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Chronicle AM -- December 16, 2013

Uruguay's president defends marijuana legalization there and finds an ally, marijuana bills are popping up in some surprising countries, the Justice Department says we have a federal prison crisis, and much more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has some harsh words for his critics and finds some support, too.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Takes Up Decriminalization for 18-to-20-Year-Olds. The Denver city council will today vote on whether to decriminalize marijuana possession for people between the ages of 18 and 20. Councilman Albus Brooks, who is pushing the measure, said it would address an inequity in how offenses are currently prosecuted. Juveniles with small amounts are not arrested, but instead sent to a juvenile assessment center, and adults 21 and over who violate the city's pot laws face only small fines, but people over 17 but younger than 21 face up to a year in jail. Brooks' bill would treat the under-21s like those over 21.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Debate in St. Louis Wednesday. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne will debate Jason Grellner of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association Wednesday night in St. Louis. Click on the link for details. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation is attempting to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Public Hearing on New York Medical Marijuana Bill on Long Island Wednesday. The New York Assembly Health Committee will hold hearings on pending medical marijuana legislation Wednesday on Long Island. Click the link for time and place details.

Illinois Launches Medical Marijuana Information Website. Illinois state officials have launched a new website described as the "central location" for information on new medical marijuana laws that go into effect January 1. The public can learn about implementation updates, draft and final administrative rules, application forms, FAQ's, press releases and other materials related to medical cannabis on the site.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Dispensary Selection Committee Named. The Department of Public Health last Thursday named the members of a committee that will review 100 applicants for up to 35 dispensaries. Click on the link to see the complete list.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Welfare Drug Testing Law Could Be Costly. A new state law requiring welfare recipients with past felony drug convictions to submit to drug tests "could end up costing taxpayers far more than it saves" while burdening poor families with complex paperwork they could find it difficult to comply with, county officials and advocacy groups said. The law contains costly local mandates and complicated rules that apply only to a tiny fraction of state welfare recipients. Only 0.4% of Minnesota welfare recipients have felony drug convictions, compared to 1.2% among the adult population overall. "I don't think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money," said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County. "This is punitive."

Defense Department Now Testing for Synthetic Marijuana. The Defense Department has begun testing for synthetic cannabinoids in its random drug testing program, the head of the program said Friday. "The message we're getting out now is that when you participate in our random urinalysis program, synthetic marijuana products or synthetic marijuana will now be tested along with our other drugs," Army Lt. Col. Tom Martin said. Fake weed had been showing up in 2.5% of drug tests in a random study conducted by the Army, he added.

Sentencing

Justice Department Identifies "Growing Crisis" in Federal Prison System as "Increasingly Critical Threat." An Office of the Inspector General report issued last week, Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice-2013, identified a number of challenges facing the department, but singled out "the growing crisis in the federal prison system" as an "increasingly critical threat" to the department's ability to fulfill its mission. The crisis is two-fold, the report says: escalating costs of running the prison system and rising security and safety issues due to chronic overcrowding. The department identified sentencing reform initiatives and the Smart on Crime initiative as responses, but noted that their impacts are still unclear.

Cornyn Introduces Federal Prison Reform Bill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week introduced the Federal Prison Reform Act (Senate Bill 1783), which would allow nonviolent, low-risk offenders to complete work, education, skills training, or rehabilitation programs in order to earn up to half of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house. Cornyn is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill has been referred.

International

Uruguay's President Has Harsh Words for INCB Head. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica fought back this weekend after Raymond Yans, head of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) criticized Uruguay's decision to legalize marijuana and said it had failed to consult with the board. "Tell that old man to stop lying," Mujica said in an interview with Uruguay's Canal 4. "Let him come to Uruguay and meet me whenever he wishes… Anybody can meet and talk to me, and whoever says he couldn't meet with me tells lies, blatant lies. Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense," he added. Mujica noted the INCB's relative quiescence before the legalization of marijuana in two US states and accused him of having double standards. "Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world's strong countries?"; he asked.

