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Chronicle AM -- January 15, 2014

As the legislative season gets underway, bills are being introduced all over the place -- good, bad, and ugly. And there's trouble in Mexico, peace talks in Colombia, and more. Let's get to it:

The FARC are negotiating peace and coca crop reductions in Colombia.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Bill Would Ban Local Bans on Marijuana Businesses. A bill introduced Tuesday with 10 cosponsors would essentially bar local governments from banning pot businesses by requiring them to cooperate with state regulators in allowing marijuana stores, grows, and processing facilities to operate. Under House Bill 2322, local governments would have to treat licensed marijuana enterprises the same as any other business that attempts to locate within their boundaries. They'd be barred from adopting zoning or other regulations that impede the establishment of pot businesses. Another measure, House Bill 2144, would offer a carrot to localities by giving them 30% of the state's excise tax on marijuana sales.

New Hampshire Governor Would Veto Legalization Bill. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) said Tuesday that she would veto a pending marijuana legalization bill because she thinks it would send the wrong message to the state's youth. The House is voting on the bill today.

Missouri Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1325. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Rhode Island Legalization Proponents Form Coalition. And then there was Regulate Rhode Island. Click on the link to check out the new coalition and its web site.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1324. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Florida Initiative Campaign Passes Million-Signature Mark. The People United for Medical Marijuana campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot passed the million-signature mark this past weekend, campaign director Ben Pollara said. The group needs 683,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot -- if the state Supreme Court allows it. The initiative has been challenged by state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Pennsylvania. Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The filing of the bill, Senate Bill 1182, marks the first time such a measure has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Kentucky Senate Committee Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is holding a public hearing today on medical marijuana, although the committee chair, Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) said she is only interested in high-CBD cannabis oil. The committee will not vote because it is not addressing a specific bill, even though one medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 43, has already been filed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House Committee. A divided House Public Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug tests. House Bill 49 would require new recipients to be assessed to see whether there was a high probability they were using drugs, and if so, to undergo a drug test. It was expected to go to a full House vote today.

Florida Governor Appeals Federal Court Ruling on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Monday asked the US Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a drug testing policy aimed at state employees. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last year found the measure unconstitutional. Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made a high-profile issue of requiring drug tests for state employees and welfare recipients. But federal courts have ruled against him on both issues, as opponents have argued that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Arizona Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. Republican Reps. Phil Lovas and David Livingston and Republican Sen. Judy Burges have filed a bill that would require people seeking unemployment benefits to undergo drug screening, with drug testing mandated for those who appear likely to be using drugs. The bill, House Bill 2030, is similar to one passed in Texas last year, but put on hold because the federal Department of Labor has yet to determine which professions regularly require drug testing.

International

Colombia's FARC Presents Plan for Reducing Coca Cultivation. Colombia's FARC guerrillas, now in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, have presented a plan to reduce coca cultivation. The plan calls for demilitarizing the countryside and suspending aerial spraying of coca crops. Negotiations to end the country's 50-year-old insurgency have been going on for months and will continue.

Mexican Soldiers Meet Resistance in Bid to Disarm Vigilantes. Anti-cartel vigilantes in Michoacan offered up fierce resistance Tuesday as soldiers began trying to disarm the groups, which have taken control of a number of towns in the agricultural west-central Mexican state. Vigilantes said four people were killed in confrontations with the army; the army said one. The vigilantes said they would not give up their weapons until the government arrested top leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, which is based in the state and headquartered in the town Apatzingan. Vigilantes have taken several villages on its outskirts.

Turin Approves Medical Marijuana, Challenges Harsh Italian Drug Laws. The city council in the northern Italian city of Turin Tuesday approved a measure allowing for medical marijuana and rejecting a 2006 Italian law that undid the legal distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs. The medical use of marijuana has been already allowed in some Italian regions like Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto, but the recreational consumption of the drug is still taboo there. Turin's move could spur more movement toward allowing recreational marijuana use.

Bermuda Activist Starts Online Petition for Medical Marijuana. Marijuana reform activist and attorney Alan Gordon has started an online petition asking Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley to allow emergency medical cannabis permits for cancer patients with a doctor's recommendation. Gordon says that Bermuda's drug law allows the minister to make case-by-case exceptions to the general ban on marijuana. He also wants the minister to publish rules for making applications for a waiver.

