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Drug Czars Past and Present Oppose Prop 19 Marijuana Init

In an absolutely unsurprising turn of events, current head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske and five former drug czars have come out against Proposition 19, California's marijuana legalization initiative. The six bureaucratic drug warriors all signed on to an op-ed, Why California Should Just Say No to Prop 19, published in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
Joining Kerlikowske in the broadside against legalization were former drug czars John Walters, Barry McCaffrey, Lee Brown, Bob Martinez, and William Bennett.

The drug czars claim that Prop 19 supporters will "rely on two main arguments: that legalizing and taxing marijuana would generate much-needed revenue, and that legalization would allow law enforcement to focus on other crimes." Then they attempt to refute those claims.

Noting that marijuana is easy and cheap to cultivate, the drug czars predict that, unlike the case with alcohol and tobacco, many would grow their own and avoid taxes. "Why would people volunteer to pay high taxes on marijuana if it were legalized?" they asked. "The answer is that many would not, and the underground market, adapting to undercut any new taxes, would barely diminish at all."

Ignoring the more than 800,000 people arrested for simple marijuana possession each year, including the 70,000 Californians forced to go to court for marijuana possession misdemeanors (maximum fine $100), the drug czars claim that "law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana."

They then complain that Prop 19 would impose new burdens on police by making them enforce laws against smoking marijuana where minors are present. Those laws already exist; Prop 19 does not create them.

The drug czars warn that if Prop 19 passes, "marijuana use would increase" and "increased use brings increased social costs." But they don't bother to spell out just what those increased costs would be or why.

The drug czars' screed has picked up a number of instant critiques, including those of Douglas Berman at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Jacob Sullum at Reason Online, and Jon Walker at Firedoglake.

We're waiting for a drug czar to come out for pot legalization, not oppose it. Now, that would be real news.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

John Walters Still Thinks the Drug War is Awesome

This comment from the former drug czar perfectly explains why drug warriors are so incapable of ever admitting failure:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided." [AP]

Well, yeah. If your idea of law enforcement is shoving guns in the faces of misdemeanor drug suspects, if your idea of treatment is forcing casual marijuana users into drug therapy, and if your idea of prevention is spending countless millions on anti-drug ads that are proven to increase drug use, then I would call you "misguided," to say the least.

This is what you've accomplished, sir, and instead of demanding gratitude, you should consider yourself lucky you haven't yet been paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in tar and feathers.

Feature: Obama's First National Drug Strategy -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A leaked draft of the overdue 2010 National Drug Strategy was published by Newsweek over the weekend, and it reveals some positive shifts away from Bush-era drug policy paradigms and toward more progressive and pragmatic approaches. But there is a lot of continuity as well, and despite the Obama administration's rhetorical shift away from the "war on drugs," the drug war juggernaut is still rolling along.

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sign of the leaker?
That doesn't quite jibe with Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) director Gil Kerlikowske's words when he announced in April 2009 that the phrase "war on drugs" was no longer in favor. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them. We're not at war with people in this country."

The leak was reported by long-time Washington insider and Newsweek columnist Michael Isikoff, who mentioned it almost off-handedly in a piece asserting "The White House Drug Czar's Diminished Status." Isikoff asserted in the piece that the unveiling of the strategy had been delayed because Kerlikowske didn't have the clout to get President Obama to schedule a joint appearance to release it. His office had been downgraded from cabinet level, Isikoff noted.

That sparked an angry retort from UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, a burr under the saddle to prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists alike for his heterodox views on drug policy. In a blog post, Kleiman seemed personally offended at the leak, twice referring to the leaker as "a jerk," defending the new drug strategy as innovative if bound by interagency politics, and deriding Isikoff's article as "gossipy."

Kleiman also suggested strongly that the leaker was none other than former John Walters on the basis of an editing mark on the document that had his name on it. But Walters has not confirmed that, and others have point out it could have been a current staffer who is using the same computer Walters used while in office.

On the plus side, the draft strategy embraces some harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and the use of naloxone to prevent overdoses, although without ever uttering the words "harm reduction." There is also a renewed emphasis on prevention and treatment, with slight spending increases. But again reality fails to live up to rhetoric, with overall federal drug control spending maintaining the long-lived 2:1 ration in spending for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction versus that for treatment and prevention.

The strategy also promotes alternatives to incarceration, such drug courts, community courts and the like and for the first time hints that it recognizes the harms that can be caused by the punitive approach to drug policy. And it explicitly calls for reform of the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

It sets a number of measurable goals related to reducing drug use. By 2015, ONDCP vows to cut last month drug use by young adults by 10% and cut last month use by teens, lifetime use by 8th graders, and the number of chronic drug users by 15%.

The 2010 goals of a 15% reduction reflect diminishing expectations after years of more ambitious drug use reduction goals followed by the drug policy establishment's inability to achieve them. That could inoculate the Obama administration from the kind of criticism faced by the Clinton administration back in the 1990s when it did set much more ambitious goals.

The Clinton administration's 1998 National Drug Control Strategy called for a "ten-year conceptual framework to reduce drug use and drug availability by 50%." That didn't happen. That strategy put the number of drug users at 13.5 million, but instead of decreasing, according to the 2008 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, by 2007 the number of drug users was at 20.1 million.

While Clinton took criticism from Republicans that his goals were not ambitious enough -- Newt Gingrich said we should just wipe out drugs -- the Bush administration set similar goals, and achieved similarly modest results. The Bush administration's 2002 National Drug Control Strategy sought a 25% reduction in drug use by both teenagers and adults within five years. While teen drug use declined from 11.6% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2007, then drug czar Walters missed his goal. He did less well with adult use almost unchanged, at 6.3% in 2000 and 5.9% in 2007.

The draft strategy, however, remains wedded to law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction, calls for strong federal support for local drug task forces, and explicitly rejects marijuana legalization. It also seeks to make drugged driving a top priority, which would be especially problematic if the administration adopts per se zero tolerance measures (meaning the presence of any metabolites of a controlled substance could result in a driver's arrest whether he was actually impaired or not).

Still, while the draft strategy is definitely a mixed bag, a pair of keen observers of ONDCP and federal drug policy pronounced themselves fairly pleased overall. While still heavy on the law enforcement side, the first Obama national drug strategy is a far cry from the propaganda-driven documents of Bush era drug czar John Walters.