Guatemalan President Supports Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. At a Central American summit in Panama City Saturday, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called Uruguay's marijuana legalization "an important step" that could serve as "a pilot plan" in the regional war against drug trafficking. "I think the step Uruguay took is an important one and is a valuable experience," Pérez Molina said. "It could serve as a pilot plan for all of Latin America, and we hope it will be an experience that eventually all countries can adopt," he added.

Israeli Knesset Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Knesset Sunday approved an updated version of Israel's medical marijuana law that will centralize marijuana collection and increase the number of doctors allowed to prescribe it. Some medical marijuana growers and patients aren't happy with the centralization, saying that direct contact between patients and growers is important.

Slovenia Parliament Will Discuss Marijuana Legalization Bills. After a pro-legalization citizens' initiative succeeded in forcing parliament to take up the issue, the Slovenian parliament will hold formal hearings on three legalization bills. It's not clear when that will happen.

Sri Lanka Government Will Submit Medical Marijuana Bill. Sri Lanka's minister of indigenous medicine, Salinda Dissanayake, said Saturday he will submit a bill to parliament to allow marijuana to be used as medicine. The bill would amend the country's Ayurveda Act, which deals with traditional medicine. The same ministry had tried in 2008 to get permission to grow marijuana as medicine, but that didn't happen.

Two More Drug War Deaths

A Minnesota man died late last month after being arrested on drug charges, and a Washington state man was shot and killed late last week in a drug bust gone bad. Philip Derks of St. Paul and as yet unnamed Wenatchee, Washington, man become the 37th and 38th persons to die in US domestic drug law operations so far this year.

In the Washington case, according to the Wenatchee World News, citing police sources, members of the Columbia River Drug Task Force had made repeated undercover drug buys from the man, then used uniformed police to pull him over in a traffic stop. The man pulled into a Taco Bell drive-in lane, and a police car pulled in behind him.

"The officer exited the vehicle and contacted the suspect," said Trooper Darren Wright of the State Patrol, which is conducting the investigation into the killing. "A struggle ensued and resulted in the shooting."

Wright said it was not clear if the man had a gun, or if he had fired any shots. He said the unnamed police officer shot more than one shot.

The mid-afternoon shooting at the popular fast-food restaurant resulted in the victim's vehicle rolling forward and striking an occupied pick-up truck in the parking lot. No injuries were reported there.

No word on what drugs the task force was chasing.

{Update: The man has been identified as Robert Harris, 43, of Wenatchee. The coroner reported he died of multiple gunshot wounds. Still no word on whether he had a gun.]

In the Minnesota case, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philip Derks, 32, had been arrested on November 28 along with the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding after police who stopped them for a traffic violation saw a plastic baggie containing an unknown substance being thrown from the vehicle.

A preliminary field test identified the substance as methamphetamine, and Derks and his companion were taken to the Ramsey County Jail. Within a half hour of their arrival at the jail, Derks' friend alerted jail staff that he needed medical attention. Jail staff wrote that he didn't appear to be under duress, but was fidgety and starting to sweat.

Jail staff moved him to a segregation cell for closer observation after he mentioned Adderall but "refused to answer other questions." Derks grew "even more restless, became very pale, and was sweaty," staff noted before transporting him to a local hospital.

Derks died in the hospital about 18 hours after arriving there. His friend told sheriff's deputies that Derks had swallowed an unknown amount of drugs to hide them from police when they had been pulled over the previous day.

Chronicle AM -- December 13, 2013

It looks like Washington state medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to grow their own, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes wants to welcome pot tourists, the Michigan Senate takes aim at welfare drug users, Indian Maoists are profiting from prohibition, and more. Let's get to it:

India's Maoist Naxalities -- profiting from prohibition. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants to Accommodate Pot Tourists. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes has warned the city council against passing rules that will make it harder for tourists to enjoy legal marijuana. "We need to recognize that tourists are coming to this state to sample wine, to sample Washington marijuana, to sample any of the attributes of this destination city; that we accommodate that somehow," he told KPLU FM.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Leaning Toward Allowing Home Medical Marijuana Grows. Members of the state Liquor Control Board signaled Friday they will recommend medical marijuana patients continue to be allowed to grow their own medicine. The state Health and Revenue departments and the liquor board had earlier proposed outlawing home growing once I-502 takes effect, but aroused a storm of outrage from patients and their supporters. The board is expected to formally recommend allowing the grows next week.

