Interdiction

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Isn't it Already Illegal to Traffic Drugs in a Submarine?

Joe Biden! Hello! I just read your new press release and I need help understanding what the hell you're trying to do:

Legislation Takes Aim at the Use of Submarines for Drug Trade;
House Passes Key Biden Provisions Today

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, introduced the Drug Trafficking Interdiction Assistance Act of 2008 (S.3351), legislation designed to help disrupt drug trafficking by criminalizing the use of unregistered, un-flagged submersible or semi-submersible vessels in international waters whose operators intend to evade detection. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined Sen. Biden in introducing this bill, which will give authorities a new tool to go after the drug lords who have been using this technology to avoid prosecution. [sorry, no link]

Raise your hand if you think anyone who moves drugs by the submarine-full gives a flying crap about the law. Ok, then.

This is the kind of legislation that makes drug lords cough up their caviar with laughter. They're building submarines in the f@#king jungle. They'll dig a tunnel from Bogota to Brooklyn if they have to and I really don’t understand why Joe Biden is even bothering to pretend they give a damn about anything he does. Give us a break, seriously.

The drug war is wasteful, brutal and destructive enough without our politicians goofing around dreaming up ludicrous, useless legislation at our expense. Just stop. You're embarrassing us all.

Drug Smugglers Use Hurricane For Cover

Conditions that send everyone else running for shelter are actually appealing to drug traffickers:

Smugglers tried to use Hurricane Dolly as a cover in at least three attempts to move drugs or illegal aliens through Texas, border officials said Wednesday.

About 9,600 pounds of marijuana was found buried under cotton seeds on a truck on U.S. 77 at the Border Patrol's Sarita checkpoint south of Kingsville, Texas, said Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection.


Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said the Sarita checkpoint marijuana bust was one of three Wednesday in which smuggling operations appeared to be attempting to operate under the cover of the storm. [CNN]

Well, shucks, what are we gonna do about this? I guess it will be necessary to double border security during hurricanes to prevent smuggling. Any volunteers?

Feature: Beyond 2008 -- Global Civil Society Tells the UN It's Time to Fix International Drug Policy

Last week, some 300 delegates representing organizations from across the drug policy spectrum met in Vienna for the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum, an effort to provide civil society input on global drug policy. Building on a series of regional meetings last year, the forum was part of an ongoing campaign to reshape the United Nations' drug policy agenda as the world organization grapples with its next 10-year plan.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/vienna-inside.jpg
UN building housing the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna (interior shot)
In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs issued a declaration outlining its 10-year strategy to "eliminate or significantly reduce" the cultivation of marijuana, coca, and opium poppies. "A drug-free world -- we can do it!" was the motto adopted by UNGASS a decade ago. Now, with the 10-year review bumped back to next March, it is clear that the global anti-drug bureaucracy cannot claim to have achieved its goals, and civil society is taking the opportunity to intervene in search of a new, more pragmatic and humane direction in global drug policy.

The NGO meeting, which included drug treatment, prevention, education, and policy reform groups, harm reduction groups, and human rights groups from around the world, resulted in a resolution that will be presented to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) at its meeting next March. At that meeting, the CND will draft the next UN 10-year global drug strategy.

Of the nine regions of the world, only North America sent two delegations. The first, which had met in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January, deliberately excluding harm reduction and drug reform groups, was the "official" delegation, representing hard-line prohibitionist organizations aligned with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, such as the Drug-Free America Foundation and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), the California Narcotics Officers Association, and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The second North American grouping, which had held its regional meeting in Vancouver in February, included dozens of organizations in drug reform and harm reduction, as well as treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation groups. Among the organizations from the Vancouver meeting that went to Vienna were the ACLU Drug Law Policy Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Virginians Against Drug Violence, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Break The Chains, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

In many ways, the three-day meeting in Vienna was a debate among North Americans, with the NGOs of the other eight regions having largely agreed on a reformist and harm reduction approach. And strikingly, for the first time at a UN event, the prohibitionists found themselves in a distinct minority.

After three days of sometimes heated discussion, the unanimous declaration of the NGOs at Beyond 2008 called for:

  • Recognition of "the human rights abuses against people who use drugs";
  • "Evidence-based" drug policy focused on "mitigation of short-term and long-term harms" and "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms";
  • The UN to report on the collateral consequences of the current criminal justice-based approach to drugs and to provide an "analysis of the unintended consequences of the drug control system";
  • Comprehensive "reviews of the application of criminal sanctions as a drug control measure";
  • Recognition of harm reduction as a necessary and worthwhile response to drug abuse;
  • A shift in primary emphasis from interdiction to treatment and prevention;
  • Alternatives to incarceration;
  • The provision of development aid to farmers before eradication of coca or opium crops;
  • Acknowledging that young people represent a significant proportion of drug users worldwide, are disproportionately affected by drugs and drug policy, and should be actively involved in the setting of global drug policy.