The Good

"This is somewhat of a surprise, because for the first time they have included reducing the funds associated with the drug war in their strategy, although not in a big way, they're calling for reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and they are calling for the reform of laws that penalize people," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is the first time they've included anything recognizing that some of our policies are creating harm," he added.

"The stuff about syringe exchange and naloxone for overdose prevention is pretty good. It's the first time they've embraced any part of harm reduction, even though they don't use that name," Piper noted.

"I'm also impressed with the section on alternatives to incarceration," said Piper. "They basically said most drug users don't belong in jail, and a lot of dealers don't, either. It's still wedded to the criminal justice system, but it's good that they looked at so many different things -- drug courts, community courts, Operation Highpoint (warning dealers to desist instead of just arresting them as a means of breaking up open-air drug markets), programs for veterans. They seem interested in finding out what works, which is an evidence-based approach that had been lacking in previous strategies."

The Status Quo

"Drug war reformers have eagerly been waiting the release of President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy," noted Matthew Robinson, professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University and coauthor (with Renee Scherlen) of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the ONDCP." "Would it put Obama's and Kerlikowske's words into action, or would it be more of the same in terms of federal drug control policy? The answer is yes. And no. There is real, meaningful, exciting change proposed in the 2010 Strategy. But there's a lot of the status quo, too," he said.

"The first sentence of the Strategy hints at status quo approaches to federal drug control policy; it announces 'a blueprint for reducing illicit drug use and its harmful consequences in America,'" Robinson said. "That ONDCP will still focus on drug use (as opposed to abuse) is unfortunate, for the fact remains that most drug use is normal, recreational, pro-social, and even beneficial to users; it does not usually lead to bad outcomes for users, including abuse or addiction," he said.

"Just like under the leadership of Director John Walters, Kerlikowske's ONDCP characterizes its drug control approaches as 'balanced,' yet FY 2011 federal drug control spending is still imbalanced in favor of supply side measures (64%), while the demand side measures of treatment and prevention will only receive 36% of the budget," Robinson pointed out. "In FY 2010, the percentages were 65% and 35%, respectively. Perhaps when Barack Obama said 'Change we can believe in,' what he really meant was 'Change you can believe in, one percentage point at a time.'"

There is also much of the status quo in funding levels, Robinson said. "There will also be plenty of drug war funding left in this 'non-war on drugs.' For example, FY 2011 federal drug control spending includes $3.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (which includes Customs and Border Protection spending), more than $3.4 billion for the Department of Justice (which includes Drug Enforcement Agency spending), and nearly $1.6 billion for the Department of Defense (which includes military spending). Thus, the drug war will continue on under President Obama even if White House officials do not refer to federal drug control policy as a 'war on drugs,'" he noted.

The Bad

"ONDCP repeatedly stresses the importance of reducing supply of drugs into the United States through crop eradication and interdiction efforts, international collaboration, disruption of drug smuggling organizations, and so forth," Robinson noted. "It still promotes efforts like Plan Colombia, the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, and many other similar programs aimed at eradicating drugs in foreign countries and preventing them from entering the United States. The bottom line here is that the 'non war on drugs' will still look and feel like a war on drugs under President Obama, especially to citizens of the foreign nations where the United States does the bulk of its drug war fighting."

"They are still wedded to interdiction and eradication," said Piper. "There is no recognition that they aren't very effective and do more harm than good. Coming only a couple of weeks after the drug czar testified under oath that eradication in Colombia and Afghanistan and elsewhere had no impact on the availability of drugs in the US, to then put out a strategy embracing what he said was least effective is quite disturbing."

"The ringing endorsement of per se standards for drugged driving is potentially troubling," said Piper. "It looks a lot like zero tolerance. We have to look at this also in the context of new performance measures, which are missing from the draft. In the introduction, they talk about setting goals for reducing drug use and that they went to set other performance measures, such as for reducing drug overdoses and drugged driving. If they actually say they're going to reduce drugged driving by such and such an amount with a certain number of years, that will be more important. We'll have to see what makes it into the final draft."

"They took a gratuitous shot at marijuana reform," Piper noted. "It was unfortunate they felt the need to bash something that half of Americans support and to do it in the way they did, listing a litany of Reefer Madness allegations and connecting marijuana to virtually every problem in America. That was really unfortunate."

More Good

There are some changes in spending priorities. "Spending on prevention will grow 13.4% from FY 2010 to FY 2011, while spending on treatment will grow 3.7%," Robinson noted. "The growth in treatment is surprisingly small given that ONDCP notes that 90% of people who need treatment do not receive it. Increases are much smaller for spending on interdiction (an increase of 2.4%), domestic law enforcement (an increase of 1.9%), and international spending (an increase of 0.9%). This is evidence of a shift in federal drug control strategy under President Obama; there will be a greater effort to prevent drug use in the first place as well as treat those that become addicted to drugs than there ever was under President Bush."

Robinson also lauded the Obama administration for more clarity in the strategy than was evident under either Clinton or Bush. "Obama's first Strategy clearly states its guiding principles, each of which is followed by a specific set of actions to be initiated and implemented over time to achieve goals and objectives related to its principles. Of course, this is Obama's first Strategy, so in subsequent years, there will be more data presented for evaluation purposes, and it should become easier to decipher the ideology that will drive the 'non war on drugs' under President Obama," he said.

But he suggested that ideology still plays too big a role. "ONDCP hints at its ideology when it claims that programs such as 'interdiction, anti-trafficking initiatives, drug crop reduction, intelligence sharing and partner nation capacity building... have proven effective in the past.' It offers almost no evidence that this is the case other than some very limited, short-term data on potential cocaine production in Colombia. ONDCP claims it is declining, yet only offers data from 2007 to 2008. Kerlikowske's ONDCP seems ready to accept the dominant drug war ideology of Walters that supply side measures work -- even when long-term data show they do not."