Colorado Could Cut Patient Fees. State health officials want to reduce the fee paid by licensed medical marijuana patients. The Board of Health will hear a proposal next week to drop the annual fee from $35 to $15. That's because the fund that pays for the patient registry has a $13 million surplus, and the fee is not supposed to be about generating revenue, just paying for the costs of the program. There are nearly 113,000 registered patients in the state.

Second Hearing Held on Guam Medical Marijuana Bill. A pending medical marijuana bill on Guam got a second public hearing Thursday. The island's public health director said he could not support the bill because there was no funding for regulation, but patients and medical marijuana supporters testified in support of the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 215, remains alive, and cosponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she was working on amendments based on feedback from the public.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Michigan Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 275, which would set up a pilot program to start subjecting some welfare recipients to drug testing. Recipient would be screened and those for whom there was "a reasonable suspicion" of drug use would have to submit to a drug test. A first failed drug test would result in a referral to treatment, a second would result in loss of benefits. The Republican-supported bill passed on a straight party line vote. Similar legislation has been approved in the House.

Sentencing

Report Reviews Changes in Federal Sentencing Since Booker. A new report, Legal Change and Sentencing Norms in Federal Court: An Examination of the Impact of the Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough Decisions, finds that not that much has changed. A series of Supreme Court decisions beginning with Booker held that federal sentencing guidelines are merely advisory, and expectations were that their impact would be significant. But "the findings suggest that sentencing policy changes at the national level -- including reforms mandated by these cases -- neither uniformly nor dramatically transformed sentencing practices. Factors in individual cases were the largest predictor of sentencing outcomes over all time periods. Sentencing behavior across districts changed incrementally over time but did not dramatically shift during major policy changes."

International

Indian Maoists (Again) Linked to Black Market Marijuana Trade. India's long-festering revolutionary Maoist movement, the Naxalites, is once again linked to the illicit trade in drugs. Officials in Odisha are complaining that they cannot eradicate the Naxalites until they "have control over the illegal cultivation of cannabis, which, according to intelligence sources, has become a major source of funding for the Maoists." Six of eight named districts where large-scale pot growing is "a well known fact" are known as "highly Naxal-infested districts." The state government is engaged in manual eradication, but is considering aerial spraying.

Costa Rica Public Opinion Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica is not ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new public opinion poll. The survey from the School of Statistics at the University of Costa Rica found that only 15% favored legalization, while 50% were opposed. Medical marijuana fared better, with 53% in favor.

British Activist to Open "Cannabis Café" in Manchester. Notorious marijuana activist Colin Davies, who once handed a bouquet of flowers including marijuana to the queen, has announced plans to open a cannabis café in Manchester. Davis, who was once jailed for marijuana trafficking, said no pot would be sold at the café; instead it will be BYOB. Marijuana remains a Class B drug in Britain, so Davis should be looking for a police reaction.

Chronicle AM -- December 12, 2013

A push is on to end the federal ban on needle exchange funding, a secret federal panel meets to discuss marijuana banking issues, UN anti-drug bureaucrats are still unhappy with Uruguay, more bodies show up in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

A move is on to end the federal ban on funding needle exchanges.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Banking Panel Meets on Pot Sales. The Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group (BSAAG) met in Washington, DC, Thursday to discuss how to deal with banking issues related to medical marijuana and legal marijuana industries. Under current federal laws, marijuana sellers can't set up bank accounts or process credit card transaction because financial institutions fear being implicated in drug trafficking or money laundering cases. The meeting is closed-door, and there is no word yet on what, if anything, was decided.

One Year In, Coloradans Still Like Marijuana Legalization. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week found that Coloradans still support marijuana legalization. The poll found 53% agreed that marijuana use should be legal. It will be interesting to see the poll numbers a year from now, when Coloradans have had time to experience a legal marijuana industry. That begins on January 1.