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

They may be smoking more pot in Washington state than anyone thought, the Florida medical marijuana signature-gathering campaign is going down to the wire, opium production is up in the Golden Triangle, and aerial eradication is down in Colombia (after planes get blown out of the sky). And more. Let's get to it:

Aerial spraying of coca plants is on hold in Colombia after the FARC shot down two planes this fall. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Reason-Rupe Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 49%. In the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 49% of respondents favored legalizing marijuana, with 47% opposed. That puts it on the low side of recent polls on the topic, most of which are now showing majorities for legalization now. The poll found majority support among Democrats (55%) and independents (51%), but not Republicans (37%). Click on the link for more demographic and methodological details.

NYC Lobbyist Forms Marijuana Legalization PAC. The New York City lobbying and consulting firm Sheinkopf LTD, headed by Hank Sheinkopf, has registered a political action committee to advocate for marijuana legalization. The "Legalize Now" PAC was registered this week with the New York State Board of Elections. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills are pending in the legislature.

Washington State Marijuana Consumption Twice Previous Estimate, RAND Says. Marijuana consumption is about twice as much as officials had previously thought, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Consumption had been estimated to be about 85 metric tons in 2013, but the new study says the range is between 135 and 225 metric tons, with 175 metric tons as the median.

Medical Marijuana

Clock is Ticking on Florida Initiative. Time is running short for Florida's United for Care medical marijuana initiative. Organizers have until February 1 to gather 683,189 valid voter signatures, and say they have gathered 700,000 raw signatures, but only 162,866 have been certified as of Tuesday. Organizers are assuming a 25% rejection rate, so they are looking to gather a million signatures by deadline day.

Harm Reduction

Jack Fishman Dead at 83; Helped Create Naloxone.A scientist who played a key role in the development of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone has died. Dr. Jack Fishman died earlier this month at age 83. Naloxone (Narcan) is credited with saving countless people from overdoses of heroin and other opioid drugs. Naloxone has been approved to treat overdoses since 1971, but only some states allow it to be distributed to drug users, community support groups, and local health clinics.

Sentencing

New Brennan Center Proposal Aims to Reduce Mass Incarceration. The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute based at the NYU School of Law, has unveiled a new policy proposal to shrink prison populations, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration. It was discussed last week at the National Press Club in Washington by a panel including Jim Bueerman of the Police Foundation, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations.

International

Golden Triangle Opium Production Up, UNODC Says. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle (Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) is up 22% this year over 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 - Lao PDR, Myanmar. Most of the production is in Myanmar, which produced 870 of the regions estimated 893 tons. The Golden Triangle accounted for 18% of global opium production this year, the report said.

Colombia Coca Spraying Halted After FARC Shoots Down Two US Pilots, One Killed. US-funded aerial eradication of coca crops in Colombia has been suspended indefinitely after FARC rebels shot down two spray planes, leaving one US pilot dead. The downings occurred in September and October, but the news that the FARC shot them down and that the program had been suspended didn't come until this week.

Mexican Human Rights Commission Warns Government on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights warned Tuesday that the rise of vigilante groups to confront drug trafficking organizations undermines the rule of law and could lead to increased violence. The commission blamed the rise of the vigilantes on the government's failure to provide security and accused the government of encouraging the formation of some of the groups. The commission said there were some 7,000 vigilante members in Guerrero alone, with thousands more in Michoacan, where dozens have been killed in clashes among vigilantes, police, soldiers, and drug traffickers.

De Facto Hash Truce in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

The Lebanese government will not attempt to eradicate marijuana fields blooming across the country's Bekaa Valley, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper reported Friday. Sources cited by the Star said it was because of the fragile security situation in the area near the border with Syria and because the government had been unable to live up to pledges to provide financial compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed last year.

marijuana field, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (wikimedia.org)
They are also up against Bekaa Valley marijuana farmers in no mood to see their livelihood messed with.

"In the absence of alternatives, we will break the hands and legs of anyone who dares destroy our crops," one of the region's biggest growers, Ali Nasri Shamas, told the Daily Star. "We will not be gentle with [the security forces] like we usually are," added Shamas, who is wanted on several arrest warrants, including on a charge of attacking the Army. "It will be a full-blown war if necessary."

This after last year's eradication effort led to clashes between would-be eradicators and farmers armed with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. Those clashes, which resulted in the destruction of bulldozers hired by the government to plow under pot fields, ended only when the government promised to pay compensation to farmers. That didn't happen. The Finance Ministry said it didn't have the money.

