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Bolivia Restores Ties with US, But Rejects DEA

The US and Bolivian governments announced Monday that they were restoring diplomatic relations after three years, but Bolivian President Evo Morales Tuesday made it clear that DEA agents would not be welcome back in his country.

Evo Morales (wikimedia.org)
Relations between the two countries went into the deep freeze after Bolivia threw out US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg and the DEA in September 2008, charging they were interfering in domestic Bolivian political affairs. Now, in an accord signed Monday, the two countries agreed to exchange ambassadors and to undertake close cooperation in anti-drug efforts, trade and development.

That anti-drug cooperation will not include DEA agents in Bolivia, Morales told reporters at a regional conference in Bogota. It was a matter of national "dignity and sovereignty," he said, adding that he was "personally a victim" because Bolivian anti-drug police worked closely with the DEA. Those same police had clashed with coca growers and once beat him unconscious, he has said. Morales was a coca grower union leader before he was elected president.

"They repressed us in Bolivia. That has ended," Morales said. "For the first time since Bolivia was founded, the United States will now respect Bolivia's rules" and laws under the new diplomatic agreement, he added.

Coca has been grown for centuries, if not millennia, in Bolivia. The country is currently the world's third largest coca producer, behind Peru and Colombia. While much of the crop is destined for traditional or industrial uses, some is diverted to the illicit cocaine market.

US officials have said they believe cocaine trafficking is on the increase since Bolivia expelled the DEA, but that is not reflected in an expansion of the coca fields. According to the United Nations, the amount of land under coca cultivation increased only 0.3% last year.

Bogota
Colombia

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Approved for Circulation

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced Monday that two initiatives for marijuana legalization measures have been approved for circulation. Both were filed by attorney Dan Viets, a long-time marijuana legalization advocate and a member of the national NORML Legal Committee and board of directors.

Viets and Missouri NORML chapters have aligned themselves with other marijuana legalization advocates and supporters as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, a reference to Missouri's nickname as the "Show Me" state.

The two measures are identical, except that one would amend the state constitution and the other would amend state law.

The initiatives call for marijuana legalization for persons 21 and over, a process for licensing marijuana establishments, and the lifting of criminal justice system sanctions against people imprisoned or under state supervision for nonviolent marijuana offenses that would no longer be illegal and the expunging of all criminal records for such offenses. The initiatives would also allow for the use of marijuana for medical reasons by minors and allow the legislature to enact a tax of $100 a pound on retail marijuana sales.

The initiatives now move on to the signature-gathering phase. To qualify for the November 2012 ballot, the constitutional amendment initiative must obtain the signatures of a number of registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's race from six of the state's nine congressional districts. The requirements for the statutory amendment are slightly looser; it needs the signatures of 5% of the voters in those districts. Signatures must be turned in by May 6, 2012.

If marijuana legalization makes the ballot in Missouri next year, the state is likely to join Washington and Colorado in taking the issue before the voters. Efforts in those two states are the most advanced and likely to make the ballot, although there is a possibility that similar efforts could make the ballot in California and Oregon.

Columbia, MO
United States

US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

The unhappy reaction to the renewed federal offensive against medical marijuana growers and distributors continues to spread, with several members of Congress and California's attorney general among the latest to voice their displeasure.

Since the Sacramento press conference last month where California's four US Attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical marijuana using heavy-handed raids on businesses in exemplary compliance with state and local laws and a wave of letters to dispensary landlords threaten property seizure or even criminal prosecution if they don't throw out their medical marijuana tenants, reaction among medical marijuana supporters, including elected officials, has been growing.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The other congressional signers were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA).

Citing "aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven states," as well as threats directed at landlords and elected officials, the solons told the president such actions "directly interfere with California's 15-year-old medical cannabis law by eliminating safe access to medication for the state's thousands of medical marijuana patients."