Washington State Regulators Want to Ban Pot Smoking Wherever Alcohol is Sold. The state Liquor Control Board, which is also in charge of legal marijuana commerce, has proposed banning marijuana consumption in businesses licensed for liquor sales, but a Wednesday meeting saw loud opposition, in particular from Frankie Schnarr, owner of Frankie's Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia. Schnarr years ago emerged victorious in a battle with the board over whether he could open the second floor of his bar to smokers, who joined a "club" for the privilege. Schnarr opened his club to pot smokers after I-502 passed, and now claims 13,500 club members. Schnarr and others said the proposed rule was aimed directly at him. The board will vote on the proposed rule next week.

Philadelphia "Smoke Down Prohibition" Marijuana Prosecutions Continue, So Will Demonstrations. Comedian NA Poe will be sentenced Friday in federal court for smoking pot at Independence Hall as part of Philly NORML's ongoing Smoke Down Prohibition demonstrations. Two more members of the "Liberty Bell 4," Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn will go on trial next week for puffing pot in demos this past summer, while a fourth, US Marine veteran Mike Whiter will make his first court appearance on similar federal charges. Click on the link for more details and how you can participate.

Gov. Cuomo Dismisses New York Legalization Bill as "Non-Starter." Well, that didn't take long. Yesterday, state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) announced she was introducing a marijuana legalization bill. That same day, a Cuomo spokesman scoffed at the bill, calling it "a non-starter."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Wins Assembly Committee Vote. A bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy the drug in other states and bring it back with them passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 7-4 vote Thursday. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) has said he will veto it or any other expansion of the state's program.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Docs, Scientists Call for End to Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban. In the wake of the budget agreement announced this week by congressional negotiators, more than 70 Maryland-based doctors and scientists sent an open letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) urging her to act to get the longstanding ban on federal needle exchange funding lifted. The ban had been overturned in 2010, but was reinstated without any public debate during budget negotiations the following year.

Pain Pills

State Attorneys General Call on FDA to Reconsider Zohydro Approval. The FDA is running into more flak over its October decision to approve the first hydrocodone-only drug in America, Zohydro, which will be available in a time-release form. Four US senators challenged the decision earlier this week, and now, 28 state attorneys general have asked the agency to reconsider. They cited the roll-out of earlier pain relieving drugs in time-release formulas, which they said resulted in "overzealous pharmaceutical sales" and "doctors overprescribing narcotics," among other ills. But Attorneys General are typically trained as lawyers, not doctors or pharmacists, and they seem oblivious to the continuing problem of undertreatment of pain that their campaigns foster. The FDA said it would reply directly to the law enforcement officials.

International

UNODC Criticizes Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) isn't happy with Uruguay. The South American nation's decision to legalize marijuana is a blow against international cooperation in the war on drugs, said UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. "Just as illicit drugs are everyone's shared responsibility, there is a need for each country to work closely together and to jointly agree on the way forward for dealing with this global challenge," he said in a statement. He also called the move "unfortunate."

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Authorities in the central Mexican state of Morelos have uncovered two mass graves containing at least 20 bodies. Authorities believe some of the bodies are victims of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which was largely dismantled two years ago. Others were apparently killed more recently. The discovery comes on the heels of a similar gruesome find in western Michoacan state, where the latest count had 66 bodies removed from mass graves there. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Mexico's prohibition-related violence since 2006 and tens of thousands more have disappeared, including more than a thousand in the past two years in Moreleos, according to the state human rights commission.

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

The Uruguayan Senate voted Tuesday to approve a government-sponsored bill to legalize marijuana commerce. The Senate vote was the final vote needed for the bill to pass; all amendments to the bill were defeated previous to Tuesday's debate, so it now goes to the desk of President Jose Mujica, who supports it.

Once Mujica signs the bill into law, it will go into effect in 120 days.

The Broad Front coalition government headed by Mujica first introduced the plan to legalize marijuana a year and a half ago as part of a broader package of measures designed to reduce the crime and violence associated with the black market drug trade. After retooling in the face of significant opposition, the bill passed the lower chamber of Congress in July.