"We achieved a set of declarations of what the people of the world think drug policy ought to look like," said Graham Boyd of the ACLU Drug Law Policy Project. "We reached a consensus on a set of policies that is really different from what we've seen so far. It's a shift away from interdiction, arrests, and imprisonment, and toward including concepts like human rights and harm reduction."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/vienna-inside-2.jpg
Fayzal Sulliman (Sub-Saharan African Harm Reduction Network, Stijn Goossens (International Network Of People Who Use Drugs), Kris Krane (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
"We hammered out a pretty amazing set of suggestions as to where the UNODC and CND should go in the next decade," said Jack Cole, executive director of LEAP. "I thought it was wonderful. This is a consensus document," Cole noted. "While that means anything that everybody couldn't agree on didn't get in, it also means that every single person there agreed with what did get in. That's why I'm so pleased with this. At the end, we were able to agree on some really, really good things."

"I think we accomplished a lot," said Lennice Werth of Virginians Against Drug Violence. "What was really important was where the rest of the world stood, and it was clear from the regional meetings that everyone else mentioned harm reduction and the decriminalization of drug use as goals. By the end of the meetings, the whole world was sitting back and watching as two US factions slugged it out. It became evident that the whole world is seeing the light except for these hard-liners in the States."

"This was a really good reality check for the US prohibitionists," said Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. "They've never been forced to sit in a room with so many people who have evolved so far beyond them. A real wake-up call. And we even got some of them to engage us, and found we had a lot in common. That leaves the hardliners way out in the cold."

"The NGO community is united in insisting that the UN and member states respect the human rights of people who use drugs, and that all drug strategies must be drafted in the spirit of human rights declarations," said Kris Krane, executive director of SSDP. "If adopted by the United Nations, this could have a profound impact in many parts of the world where drug users are routinely treated as subhuman, and subjected to treatment that would be unthinkable even in the context of repressive United States drug policy."

"We achieved some important gains," said Frederick Polak, speaking as a member of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. "But the central issue for ENCOD and its 150 organizations is to get alternative drug control policies on the agenda of CND and of individual countries. It is no longer acceptable that alternative policies are simply not discussed by governments, and not at the UN, at least not at the level of policymakers."

In that regard, said Polak, Beyond 2008 did not go far enough. "We made very little progress on actually getting legalization and regulation on the agenda, and only in the sense that most people are aware now that the issue 'hangs in the air' in Vienna," he said.

The haggling between the prohibitionist fringe and the rest of the NGOs not only prevented the adoption of more overtly anti-prohibitionist language, Polak said, it also prevented discussion of additional proposals for alternative drug control policies, including one advanced by ENCOD.

But it is a ways from passing a civil society resolution to seeing it adopted by the global anti-drug bureacracy. Now that Beyond 2008 has crafted its resolutions, the goal is to see that it has some impact on the deliberations of the UN drug bodies next year. That involves not only showing up in Vienna, but also impressing upon national governments that they need to heed what civil society is telling them.

"This was the first quarter in a game that has three quarters left," said Boyd. "But we did well in the sense that until this conference, NGOs didn't really have a place at the table when it came to discussing international drug policy. What this means is that when the nations convene and reassess international drug policy in coming months, they will know that NGOs from all of their countries have really called on them to reassess the direction they're going," he continued.

"This is going to provide traction for reform of the international drug control system, and the fact that it was a consensus document make it even more powerful," said Tree. "The prohibitionists were so marginalized, they had to consent. Some even opened their ears and listened. We have opened the door for drug policy approaches like harm reduction, public health, regulation, and ending the folly of blaming other countries for our demand."

"Now we need to make sure our voices are heard," said Boyd. "Part of that is just showing up in Vienna, but part of that is speaking to our national government representatives and making sure they're really representing us. In our case, our national government hasn't shown much empathy for the positions we've taken, but we're a democratic society, so I hope they will include our views."

Reformers must also continue to make the case against drug prohibition, said ENCOD's Polak. "The theory of prohibition is that it will diminish drug production, supply and use. Yet in reality it has achieved the exact opposite, and has additionally created violence, corruption and chaos that is now destroying millions of lives. It's safe to say that prohibition theory has been proven false," he said.

"In any other field of policy, alternative methods would be explored, but in international drug policy, consideration of alternative policies is taboo," Polak continued. "With this argument, drug policy activists should try to convince public opinion and politicians in their country that there is an urgent need for a thorough and rational study of alternative drug control policies."