The nine US representatives called on the president to reschedule marijuana as either a Schedule II or Schedule III drug with recognized medicinal uses, either by administrative action or by supporting legislation to achieve that end. A bill that would do just that, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has already been filed, they helpfully pointed out.

A week before the congressional letter, California Attorney General Kamala Harris added her voice to the choir of the concerned. "Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill," she noted in a statement.

"While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California," the state's highest elected law enforcement officer said. "I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.'"

In mid-October, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), stalwart friends of marijuana law reform, were among the first to speak out against the federal crackdown, followed shortly by fellow San Franciscan state Sen. Leland Yee (D).

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients," Lee said in a statement. "There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney's Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives."

In the face of widespread criticism, the US Attorneys have attempted to insulate their boss from the political heat, with a spokesperson making pains to tell the Huffington Post they had coordinated only with the Justice Department, not the Obama administration. But it is ultimately President Obama who is in charge, and who will pay whatever political price is to be paid.

SF "De Facto Drug Decriminalization" Sees Violent Crime Decline

Drug arrests in San Francisco have declined dramatically over the past two years without causing a spike in violent crime, calling into question the link traditionally made by law enforcement between drug law enforcement and reducing violent crime.

Drug arrests AND violent crime are down in San Francisco. (wikimedia.org)
According to figures compiled by the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco police made 9,505 drug arrests in 2009, but that number dropped dramatically to 5,834 last year. As of October 15, there had been only 3,751 drug arrests this year, leaving the city on pace to end the year with fewer than 5,000 if current trends continue. That means drug arrests declined 39% in 2010 over 2009 totals and are on track to decline another 25% this year

Meanwhile, violent crimes have also decreased during the same period, although not so dramatically. In 2009, police reported 7,391 violent crime arrests; a year later, that figure had dropped to 7,139. As of October 15 this year, police had logged 5,366 violent crimes (the figure last year at the same date was 5,715). If the current rate continues to year's end, the number of violent crimes should drop to somewhere near 7,000.

That's a 3% decrease in violent crime in 2010 and another 6% decrease this year. This even as drug arrest rates also plummet.

"This has been somewhat of a de facto decriminalization of drugs -- in other words, they're not being prosecuted," San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey told the Examiner. "And it does not appear that violent crime in San Francisco has risen, so it may say something about the necessity for the war on drugs."

Hennessy said he noticed a shift in 2010 after the police department's drug lab was embroiled in scandal and hundreds of drug cases were dropped. The jail population dropped dramatically then, possibly because of fewer arrests and prosecutions for drug crimes, he said.

Former San Francisco Police Chief and current District Attorney George Gascon told the Examiner that as police chief, he began focusing more on mid-level drug dealers and drug offenses associated with violent crimes, sending some minor drug possession cases to neighborhood and community courts. He said he is continuing that approach as district attorney.

Street level police said they were continuing to make low-level buy-bust and undercover operations, particularly near schools, but acknowledged that the department has less grant money for certain drug enforcement operations. Also, budget cuts have shrunk the force and resulted in less overtime.

"We're doing more with less," said Capt. Joe Garrity, whose district includes the Tenderloin, a drug dealing hotspot in the city. But drug arrests were declining there, too.

UC Santa Cruz professor of sociology and legal studies Craig Reinarman told the Examiner the majority of drug arrests are traditionally been for petty offenses, mostly marijuana. "The relationship between those arrests and violent crimes was always more tenuous than police like to let on," he said.

Hmmm… maybe San Francisco is on to something.

San Francisco, CA
United States

White House Rebuffs Marijuana Legalization Petitions

As promised, the White House has responded to the online petition to "Legalize and Regulate Alcohol," and seven other similar pot petitions as well, but the response wasn't favorable. That's not particularly surprising, given that the person chosen to deliver the response, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske, is mandated by law to oppose legalization.

