He and three other Draw Up Your Plant members were detained for four hours and now face legal proceedings. Oomen reports that police seized his cell phone and laptop computer, where vital ENCOD information is stored, thus crippling the organization until the devices are returned.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/antwerp-planting-july06.jpg
July marijuana planting, Antwerp Botanical Garden (photo from cannaclopedia.be)
The establishment of a garden where individual consumers could collectively grow their allowable plants was an effort to push the envelope on Belgian drug policy. Under Belgian federal drug policy, the possession of up to three grams of marijuana and one female plant is not prosecuted as a criminal offense, but the law does not address collective gardens.

"Belgian drug policy is ambiguous," Oomen told Drug War Chronicle. "It says it is illegal to produce THC, which is considered as an illegal drug, but it also says that the possession of up to three grams or one female plant is considered the lowest priority in prosecution. The first is due to the fact that Belgium has signed the UN conventions, the second is a pragmatic solution to the debate on depenalization of cannabis use," Oomen explained. "Our action is a way to test the law, to denounce this ambiguity."

The day got off to a good start, with a large contingent of national and international media on hand as Draw Up Your Plant members, including Belgian parliamentarian Stijn Bex, produced a mother plant that had been publicly planted this summer in the Antwerp Botanical Garden and took six clones from it -- one for each group member. After the presentation, the group gave a letter to the Lord Mayor of Antwerp that provided the address of the garden and keys to the door. The event took place with the permission of local authorities, including the police.

"This is an excellent action to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the law," said Bex. "The authorities should install a decent regulation for the production and sale of cannabis."

But that's not what Belgian police had in mind. Once the media had departed and the group was heading for the garden, police stopped them and confiscated their clones and the mother plant, as well as Oomen's electronic devices. The four were interrogated for four hours on suspicion of being involved in drug production and their homes were searched.

Had the group been allowed to go to the garden, Belgian authorities would for the first time have faced a situation where the "drug dealers" were working with the police and providing detailed information about their activities. Instead, the police chose to go after them the old-fashioned way. Now they will get a court battle.

"Our lawyers say we have a strong case," said Oomen. "If we are found innocent, that will be a great advance. If we are found guilty, we will appeal."

In a draft ENCOD press release circulating Thursday, the group argued that European policies of tolerating marijuana use while keeping it technically illegal were not enough. "The legal status of the cultivation of cannabis for personal use remains one of the weak points of international drug prohibition," the group argued. "In practice, it is tolerated, but officially it remains an illegal practice. Prohibition of cannabis causes legal insecurity for cannabis consumers -- estimated between 10 and 30 million EU citizens -- as well as corruption and arbitrariness on behalf of legal authorities. By organizing an association of cannabis cultivators, who operate within the margin of tolerance created by pragmatic politicians in order to avoid making an end to end of cannabis prohibition, the Cannabis Social Clubs are offering a simple solution to create a transparent system of cannabis cultivation which allows control by health and legal authorities."

The governments of Europe have a problem with unregulated marijuana production. The Cannabis Social Club movement has a solution. The Belgian government had the opportunity to take a step forward Tuesday; instead, it took a step backward. Now it will be up to the courts.

Prohibition: a crippling habit; There is only one way to end the misery of addiction revealed by the investigation into the Ipswich murders: legalise the drugs.

Location: 
Ipswich
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
The Guardian (UK)
URL: 
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/nick_davies/2006/12/post_796.html

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