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California Medical Marijuana Patients Harassed By US Border Patrol [FEATURE]

Medical marijuana is legal in California, and the US Department of Justice has made it policy to not go after patients and providers in compliance with state law, but California medical marijuana patients who live or travel within 75 miles of the Mexican border are encountering another problem with the feds: the Border Patrol. Under US law, the Border Patrol is allowed to set up what amounts to a "Fourth Amendment-free zone" within that 75-mile perimeter, subjecting any and all comers to warrantless searches in its bid to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Border Patrol checkpoint with drug dog
Patients and advocacy groups are complaining that the border area checkpoints operated by the Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, are sweeping up patients, detaining them, seizing their medicine, and sometimes arresting them on federal drug possession charges.

Retired Fresno fire-fighter Charles Berg is a case in point. Forced to quit working after being injured in a chemical fire, Berg relocated to the border town of Calexico on his physician's advice in order to take advantage of the dry, warm desert climate.

"Because of my remote location, I need to travel to see the medical specialists that treat me, so that I can live in a healthier climate," he wrote in a letter to California NORML seeking assistance. As a border resident, Berg became accustomed to going through Border Patrol checkpoints, but in August 2007 he had the misfortune of encountering one where drug-sniffing dogs were being employed.

"The K-9 was searching vehicles four to five back from the front of the line, but when it got to me the dog and agent stayed with my vehicle and upon reaching the front I was stopped," Berg related. "The agent directing traffic told me to pull over to the side, I started to inquire as to what was going on but was interrupted with a sharp command to, 'PULL OVER NOW!!' I complied immediately and was followed by the K-9 and handler. I was told to get out of the vehicle and to present my ID, all of which I did immediately.  Every time I asked what was wrong I would be interrupted with shouts of 'shut up' or commands to 'sit down.' When agents began to search the vehicle and the dog jumped into my car, I stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, do you have a warrant to do that?' I was immediately restrained and handcuffed. Agents explained to me that I was under arrest because the K-9 had alerted to my vehicle and they were searching for what it alerted to. I was taken inside and bodily searched; my clothing was checked and I was patted down. I was left inside, handcuffed to a chair while my vehicle was searched for over an hour. I was finally released without charges after several hours, having been in custody, searched and arrested, and was then sent on my way with no explanation as to what they were looking for or what they had done. Every time I attempted to ask a question I was told to leave or they would arrest me for trespassing."

While Berg was not prosecuted, he did have his medical marijuana seized, and, to add insult to injury, the Border Patrol also seized his prescription pain medications. But that was not the end of Berg's adventures with the Border Patrol.

In December 2007, while traveling on Interstate 8 on his way to visit a cancer specialist in Phoenix, Berg encountered another Border Patrol checkpoint with a drug-sniffing dog. Again, he was arrested and his medications seized. This time he was stuck in jail for three days. Determined to take a stand, Berg refused his public defender's entreaties to cop a plea. His trial is still pending.

militarized US-Mexico border
"In the last few months since my trial was postponed the situation has gotten worse," Berg wrote. "I still live in Calexico, and have medical needs that require me to travel. I still need to travel to Palm Springs and San Diego at least twice a month. Because I know that my medication will be taken by the Border Patrol, I can no longer go on extended stays. It is an extreme burden to drive the 300-mile round trip, but if I don't do it this way I end up going days without any of my prescriptions and the Border Patrol takes them. My doctor says that pain meds are often excreted through sweat, and that the dogs will alert on that. Unfortunately, I can do nothing about the scents that are left behind. Despite the fact that I have been forced to travel without my meds, I am still stopped and searched by the Border Patrol."

Berg enlisted the help of the Fresno Firefighters union, but they also got nowhere with the Border Patrol. In fact, investigators for the union reported to Berg that they had spoken with an Agent V. Vega, regional Southern California Border Patrol supervisor, who told them: "It would be best if Mr. Berg moved out of the area. The Border Patrol's mission in California is to stop illegal immigration and enforce federal marijuana laws despite California legislation."

Earlier this week, the Chronicle contacted a Border Patrol public information officer for that region, who instead of answering questions asked that they be emailed to him. He has yet to reply to the emails. Calls to Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington have not been returned.