This year, although the Higher Defense Council had fighting drug cultivation on the agenda this week, sources told the Daily Star that a "tacit agreement" last month between government officials and local leaders from the Baalbek-Hermel region in the northern Bekaa meant that eradication efforts weren't going to happen this year.

"The Army is exhausted by the roving security incidents and the farmers are poor and angry," said a political source. "Everyone wants to avoid a major confrontation with the military. No one wants carnage."

The Syrian civil war raging next door has led to repeated clashes inside Lebanon, especially since the open involvement of Hezbollah members in the fighting earlier this year. The Bekaa Valley is also a Hezbollah stronghold.

Lebanese hash provided funding for feuding militias in the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, and grew into a multi-billion dollar industry before the government cracked down under international pressure in the late 1990s. But its eradication campaigns have often generated violent clashes, and promised alternative development schemes have failed to materialize.

Now, the marijuana fields are back in a big war. The Daily Star described roads in the Bekaa Valley "lined with dark green cannabis fields."

This year's pot crop would be "wonderful," Shamas said. "We moved from 5,000 dunums of cannabis-cultivated land to 45,000 dunums," he said. (A dunum is about a quarter of an acre.) There is no shortage of dealers to buy the resulting hashish, he said, adding that it was destined for markets in Egypt, Turkey, and Europe.

While Shamas reveled in his anti-government outlaw status, other marijuana farmers said they had few other options. "We have no other choice," said Abu Asaad from Yammouneh. "Our region is highly poor and neglected and I prefer planting cannabis to turning into a bandit or a car thief."

The farmers scoffed at international aid and alternative development programs, saying they had been a bad joke.

"It's high time international donors realize that their money is not spent to devise tangible agricultural policies, but rather goes straight to the pockets of officials," Abu Asaad said. "Eradication campaigns are carried out at our expense and used to secure more funds, which will surely be embezzled."

Meanwhile, to save face, Lebanese authorities may do some Potemkin eradication.

"The police and Army might destroy a small plot of land where cannabis is grown in the next few weeks just to demonstrate that they have not dropped the ball on the matter, but I totally rule out a large-scale campaign," a source told the Daily Star.

Lebanon

Cartel Violence Flares in Western Mexican State

The Mexican government may have scored a victory earlier this month with the arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the leader of the violent and powerful Zetas drug trafficking organization, but nobody told the Knights Templar, another drug trafficking organization based in the western Mexican state of Michoacan. They have been involved in recent violence there that has left dozens dead, including a Mexican vice-admiral.

(wikimedia.org)
Michoacan is a key state in the Mexican drug business. Precursor chemicals and cocaine from South America flow through the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, while the state is also known for methamphetamine production and marijuana cultivation.

Last week, the Knights unleashed a wave of attacks on federal police in the state, resulting in the deaths of 20 cartel members and two federal police officers. Another 15 federal police officers were wounded. Those attacks took place last Tuesday, when the Interior Ministry reported that federal police around the state were subjected to "pre-planned" ambushes carried out by "individuals with large arms hidden in the hills."

"In all the cases, authorities repelled the aggressions to return order to the areas," the statement said.

Those attacks came just a day after a bloody clash in the Western Michoacan city of Los Reyes that pitted members of a local "self-defense" group against cartel gunmen.  The self-defense group was marching to city hall to protest the presence of the Knights Templar when gunmen opened fire on them, killing five and wounding seven.

Rising violence in Michoacan in recent weeks and months has inspired both the formation of the local "self defense" groups and the insertion of thousands of federal soldiers and police into the state in May at the behest of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Local citizens complain that, in addition to their drug trafficking activities, the Knights have engaged in a broad campaign of extortion, rape, and murder of common citizens, while Pena Nieto views their presence as a threat to his efforts to turn attention away from the drug wars and to Mexico's economic development.

The violence did end with the Tuesday ambushes. Two days later, three more federal police were killed and six wounded in another ambush, this one near the state's southern border with Guerrero. The following days, the bodies of four people were found hanging at the entrance to El Limon de La Luna, where some of the worst clashes between the Knights and unhappy locals have taken place. Before the arrival of the military in May, dozens of people had died in clashes between the Knights and the "self-defense" groups.