Robinson also lauded ONDCP's apparent revelation that drug addiction is a disease. "Obama's first strategy embraces a new approach to achieving federal drug control goals of 'reducing illicit drug consumption' and 'reducing the consequences of illicit drug use in the United States,' one that is evidence-based and public health oriented," Robinson said. "ONDCP recognizes that drug addiction is a disease and it specifies that federal drug control policy should be assisted by parties in all of the systems that relate to drug use and abuse, including families, schools, communities, faith-based organizations, the medical profession, and so forth. This is certainly a change from the Bush Administration, which repeatedly characterized drug use as a moral or personal failing."

While the Obama drug strategy may have its faults, said Robinson, it is a qualitative improvement over Bush era drug strategies. "Under the Bush Administration, ONDCP came across as downright dismissive of data, evidence, and science, unless it was used to generate fear and increased punitive responses to drug-related behaviors. Honestly, there is very little of this in Obama's first strategy, aside from the usual drugs produce crime, disorder, family disruption, illness, addiction, death, and terrorism argument that has for so long been employed by ONDCP," he said. "Instead, the Strategy is hopeful in tone and lays out dozens of concrete programs and policies that aim to prevent drug use among young people (through public education programs, mentoring initiatives, increasing collaboration between public health and safety organizations); treat adults who have developed drug abuse and addiction problems (though screening and intervention by medical personnel, increased investments in addiction treatment, new treatment medications); and, for the first time, invest heavily in recovery efforts that are restorative in nature and aimed at giving addicts a new lease on life," he noted.

"ONDCP also seems to suddenly have a better grasp on why the vast majority of people who need treatment do not get it," said Robinson. "Under Walters, ONDCP claimed that drug users were in denial and needed to be compassionately coerced to seek treatment. In the 2010 Strategy, ONDCP outlines numerous problems with delivery of treatment services including problems with the nation's health care systems generally. The 2010 Strategy seems so much better informed about the realities of drug treatment than previous Strategy reports," he added.

"The strategy also repeatedly calls for meaningful change in areas such as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders; drug testing in courts (and schools, unfortunately, in spite of data showing it is ineffective); and reentry programs for inmates who need help finding jobs and places to live upon release from prison or jail. ONDCP also implicitly acknowledges that that federal drug control policy imposes costs on families (including the break-up of families), and shows with real data that costs are greater economically for imprisonment of mothers and foster care for their children than family-based treatment," Robinson noted.

"ONDCP makes the case that we are wasting a lot of money dealing with the consequences of drug use and abuse when this money would be better spent preventing use and abuse in the first place. Drug policy reformers will embrace this claim," Robinson predicted.

"The strategy also calls for a renewed emphasis on prescription drug abuse, which it calls 'the fastest growing drug problem in the United States,'" Robinson pointed out. "Here, as in the past, ONDCP suggests regulation is the answer because prescription drugs have legitimate uses that should not be restricted merely because some people use them illegally. And, as in the past, ONDCP does not consider this approach for marijuana, which also has legitimate medicinal users in spite of the fact that some people use it illegally," he said.

The Verdict

"President Obama's first National Drug Control Strategy offers real, meaningful, exciting change," Robinson summed up. "Whether this change amounts to 'change we can believe in' will be debated by drug policy reformers. For those who support demand side measures, many will embrace the 2010 Strategy and call for even greater funding for prevention and treatment. For those who support harm reduction measures such as needled exchange, methadone maintenance and so forth, there will be celebration. Yet, for those who support real alternatives to federal drug control policy such as legalization or decriminalization, all will be disappointed. And even if Obama officials will not refer to its drug control policies as a 'war on drugs,' they still amount to just that."

Has Anyone Seen Former Drug Czar John Walters Lately?

A post at the LEAP blog points out that John Walters has been conspicuously quiet recently. After beginning his new position as executive vice president at the Hudson Institute in January, Walters was producing pro-drug war editorials on a monthly basis, but we haven't seen anything from him since spring.

LEAP speculates:

Perhaps, toward the end of 2008, Hudson thought it a brilliant notion to bring on Walters to spearhead prohibitionist drug policy thought leadership for the conservative apparatus.

But after witnessing the amazingly anti-prohibitionist shift that the public discourse on drug policy has taken throughout 2009, it seems that Hudson and the larger conservative establishment -- or anyone, for that matter -- just don't have all that much use for what John Walters has to say right about now.

I'd love to think that Hudson told him to stop, or better yet, that he's been writing feverishly this whole time and newspapers just won’t print him anymore. Still, my first guess is that it's just a coincidence and Walters will resurface any day now to once again stink up the drug policy debate with his familiar brand of unhinged prohibitionist propaganda.

And you know what? I hope he does. John Walters's tenure as drug czar ushered in an unprecedented period of progress for the reform movement, as he traveled the nation alienating the media and terrifying small children. I swear, every time he opens his mouth, thousands of new people start questioning the validity of his beliefs. So please John, don't leave us now. Things are just starting to get interesting.

A Surprise Encounter With Former Drug Czar John Walters

I've wondered a thousand times what I'd do if I ran into John Walters somewhere around D.C. I figured that the odds favored it happening eventually. A few times, I even thought I saw him, only to discover that it was just some stiff angry guy in a suit scowling at schoolchildren and spitting at hippies.

But as luck would have it, long-time marijuana policy reformer and smooth-talker Steve Fox just happened to be riding the right subway train at the right time:

While riding the Metro’s Red Line yesterday, I spotted former drug czar John Walters entering the train. When he ended up standing right beside me, I realized I couldn’t pass up the chance for a conversation. I know it sounds like a fruitless endeavor, but I’m an eternal optimist and thought, “Maybe if we have a casual lunch together, he’ll come to see the folly of keeping marijuana illegal.”

Whole story at the MPP blog. I think Steve handled it maturely, but I always thought it would be funny to do the exact opposite of what he did. Instead of introducing myself as an opponent, perhaps I'd be a rabid drug czar fan. "John Walters, is that really you? I just loved your policies. I used to read PushingBack.com every day. Did you see how Obama's people deleted all the old posts? What's up with that? Anyway, I was thinking about starting an anti-legalization organization with some of my friends from Yale. Maybe we could do lunch sometime?"

If that plan somehow worked, I bet I'd learn more in an hour of pretending to agree with him than a lifetime of butting heads. Hey Steve, what train was that?

Feature: Gazing Into the Crystal Ball -- What Can We Expect in 2009?