Berg is not alone. "Over the past year, we've received multiple reports of people being stopped by the Border Patrol," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access. "We've had two or three incidents where people were stopped for compliance checks in San Diego County to see if everyone had proper documentation. In those cases, the Border Patrol found medical marijuana, seized the medication, then cited them federally for possession."

San Diego County resident Jim Lacy, 60, didn't get arrested, but he has repeatedly had his medical marijuana seized by the Border Patrol. "I got my card in 2003," said Lacy, who was disabled after being hit by a train. "I almost died, I lost my spleen, I had ribs going through my lung, it left me crippled for life," he said. "The Border Patrol was smaller back then and not so uptight," Lacy said. "They didn't know anything about the California law, they were all fascinated. I showed them my paperwork, and they said just make sure you have the legal amount."

But it didn't quite work out that way, Lacy continued. "I tried it with a joint, I had the paperwork and everything. They found it and took it, and after about 40 minutes of being paraded around they let me go. The next time I tried it with a gram," he added. "They took it and tested it and said it wasn't pot, but they kept it. It was pot! I grew it myself. One agent said he would take it every time," Lacy recalled bitterly.

"The Border Patrol told me they would change their policy if Obama would write a letter like the Department of Justice," Lacy said. [Editor's Note: It was not President Obama, but Attorney General Holder who wrote the memorandum last year instructing the department to not go after patients and providers acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. But the Border Patrol is a division of the Dept. of Homeland Security, not DOJ.] "The Department of Justice doesn't control Homeland Security. I've written to all the political leaders, but nothing happens," he said.

"If you're going to have a zero tolerance policy, don't trick people," said Lacy. "People think they're safe in California, but if someone comes from some other county and comes down here, they'll never leave here with their medicine."

The problem has worsened as the Bush and Obama administrations have beefed up staffing for the Border Patrol in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and, more recently, in response to the uproar over illegal immigration and prohibition-related violence just across the border. The number of agents nearly doubled, from 11,000 in 2000 to 20,000 now, and just this week, Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill that will add another 1,250 agents. (See related story here.)

"I wish they'd stop it," bemoaned Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "It just shows what a hydra-headed beast we have to deal with. It's not just DEA and the Department of Justice, but also Homeland Security on the border and Treasury with regard to the ability of dispensaries to get bank accounts, also with the Veterans Administration, which appears to be at least partially cleared up, also HUD with the public housing, also about Department of Transportation drug testing rules, there's just an enormous amount of work to be done at the federal level. We're not going to be out of a job anytime soon."

"Our view is that the federal government should have a clear, uniform policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "It's not acceptable that this issue be divided into different policies among the different federal agencies. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to get to work on a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana," he said. "The Justice Department has made its position clear with its memorandum last October, and the VA has more recently issued a policy that recognizes medical use," Hermes noted. "Instead of this piecemeal process and selective enforcement, we should be dealing with this uniformly."

ASA wants to hear from patients being hassled by the Border Patrol, Hermes said. "We have a legal hotline where patients can report these incidents. We have not yet taken legal action to address the behavior of the Border Patrol, but we may consider that in the future."

CA
United States

Sophisticated Schemes Used to Smuggle Drugs Into L.A. County Jails

Location: 
CA
United States
Drug prohibition breeds innovation in smuggling techniques -- this is why such a small percentage of drugs is ever seized by authorities. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department struggles daily to keep drugs out of the nation's largest county jail system. Read about the elaborate schemes used to breach jailhouse security for major profit.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-drugs-in-jail-20100809,0,4802473.story

U.S. Marines to Costa Rica: What's Behind the Story?

Location: 
Costa Rica
Why is the Costa Rican government now inviting the U.S. Navy to patrol its local waters? Offically, the Americans will be deployed to help stem the flow or drugs northward. But, moves to bring the U.S. Navy to Costa Rica have sparked widespread suspicions that Washington is looking for a justification to remilitarize the Central American region.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nikolas-kozloff/us-marines-to-costa-rica_b_672130.html

Sign of drug gangs' new tactic floats in with tide: Lost cargoes turning up more often on state's beaches

Location: 
TX
United States
Law enforcement seizes a small percentage of drugs being smuggled into the country, and drug traffickers simply send more to compensate for what is seized. Now, according to federal officials, small fortunes in illegal narcotics are washing up on Texas beaches with increased frequency after being dumped by smugglers. They say it's mostly cocaine, followed by marijuana and methamphetamine.
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle (TX)
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7139792.html

The Border: Obama Seeks $600 Million in Emergency Funds for Heightened Security

The Obama administration asked Congress Tuesday to allocate $600 million in emergency funds to enhance security on the US-Mexico border. The move comes as the administration is under boisterous attack by "secure the border" advocates who seek to shunt aside comprehensive immigration reform in favor of merely walling us off from our neighbors.

