Interdiction

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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.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tehran.jpg
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.

The Assassination of Mexico's Top Cop Proves That the Drug War is Failing

Anyone who thinks aggressive law-enforcement is going to solve the drug problem needs to look at what's happening in Mexico:

MEXICO CITY — Gunmen assassinated the acting chief of Mexico’s federal police early on Thursday morning in the most brazen attack so far in the year-and-a-half-old struggle between the government and organized crime gangs.

The Mexican police have been under constant attack since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2007 and started an offensive against drug cartels that had corrupted the municipal police forces and local officials in several towns along the border with the United States and on both coasts. [NY Times]

Unbelievably, George Bush and the Drug Czar are trying to give Mexico a $1.4 billion aid package to fight the cartels, even as the futility of this battle becomes more apparent every day. It is precisely the process of trying to eradicate massive drug markets that creates such brutal and perpetual violence. Thus, giving Mexico more money for the drug war is just exactly what we must not do.

This excellent clip featuring the Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains why the U.S. is responsible for the violence in Mexico and why the only solution is to deal with our own drug problem here at home.


O'Grady acknowledges that prohibition isn't working, and though she doesn’t say it outright, I think it's pretty clear that she knows what must be done. More of this type of talk at the Wall Street Journal is exactly what we need as the Drug Czar lobbies for funding to support even more drug war violence south of the border.

Southwest Asia: Iran Accuses West of Ignoring Afghan Opium, US Marines Conveniently Aid Tehran's Case

Iran Wednesday accused the US and NATO of indifference to Afghanistan's booming opium trade and called on the West to help fight smuggling of opium and heroin across the border the two countries share. A day earlier, an Associated Press story about US Marines newly deployed to Afghanistan's Helmand Province helped make Iran's case.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
In that story, some of the 2,000 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, freshly arrived in Helmand, the world's largest opium growing region and a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency, explained that they were ignoring the poppy crop because they feared alienating local residents dependent on the trade to earn a living.

"It's kind of weird. We're coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it's bad. But at the same time we know it's the only way locals can make money," said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

Second Lt. Mark Greenlief, 24, a Monmouth, Ill., native who commands the 2nd Platoon, said he originally wanted to make a helicopter landing zone in a local farmer's field. "But as you can see that would ruin their poppy field, and we didn't want to ruin their livelihood."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover's platoon is billeted beside a poppy field planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound. The Marines' mission is to get rid of the "bad guys," and "the locals aren't the bad guys," he said. "Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio," said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's okay to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, told the AP that his troops can't focus on the poppy crop when the Taliban is "terrorizing the people." The key is first to defeat the Taliban, he said. "I think by focusing on the Taliban, the poppies will go away," he said.

But the Marines, and the rest of the 30,000 US and 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan are caught in a terrible contradiction: If they go after the opium, they risk driving the population into the waiting arms of the Taliban. If they don't go after the opium, the Taliban makes as much as $100 million a year off its share of the trade, which goes to buy more weapons to fight the US, NATO, and the Afghan government.

Ignoring the opium crop -- Afghan opium accounts for 93% of the global supply, according to the United Nations -- does not sit well with Iran, which reportedly has the world's highest opiate addiction rate. "The exploding growth in the cultivation of opium... in Afghanistan last year has created many problems... especially for Iran," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, secretary of Iran's drug control headquarters, a day after the AP story appeared.

"We think NATO and foreign forces in Afghanistan are indifferent to the issue of drugs and have put other goals as their priorities," Ahmadi Moghaddam told a conference of officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "Since the time they entered (Afghanistan) we are witnessing an explosive rise in the production of drugs," he said.

Iran is spending $600 million a year to stop Afghan drugs from coming into the country, and could use some help from the West, which is evidently ignoring the problem, he complained. "Iran requests the serious and practical cooperation of the international community, especially European countries, as the main destination for smugglers, in fighting drug trafficking."

If Progress in the Drug War is Measured in Dead Bodies, It's Going Well

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has drawn praise from U.S. drug warriors for his commitment to fighting back against the drug cartels. Unfortunately, current strategies for reducing drug trade violence tend to have the opposite of their intended effect. Via New York Times, this is what you get when you really crack down on the drug traffickers:
"a hand-scrawled list of 22 officers, 5 of whom had already been gunned down in the street."

"A turf war among drug cartels has claimed more than 210 lives in the first three months of this year."

"The number of homicides this year is more than twice the total number of homicides for the same period last year."

"Several mass graves hiding 36 bodies in all have been discovered in the backyards of two houses owned by drug dealers."

"At the height of the violence, around Easter, bodies were turning up every morning, at a rate of almost 12 a week."

"'Neither the municipal government, nor the state government, is capable of taking on organized crime,' Mayor José Reyes Ferriz said in an interview."

"The local police are outgunned, underpaid, prone to corruption and lack the authority to investigate drug dealers…"

"The first batch of 150 new recruits came out of the academy in January, but they entered a force where most officers either feared drug dealers too much to move against them or lived on their payroll."
After decades of full-scale international drug war, the central fronts in this great crusade appear before us today literally smoldering, littered with shell-casings and stained in blood. That is drug prohibition's legacy and it will not change or improve. Violence will fluctuate between frequent and perpetual. Illicit drug markets will fluctuate between high availability and totally saturation. That is just the way it is and the way it will always be so long as the people currently in charge of addressing the drug problem are permitted to continue trying their ideas.

Thus, any realistic debate over our drug laws shouldn't be spiked with fictitious references to future victories or meaningful progress. An honest defense of the drug war, if such a thing could exist, would have to defend our current conditions and claim that it would be best if things stayed this way forever.
Location: 
United States

Job Opportunity: Kill People For a Mexican Drug Cartel

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is super popular with U.S. drug warriors for his crackdown on drug trafficking, but it doesn’t sound like the cartels are very scared. If they were, they wouldn't be posting job listings on the highways:
(AP) Hitmen tied to Mexico's Gulf cartel appear to be boldly seeking recruits by posting help-wanted signs in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, including a giant banner hung across a thoroughfare, a federal anti-drug enforcement official said Monday.

The banner appeared over the weekend in Nuevo Laredo near the border with Texas: "Operative group 'The Zetas' wants you, soldier or ex-soldier. We offer a good salary, food and benefits for your family. Don't suffer anymore mistreatment and don't go hungry."
Yeah, Calderon's drug war troop surge is a joke that serves only to delay the inevitable realization that the drug war is a contractual guarantee of endless violence. The cartels aren't the least bit intimidated and we haven’t seen a fraction of the violence that is possible if Calderon wants to throw more gas on the fire.

He'll be voted out of office by war-weary constituents long before he ever drives out the powerful organizations that recruit their armies right out in the open. There is only one way to close these drug war job openings and that is to end the war on drugs.
Location: 
United States

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