"This could be an exercise in futility," said Werth, acknowledging the slow pace of change at the UN and the uncertainty over whether change will occur at all. "But it doesn't seem like it. The UN moves at a glacial pace, but they know they didn't achieve a drug-free world, and when they move, it will undercut the gang in charge of drug policy in this country."

Middle East: Iraq Becomes Key Conduit in Global Drug Trade

America's two-front "war on terror" in Afghanistan and Iraq is resulting in a one-two punch to US efforts to strangle the global drug trade. Afghan opium production has famously shot through the roof in the years since US forces invaded and overthrew the Taliban, and now, Iraq is emerging as a key player in the global drug trade, according to Iraqi and UN officials consulted by Agence France-Presse.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
Afghan opium
Many of the drugs being smuggled into and through Iraq to European and Middle Eastern markets are coming from Afghanistan via Iran, where the Islamic Republic is hard-pressed to patrol remote trafficking routes along its border with Afghanistan, officials said.

While hard numbers are hard to come by, Iraqi officials said the trade in illegal opiates, cannabis, and pills has risen steadily since the US invasion in 2003. They point to numerous drug trafficking arrests at border crossings with Iran, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"A large number of smugglers are being arrested," Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf told AFP, adding that many were being detained in the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra and Maysan, both of which border Iran.

"The smugglers transfer hashish and opium across at Al-Shalamja at the Iranian border and Safwan near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border," an anti-narcotics agent in Basra said on condition of anonymity. "Some of them are arrested from time to time, including Iranians and even Syrians," he said, adding that the smugglers used mainly trucks to haul their cargo into the Gulf region.

"The drugs come from Iran, then they are sold at the Saudi border," said a local police officer in Samawa in Muthanna province who did not want to be named. "Smugglers are young and they use motorcycles or animals to cross the desert late at night."

Iranian authorities say they seized about 900 tons of an estimated 2,500 tons of drugs that entered the country from Afghanistan last year. While Iran has arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate, Iranian officials estimated that more than 1,000 tons of drugs, mostly opium, heroin, and cannabis, transited the country on its way elsewhere last year.

The International Narcotics Control Board is also raising alarm bells. "Illicit drug trafficking and the risk of illicit cultivation of opium poppy have been increasing in some areas with grave security problems," it said, referring to Iraq in a report published last year.

"Drugs follow the paths of least resistance, and parts of Iraq certainly fit that description," an official of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime told AFP.

Not all the drugs are just passing through embattled Iraq. "Though official data are lacking, it appears that drug abuse in Iraq has increased dramatically, including among children from relatively affluent families," the INCB said in its report.

Drug Prohibition: No Clue in the Texas Legislature

If drug reform is making any headway in the Lone Star State (and it is), there was little sign of it Wednesday at an Austin hearing of the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The committee is charged with examining current drug laws to see which are working and which are not and trying to come up with more effective drug policies.

With Mexican drug trafficking organizations sending billions of dollars worth of drugs across the border each year, much of it through Texas, state and local law enforcement agencies have been cooperating with federal agents to try to crack down on the trade. But it hasn't seemed to have had any impact, and that was a frustration for Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

"It don't affect the price of it at all, which means it ain't made a dent. Still huge amounts are getting through," he said in remarks reported by Austin TV station KVUE. "If you know where it's coming from, why can't you do more about it?" he asked plaintively.

Whitmire's ignorance of the laws of supply and demand when it comes to drug prohibition is apparently equaled only by his ignorance of the US Constitution, and particularly the Fourth Amendment. At least, that's what his next comment suggested.

"If in fact so much of the narcotics is just coming up and down our highways and the main roads out of Mexico, why don't we just pull over more trucks?" Whitmire said. "It would be fun to try. I like that, zero tolerance."

Of course, every vehicle entering the US from Mexico must go through US Customs at the border. And then there's the Border Patrol checkpoints on highways leading north from the border. And then there's the saturation level patrols of those highways (although, to be fair, Texas cops are as interested in cars heading south as those heading north, because while the latter may contain drugs, the former may contain cash). But none of that is enough for Whitmire. Nor does it cause him to question his premises.

It looks like it will be business as usual in the drug war in Texas.

Police Discover World's Most Expensive Marijuana

During a routine traffic stop in Ohio, police discovered over 100 pounds of the most valuable marijuana ever documented:

Police curbed the gray, four-door Mercury Grand Marquis Ruci was driving after he allegedly committed a lane violation, the highway patrol statement indicated. A specially trained, narcotics-detecting dog was brought to the scene, and its reaction to the car signaled the presence of drugs, the statement said.