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Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
The funding would finance the hiring of another 1,000 Border Patrol agents, another 160 Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, extra Border Patrol canine teams, and the purchase of two unmanned drones to overfly the border. It would also provide funding for extra FBI task forces, DEA agents, prosecutors, and immigration judges.

The federal law enforcement presence on the border is already at record levels. The Border Patrol has doubled in size since 2004 and now fields some 20,000 agents. The emergency funding request would allow for another 5% increase in their numbers.

President Obama said the budget request "responds to urgent and essential needs" in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) asking that the request be considered an emergency. "These amendments would support efforts to secure the Southwest border and enhance federal border protection, law enforcement and counter-narcotics activities," Obama wrote.

Last month, the administration announced it was sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and that he would seek $500 million in emergency funding. This week's funding request covers that and adds an additional $100 million taken from other Homeland Security programs.

DEA's "Project Deliverance" Will Undoubtedly Fail to Deliver

DEA acting chief Michele Leonhart, and her boss, US Attorney General Eric Holder, are bragging about a major, DEA-led operation that has netted 2,200+ arrests, with pounds of drugs and millions of dollars seized. "Project Deliverance" involved more than 300 law enforcement agencies, more than 3,000 DEA agents, and took 22 months. According to DEA's press release, they captured 1,262 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,410 pounds of heroin, and 69 tons of marijuana, plus $154 million. Michele Leonhart announcing ''Project Deliverance'' Operationally, Deliverance was certainly a big project -- it's easy to see why they're excited. And for the thousands of people throughout the US who were arrested in it, it's a life-changing event, though for the worse. But will Project Deliverance make any real difference in drug use and the drug trade? Is the operation really a big deal, when examined next to the reality of drug use and the drug trade in the United States today? I hate to be a wet blanket, but if history is a guide, Project Deliverance will have no long-term impact on the drug trade. Though notable in its scale, the operation is only one of many carried out by the US and allied governments over decades. During that time, the measure of drug availability -- price, an increase implies a product is less available, relative to its demand* -- has gone in the opposite of the intended direction, and dramatically. For example, the average US street price of cocaine is less than a fifth in real terms than it was in 1980. Previous drug sweeps have seen their temporary gains erased in just one or two weeks. The reason is that the big sounding numbers touted by Leonhart, while large for the agency and our government, are small compared with the drug trade. Deliverance's 2.5 tons of cocaine constitutes less than one percent of the 300 metric tons of cocaine the government estimates are consumed annually in the US. So does the 69 tons of marijuana. They did get a few percent of the heroin, if numbers don't deceive, but even that's still small. And the 2,200 alleged dealers and traffickers arrested in Project Deliverance make up a similarly tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the US by the illegal drug trade. Some drug businesses will doubtless be extinguished by Project Deliverance, but others will have little difficulty replacing the lost supply or filling the open positions. And how much powder or weed did the investigators let go by during the 22 months it took to complete the operation? How much will they have to let slip by during the months or years it takes to mount the next one? In an uncharacteristically "big picture" review published a few weeks ago, the Associated Press declared the 40-year drug war a failure by every measure. Will media follow that lead and go beyond the surface in their reporting on Project Deliverance? I have a few suggestions for those intrepid reporters who would like to:
  • Ask DEA or DOJ spokespersons if they expect the substances targeted in the sweep to be less available to US consumers of them, and if so for how long.
  • Ask them if previous operations, individually or collectively, have had that effect. If they say yes, ask them to be specific as to what their evidence is, and compare it with numbers like the aforementioned cocaine prices.
  • Do some follow-up, say two or three weeks from now. Ask government officials, cops who walk the drug beat, and drug users, what if any difference they saw in the supply of the targeted drugs, and if so if they see still any. Follow up again in one or two months. See if DEA will give you early access to the price data.
Be forewarned, though, DEA reps will probably be less excited to address those questions than they were for the press conference. * Nitpickers and drug war defenders may point out that demand for cocaine has also dropped since 1980, and that the price drop could be explained that way. No dice -- frequent, "hardcore" cocaine and other drug use remained roughly constant despite a drop in the number of "casual" users, and it's the frequent users who account for the vast majority of the consumption.