"Isn't it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?" asked the petition submitted by "Erik A" of Washington, DC. "If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

The threshold for an official response was at least 25,000 signatures by 30 days from October 3. The marijuana legalization petition was by far the most popular, with more than 74,000 signatures as of Friday night. Another seven petitions similarly calling for one form of pot legalization or another, which Kerlikowske also included in his response, carried an additional 76,000 signatures.

The marijuana legalization petitions far exceeded all others. Currently, the other leading contenders are banning puppy mills (30,234), abolishing the TSA (28,515), and two other issues that are closely related to marijuana reform -- allowing for industrial hemp (20,498) and ending the war on drugs (18,614).

The official response from drug czar Kerlikowske is certain to disappoint and infuriate marijuana legalization supporters and drug reformers, but should come as little surprise. Under the 1998 ONDCP Reauthorization Act, the drug czar is required by law not only to not spend any money to study legalization but also to "take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize" a Schedule I substance, a category that under federal law includes marijuana. The drug czar could no more come out for marijuana legalization than the 17th Century Holy Office could endorse a universe without the earth at its center.

That the administration chose the drug czar to respond sends a strong signal that legalization talk will go nowhere in this administration. That it chose to release its response during the late Friday afternoon "news dump," when it will hopefully vanish over the weekend suggests that it realizes it isn't going to win many political points with its position.

"Our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects," Kerlikowske begins before warning that "marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment." He then wheels out marijuana treatment admissions and emergency room visits, reminds that potency has increased, and concludes that "simply put, it is not a benign drug."

Kerlikowske asserts that the administration is "ardently support[ing] ongoing research" into marijuana as a medicine, but scoffs at smoked marijuana as a medicine. Then he actually addresses the petition.

"As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem," the drug czar continued. "We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

Instead, Kerlikowske recommends, not surprisingly, his own 2001 National Drug Control Strategy, "emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities." What is needed is not marijuana legalization, but more drug treatment and more drug courts, Kerlikowske concludes.

The legalization petition was drafted in response to the White House's We the People campaign "because we want to hear from you," according to the web page. "If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."

The drug czar's recitation of the harms associated with marijuana use is certainly debatable and will doubtlessly be thoroughly criticized in days to come. But as the administration response makes clear, that marijuana is a dangerous drug that Americans cannot be trusted with to use responsibly is the official line, and they're sticking to it.

Washington, DC
United States

Trucker Shoots Self Before Roadside Pot Bust

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A truck driver pulled over by a Texas state trooper apparently shot and killed himself before police found a load of marijuana in his truck's sleeper. The man, identified as Mason Burks of Springfield, Missouri, becomes the 42nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety
, Burks was driving north on US Highway 59 near Lufkin when he was stopped for a commercial inspection by Trooper Mike McClain. US 59 begins on the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas.

When McClain stepped up to the truck window, he heard a gunshot. McClain retreated and called for back-up.

When backup arrived, police found Burks, 46, dead of a gunshot wound to the chest. Troopers then found 603 pounds of pot in the sleeper of the truck cab.

Lufkin, TX
United States

Chicago to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

Chicago could be about to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Alderman Daniel Solis will introduce a proposal at this week's city council meeting to make possession of up to 10 grams a $200 ticket, with up to 10 hours of community service.

Chicago skyline
Solis and other supportive aldermen joined Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey at a press conference last week to drum up support for their proposal. County commissioners have already decriminalized small-time pot possession in unincorporated areas of the county.

Marijuana possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor in the city, with punishments ranging up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine. Chicago police arrest about 23,000 people a year for simple possession.

"It is not time to act tough on crime, it is time to be smart on crime. We need our resources spent somewhere else," Fritchey said, adding that the arrests and prosecutions eat up valuable law enforcement time and money.

Alderman Walter Burnett noted that minorities make up the vast number of those arrested for pot possession, and those arrests remain on their records even if the charges are dropped. He also noted that he had seen open marijuana use at rock concerts with no one getting arrested.