A search of the vehicle yielded 104 pounds of hydroponically-grown marijuana stuffed inside eight black plastic trash bags. Police said the marijuana had an estimated street sale value of more than $4.7 million. [Naperville Sun]


This is really an incredible discovery and I'm surprised it hasn’t generated more attention. At $4.7 million for 104 pounds, we're talking about an ounce that's worth $2824.51! That just blows away everything listed at High Times's market quotes section, where ounces of high-grade marijuana in Ohio last month were listed at $400. It also overwhelms the STRIDE data collected by drug enforcement officers showing that U.S. marijuana prices averaged around $200 per ounce as of 2003.

So far, I haven’t heard of anyone smoking this new type of marijuana, but that's probably because the police took it all.

*********
Ok, enough. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this marijuana isn't worth $4.7 million. The police maybe got a little carried away and reporters don't doublecheck their numbers on things like this. It's happened before.

The problem is the numbers are so far off here that it really takes the crime to a different level, an inaccurate one. They magnified the value by a factor of 10, roughly, if the smoker-submitted street prices at High Times are realistic (my guess is they're the most accurate numbers available). The Naperville Sun, The Toledo Blade, and local ABC News grabbed the story, with The Sun even rounding up in the headline, "Driver arrested with $5 million in pot". Ironically, the $300,000 they added for the headline is much closer to what it was actually worth. Police also stated that it was "hydroponically-grown," but they admitted not knowing where it came from, meaning they can't be sure how it was actually grown. Perhaps they just like to say "hydroponic," in which case they're certainly not alone.

Amidst the numerous tragedies and injustices caused by our nation's war on drugs, the tendency to exaggerate drug seizures is a minor one. But it's annoying, it happens a lot, and it might even have the unintended effect of encouraging people to think growing marijuana will make them a millionaire.

Action Alert: (Updated) Let's respond to this by contacting the papers that reported it and letting them know they've been pushing a false headline. Here are a few of them:

Cleveland Plain-Dealer: send a letter/comment here

ABC News send a letter/comment here

Toledo Blade send a letter/comment here.

Naperville Sun send a letter/comment here.

You can send more or less the same comment to each, but be sure to include the appropriate link for their coverage, so they know what you're referring to. And, of course, be brief, on topic, and polite.

Update 2: Fascinatingly, The Chicago Tribune has the story, but leaves out the claims that the marijuana was valued at $4.7 million. That was the headline elsewhere. Could it be that Chicago Tribune was suspicious of the numbers?

Please Digg - Click Here

Southwest Asia: West Threatens to Block Iran Drug Aid Over Nuclear Issue

With Afghan opium and the heroin made from it flooding into Europe, Iran is one of the first bulwarks in the effort to stem the tide. But now, the West is threatening to condition further anti-drug assistance on Tehran's compliance with its demands that the Islamic Republic halt uranium enrichment.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Iran and the West had quietly cooperated in efforts to block the trade from Afghanistan. United by a common loathing for the Sunni insurgents, Iran and the West were able to work together on this issue. But that is now in doubt.

The threat came in a package of incentives presented June 14 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, France, Britain, China, Russia) and Germany in a bid to get Tehran to change its nuclear policy. Iran has repeatedly said it will not stop enriching uranium, and now the European Union is considering wider sanctions, including ending cooperation with Iranian anti-drug efforts.

The package promised Iran "intensified cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking" from Afghanistan, but only if it first stops uranium enrichment. Tehran insists it has the right to use such technology and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Burdened with a 560-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Iran has deployed some 30,000 soldiers and police to fight opium and heroin smuggling from its neighbor. Some 3,500 of them have been killed in the past two decades. Last year, Iranian officials reported seizing 660 tons of opium, nearly three-quarters of the total seized worldwide. Despite such efforts and a draconian Iranian response to drug trafficking offenses -- the death penalty -- Iran suffers arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate.

But not all the opium and heroin smuggled across the Iranian border stays in Iran, and that had UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Antonio Maria Costa warning that Europe could be hit by a "heroin tsunami" if anti-drug aid is blocked. "We should definitely assist in this respect," he told the Associated Press this week. "Iran is a front-line country."

The UNODC's man in Tehran, Roberto Arbitrio, told the AP fighting the drug war should be seen as "a non-political area of mutual interest."

"Cooperating with Iran in Afghanistan on this and other issues is not a favor we do for Iran -- but something we need to do in our own interest," Barnett Rubin, perhaps the leading US academic expert on Afghanistan, told the AP.