Uruguay now becomes the first signatory to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to break with the UN on the issue of marijuana legalization. The Netherlands has turned a blind eye to small-scale retail sales for decades now, but such acts remain formally illegal so the Dutch can remain in formal compliance with the treaty.

Under the bill, the Uruguayan government will regulate the importation, cultivation, harvesting, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Would-be pot smokers will have to register with the government in order to grow their own (up to six plants), grow it collectively in a club, or buy up to 40 grams a month at a pharmacy.

The bill was not without opposition. During debate Tuesday, Colorado Party Sen. Alfredo Solari, a former health minister, said that children and teens would be able to more easily obtain marijuana.

"The effects of this policy on public health will be terrible," he warned.

But Broad Front Sen. Roberto Conde retorted that easy access to marijuana is already the status quo.

"Marijuana is already established in Uruguay," he said. "It's a drug that is already seen as very low risk and enormously easy to get."

Opposition didn't just come from conservative lawmakers. Some marijuana users aren't very keen on the idea of having to register with the state in order to legally obtain their drug of choice.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica
But President Mujica and the Broad Front argued that the bill would weaken drug traffickers and help reduce the estimated $80 million a year the country spends fighting drugs and imprisoning traffickers. The estimated 128,000 Uruguayan pot smokers (user groups have a higher estimate of around 200,000) make up the largest illicit drug market in the country.

The government is vowing to entice consumers with marijuana that is both cheaper and of higher quality than that produced by the black market, most of which comes from Paraguay, which produces plentiful but low-grade crops.

"We are keeping in mind the prices on the black market, until we start to dismantle the functioning of the market," said Julio Calzada, secretary of the National Drug Board.

"This law will return us to the vanguard of Latin America," added Broad Front Sen. Constanza Moreira. "For many of us, today is a historic day. Many countries in Latin America, and many governments will take this law as an example."

Uruguay's move to legalize the marijuana business won accolades from drug reformers around the globe. In an open letter organized by the International Drug Policy Consortium,114 civil society organizations from around the world welcomed the vote.

"The path taken by Uruguay establishes the basis for a new paradigm in drug policy," the groups said. "The organizations that have promoted these changes cannot ignore the efforts undertaken by the Uruguayan state. We will support Uruguay and every other state and jurisdiction as they seek to develop more sensible drug policies to tackle the problems related to health and security of their citizens, in full respect with international human rights treaties."

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the policy manager for the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For 40 years, marijuana prohibition has been attempted and it simply hasn't worked. But rather than closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay has chosen responsible regulation of an existing reality. Let's hope others soon follow suit!"

"We applaud President Mujica and members of the Uruguayan General Assembly for their leadership on this important issue," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Support for regulating marijuana and taking it out of the underground market is not only growing in the United States, but also internationally. It will not be long before more states and nations decide to end marijuana prohibition."

"Marijuana prohibition creates underground markets that generate billions of dollars in tax-free revenue for violent drug cartels and traffickers," Riffle said. "Regulating marijuana will allow authorities to control it and ensure profits are being used to benefit communities instead of criminals."

Uruguay has just punched a big hole in the edifice of global marijuana prohibition. Who is going to be next?

Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- December 10, 2013

African-American faith leaders observe International Human Rights Day by calling for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration, Texans are ready for criminal justice reform, and Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues apace. And more. Let's get to it:

African American faith leaders called Tuesday for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration. (sdpconference.info)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Pass House Committee. A pair of bills that would allow for the use of medical marijuana-infused products, as well as legalizing dispensaries for cannabis, passed the House Judiciary committee Tuesday morning on unanimous votes. A third bill, which would allow pharmacies to produce and sell medical marijuana, also passed, but on an 8-1 vote. With the legislature adjourning for the year Thursday, it's unlikely they will get final votes before then.