On Sunday, the Knights Templar gunned down Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar, one of Mexico's highest ranking Navy officers, and a bodyguard. Salazar's vehicle was traveling on a main highway, but was forced to detour onto an unpaved road after pro-Knights demonstrators holding signs saying "Federales Out" blocked the highway.

The vice admiral did not appear to be deliberately targeted, but his marked vehicle became a target of opportunity once it was forced onto the back roads. On Monday, Mexican authorities announced they had arrested three Knights in the killings.

Mexico

Colombia's FARC Wants Legal Coca Cultivation

In peace talks in Havana Tuesday, Colombia's FARC guerrillas called on the Colombian government to consider legalizing coca cultivation. The proposal was part of the FARC's broader proposal on agrarian development and land reform.

FARC negotiator Rube Zamora (pazfarc-ep.blogspot.com)
The proposal came one day after the FARC ended its self-imposed cease-fire (the Colombian government never agreed to a cease-fire during the peace talks) and launched a series of attacks on security forces, leaving at least one soldier dead.

The FARC is a socialist político-military formation that has been in rebellion against the central government in Bogota since 1964. Its military strength seems to have peaked about a decade ago, but it remains a potent forcé in some sectors of rural Colombia.

After first opposing the cultivation of coca among the peasantry, it gradually shifted to supporting and taxing it, and the group has had some involvement in the cocaine trade as well. Colombia is either the world's largest or second largest coca and cocaine producer, depending on which figures you believe. That's despite more than $7 billion in US anti-drug and counterinsurgency assistance since 1999 and massive, years-long aerial fumigation campaigns.

In its agrarian reform proposal, FARC negotiator Rube Zamora called on the government to "contemplate actions regarding the cultivation of illicit crops to transition toward substitute or alternative production or for their legalization for medicinal or therapeutic ends or cultural reasons."

More broadly, the FARC called for the creation of a "land bank" of unused or underused areas that could be distributed to landless peasants and for a more democratic method of rural planning. The land would include "latifundia," or large rural estates, confiscated from drug traffickers. The proposal marks a retreat from the previous FARC position that called for the seizure and redistribution of all latifundia.

There is no word on the Colombian government's response to the proposals. Both parties in the talks have agreed not to talk publicly about their progress. They restarted Tuesday after going on hiatus for the Christmas holidays.

Havana
Cuba

Marijuana Votes Have Mexicans Talking Legalization

With US public support for marijuana legalization now at the 50% mark, and state legalization efforts now starting to come to fruition, people are naturally talking about it. Academics at RAND and elsewhere recently came out with a book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," discussing the wide range of issues impacted by legalization and that will come into play affecting how it will play out. (We are sending out copies of this book, complimentary with donations, by the way.)

Spanish-language infographic from the Mexican Institute for Competitives marijuana legalization report
One of the most interesting discussions going on is about how legalization in Washington and Colorado will affect Mexico. We reported yesterday that Mexico's incoming administration plans to reassess Mexico's fight against drugs, which has cost the country dearly in lost life. Luis Videgaray, a key advisor to President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, assures that the president continues to oppose legalization, according to the AP. Nevertheless, other Mexican voices are raising the legalization question with increased intensity.

"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," [governor of the the violence-plagued border state of Chihuahaha Cesar] Duarte [an ally of Pena Nieto] told Reuters in an interview. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals, and which finances criminals."
 

And as The Economist noted last week (hat tip The Dish), the Mexico City-based think tank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) believes that legalization may cost the cartels big time. IMCO estimates that Mexican drug trafficking organizations earn $2 billion per year from marijuana, with $1.4 billion of it going to the US. Significantly, IMCO doesn't just think that legalization by the US and Mexico would cut off the cartels from those funds. They have speculated that marijuana grown in Washington and Colorado (particularly Colorado) might be diverted and sold in other states, with a dramatically lowered cost made possible by legalization causing prices to drop elsewhere as well. Lower prices in turn might lead US marijuana users who now buy Mexican weed to switch to marijuana grown in the US instead, even if it's still illegal in their own states.

I am skeptical that we will see that kind of price drop just yet, in the absence of federal legalization, even in Washington or Colorado. It hasn't happened yet from medical marijuana, even though marijuana grown for the medical market is just as divertable as marijuana grown for the recreational market may be -- the dispensaries themselves haven't undercut street prices, partly to try to avoid diversion. Sellers in other states, and the people who traffic it to them, will continue incur the kinds of legal and business risks that they have now. And it is still impossible to set up the large scale farming operations for marijuana that reduce production costs today for licit agriculture. But we don't really know yet.