In the other feature article in this issue, we looked back at last year, examining the drug policy high and lows. Here, we look forward, and not surprisingly, see some of the same issues. With a prohibitionist drug policy firmly entrenched, many issues are perennial -- and will remain issues until they are resolved.

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gazing into the future of drug policy reform '09 (picture from wikimedia.org)
Of course, America's drug war does not end at our borders, so while there is much attention paid to domestic drug policy issues, our drug policies also have an important impact on our foreign policy. In fact, Afghanistan, which is arguably our most serious foreign policy crisis, is inextricably intertwined with our drug wars, while our drug policies in this hemisphere are also engendering crisis on our southern border and alienation and loss of influence in South America.

Medical Marijuana in the States

In November, Michigan voters made it the 13th medical marijuana state and the first in the Midwest. Now, nearly a quarter of the US population resides in medical marijuana states, and it is likely that number will increase this year. Legislative efforts are underway in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York, among others, and chances are one or more of them will join the club this year. Interest in medical marijuana is also emerging in some unlikely places, such as Idaho, where one legislator has vowed to introduce a bill this year, and South Dakota, where activists who were defeated at the polls in 2006 are trying to get a bill in the legislature this month.

California's Grand Experiment with Medical Marijuana

As with so many other things, when it comes to medical marijuana, California is a different world. With its broadly written law allowing virtually anyone with $150 for a doctor's visit to seek certification as a a registered medical marijuana patient, and with its thriving system of co-ops, collectives, and dispensaries, the Golden State has created a situation of very low risk for consumers and significant protections even for growers and sellers.

With tax revenue streams from the dispensaries now pouring into the state's cash-starved coffers, medical marijuana is also creating political facts on the ground. The state of California is not going to move against a valuable revenue generator.

And if President-Elect Obama keeps his word, the DEA will soon butt out, too. But even if he doesn't, and the raids against dispensaries continue, it seems extremely unlikely that the feds can put the genie back in the bottle. The Bush administration tried for eight years and managed to shut down only a small fraction of operators, most of whom were replaced by competitors anyway.

The state's dispensary system, while currently a patch-work with some areas well-served with stores and other whole counties without any, is also a real world model of what regulated marijuana sales can look like. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pot foes, the dispensaries have, for the most part, operated non-problematically and as good commercial and community neighbors.

California's medical marijuana regime continues to evolve as the state comes to grips with the reality the voters created more than a decade ago. We will continue to watch and report as -- perhaps -- California leads the way to taxed and regulated marijuana sales, and not just for patients.

What Will Obama Do?

It will be a new era in Washington, DC, when President-Elect Obama becomes President Obama in less than three weeks. While the president cannot pass laws, he can provide leadership to the Congress and use his executive powers to make some changes, such as calling off the DEA in California, which he has promised to do.

The one thing we know he will not do is try to legalize marijuana. In response to publicly generated questions about marijuana legalization, his team has replied succinctly: No.

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What will President Obama do?
One early indicator of Obama's proclivities will be his selection of a replacement for John Walters, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. While there has been speculation about some possible candidates, none of them very exciting for drug policy reformers, no candidate has yet been named.

President Obama will also submit budgets to Congress. Those documents will provide very clear indications of his priorities on matters of interest to the reform community, from the controversial program of grants to fund anti-drug law enforcement task forces to spending levels for drug prevention and treatment, as well as funding for America's foreign drug war adventures.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama is not going to expend political capital trying to undo decades of drug war policies, but perhaps the budget axe will do the talking. Goodness knows, we don't have any money to waste in the federal budget these days.

What Will the Congress Do?

Democrats now control not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. One area we will be watching closely is the progress, if any, of federal sentencing reform. There are now more than 100,000 federal drug war prisoners, too many of them low-level crack offenders serving draconian sentences thanks to the efforts of people like Vice President elect Joe Biden, a long-time congressional drug warrior. Several different crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity bills have been introduced. The best was authored by Biden himself, a sign of changing times, if only slowly changing. It is past time for one of these bills, hopefully a good one, to pass into law.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a federal marijuana decriminalization bill last year. The best prediction is that it will go nowhere, but we could always stand to be pleasantly surprised.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, has emerged as a strong critic of federal interference in state medical marijuana programs. Conyers could use his position to highlight that issue, and possibly, to introduce legislation designed to address the problem of federal interference.

One area where the Congress, including the Democratic leadership, has proven vulnerable to the politics of tough on crime is the federal funding of those anti-drug task forces. In a rare fit of fiscal sanity, the Bush administration has been trying for years to zero out those grants, but the Congress keeps trying to get them back in the budget -- and then some. We will be watching those funding battles this year to see if anything has changed.

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Coca Museum, La Paz, Bolivia
Mexico

With the death toll from prohibition-related violence topping 5,000 last year, Mexico is in the midst of a multi-sided war that is not going to end in the foreseeable future, especially given America's insatiable appetite for the forbidden substances that are making Mexican drug trafficking organizations obscenely wealthy. With the $1.4 billion anti-drug military and police assistance known as Plan Merida approved last year by the Bush administration and the Congress, the US is now investing heavily in escalating the violence.

The National Drug Information Center has identified Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the nation's number one criminal threat, and chances are the violence south of the border will begin to ooze across the line. That will only add to the pressure among law enforcement and political figures to "do something." But given the current mindset among policymakers, just about anything they may be inclined to do to "help" is unlikely to be helpful.

The cartel wars in Mexico are also having an impact on Mexican domestic politics, with President Felipe Calderón's popularity suffering a significant decline. The angst over the escalating violence has already provided an opening for talk about drug policy reform in Mexico, with the opposition PRD saying that legalization has to be on the table, and Calderón himself announcing he wants to decriminalize drug possession (although how that would have any noticeable impact on the traffic or the violence remains unclear).

Look for the violence to continue, and watch to see if the resulting political pressure results in any actual policy changes. Drug War Chronicle will likely be heading down to Tijuana before too long for some on-scene reporting.