Law Enforcement

California Appeals Court Rules Only Prosecutors -- Not Police -- Can Initiate Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. California's 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled last week that police agencies cannot initiate asset forfeiture proceedings, which must instead be undertaken by prosecutors. Police had seized $16,000 in cash from Adolfo Cuevas and a friend sitting in a car and moved to forfeit it when traces of methamphetamine were found on a $5 bill. Only prosecutors can make that call, the court held. The case is Cuevas v. Superior Court of Tulare County.

Pain Pills

American College of Physicians Calls for Pain Med Contracts, Database, Educational Programs. In a policy paper released Tuesday, Prescription Drug Abuse, the American College of Physicians set out 10 policy positions and recommendations aimed at reducing "the significant human and financial costs related to prescription drug abuse." They include supporting a national prescription drug monitoring program, more education and prevention efforts for doctors and patients, and considering the use of written agreements ("pain contracts") for doctors and patients when treating pain. [Ed: Patient advocates often regard databases and pain contracts with suspicion. We commonly receive reports about pain contracts in particular having a chilling effect on the availability of pain medication for patients who need it. It is not clear whether this paper fully considers the plight commonly suffered by pain patients because of the war on drugs.]

Sentencing

On International Human Rights Day, Black Leaders Call for End to Drug War, Mass Incarceration. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a major grouping of African-American faith leaders, called for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. The call came as the group released key findings from a series of community-based hearings on mass incarceration it has held around the nation. Click on the link for the recommendations.

Poll: Texans Ready to Reform Drug Punishments. A poll released Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation finds that nearly four out five (79%) Texans support drug treatment instead of prison for people caught possessing drugs. The poll also found overwhelming (84%) support for broader criminal justice reforms in the state.

International

Mexican Drug War Deaths Show No Decline. One year after Enrique Pena Nieto assumed office as president of Mexico, the deadly prohibition-related violence that has plagued the country for the past six years shows no sign of abating. According to Frontera NorteSur, citing Mexican press reports, there were 19,016 people killed in the drug violence in the first 11 months of Pena Nieto's term, compared to 18,161 during the last 11 months of Felipe Calderon's government. The violence also appears to have shifted geographically, from border states to states in the south and center of the country.

Chronicle Book Review: "Narcoland"

Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anibel Hernandez (2013, Verso Press, 362 pp., $26.95 HB)

Being a Mexican drug lord is typically a career path with a suddenly abbreviated trajectory. Just ask the erstwhile leaders of the Zetas or the Familia Michoacana or the Beltran Leyvas or the Tijuana cartel or the Juarez cartel or the Gulf cartel. Well, ask them if you can hold séances or know how to burrow inside maximum security prisons -- because they're either dead or behind bars.

But as just about anyone in Mexico will tell you, there is one Mexican drug trafficking organization whose top leadership appears untouchable. That would be the Sinaloa cartel, led by the world's most famous narco and one of its wealthiest men, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his top henchman, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. More than a dozen years after he escaped from a Mexican prison, despite two presidencies waging an ever more aggressive war against the cartels, Guzman and company remain on top of the heap, his rivals decimated even as the Sinaloa cartel continues its bloody, multi-million dollar a year business. And El Chapo and El Mayo remain unscathed.

And as many, many Mexicans are eager to tell you, it looks like the fix is in. How is it that they can't catch or kill El Chapo? How is it that he escaped from prison in the first place? The cynical folk wisdom is that he is being protected by people in the government. That people should think that is not surprising. Suspicions of government complicity in the drug trade, whether in the state police forces; the ever-mutating (because frequently, necessarily, and unsuccessfully cleansed of corruption) federal police forces, the military, or the high ministries, are both long-held and well-founded.

Books reviewed in this publication over the past few years have amply detailed the layers of corruption and complicity surrounding the drug trade in Mexico, but in Narcoland, prize-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez takes it to a whole new level. Narcoland is the updated English language version of her explosive 2010 Mexican blockbuster Los Señores del Narco, a book whose publication generated death threats and led the National Commission on Human Rights to assign her two full-time bodyguards.

Despite Mexico's well-deserved reputation as a burial ground for journalists and despite the threats generated by her journalistic digging, Hernandez is undeterred. She is not the least bit squeamish about charging that the Mexican government has been hopelessly corrupted by the filthy lucre of the drug trade, right up to the presidential palace, and she is not afraid to name names, including people close to presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, as well as some of their most important appointees, such as Calderon's Secretary for Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna.