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.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/wasitwalters.jpg
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."

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy," by Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy (2010, Harvard University Press, 256 pp., $28.95 HB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

For more than a decade, French researcher Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy has been cementing his reputation as one of the world's leading experts on opium and the opium trade, and now, with "Opium," he makes his work accessible to an English-speaking audience. In doing so, he reveals the long and fascinating history of the opium poppy and explores the dynamics behind the ever-mutating patterns of cultivation and distribution that mark the trade for the past century. He also explains why decades of aggressive anti-drug policies by the US and the United Nations have failed to suppress or even reduce illicit poppy production.

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Chouvy's knowledge of the trade is extensive -- he has spent years trudging around the backwaters of Asia, from Burma and Laos to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and his grasp of its motors and contours is impressive. As he traces the 20th Century evolution of the opium trade, he also shows how damnably difficult it is to suppress the pain-relieving poppy.

Chouvy takes the reader through China's (at least temporarily) successful opium ban of the 1950s and demonstrates how the ban stimulated production just south of the border in Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Similarly, he shows how opium bans in Turkey and Iran around mid-century stimulated production in Pakistan and now Afghanistan.

Along the way, Chouvy reveals the futility of drug war approaches by unveiling the symbiotic relationship between drug economies and war economies. A trade that thrives on the poverty and underdevelopment created by violent conflict cannot be defeated militarily. Thus, the logic of the drug war is almost completely backwards, he argues.

It's not that opium bans or eradication can never work, Chouvy notes. They have worked, at least locally, whether through harsh repression, as in China in the 1950s or Burma in the 2000s, or in combination with economic development efforts, as in Thailand in the 1970s and 1980s. But to reduce opium cultivation requires alternative livelihood programs and economic and social development programs that are well-constructed, adequately funded, and long-lived because "poverty and food insecurity are the main drivers of illicit opium production."

(One could argue that demand drives production, although opium is the sort of commodity that creates its own demand, or that artificially inflated prices due to the global prohibition regime drive production, but for Chouvy, the appetite for opium and the reality of drug prohibition are givens.)

That has not generally been the case, Chouvy rather convincingly chronicles. Especially in areas dominated by US and UN drug war paradigms, the approach has been ass-backwards, with eradication done before alternative development is in place and with development assistance tied to eradication. A key issue here is sequencing. Development must come before eradication or bans, or it is unlikely to work.

Similarly, the amount of resources devoted to alternative development programs has been so paltry in comparison to resources devoted to eradication and interdiction that most programs have been doomed to failure or, at best, limited local success.

A third problem with alternative development programs is that, until recently, they have been designed as "one size fits all" without taking into account differences in poppy cultivation patterns between countries and, especially, within countries. In Afghanistan, for example, poor farmers suffering from food insecurity will supplement their wheat crops with poppy, while wealthier farmers grow poppy not out of desperation but out of the desire to gain profits. Development programs must be targeted with acute specificity to fit local needs and conditions, Chouvy writes.

But reducing illicit opium cultivation faces even more fundamental challenges. "It is necessary to identify and address the causes of poverty and food insecurity, no matter how diverse they might be, if illegal poppy cultivation is to be reduced or suppressed," Chouvy writes. "Ultimately, since illicit opium production stems from the need of farmers to cope with poverty and food insecurity, what is required in order to achieve drug supply reduction is broad and equitable economic development, especially in rural areas."

That's a tall order for a country like Afghanistan or Burma, and it demands the kind of economic, social, and political changes that may be inimical to the interests of major donor nations like the US.

With "Opium," Chouvy has made a major contribution to the literature of the poppy trade. His book needs to be read by academics, activists, policy-makers, development NGOs, and anyone else with a serious interest in the opium trade and how to deal with it.