The Andean Drug War

... is not going well. Despite pouring billions of dollars into Plan Colombia, coca production there is at roughly the same level as a decade ago. Cocaine exports continue seemingly immune to all efforts to suppress them, although more appears to be heading for Europe these days. During the Bush administration, the US war on drugs in Colombia has morphed into openly supporting the Colombian government's counterinsurgency war against the leftist FARC rebels, who have been weakened, but, flush with dollars from the trade, are not going away. Neither are the rightist paramilitary organizations, who also benefit from the trade. Will an Obama administration try something new?

Meanwhile, Bolivia and Venezuela, the only countries singled out by the Bush administration as failing to comply with US drug policy objectives, have become allies in an emerging leftist bloc that seeks to challenge US hegemony in the region. Both countries have thrown out the DEA -- Venezuela in 2005, Bolivia last fall -- and are cooperating to expand markets for Bolivia's nascent coca industry. Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged this week that some coca production is being diverted to cocaine traffickers, but said that he does not need US help in dealing with it.

And in Peru, where President Alan García has sent out the army to eradicate coca crops in line with US policy, unrest is mounting in coca growing regions, coca farmers are pushing into indigenous territories, causing more problems, and the Shining Path insurgency, once thought decisively defeated, has reemerged, although apparently minus its Maoist ideology, as a criminal trafficking organization and protector of coca farmers. The Peruvian government blames the Shining Path for killing 25 soldiers, police, and anti-drug workers in ambushes last year. Look for that toll to increase this year.

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Afghan opium
Afghanistan

More than seven years after the US invaded to overthrow the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, and has been each year since the Taliban were driven from power. While US drug war imperatives remain strong, they are in conflict with the broader objectives of the counterinsurgency there, and any efforts to suppress poppy planting or the opium trade will not only have a huge impact on the national economy, but are likely to drive Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the resurgent Taliban, which is estimated to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year off taxing and protecting the trade. That buys a lot of guns to point at Afghan, American and NATO troops.

President elect Obama has vowed to reinvigorate the US war in Afghanistan by sending 20,000 additional troops, and NATO has reluctantly agreed to attack the drug trade by going after traffickers linked to the Taliban or various warlords -- but not those linked to the government in Kabul. Last year was the bloodiest year yet for coalition forces in Afghanistan; look for this year to top it.

Feature: Looking Forward -- Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

If there is one man who symbolizes and epitomizes the federal war on drugs, it is the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office. For the last eight years, that man has been John Walters, a protege of conservative moralist Bill Bennett, the first ONDCP drug czar. With his anti-marijuana media campaigns, his innumerable press releases, and his interference in various state-level initiatives, Walters has been drug reform's bête noire.

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Walters parody from 2004 Common Sense for Drug Policy ad (csdp.org/publicservice/potency04.htm)
Now, Walters and his boss, President Bush, are preparing to exit stage right, and the Obama administration will have to choose his successor. Given the foreign wars and failing economy facing the incoming administration, filling the drug czar position doesn't appear to be a high priority for the new resident at the White House. Only one name has been publicly mentioned, Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, and he has said he's not interested. A US News & World Report list of potential White House appointments doesn't even list any names for consideration as drug czar.

But for people interested in undoing some of the harms of the Bush era drug war, ONDCP is very important. As ONDCP explains on its home page:

"The principal purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation's drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. To achieve these goals, the Director of ONDCP is charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy directs the Nation's anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among Federal, State, and local entities.

"By law, the director of ONDCP also evaluates, coordinates, and oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies and ensures that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities. The Director advises the President regarding changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel of Federal Agencies that could affect the Nation's anti-drug efforts; and regarding Federal agency compliance with their obligations under the Strategy."

So, who is it going to be? Drug reformers and others consulted this week by the Chronicle had few actual suggestions -- some worried that anyone suggested or supported by the reform movement would be doomed -- but plenty of ideas about what type of person should replace Walters. And some even speculated about the possibility of just doing away with the drug czar's office altogether.

"The reform community needs to be looking at someone who has a comprehensive public health orientation or who has an evidence-based focus," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and currently president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "This would be someone who says goal number one is treatment of people with hard-core addiction problems and number two is to make sure our prevention programs are effective and well-grounded."

Sterling mentioned a couple of possibilities. "I don't think it's realistic to think we can get a reform sympathizer in there. It's not going to be Ethan Nadelmann. It needs to be someone who has administrative experience in some capacity. One possibility would be Chris Fichtner, the former head of mental health for the state of Illinois," Sterling suggested.

Fichtner is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who has worked with drug reformers in Illinois. He testified in favor of medical marijuana bills in Illinois and Wisconsin.

"Another possibility, someone I know the reform community had a lot of respect for before he went into government is Westley Clark, head of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Services," Sterling continued. "He's African-American, been at the federal level for a long time, has experience managing a federal agency, and a lot of experience in the field."

"If we had our druthers," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre, "it would be somebody like Ethan Nadelmann, with a comprehensive understanding of drugs, but that's a wet dream." Instead, he said, one name being kicked around was Mark Kleiman, a professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs who has written extensively on drug policy and whose innovative ideas sometimes raise as many hackles in the reform community as they do among drug warriors.

St. Pierre mentioned one other possible candidate. "Another name we're hearing is Bud Schuster, a former head of NIDA in the 1980s," he said. "That would be someone coming at it at least from a NIDA point of view, and we need someone like that, not someone just coming at it from a criminal justice perspective."

"I'd almost be happy with any drug czar who doesn't constantly say stupid things," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "We would like to see someone who will approach it from a public health standpoint, who will work to contain the criminal justice system in ways that protect the public health objectives of drug policy."

Borden pointed to a trio of what he called "moderate academics" as possibilities. "People like Kleiman or Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun [coauthors of 'Drug War Heresies'] are not drug war hawks and they are thinking people. We need some logical thought at the White House drug office."

"We're as anxious to see what names pop up as anybody," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We think John Walters set the bar pretty low. If there has to be a drug czar, we want to see someone who bases policy on facts and science, not ideology."

"Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke once said we need a surgeon general, not a military general, and I think that's a good starting point," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "At a minimum, we want someone coming from public health or medicine, as opposed to law enforcement or the conservative punditry. Drug reformers and harm reductionists and treatment providers have been in the wilderness for 20 years; now it's time for someone who understands addiction and supports evidence-based programs."