The charges Hernandez makes are blunt and mind-boggling: "From the beginning of his government, Calderon's strategy against the drug barons was designed to favor El Chapo Guzman and his main partners: El Mayo Zambada, El Nacho Coronel, and El Azul Esparragoza," she writes. "There is firm documentary evidence that Calderon's war was overwhelmingly aimed at those traffickers who are El Chapo's enemies or threats to his leadership… In fact, what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a 'war on drug traffickers,' but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel."

Hernandez clearly finger Garcia Luna, Calderon's top cop, as deep in El Chapo's pocket, and presents pretty convincing evidence for her case, including not only the inability to ever find El Chapo, but also the deployment of Mexican state security forces on his behalf. Funny, isn't it, how the cartels the Mexican government most aggressively pursues are the ones that El Chapo happens to have in his sights at the time?

Hernandez is equally blunt in her assessment of Mexico as a whole. It's a "mafiocracy," she writes, and the criminality isn't limited to capos and cops. Politicians rely on drug money to win campaigns, and traffickers rely on bought politicians to go about their business. Similarly, businessmen and high society people turn a blind eye to the narco-wealth that insinuates itself into every corner of society and every sector of the economy.

Beyond being a mega-scale muckracker, Hernandez is also an excellent story teller. She provides a behind-the-scenes account of El Chapo's 2001 escape from Puente Grande prison that is both shocking and enthralling. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that the official version of events, in which El Chapo escaped in a laundry cart, is not, according to Hernandez, what really happened.

Likewise, while navigating one's way through that minefield of competing cartels and their nick-named major players is an excruciating task, Hernandez provides the clearest, most compelling, and most comprehensible narrative yet of the evolution and infighting among the cartels.

It feels like conspiracy theory, and at times, one has to wonder. Is Nacho Coronel really still alive, having, as Hernandez claims, having faked his death in a shoot-out with soldiers in Jalisco in 2010? It seems unlikely. But her broader thesis -- that the fix is in -- seems quite likely. Could Mexico's officially most wanted man have eluded capture or death, eliminated his rivals, consolidated his power, expanded his operations, and weaved his web of complicity without serious help from very well connected players at the highest levels of Mexican politics, business, and law enforcement? It seems unlikely.

Chronicle AM -- December 2, 2013

The Denver city council votes today on where you can smoke pot, a Tennessee bill equates meth-making with child abuse, there's dissent on drug policy at the UN, India fights a drug menace, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council to Vote Today to Ban Marijuana Smoking on Private Property if Visible to the Public. The Denver city council is expected to give final approval today to an ordinance that would ban marijuana smoking on one's own property if it is visible to the public. The measure won an initial 5-7 vote last week. The measure is opposed by the ACLU of Colorado, Sensible Colorado, and even the Denver Post, which editorialized against it today.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Returning to Iowa Legislature; Event in Des Moines Tonight. State Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City), who has introduced medical marijuana bills in four previous sessions, will try again next year. He said he will introduce legislation modeled on the New Mexico program. Bolckom and Dr. Steven Jenison, who helped create the New Mexico bill, will be speaking about the New Mexico program at the Des Moines Public Library at 6:00pm tonight.

Methamphetamine

Under Proposed Tennessee Bill, Meth Making = Child Abuse. A bill filed last week, Senate Bill 1438, would allow meth-making parents to be charged with child abuse or neglect, even if the child has not suffered any child abuse or neglect. Current state law allows such charges to filed against meth-making parents if there is physical injury as a result of exposure to meth, but that's not good enough for state Sen. Doug Overbey and state Rep. Dale Carr, the bill's sponsors.

Prescription Drugs

Rhode Island Task Force to Study Electronic Prescription Monitoring. A legislatively-mandated commission meets for the first time today to consider whether the state should track certain medications in a bid to prevent prescription drug abuse. The commission is led by Rep. William O'Brien (D-North Providence), and includes state health officials, physicians, and a community health expert -- but apparently no pain patients. About half the states have moved to enact some form of electronic prescription monitoring in recent years.