DEA Marijuana Seizures Nearly Double As Marijuana Production in Mexico Grows by 35%

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                     

March 3, 2010

DEA Marijuana Seizures Nearly Double As Marijuana Production in Mexico Grows by 35%

Officials continue to waste money on futile attempts to stem production and violence, ignoring the only solution: a regulated marijuana market

CONTACT: Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations …… 202-905-2009 or ahouston@mpp.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The total amount of marijuana seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration nearly doubled from 1,539 metric tons in 2008 to 2,980 metric tons in 2009, according to numbers disclosed by the DEA as part of their budget request for 2011.

         Meanwhile, the cultivation of marijuana in Mexico rose 35% in 2009 to nearly 30,000 acres, according to a report released by the U.S. State Department. The report also revealed that between $8 and $25 billion in drug profits were laundered by Mexican drug lords during the same period.

         “When is the United States government going to realize that they will never eliminate the demand for marijuana, but they can regulate its production?” said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. “These latest numbers confirm that the only thing an increase in the amount of marijuana seizures by the DEA will do is force more marijuana to be grown by gangs in Mexico, lining the pockets of drug cartels, and further fueling the bloodshed along our border and in our respective countries. The only real solution to this crisis is to tax and regulate marijuana.”

         These latest figures come just days after high-ranking officials from the U.S. and Mexico concluded a three-day conference meant to outline ways the two nations could reduce the illicit drug-trade-associated violence that continues to plague the U.S.-Mexican border. Unfortunately, the obvious and sensible strategy of taxing and regulating marijuana was not mentioned. The Obama administration instead opted to throw more money at the problem in the form of a $1.4 billion aid package to combat Mexican drug cartels. The Obama administration is also seeking $310 million in its 2011 budget for drug enforcement aid to Mexico. 

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit mpp.org.

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Feature: CIA Misled Congress, Dragged Feet on Disciplining Employees in Killings of US Citizens in Peru Drug War Plane Shootdown

Nearly nine years ago, a Peruvian air force fighter guided by CIA employees in a spotter plane blew a civilian aircraft out of the sky over the Amazon, thinking it was shooting down drug smugglers. But the plane was not carrying drug smugglers; it was carrying American missionaries Jim and Veronica Bowers, their two children, and a civilian pilot. Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter were killed.

The ensuing uproar led to the ending of the US-sponsored program of shooting down suspected drug smuggling planes and heated calls from Congress to get to the bottom of the affair. That didn't happen. Instead, the CIA stonewalled Congress, promising an internal investigation.

This week, that investigation finally concluded. As ABC News reported, the investigation found that CIA operatives and Peruvian officials failed to follow their strict rules of engagement. The pilots failed to identify the plane by its tail number and did not order the plane to land. Tapes of the incident show the CIA spotters growing doubtful at the last moment that their target actually was a drug plane, but failing to act on their doubts in time to prevent the Peruvian fighter jet from firing on the plane.

On Wednesday, the CIA announced that its investigation had concluded that 16 CIA employees should be disciplined, including the CIA agent then in charge of counternarcotics. But many of those employees no longer work for the CIA, and for some who still do, the discipline consists of nothing more than a letter of reprimand inserted in their personnel files.

That was too much for Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Bowers were his constituents, and from the beginning, Hoekstra had demanded answers about what happened over the Amazon that day and who was responsible.

"If there's ever an example of justice delayed, justice denied, this is it," Hoekstra told ABC. "The [intelligence] community's performance in terms of accountability has been unacceptable. These were Americans that were killed with the help of their government, the community covered it up, they delayed investigating."

While the Intelligence Committee held hearings on the incident, it didn't get very far. The State Department reported in 2001 that the shoot-downs occurred only after "exhausting international procedures for interception." The Department of Justice declined to prosecute anyone in 2005.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/veronicabowers.jpg
Veronica Bowers and daughter Charity, in their family's houseboat on the Amazon (photo by Joe Sherman, via flickr.com)
Then the CIA Office of the Inspector General delivered its report, "Procedures Used in Narcotics Airbridge Denial in Peru, 1995-2001," in 2008, seven years after the fact. That report found that at least 15 planes were shot down under the Narcotics Airbridge Denial Program beginning in 1995 and that in most of the downings, pilots fired on aircraft "without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond to such warnings as were given to land." (Many of those planes crashed in the jungle and have never been reached, leaving open the question of whether they were carrying drugs.) The report also said that the CIA withheld from the National Security Council, Congress, and the Justice Department the results of investigations that showed continuing and serious violations of procedures designed to prevent the shooting down of innocent aircraft.