Now one study is just one study, at the end of the day -- there are other estimates for the scale and value of the marijuana markets and for how much Mexican marijuana makes up of our market. But the cartels clearly have a lot of money to lose here, if not now then when federal prohibition gets repealed -- IMCO's point is valid, whether they are the ones to have best nailed the numbers or not.

It's also the case that some participants in the drug debate, such as Kevin Sabet, have argued that legalization won't reduce cartel violence, because "the cartels will just move into other kinds of crime." But those arguments miss some basic logical points. Cartels will -- and are -- diversifying their operations to profit from other kinds of illegal businesses besides drugs. But it's their drug profits -- the most plentiful and with the highest profit margin -- that enable them to invest in those businesses. The more big drug money we continue to needlessly send them, the more they will invest in other businesses, some of which are more inherently violative of human rights than drugs are.

Some researchers believe that Mexican cartels will step up their competition in other areas, if they lose access to drug trade profits, which could increase violence at certain levels of the organizations. But such effects are likely to be temporary. Nigel Inkster, former #2 person in Britain's intelligence service and coauthor of "Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition," at a book launch forum said he thinks that at a minimum the upper production levels of the drug trade, as well as the lower distribution levels, would see violence reductions. (We are also offering Inkster's book to donors, by the way.)

And it isn't just violence that's the problem. As a report last year by the Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity program noted, "[C]riminal networks... function most easily where there is a certain level of underdevelopment and state weakness... [I]t is in their best interest to actively prevent their profits from flowing into legitimate developing economies. In this way, transnational crime and underdevelopment have a mutually perpetuating relationship." The money flow caused by prohibition, accompanied by violence or not, is itself an important enough reason to urgently want to end prohibition as we do, and to reduce the reach of prohibition as much as is politically possible in the meanwhile, as Colorado and Washington have done.

And so Mexican and other thinkers are speaking up, as are victims of the current policy. For all their sakes, President Pena Nieto should not dismiss legalization so quickly. And Sabet and others should not be so quick to try to argue away the impact that the billions of dollars drug prohibition sends each year to the illicit economy has in fueling criminality and hindering societies from developing.

Please Support StoptheDrugWar.org Today! (And Get Free Books and a Video Too)

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Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

With marijuana legalization initiatives heading to the ballot, some with a good chance of passage, and with growing international support for a real debate on prohibition, people are talking about drug policy like they never have before. And so two of our three new offers for donating members come from the academic world rather than activist reformer circles: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know and Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition.

This is also a time of continuing outrages in the government's drug war, including the federal campaign against medical marijuana. And so our third new offer is the DVD Lynching Charlie Lynch, by director Rick Ray, telling the story of one of California's most respected and responsible medical marijuana providers, now facing time in federal prison. (Follow the three links above for Drug War Chronicle reviews of each of these works.)

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Colombia, FARC Rebels Set Peace Talks

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Colombian government will sit down for peace talks with the Marxist guerrillas of the FARC, which has been fighting to create a socialist Colombia since 1964. President Juan Manuel Santos broke the news in a nationwide address last Tuesday night, and the FARC have confirmed that the talks are on.

President Santos addresses the nation on peace talks. (presidencia.gov.co)
He would seek "a definitive peace" with the rebels, he said. "Any responsible leader knows he can't let pass up a possibility like this to end the conflict. No doubt there are risks," said Santos. "But I believe history would be much more severe with us all if we did not seize the opportunity."

The announcement of peace talks does not mean an immediate end to the fighting, however, and that could prove problematic.

"Military operations will continue with the same or stepped-up intensity," Santos said, adding that the talks would not be open-ended. "They will be measured in months, not in years," he said. "If there are not advances, we simply won't continue."

"It's going to be so much harder to negotiate while people are being extorted and oil pipelines are being attacked, child soldiers are being recruited and land mines are being laid," Adam Isaacson, a Colombia expert with the Washington Office on Latin America told the Associated Press.

The agreement was brokered with the assistance of Cuba and Norway, which will "facilitate" the coming peace talks. Chile and Venezuela will act as observers.