"I had the opportunity to go to Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and I think I got contact high being at all those events," Burnett said. "Police there, everything. It wasn't predominantly African American, and guess what? No one got arrested at those events. If that was an African American event, the jails would probably be filled up. I think it's almost a discrimination issue."

Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy has talked about decriminalization as a means of keeping his officers on the street rather than tied up processing pot smokers, and Solis said he believes members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration "think it makes sense" although "they haven't given us any strong indication they would support it." Still, said Solis, "Enough is enough."

Chicago, IL
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Monday, October 17

In an interview published in the New York Times, President Calderon said he believes that Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is in the United States. "He is not in Mexican territory, and I suppose that Chapo is in American territory," he said. Calderon also questioned why Guzman's wife wasn't detained when she gave birth at a Los Angeles area clinic in August.

Wednesday, October 19

In Arizona, an ICE officer was arrested for marijuana smuggling after a high-speed chase with authorities. Jason Alistair Lowery, 34, had been under investigation for more than a month after a known smuggler who had been arrested identified him as being involved in drug rips and in trafficking. He was arrested after agreeing to pick up 500 pounds of marijuana from a desert location.

Thursday, October 20

In Texas, the nephew of an imprisoned Gulf Cartel leader was arrested during a traffic stop in Port Isabel. Rafael Junior Cardenas Vela was charged with immigration and drug conspiracy charges in the operation, which was conducted by ICE. Rafael Cardenas allegedly admitted to being involved in large cocaine and marijuana shipments to the US. Additionally, a July 8 shootout near Brownsville is attributed to a Zeta attempt to capture or kill Rafael Cardenas.

In Monterrey, a car bomb attack was conducted against a military patrol which had been chasing suspected cartel members. No soldiers were wounded in the incident, which took place after they gave chase to a car with suspicious men on board during a patrol. Several other car bomb incidents have taken place in Mexico over the last year.

In Veracruz, eight bodies were found in the town of Paso de Viejas.

In Tecamac, Mexico State, a well-known local drug trafficker was arrested along with 10 of his bodyguards. Adrian Soria Ramirez, "El Hongo," had been leading a gang currently fighting for control of drug sales in several areas of the greater Mexico City area.

Saturday, October 22

In Durango, cartel activity led much of the population of the towns of Villa Ocampo and Los Nieves to lock themselves inside their homes when a convoy of armed men passed through the area. The local municipal police force fled to their station. Three men were abducted by the convoy and later found executed.

Sunday, October 23

In Sinaloa, the army raided an auto shop used by cartel members to bulletproof vehicles. Ten people were taken into custody and 16 vehicles were seized. Similar bulletproofing shops have been discovered in other parts of Mexico, notably Tamaulipas.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 9 people were murdered. Among the dead was a jeweler who was shot dead in his home by two armed men, and one person who was decapitated.

Monday, October 24

In Tamaulipas, a Mexican army unit was deployed to the Frontera Chica area across the Rio Grande from Starr County, Texas. The soldiers, from Mexico's 105th Battalion, will patrol the Camargo, Miguel Aleman and Ciudad Mier areas in response to recent fighting in the area.

Tuesday, October 25

In Acapulco, authorities announced that they recently arrested a man and a woman and discovered an icebox with a human head and other remains in the car they were driving. The car was pulled over by federal police because it matched the description of a car used in a recent kidnapping. The female suspect, 19 year-old Damaris Gomez, allegedly is the leader of a group of assassins employed by a local criminal organization.

Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,100

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas DA gets greedy, and so do a California narc, a California prison worker, a Washington state evidence clerk, and a Washington, DC, police officer. Let's get to it:

In Center, Texas, the Shelby County District Attorney's office is one focus of a federal criminal investigation into allowing arrested drug traffickers to buy their way out of trouble by letting the county seize their cash. The feds are now reviewing whether DA Lynda Kaye Russell cut illegal deals with defendants in a bid to bolster her county's asset forfeiture account, which took in more than $800,000 in less than a year. An Associated Press investigation found "numerous examples of suspects who went unpunished or got unusually light sentences after turning over tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars." In one case, a man caught with 15 kilos of cocaine and $80,000 in cash got probation after forfeiting the money to the DA; in another, a woman found with $620,000 in cash stuffed in Christmas presents walked free after turning over the money. Shelby County's law enforcement practices gained national notoriety in 2008 when a still pending class action lawsuit accused the county of targeting black motorists and threatening to jail or prosecute them if they didn't agree to forfeit their cash. Russell has been DA since 1999 and implemented a "drug enforcement" program on the highway through the county in 2006.

In Oakland, California, a former San Ramon police officer and Contra Costa sheriff's deputy was arraigned Tuesday on federal charges related to the ongoing Central Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team (CCNET) corruption probe. Louis Lombardi, 39, is accused of stealing cash and drugs during police raids, selling marijuana and methamphetamine, and conspiring with his CCNET commander to set up a marijuana grow operation. He faces nine felony and misdemeanor counts and is looking at up to 60 years in prison. His attorney says he will cop a plea shortly. Three other CCNET officers, including its former commander, have already been charged in the case, and a fourth is likely to be charged soon.

In San Rafael, California, a former California Department of Corrections warehouse supervisor was arraigned Monday on charges he brought marijuana to San Quentin Prison to sell to an inmate. Robert Alioto, 48, had been arrested on October 5 and was fired the next day. He was charged with bringing a controlled substance into a state prison, selling or furnishing a controlled substance to a prisoner, and possession of marijuana for sale. He's looking at up to five years in prison if convicted.

In Washington, DC, a former Metro DC police officer was sentenced last Friday to 15 years in prison for his role in the botched attempted robbery of a drug dealer that resulted in the fatal shooting of one of the would-be robbers by one of his companions. Former officer Reginald Jones, 42, acted as a lookout from his patrol car as five men attempted the robbery. As the drug dealer was being assaulted, his girlfriend ran to Jones' police car seeking assistance, but Jones instead sped off. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery.

In Port Angeles, Washington, a former Clallam County sheriff's evidence officer was convicted last Friday of stealing money from the evidence room. Staci Allison was accused of making off with at least $8,600 and, despite her protestations of innocence, she was convicted on counts of first-degree theft and money laundering. She's looking at up to 10 years in prison when sentenced next month.

Prop 19 Backers Eye 2012 Medical Marijuana Initiative

A budding coalition of medical marijuana reform backers, including some of the same folks behind last year's Proposition 19, is working on an initiative for the 2012 ballot that would impose statewide regulation on California's crazy-quilt medical marijuana dispensary scene. The announcement came during a San Francisco press conference Tuesday preceding a demonstration during a visit to the city by President Obama.

"We need statewide regulation," said Dale Sky Jones, spokeswoman for last year's Prop 19 campaign and for the organization's current incarnation, the California Coalition for Cannabis Reform. "We are working on a regulatory framework for 2012, but it's still being drafted. Many Prop 19 supporters back this."

It's not just Prop 19 supporters, added Steve De Angelo, proprietor of Harborside Health Center, Oakland's largest dispensary -- which is now under attack by the IRS as part of the new federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution. "There is a broad based recognition that it's time for state regulation," he said.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 is also behind the effort. "We will speak to the specifics of the initiative within a couple of weeks," said the union's Cannabis Division Coordinator, Matthew Witemeyer.

Although California has a statewide medical marijuana law, cities and counties have created a patchwork of rules and regulations, so that what may be permissible in one area would leave someone subject to prosecution for undertaking the same activity in another one. Conflicting rulings from state courts have not resolved the situation, leaving Californians with varying levels of access to medical marijuana through dispensaries. Local approaches range from cooperative regulation and taxation to hostile permanent moratoria on dispensaries.

San Francisco, CA
United States

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