When the Inspector General handed that report over to then CIA director Michael Hayden, he assembled an Agency Accountability Board, which insisted it found no evidence of a cover-up, that "reasonable suspicion" was established in every shoot-down except that of the Bowers' plane, and that no CIA officer acted inappropriately. Instead, 16 people were to be sanctioned for "shortcomings in reporting and supervision."

Speaking to Michigan's WOOD-TV Wednesday evening, Hoekstra was outraged. "This is one where the bureaucracy protected itself. Immediately after the shooting in 2001, Congress was misled. Some would say the CIA lied to us about exactly what happened, then dragged this out for years," he said.

"They were brutally murdered, and the US government was complicit in making that happen," Hoekstra continued. "The CIA was reckless, they made serious mistakes that resulted in the deaths of two Americans. This is also about accountability. The CIA has some of the most tremendous powers, and we need to make sure that there is accountability, that CIA operates within the boundaries we set for it, and when they don't, they are held accountable. Tragically, as we close this chapter, I don't think those things are going to happen."

"They wouldn't testify when it happened, they stonewalled this from the get-go, when Hoekstra was demanding they testify," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies and long-time student of US-Latin American relations. "I recall Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) demanding to know who was in charge. Was it Southcom, was it CIA, was it the US Embassy? And all the witnesses just pointed fingers at each other. It now seems that had more to do with embarrassment than protecting national security."

When asked about what the whole affair said about CIA accountability, Tree just laughed.

Coincidentally, Hoesktra's remarks came the same day US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee the government has the right to kill Americans abroad if they present a direct threat to US security. "We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community," Blair told lawmakers at the hearing. "If that direct action -- we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."

Blair said he made the admission to reassure Americans. "We're not careless about endangering American lives as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country," he said.

On Wednesday, the CIA claimed it was not careless in the killing of Veronica Bowers and her daughter, either. In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the CIA said the program to shoot down suspected drug planes had ended in 2001 and was run by a foreign government.

"CIA personnel had no authority either to direct or prohibit actions by that government. CIA officers did not shoot down any airplane. In the case of the tragic downing of April 21st, 2001, [sic] CIA personnel protested the identification of the missionary plane as a suspect drug trafficker," the statement said. (The incident actually occurred April 20, 2001.)

In fact, the shoot-down was the result of an ongoing operation in which the CIA and the Peruvian government worked as partners to blow suspected drug planes out of the sky. Video and audiotapes of the incident show the CIA employees deciding not to check the plane's tail numbers for risk it might flee, and those tapes show that the CIA employees did not express doubts about the identity of the craft until moments before it was shot down.

"This was a tragic episode that the Agency has dealt with in a professional and thorough manner," continued the statement. "Unfortunately, some have been willing to twist facts to imply otherwise. In so doing, they do a tremendous disservice to CIA officers, serving and retired, who have risked their lives for America's national security."

"One of the problems here is that these intelligence services are given a sort of thankless task of operating on the margins of our assumptions about what a society should be about," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "This produces an environment where you get these scandalous things taking place and there is not an adequate corrective procedure, so there is no warning shot across the bow for CIA and other clandestine services. They always seem to assume they can act outside the law because their mission is so important, and one administration after another is willing to look the other way."

"This is all being done in the name of these countries doing domestic law enforcement," Tree noted. "Since we were not at war, what kind of law enforcement allows the policeman to be judge, jury, and executioner? This wasn't law enforcement -- this was extrajudicial killing."

"I don't know why we're surprised about this," said Birns. "It's almost built into the dynamics of the situation. If the government wants them to engage in irregular warfare and take risks with the rules of the game and they know that in the past they have usually been exonerated, of course they are going to bend the rules. It is disenchanting when you reflect on how many incidents there have been where the CIA has compromised itself," said Birns. "We can be outraged that the values we insist on domestically go un-honored in our international behavior, but we shouldn't be surprised because we have put such great value on achieving those policy goals."

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