The last round of peace talks between the government and the FARC went on fruitlessly for more than three years beginning in 1999 and ended when a frustrated President Pastrana sent the Colombian military into the FARC safe haven Pastrana had ceded at the beginning of the talks.

FARC art (farc-ep.co)
Since then, the FARC has suffered militarily as Colombia has put US assistance to the tune of $700 million a year to work. Its original leadership has been killed or died of old age, and the number of guerrillas has dropped from about 20,000 to about 8,000.

But the FARC has also been killing Colombian soldiers at a higher rate than ever. It remains ensconced in its rural redoubts supported by a loyal peasantry, and continues to profit from the coca and cocaine trade.

The FARC's role in the drug trade will be a complicating factor in the talks. The US is seeking five of the group's six secretariat members on drug trafficking charges.

The FARC also seeks fundamental reforms in the Colombian state and economy, which is also likely to prove problematic. Although President Santos has signaled he is willing to discuss agrarian reform and rural development, he is likely to run into fervent opposition from wealthy rural interests who allied themselves with former President Alvaro Uribe and rightist paramilitaries during his term in office.

The paramilitaries killed thousands and generated tens of thousands of internal refugees, trafficking themselves in cocaine the whole time, until they reached an agreement to demobilize under Uribe.

Will the world's oldest insurgency be coming to an end soon? Stay tuned.

Colombia

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: The Lebanese Connection

The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic, by Jonathan Marshall (2012, Stanford University Press, 261 pp., $24.95 HB)

It's harvest time in Lebanon right now, and Shiite farmers in the Bekaa Valley are out working their fields, preparing to turn thousands of acres of cannabis plants into hashish, the Red Lebanese and Blond Lebanese for which the tiny Middle Eastern country is famous. And with the harvest comes conflict, as the country's anti-drug agency and the Lebanese Army head out into the fields to try to eradicate them.

The Chronicle reported at the beginning of August about hash farmers firing machine guns and RPGs at eradicators, vandalizing tractors and bulldozers used to plow under the fields, and organizing street blockades in cities in the valley. Protests broke out in Yammouneh, Baalbek, and Boudai, and authorities backed off, announcing a week later that they would form a committee to study development issues in the Bekaa. And the harvest goes on.

Of course, it wasn't just farmers' resistance that hampered the eradication effort this year. The Bekaa Valley, with its Shiite tribes, sits right next door to Syria, currently embroiled in a brutal civil war now based largely on sectarian and confessional divisions, many of which echo profoundly in Lebanon. In fact, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria until the French carved it out under a League of Nations mandate in 1943. Now, it has seen outbreaks of street fighting between rival pro- and anti-Assad militias in Tripoli, the largest city of the Lebanese north, as well as kidnapping by Shiite tribal militias after some of their number were kidnapped by Sunni militias on the other side of the border.

"Our policy is very clear. We want to demolish all of the hashish cultivation in the Bekaa," Col. Adel Mashmoushi, head of the office of drug control, tells the Lebanon Daily Star a couple of weeks ago, before quickly adding that eradication had been enfeebled this year because "the situation in the Bekaa is very delicate right now" due to "the political and security situation caused by Syria."

Mashmoushi said his men had managed to destroy only about 1,500 acres of cannabis fields out of what he estimated to be somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 acres planted in the northern valley.

But, as global drug trade scholar Jonathan Marshall makes clear in his masterful and highly informative The Lebanese Connection, despite the terrifying sectarian war next door, the violent echoing clashes in Tripoli, and the Bekaa farmers' and traders' violent defense of their industry, this is a relatively quiet time in Lebanon's history in the international drug trade. According to his elaborately sourced estimates, Lebanese hash production was at level five to seven times higher during the period on which he focuses, the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.

In fact, relying heavily on archival State Department, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and DEA documents, among other sources, Marshall shows that the tiny sliver of the Levant that is Lebanon was a giant in the drug trade going as far back as the 1950s and a significant hash producer as early as the end of World War I.

Its largest market back then was Egypt, which had been supplied by Greek growers. But when the Greeks banned cannabis planting in 1918, poor Shiite farmers in the Bekaa took up the slack, and they haven't stopped growing ever since. Production boomed during the civil war and was banned in 1992 after the return of a central government, but it has never stopped. Eradication programs have been half-hearted, ill-conceived, and met with hostility, and promised alternative development schemes somehow never seem to materialize.