"If we're going to have a drug czar, we need one who insists on accuracy, honesty, transparency, and who is is willing to consider alternatives to the drug war including harm reduction approaches as well as modifications of the drug war such as increased funding for treatment and prevention," said Matthew Robinson, professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University and co-author of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

But, said Robinson, we don't really need a drug czar. "We don't need an ONDCP or a drug war, so therefore we don't need a drug czar," he argued. "Yet, we do need an accurate, honest, transparent agency to evaluate drug abuse control policy (just like with other government policies). It can be ONDCP or some other agency, but if it is ONDCP, it must be removed from the White House since there it is merely a political office whose aim is to further drug war ideology."

Former ONDCP Public Affairs Director (during the Clinton years) Robert Weiner was as critical of Walters and the Bush administration as anybody, but for different reasons. Weiner complained of the systematic weakening of the office in the Bush years.

"This administration has been a disaster in shrinking the power of the drug czar," Weiner said. "They dropped the drug czar's budget certification authority from $19 billion to $13 billion, they took away oversight power over some programs, they've cut the media program, they tried to move out the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the Justice Department community grants program. I've shed many tears as I watched the power of the drug czar deflate by his own lack of initiative."

It didn't have to be that way, Weiner said. "When Bush was selecting a drug czar, there were eight or 10 treatment honchos they were looking at, but he chose a partisan hack. It was as if there were no drug czar. His job was to press the drug issue as a national security and domestic health issue, and he didn't do enough of it."

Weiner is less concerned with the field from which the next drug czar emerges than his ability to advance the office's charge. "The most important thing is that he be a forceful, aggressive, forceful advocate," he said. "No matter what side of the fence you're on, everyone is in favor of drug treatment, and drug court is very good. We need someone who will push the concept of treatment not imprisonment for nonviolent offenders," he said.

But while Weiner would like to see a strengthened drug czar, many drug reformers would be glad to see no drug czar at all. "Patients Out of Time sent a letter to Obama transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett on the 9th," reported the group's Al Byrne. "We recommended the drug czar position be abandoned but... if that was somehow not politically feasible then the position be staffed by a health care professional, specifically a MD or RN who is not an academic/political professional."

"Ideally, ONDCP should be sunsetted," said St. Pierre. "I think many reformers could agree with that, but it doesn't appear to be on the table. If we're going to be burdened with a drug czar's office, we need a break from the two principal models -- the political hacks, like Walters and Bennett, and the law enforcement/military types, like McCaffrey and Lee Brown. If we're going to have a drug czar, make him an MD or someone in the public health realm."

"The nation and the government don't need a drug czar," said Sterling. "One of the important warnings of the 1973 Shafer Commission was about the institutionalization of the anti-drug effort, the creation of self-sustaining bureaucracies. The ONDCP is the prime example of that problem. Because of its prominence, it has the greatest capacity for mischief and gets the most attention for its falsehoods and PR-driven policies," he said.

The federal drug apparatus could be reorganized, he argued. "It may be the case that a reorganization of federal drug agencies is called for, probably with coordination under the Department of Health and Human Services," he posited. "There doesn't need to be a DEA with its SWAT mentality, and the effective management of a drug control program doesn't require White House supervision, either."

The agency comes up for reauthorization in 2010. That could prove an opportunity to try to kill it or, more likely, to try to restructure it. While going for the kill would be sweet, that appears unlikely to happen at this point.

It is "not realistic" to think an effort to sunset ONDCP in 2010 will bear immediate fruit, said Sterling. "The effective drug control movement has not developed a campaign and a political imperative, a drug control organizational paradigm that is a clear alternative to the existing one," he pointed out. "Therefore, there is no campaign in the Congress or in the news media."

Nor is there any evidence that the Obama administration is eyeing ONDCP for the axe. "The only way there would be any drive in the administration to do away with ONDCP would be if there is an analysis from the new cabinet secretaries deciding collectively that ONDCP is a big enough problem that they would want to abolish it," said Sterling.

Another obstacle is that incoming vice-president Joe Biden crafted the legislation that created ONDCP 20 years ago. "Any proposal to do away with the drug czar would get into that history with Biden. It would have to reject Biden's approach, or he would have to change his mind. If Biden were to say ONDCP was now unneeded, that would be one thing, but I haven't seen any sign of that."

With the prospect of killing ONDCP apparently off the table for now, some reformers are concentrating on making the best ONDCP possible. That may be the best to hope for in the near- and medium-term.

"If we could change this office so its responsibility is reducing the harms of both substance abuse and drug prohibition, then it would be very useful," said Piper. "There are very clearly problems with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Even if the drug war ended tomorrow, there would still be a drug problem and a need for national leadership around harm reduction and treatment, including alcohol and tobacco. Reauthorization in 2010 is a real chance to change what ONDCP is all about. If that's possible it's worth keeping the agency."

Now the waiting game begins. Given the Obama administration's priorities and the full plate of problems it faces, we could be waiting awhile for a new drug czar.

Feature: Big Day for Pot -- Decriminalization Wins in Massachusetts, Medical Marijuana in Michigan, All Local Initiatives Win, Too!

Barack Obama wasn't the only big winner in Tuesday elections; marijuana polled just as well, if not better. A medical marijuana initiative in Michigan -- the first in the Midwest -- and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts both won by convincing margins, and scattered local initiatives on various aspects of marijuana policy reform all won, too.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/cannabisplants.jpg
marijuana plants
In both the statewide initiatives, reform forces overcame organized opposition on their way to victory, mostly from the usual suspects in law enforcement and the political establishment. Michigan enjoyed the dubious distinction of a visit from John Walters, the drug czar himself, who popped in to rail against medical marijuana as "an abomination."

"We could be seeing a sea change in more ways than one in this election," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed both state initiatives. "These are not just wins, but huge wins. In two very blue states, marijuana reform outpolled Barack Obama. At this point, we can look members of Congress in the eye and ask them why exactly they think marijuana reform is controversial."

The results are also an indicator of the decreasing influence of the drug czar's office, said Mirken. "A clear public mandate has emerged, and it's particularly noteworthy coming as it does after eight years of the most intense anti-marijuana campaign from the feds since the days of Reefer Madness," he said. "Despite all the press releases and press conferences, despite all the appearances and campaigning Walters has done to try to convince Americans that marijuana is some sort of scourge, the voters just said no."