International

Leaked Document Reveals Splits Ahead of UN Drug Session. A draft of a UN document setting out the organization's long-term strategy for fighting drugs has been leaked to British media and reveals an accelerating erosion of the decades-long, but increasingly shaky, drug prohibition consensus. In the leaked draft, both Latin American and European nations demanded that the UN's drug policy open itself up to new directions. This is all run-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs.

Another Dark Web Drug Marketplace Shuts Down. The Black Market Reloaded web site, which offered illicit drugs and other items for sale, has closed, a victim of its own success. The site operator said it had grown too big to be able to guarantee anonymity for its customers. The move comes after a competitor, Silk Road, was shut down by US officials, and another competitor, Sheep Marketplace, closed claiming someone had stolen more than $2 million worth of bit coins, a virtual currency. Silk Road 2.0 is reportedly up and running, however.

In Wake of Mass Bootleg Alcohol Deaths, Indian State Wants More Alcohol Prohibition. Responding to a 2009 mass bootleg alcohol ("hooch") poisoning that left at least 156 people dead, the Gujarat high court Sunday called for tougher enforcement of alcohol prohibition. While the high court appreciated the state government's move to impose the death penalty for "hooch tragedies," it also called for stricter enforcement of prohibition to fight "the menace of illegal transportation, manufacturing and possession of liquor."

Jamaica's First Medical Marijuana Company Set to Open. Jamaican scientist Dr. Henry Lowe is expected to open the island nation's first medical marijuana company this week. Lowe said he plans to develop marijuana extracts to treat psychosis and severe pain, and, possibly, "mid-life crisis in men."

Iranians in 550 Armed Clashes with Drug Smugglers in Past Three Months. Iranian officials said Monday that there had been more than 550 armed clashes with drug traffickers in the past three months. Iran borders Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer by far, and is both a transit country and a final destination for tons of Afghan opium each year. It has destroyed more than 60 tons of illicit drugs a year in recent years. It also hangs hundreds of drug traffickers each year.

Fort Worth Man Killed in Drug Raid

A Fort Worth, Texas, resident was shot and killed by members of the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit as they executed a search warrant Friday night. The as yet unidentified victim becomes the 36th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WFAA TV News, citing a Fort Worth police captain, six members of the unit's Northeast Division arrived at the Tulip Tree Drive residence at about 8:45pm. When they broke down the door, the man inside was holding a shotgun and pointing it at officers.

One officer from nearby Euless fired once at the man, striking him at the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

While police did not identify the man, they did say he was 30 years old.

Four other people inside the home were taken into custody, but it is not clear if they were actually arrested.

The Fort Worth Police Department is investigating the shooting.

Fort Worth, TX
United States

Newark Cops Kill Alleged Drug Dealer, Neighbors Attack Police

Two undercover Essex County sheriff's deputies shot and killed a suspected drug dealer Wednesday, sparking an angry response from area residents. The dead man, so far identified only as "Jose," becomes the 35th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, citing Essex County Chief of Detectives Anthony Ambrose, the deputies were doing a drug investigation and approached "Jose" in a building on North 9th Street. Ambrose said the man came out of the building with a loaded weapon, and both deputies opened fire, killing him.

Neighbors at the scene, who pelted the sheriff's office vehicle with rocks and debris, breaking at least one window, had a different version of events. Several of them told a Star-Ledger reporter that the deputies hit the man with their vehicle, then shot him as he lay on the ground. None of those interviewed would give their names, saying they feared retribution from the police.

"Why did you have to hit him with a car? Why'd you have to shoot him in the back?" people shouted over Ambrose as he spoke to reporters.

One neighbor who did identify himself, Jamar Smith, said he was a friend of the dead man and was on his way to his house when he heard the sound of a car crash followed by the loud bang of two gun shots. Smith and several others said one of the officers involved is well-known in the neighborhood for his aggressive policing and that they had had violent encounters with him, too.

Newark, NJ
United States

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