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Rallies, Vigils Mark 40 Years of Failed Drug War [FEATURE]

It was 40 years ago Friday that President Richard Nixon (R) declared illegal drugs "public enemy No. 1" and ushered in the modern war on drugs. Four decades, millions of drug arrests, and a trillion dollars later, the sale and consumption of illicit drugs is as firmly ensconced in American society as ever, and a growing number of Americans are ready to end drug prohibition and embark on a more sane and sensible, not to mention less harmful, approach toward drugs.

Marching to the end the drug war in San Francisco (Image courtesy the author)
In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered Friday to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Their numbers were not overwhelming, but their voices are being heard, and the more hopeful among us can begin to see the faint outlines of a nascent mass movement for reform.

Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

In San Francisco, several hundred people from more than a dozen sponsoring organizations gathered at City Hall for a press conference and to demand that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the state legislature prioritize vital social services over spending on prisons. Then, accompanied by drummers from the Brass Liberation Orchestra, they marched through the city center to state office buildings before returning to City Hall.

"It is past time that we take real steps to make real changes to California’s totally inhumane prison system," said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), one of 17 local groups organizing the march.

The Brass Liberation Band was beating the drums for an end to prohibition (Image courtesy the author)
"Spending on prisons has grown from five percent to ten percent of our General Fund spending, doubling just in the past decade," said Lisa Marie Alatorre of Critical Resistance, a CURB member organization. "Locking up too many people for too long does not contribute to public safety and is draining essential resources from education and health care -- programs that make a real difference to Californians."

"We call on the governor, California's mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and the Oakland-based United for Drug Policy Reform. "We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

In Chicago, hundreds gathered outside James R. Thompson Center in the Loop to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the drug war, while inside the center was a ceremony honoring Juneteenth, a remembrance of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863. For those present, the connection between the struggle to win civil rights and the fight to end the drug war was easily made. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Father Michael Pfleger and other community leaders lent their voices to the rally.

Dancers joined the protest krewe in New Orleans (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
"There is not a war on drugs, there is a war on the poor and a war on people of color!" said Pfleger, whipping up the crowd.

"We all know that the war on drugs has failed to end drug use. Instead, it's resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country, and 100,000 here in Cook County on an annual basis," said Preckwinkle, the only elected official to address the crowd. "Drugs and the failed war on the drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we've treated drug use as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public issue, which is what it is."

In Honolulu, the ACLU of Hawaii and other drug reform advocates marked the occasion with a rally and speeches. Access to medical marijuana was a big issue for attendees there, although the main focus was on ending the drug war.

"It has cost a trillion dollars. It has perpetrated massive racial injustice. It has made the United States the largest jailer," said Scott Michaelman. "Treatment over incarceration is a core part of our message. Low level nonviolent users should not be a part of the criminal justice system," he added.

Braving the heat to beat prohibition in the Big Easy (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
In steamy New Orleans, several dozen protesters led by Women with a Vision and including dance groups and local anarchists braved temperatures in the 90s to hold a bouncy second-line parade through Central City and then a community forum to call for an end to racial profiling, lengthy sentences, and unfair drug policies.

"You get to see the people coming together. It's a unity thing," Keyondria Mitchell, a supporter who led one of the dancing groups, told the Pelican Post.  She said the event's varied attendees were testament to a changing public perception of the drug war. "That's what you want, awareness."

Women with a Vision director Deon Haywood said that 40 years on, the drug war had failed to make us safer despite all the money down the drain. "It hasn't curbed the use of illegal drugs, but what it has done is incarcerate many people," said Haywood. "We have only two licensed addiction counselors serving three parishes: Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard. Why can't that money be put into treatment?"

In San Diego, dozens gathered at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills to hear, among others, former California Assemblymember Lori Saldana call for complete repeal of drug prohibition; in Denver, the Drug Policy Alliance sponsored a well-attended debate; and in Portland, Oregon, the Lewis & Clark chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized a candlelight vigil at Pioneer Square attended by around 100 people. Events also occurred in other cities, including Ann Arbor, Miami Beach, and Washington, DC.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

Guatemala Attributes Drug Prohibition Massacre to Zetas, Declares State of Emergency

Location: 
Guatemala
The massacre due to drug prohibition in Guatemala that left 27 people dead at a cattle ranch – believed to be the work of Mexico's notorious drug trafficking organization, the Zetas – has forced a 30-day state of emergency. None of the victims had ties to drug trafficking organizations, authorities said. Rather they were innocent ranch workers and their families caught up in an increasingly bloody prohibition war.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2011/05/17/guatemalan-massacre-possibly-carried-zetas-forces-state-emergency/

Missouri Welfare Drug Test Bill Heads for Governor's Desk

A Missouri bill that mandates the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants if case workers have "reasonable suspicion" they are using illegal drugs has passed out of the legislature and is now headed for the governor's desk. It passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 113-34. It had passed the Senate last month.