But it wasn't just hash, either. With Beirut a rising financial center for the Middle East and the center of global networks of Lebanese traders, Marshall shows definitively how it also became a center of the global drug trade. Opium skimmed from legal production in Turkey was smuggled into Syria by Kurds, transmuted to morphine base by Syrian chemists in Aleppo, smuggled into Lebanon by various means and various actors, transported through seaports controlled by Christian politicians to be delivered to French (later, Italian) organized crime groups, whose chemists refined it into heroin, and whose international networks, including American mobsters, sent it on the veins of consumers in the West.

In a history replete with ton-plus hash busts and multi-kilo heroin seizures, Marshall works his way through the underworld of Lebanon-based drug trafficking, its connections abroad, its crime bosses and political allies, both foreign and domestic. Along the way, he exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of numerous nations, who with one hand raged against drugs, while with the other were complicit in--or at least looked away from--the billion-dollar a year business.

Marshall excels at seeing through the smoke of the murky milieu where all this took place. And what a milieu! Beirut in the mid-20th Century was a decadent, cosmopolitan oasis in the desert of Middle East culture, home to Westernized Arab princes, anything-goes nightclubs, lavish casinos, and European prostitutes. It was also awash in spies, arms dealers, and adventurers -- the Cold War Russian and American intelligence services, the French, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Turks, and, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a flashpoint of the brewing proxy war between the Shia Islam of Iran and the Sunni Islam of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

And Lebanon was a weak, communally divided state operating under a political agreement that divvied up key political positions by sect -- the Christian Maronites got the presidency and the leadership of the armed forces, the Sunnis got the prime minister's office -- but froze those divisions even as the demographic makeup of the country shifted toward its Muslim communities, not to mention an influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Israel, and later, Jordan after the Hashemite kingdom drove out the PLO in 1970.

A weak central state, rising sectarian tensions, highly profitable drug smuggling operations, external manipulation by any number of foreign interests, and a tradition of corruption in government came together in a perfect storm as Lebanon imploded into civil war in 1975, not to emerge from it for 15 years. When it came to the role of drugs in the conflict or to arming the various factions, Marshall shows definitively that nobody had clean hands.

As the Lebanese economy crumbled amidst the violence, the importance of the illicit drug economy became all the more critical for the militias: they relied on drug profits to pay their soldiers and buy their weapons. The global drug trade may not have been the cause of the conflict (although it was a cause -- Marshall cites incidents of precursor violence between Christian and Palestinian militias over drug deals that helped ratchet up the tension), but he shows that it was profits from the trade in prohibited drugs that allowed the contending factions to make the war deadlier and longer than it otherwise would have been.

He also shows that some of the most deadly fighting was not for sectarian reasons, but over control over lucrative drug smuggling routes and, especially, ports. And, paradoxically, he shows how complicity in the drug trade overcame sectarian and even regional divisions: Syrian soldiers patrolling the Bekaa turned a blind eye to Shiite hash farmers, who trafficked their product with the connivance of Christian Maronite warlords. Meanwhile, Israeli military intelligence turned a blind eye to hash smuggled into and through Israel by its allies in the South Lebanon Army or by other traffickers from whom it thought it could glean intelligence.

The Lebanese Connection is too dense with chewy information to do more than touch on its contents in a review, but it is a sterling contribution to the academic literature on the global drug trade, having made a truly original contribution.  It also opens a revealing view not only on the contemporary Middle East, but contemporary terrorism, covert operations by state and non-state actors, and the making of narco-states and failed states.

It's also a very timely book, appearing as Syria bursts into flames. Syria is Lebanon writ large: many of the same ethnic and sectarian divisions are at play, as is the international meddling at several levels of proxy war, with familiar faces like the US, Britain, France, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia all seeking to influence the outcome and doing goodness knows what behind the scenes. Syria, however, is not a major global drug trade hub, but careful followers of the  situation there will have noted the occasional accusations -- from both sides -- of  "criminals" being involved. Maybe in 20 years, we will have a better idea of what went on behind the scenes and the role of drug trafficking and smuggling networks there. In the meantime, The Lebanese Connection provides some insight into the forces at play.

Book Review: Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition

Chronicle Book Review: Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition by Nigel Inkster and Virginia Comolli (2012, Adelphi, 163 pp. PB, $12.50) 

Longtime readers of Drug War Chronicle likely are already familiar with many -- but not all -- of the topics in Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States. The Chronicle has been on the ground and reported back from Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico -- all of which get individual chapters in this new book -- on the problems generated by drug prohibition in those producer and/or transit nations.