In Michigan, the medical marijuana initiative organized by the local Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and backed in a big way by MPP won a resounding 63% of the vote. Michigan's new medical marijuana law will go into effect quickly -- ten days after the elections are certified, with the Department of Community Health having 120 additional days to come up with regulations for a registry.

The law will allow patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other conditions to obtain a doctors' recommendation to cultivate, grow, and possess marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law. Registered patients may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and have up to 12 plants in a secure indoor facility, or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them.

"Michigan voters have clearly signaled in no uncertain terms their support for a compassionate medical marijuana law," the committee said in a victory statement Tuesday night. "Our opposition threw the kitchen sink at us, hoping one of their false claims and outright lies would cost enough votes to tank this effort. But Michigan voters saw through the deception, and soon numerous seriously ill patients across the state will no longer need to live in fear for taking their doctor-recommended medicine."

Tuesday's win makes Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state, and, more importantly, the first one in the Midwest. The Michigan victory means planned or ongoing efforts in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois just got a little easier.

In Massachusetts, Question 2, the marijuana decriminalization initiative, overcame the opposition of every district attorney in the state to win a resounding 65% of the vote. Now, instead of an arrest and possible six months in jail, people in the Bay State caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a simple $100 fine. Equally importantly, small-time possession offenders will not be saddled with a Criminal Record Information Report (CORI), a state arrest report that lingers long after the offense and can impede an offender's ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans.

Again backed by MPP, the Bay State's Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) took the organizing lead in Massachusetts this year. Building on nearly a decade's worth of winning local questions on marijuana policy reform by groups like the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the state NORML affiliate, MassCann/NORML, the committee was able to go over the top statewide with decrim this year.

"It's great to see the people of Massachusetts were able to see what a sensible, modest proposal Question 2 is," said CSMP head Whitney Taylor. "It's going to end the creation of thousands of new people being involved in the criminal justice system each year and refocus law enforcement resources on violent crime."

While some prosecutors are already whining about having to implement the will of the voters, there appears little chance that legislators will attempt to step in and overturn the vote, as they could do under Massachusetts law. A spokesman for House Speaker Sal DiMasi told local WBZ-TV as much Wednesday afternoon.

"Question 2 now has the force of law and the Speaker sees no reason to consider a repeal or amendment at this time," said David Guarino, DiMasi's deputy chief of staff.

Statewide decrim wasn't the only marijuana-related issue on the ballot for some Massachusetts voters. Continuing the tradition of placing questions on representative district ballots, voters in four districts were asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use?"

As with past medical marijuana questions, the question passed overwhelmingly in all four districts.

The question passed with 74% In the 1st Middlesex Representative District (R – Robert S. Hargraves), 71% in the 21st Middlesex Representative District (D – Charles A. Murphy), 73% in the 13th Norfolk Representative District (D – Lida E. Harkins), and 71% in the 6th Plymouth Representative District (R – Daniel K. Webster).

Meanwhile, in other local marijuana-related initiatives:

  • Berkeley, California's, Measure JJ, essentially a zoning initiative that would allow dispensaries operating in the city to expand into more non-residential districts, won with 62% of the vote. The campaign was organized by Citizens for Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation.
  • In Hawaii County, Hawaii (the Big Island), a lowest law enforcement priority initiative for adult marijuana possession won with 66% of the vote. The campaign organized by Project Peaceful Skies was an outgrowth of the movement to end intrusive marijuana eradication raids.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, another lowest priority initiative passed. Some 62% of voters in the Northwest Arkansas college town agreed with Sensible Fayetteville and its director, Ryan Denham, that police had better things to do than bust pot smokers. Sensible Fayetteville itself is an umbrella organization including the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas, The Omni Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, the Green Party of Washington County, University of Arkansas NORML and the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas Inc.

"We think these election results send an extremely important message," Denham told the Northwest Arkansas Times Wednesday. "I'm not surprised since national statistics say that 70% of Americans feel that misdemeanor marijuana offenses should be a low priority. It clogs courts and jails and puts a burden on taxpayer resources."

Election day was a good day for marijuana reform. Let's hope that activists and politicians alike are now prepared to press for more in the near future.

Drug War Chronicle Video Review: "Prince of Pot: The US v. Marc Emery," Directed by Nick Wilson (2008, Journeyman Pictures)

Let me say right up front that Marc Emery sometimes pays me money to write articles for his magazine, Cannabis Culture, so I am not a completely disinterested observer. That said, "Prince of Pot" director Nick Wilson has done a superb job of explaining who Emery is, where he came from, and what he is all about -- and in tying Emery's trajectory to the larger issues of marijuana prohibition, the drug war in general, and Canadian acquiescence to US-style prohibitionist drug policies.

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Marc Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture magazine)
I assume that anyone reading these words already knows who Marc Emery is: Canada's most vocal advocate of marijuana legalization, founder of the BC Marijuana Party, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine, operator of POT-TV, and former proprietor of the Marc Emery Seed Company. Emery made lots of money with his seed company, and plowed much of it back into the marijuana legalization movement, not only in Canada, but also bankrolling activists in the US Marijuana Party south of the border and putting some loonies (Canadian nickname for their one-dollar coin) into various Global Marijuana Marches. For Emery, the seed company was merely a means to an end, a method of raising money to subvert marijuana prohibition, or, as he nicely put it, to overgrow the government.

But all that came to a crashing halt three years ago, when Emery and two of his employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on marijuana trafficking charges for his seed sales. Now, the Vancouver 3, as they have come to be known, face up to life in prison in the US if and when they are extradited.

The documentary, which is available from Journeyman Productions, opens with some vintage Emery, addressing the crowd at a pro-legalization, anti-extradition rally in Vancouver, the headquarters of his operation. "The DEA says I am responsible for 1.1 million pounds of pot," he said to cheers from the crowd. "I would be happy to believe that. That's the problem -- the DEA and I agree on the facts."