If you're on welfare in Missouri and the state suspects you use drugs, you will have to provide this. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, House Bill 73, also known as the "TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act," requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case managers to report to the Children's Division if an applicant or recipient tested positive or refused to take a drug test related to employment or employment training. Caseworkers would also have to report to the division if they have "reasonable suspicion to believe that such individual is engaging in illegal use of a controlled substance."

Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the recipient ineligible for TANF benefits for two years. But people who fail the test could enroll in a drug treatment program, and benefits would continue during treatment. If the person completes treatment and doesn't test positive, the benefits would continue. A second positive drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits for two years, with no provision for a treatment escape clause. Family members of someone declared ineligible because of drug use could continue to receive benefits through a third-party payee.

Foes of the bill argued that the bill was possibly unconstitutional -- although its use of a "reasonable suspicion" standard may make that argument more difficult -- that the program will be costly, and that it's an attack on society's most vulnerable.

The bill "targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you've got a penalty there," he told KMOX News Radio last month.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County) said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests. Legislative analysts in Missouri estimated the program would cost up to $2.3 million.

"In Florida, they did about 9,000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted," Chapelle-Nadal said.

But now, the Show Me State's Republicans get to look tough if not necessarily fiscally smart.

Columbia, MO
United States

Mexico's Orphans Are Casualties of Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Mexico
"At least 12,000 children have lost one or both of their parents," said Gustavo de la Rosa, an official from Mexico's human rights commission. Those motherless and fatherless children, said de la Rosa, are a lasting and tragic legacy of Mexico's drug prohibition war. After witnessing the execution of a parent, the children -- even if physically uninjured themselves -- face a lifetime of emotional scarring.
Publication/Source: 
Agence France-Presse (France)
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jCtIvBVbEyDDJeQlCQjavLmwlXWA?docId=CNG.ce4ce7a67bd66d9150ddc80ebf588abb.1e1

230,000 Displaced by Mexico Drug Prohibition War, Half May Have Come to the United States

Location: 
Mexico
A new study by the Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center that at least 230,000 people have been displaced in Mexico because of drug prohibition violence and that about half of them may have taken refuge in the United States.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/25/report-230000-displaced-mexico-drug-war-1121351146/

John Stossel: End the Drug War, Save Black America (Opinion)

John Stossel discusses issues related to the devastating impact the war on drugs has on the black community.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/03/16/john-stossel-end-drug-war-save-black-america/

Acapulco’s Taxi Drivers Being Murdered in Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Acapulco, GRO
Mexico
In the last few weeks, more than a dozen taxi drivers and passengers have been murdered in the resort city of Acapulco. A 2008 survey reported that 120 of the 200 taxi drivers in the city of Chetumal, Mexcio, reported to have been threatened with violence against their families if they refused to deliver drugs on behalf of the local drug trafficking organization.
Publication/Source: 
Examiner.com (CO)
URL: 
http://www.examiner.com/drug-cartel-in-national/acapulco-s-taxi-drivers-being-murdered-drug-war

Mexico's Drug Prohibition War Disappearances Leave Families in Anguish

Location: 
Mexico
Thousands of people have vanished without a trace – some caught up in prohibition violence, others for no reason anyone can fathom. Relatives remain in agonized limbo. The disappearances are a disturbing echo of a tactic employed by dictatorships in the so-called dirty wars that plagued parts of Latin America in the last half of the 20th century.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexico-disappeared-20110307,0,3152675.story

Over 2,000 Streets Closed in Mexican Border City for Security Due to Drug Prohibition Violence

Location: 
Ciudad Juárez, CHH
Mexico
Residents have closed more than 2,000 streets in Ciudad Juarez, the city in Mexico most affected by drug prohibition violence. About 200 families have been wiped out in 10 zones heavily affected by the drug prohibition war.
Publication/Source: 
Latin America Herald Tribune (Venezuela)
URL: 
http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=388515&CategoryId=14091

Entire Villages Flee As Colombia Drug Trafficking Organizations Move In

Location: 
Colombia
Drug prohibition violence is growing across Colombia, and has reached particularly alarming levels in Cordoba. This latest incarnation of drug trafficking organizations has emerged following the demobilization of paramilitary soldiers. Between 2003 and 2006, after striking a peace deal with the government, more than 32,000 fighters belonging to the paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) put down arms. But many mid-ranking paramilitary commanders slipped back into drug trafficking, starting up new organizations and recruiting ex-AUC fighters.
Publication/Source: 
GlobalPost (MA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/18/colombia-drug-gangs-overt_n_825188.html

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