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We've also reported to a lesser extent on the drug war's impact on Central America, but almost not at all on its impact in the countries of West Africa, which has become an important staging ground for drug flows from Latin America to Europe and the Middle East. Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States has individual chapters on these two regions as well.

Even though some of the information is new, the book's thesis should also be familiar to Chronicle readers: The present drug prohibition regime is not only failing to win the war on drugs, it is also setting off and prolonging violent conflict -- both political and criminal -- in producer and transit countries.

We have certainly seen that in spades in the past few decades. In Mexico, which is both a producer and a transit state, the multi-sided drug wars pitting the so-called cartels against each other and the state have left more than 50,000 dead in six years and shaken public confidence in state institutions. In Colombia, profits from the illicit coca and cocaine trade fund leftist guerrilla armies -- one of which, the FARC, has been at war with the state since 1964 -- and rightist paramilitaries alike. In Afghanistan, which supplies almost 90% of the world's opium and the heroin derived from it, both the Taliban and elements of the Afghan state are profiting handsomely from the illicit trade.

Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States provides succinct, yet fact-filled overviews of the deleterious effects of prohibition in all three countries, as well as West Africa and Central America. In all of them, the lure of the profits of prohibition exceed the threat of law enforcement or the ability of the state to suppress the black market economy. That's not news.

What is newsworthy about Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States is who has produced it. The authors, Nigel Inkster and Virginia Comolli, are, respectively the director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and a research analyst at that august institution. Not only that, Inkster is a veteran of the British Secret Intelligence Service who spent his last two years as the Assistant Chief and Director for Operations and Intelligence. 

The IISS, which was founded to manage the Cold War for the West more than half a century ago, describes itself as "the world's leading authority on political-military conflict." With many former US and British government officials among its members, IISS very much is the establishment, an organ of the global security elite.

When the IISS says a policy has not only failed but has produced counterproductive results, governments tend to listen. Now, we have the IISS quite clearly and vehemently saying that drug prohibition has done both. And that's what makes Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States so remarkable -- not that we want to give short shrift to the cogent analysis in the book.

It is noteworthy that the authors also take on the international drug control bureaucracy based in UN agencies such as the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the Office on Drugs and Crime. They chide the INCB for not only failing to control the illicit drug traffic, but also with failing to uphold the other part of its mandate: ensuring an adequate supply of opiate-based pain medications. Noting that a handful of Western countries account for a staggering 80% or more of all opioid pain medication usage, Inskter and Comolli clearly think vast portions of the planet are not getting sufficient pain medications, and they blame the INCB. To be fair, though, they also acknowledge other obstacles to the effective treatment of pain in developing nations.

Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed Statesis also useful for its discussion of the alternatives to prohibition and what decriminalization or legalization would and would not achieve. Decriminalization would be a benefit to drug users, they argue, citing the Portuguese experience, but would not address black market profits. And legalization would certainly weaken, but is unlikely to eliminate, the violent criminal organizations running amok in places like Mexico and Central America.

For politically motivated actors, such as the FARC in Colombia and the Taliban in Afghanistan, for which the profits of the drug trade are not an end in themselves, but a means to achieving political goals, legalization would have little impact, except on their revenue streams. Such groups would find other means to continue, Inkster and Comolli suggest.

The book also discusses the prospects for trying to change the global prohibition regime, which is based on the 1961 Single Convention and its two successor treaties. The outlook is not sunny, the authors suggest, given a distinct lack of interest in reforms by such major players as the United States, China, and Russian, not to mention the lack of a hue and cry for change from regions including Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast and East Asia.

But even within the ambit of the global prohibition regime, there is a bit of room for experimentation. The INCB could try to find less restrictive interpretations of the treaties, and the Office on Drugs and Crime could shift its emphases. That could result in some small openings, perhaps for supervised injection sites or heroin maintenance and the like, but not in major changes and not in an end to global drug prohibition.

Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States concisely restates some old arguments and adds a few new ones, and it provides handy overviews of the problems of prohibition in producer and transit countries. One can only hope that members of the policymaking circles at which it is aimed actually pick it up and read it because the global security establishment is telling them in no uncertain terms that not only is prohibition not working, it's making matters worse.

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