"Prince of Pot" follows Emery's career from his beginnings as an Ontario bookstore owner who loathed stoners, but came to embrace their cause as he fought the Canadian government's censorship of "drug-related" magazines like High Times. Early on, Emery displayed the same qualities that propelled his meteoric rise to the heights of the pot legalization movement: a libertarian sensibility, "an ego that takes up 40% of his body weight," as one observer put it, an aggressive, abrasive personality, a penchant for the publicity stunt, and a mouth that never stops working.

The documentary also shows that Emery's exhibitionism isn't limited to the sphere of the political. Early on, viewers are treated to a shot of Emery's backside as he gets out of bed, and another scene shows him naked on a Vancouver nude beach being anointed with cannabis oil by his young wife Jodie in an experiment to see whether it could have an impact on "any cancerous or pre-cancerous cells." (No word on how that turned out.)

But if Marc Emery's ass is on the screen, it's also on the line, and this is where "Prince of Pot" really shines. The documentary makers interviewed the unrepentant US attorney in Seattle who indicted him and a Seattle DEA agent who justified the bust, and confronted DEA head Karen Tandy at a 2006 international DEA conference in Montreal.

"Prince of Pot" hones in with precision accuracy on Tandy's post-bust press release where she bragged about how Emery's arrest was "a blow to the legalization movement." That press release may be Emery's best long-shot chance at avoiding extradition because it provides evidence that his prosecution was politically motivated.

All of the feds, of course, deny that was the case, but, in tracing Emery's career, his succession of trivial arrests by Canadian authorities, and growing US frustration with Canada's seeming indifference to his activities, the documentarians make a strong case that Marc Emery was busted not because he sold seeds, but because he was a burr under the saddle of Washington.

The documentary also features a strong cast of Canadian supporters, including former Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell ("The drug czar is an idiot"), Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, Toronto attorney Alan Young, Ottawa attorney and criminal justice professor Eugene Oscapella ("Why should we emulate the failed drug policies of the United States?"). Vancouver activist David Malmo-Levine, shown smoking a foot-long joint at one point, makes a compelling observation, too: "They want to send him to prison for life," he exclaims, recounting the DEA's argument about the harm Emery has caused by promoting marijuana production. "What harm? Show me the bodies," he demands. "There has to be at least one body if they want to send him away for life. There has to be at least one person who suffered more than bronchitis."

Washington state marijuana defense attorney Douglas Hiatt's brief appearance is also powerful and worth noting. Visibly angry at the injustice of the marijuana laws, Hiatt lashes out at prosecutors and the DEA. "If the DEA wants to talk about destroying families," he growls, "they can talk to me about the families they've destroyed for trying to use medical marijuana. The only thing I see ruining people's lives is the government's policies," Hiatt spits out. His righteous wrath is refreshing.

At one point in the documentary, film-maker Wilson says that for him, "It's not about seeds, it's about sovereignty." From the Canadian perspective, he's right, of course, but it's really about marijuana prohibition, and Wilson does a wonderful job of sketching its history and ugly current reality.

At the end, the documentary speculates about a possible deal for Emery to serve a shorter prison term in the US. That didn't happen. Neither did a proposed deal that would have seen charges dropped against Rainey and Williams and Emery serving a few years in a Canadian prison. Now, it's back to fighting extradition, and given that the decision to extradite is ultimately a political one made by the Justice Minister and given that the Canadian federal government is in bed with the US on drug policy, extradition remains the most likely outcome.

In a touching scene, Emery and his wife argue over whether he will serve his cause by martyring himself, something he seems determined to do. I have personally counseled him otherwise. I suggested that he become the marijuana movement's Osama bin Laden. No, not that he blow up DEA headquarters, but that he escape to a hidden cave complex somewhere in the Canadian Rockies and bedevil his enemies with communiques from his hidden sanctuary. I, for one, would rather see Marc Emery figuratively flipping the bird to the US government than disappearing, like so many others have, into the American gulag.

Check out this documentary. It's a good one. It'll give you goose bumps at some points, make you want to cry at some, and make you want to cheer at others.

Latin America: US Drug Czar Supports Mexico Drug Decriminalization

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has been vocal in its condemnation of various moves to decriminalize marijuana possession in the US, but it is now singing a different tune when it comes to a similar proposal in Mexico. Drug czar John Walters told the New York Times last Friday that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent call to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs.

Under Calderon's proposal, people caught possessing drugs could avoid criminal sanctions if they agree to submit themselves for evaluation and treatment of their "drug problem." Calderon is touting the measure as a means of concentrating Mexican law enforcement efforts on the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations rather than wasting time and resources picking on drug users.

"I don't think that's legalization," said Walters, who supports Calderon's tough approach to the drug trade and lobbied vigorously for the multi-year, multi-billion dollar anti-drug aid package for Mexico approved by Congress earlier this year.

That prompted the Marijuana Policy Project to issue a press release headed "Hell Freezes Over." "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but John Walters is right," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "We heartily second his support for eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana users in Mexico, and look forward to working with him to end such penalties in the US as well," Kampia said.

"It's fantastic that John Walters has recognized the massive destruction the drug war has inflicted on Mexico and is now calling for reforms there, but he's a rank hypocrite if he continues opposing similar reforms in the US," Kampia continued. "The Mexican proposal is far more sweeping than MPP's proposals to decriminalize marijuana or make marijuana medically available, both of which John Walters and his henchmen rail against."

Not everyone was so excited. Writing for Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog, Jacob Sullum agreed with Walters that Calderon's proposal is not legalization. "In fact, it's a stretch even to call Calderon's proposal 'decriminalization,'" he wrote. "It is surely an improvement if illegal drug users don't go to prison, even if the alternative is a treatment program that may be inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Yet under Calderon's plan the threat of jail still hangs over anyone who violates the government's pharmacological taboos and is not prepared to undergo re-education, which entails identifying himself as an addict, even if he isn't, and playing the role of the drug dealer's helpless victim. Walters correctly sees that such compelled affirmation of drug war dogma, which he likens to the treatment-or-jail option offered in American 'drug courts,' poses little threat to current policy."

Sullum also noted that Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, had supported a 2006 bill that would have lifted criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of drugs before he pulled it in the face of pressure from the Americans. At that time, a US embassy spokeswoman said the Mexican government should "ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs." As Sullum noted: "The Calderon proposal satisfies that criterion and differs little from current practice in many American jurisdictions, so it's not surprising Walters is on board."

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