"Fighting drug trafficking should not be politicized," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the top anti-drug official in Iran. "When narcotics reach Europe, it is the people, not governments, that suffer."

Such objections notwithstanding, however, drug interdiction has manifestly failed to reduce the supply, making the specter of increased drug abuse should aid be withheld an uncertain outcome.

Neither the White House and State Department nor the office of European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would comment on the linkage between continued anti-drug assistance and Tehran's compliance with Western demands.

Drug Cops Shouldn’t be Paid With Confiscated Drug Money, But They Are

A disturbing report from NPR illustrates that many police departments have become dependent on confiscated drug proceeds in order to fund their anti-drug operations:

Every year, about $12 billion in drug profits returns to Mexico from the world's largest narcotics market — the United States. As a tactic in the war on drugs, law enforcement pursues that drug money and is then allowed to keep a portion as an incentive to fight crime.


Federal and state rules governing asset forfeiture explicitly discourage law enforcement agencies from supplementing their budgets with seized drug money or allowing the prospect of those funds to influence law enforcement decisions.

There is a law enforcement culture — particularly in the South — in which police agencies have grown, in the words of one state senator from South Texas, "addicted to drug money."

Just pause for a second and think about the implications of a drug war that funds itself with dirty money. It is just laughable to think that such conditions could exist without inviting routine corruption, from our disgraceful forfeiture laws to the habitual thefts and misconduct that occur with such frequency that we're able to publish a weekly column dedicated to them.

It is truly symbolic of the drug war's inherent hopelessness that illicit drug proceeds are needed in order to subsidize narcotics operations. If we ever actually succeeded at shrinking the drug market, we'd be defunding law-enforcement! Progress is rather obviously impossible under such circumstances.

Drug enforcement is a job like any other, and police have mouths to feed, bills to pay, maybe a little alimony here or there. So they take their paycheck and sign out; I don’t blame anyone for that in and of itself. But consider that law-enforcement operations artificially inflate the value of drugs, only to then hunt down those same proceeds, collect, and redistribute them within the police department. Morally, is that any better than the dealer who pushes dope to put food on the table?

Really, a structure such as this is not designed to achieve forward momentum towards reducing drug abuse. It's the law-enforcement equivalent of subsistence farming and it ought to warrant income substitution programs not unlike those we push on the peasants of Colombia and Afghanistan. All of this lends substantial credence to the popular conception that "the drug war was meant to be waged, not won."

Each day that the drug war rages on, its finely tuned mechanisms become more effective at sustaining itself and less effective at addressing the issues of drug abuse and public safety that supposedly justify these policies in the first place.

Vietnam Orders Police to Win the Drug War by August

It's gonna be a busy summer over there:

The Prime Minister has declared a new campaign against drugs from the beginning of June rill the end of August.

The campaign needs to bring about a great positive change in drug prevention and control, affirmed Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.


Forces will be tasked with eliminating all places selling drugs, arresting all drug dealers and gaining complete control over the drug business. [vietnamnet.vn]

No matter how many times I hear it, this kind of talk never ceases to amuse me. According to the article, they've created new drug laws to replace the old ones that "did not address funding for fighting drugs". Did they forget to fund their drug war? Is that what this means? Anyway, now they have funding so if you're selling drugs in Vietnam, you have until August.

If the Drug War Reduces Violence, Please Explain What's Happening in Mexico

The debate should be over now. All you have to do is look south to learn that the drug war is worse than a failure; it causes massive violence, corruption, and death. From The New York Times:
"When the commander, Commissioner Édgar Millán Gómez, the acting chief of the federal police, died with eight bullets in his chest on May 8, it sent chills through a force that had increasingly found itself a target."

"Top security officials who were once thought untouchable have been gunned down in Mexico City, four in the last month alone."

"Drug dealers killed another seven federal agents this year in retaliation for drug busts in border towns."

"Drug traffickers have killed at least 170 local police officers as well, among them at least a score of municipal police commanders, since Mr. Calderón took office."

"The violence between drug cartels that Mr. Calderón has sought to end has only worsened over the past year and a half. The death toll has jumped 47 percent to 1,378 this year, prosecutors say. All told, 4,125 people have been killed in drug violence since Mr. Calderón took office."

"Several terrified local police chiefs have resigned, the most recent being Guillermo Prieto, the chief in Ciudad Juárez, who stepped down last week after his second in command was killed a few days earlier."
So what does Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who instigated the massive increase in drug war violence, have to say about all this?
The president has vowed to stay the course, portraying the violence among gangs and attacks on the police as a sign of success rather than failure.
Wow. Well, I guess you've got it all figured then, Mr. President. That's good to hear, because for a second there, it sounded like everything was going to hell.

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