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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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on Thursday), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:

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Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday, July 16

In Ciudad Juárez, four people were killed when a car bomb blew up near federal police headquarters. The dead included two police officers, a doctor, and a paramedic. The Juárez cartel claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks if authorities do not crack down on the rival Sinaloa Cartel. This attack marks the first time such tactics have been used in Mexico's prohibition-related violence.

Sunday, July 18

In Torreon, Coahuila, 17 people were killed when gunmen opened fire in a crowded party without any warning after having blocked the exits. At least 18 people were also wounded in the attack, many of them seriously. Many of those in attendance at the event learned of it through Facebook. Torreon has seen several large-scale multiple homicides in recent months, especially after fighting began between the Zetas Organization and the Gulf Cartel. This battle has led to a drastic increase in violence in northern Mexico, including Coahuila.

Monday, July 19

In Guadalajara, Jalisco, three policemen were killed after being ambushed by gunmen in two separate incidents. In the first, two officers were shot dead in a car stereo shop. In the second incident, a police patrol car was attacked by armed men with rifles and grenades, leaving one officer dead.

Tuesday, July 20

In Ciudad Juárez, seven people were killed in several incidents across the city. Among the dead was a man found hanging from a bridge and a dismembered body which had to be pieced together from several locations.

Wednesday, July 21

In Nuevo Laredo, one person was killed and sixteen were wounded after a grenade attack on a sports complex.

Thursday, July 22

In a mountainous remote part of Chihuahua, eight gunmen were killed after a clash with soldiers near the town of Madera. Reports indicate that the incident occured after an army patrol came under fire from an unclear number of gunmen. It is unknown to which organization the gunmen belonged. The area is heavily used by marijuana and poppy growers under cartel control.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, two police officers were killed after being chased by gunmen. The chase ended when the two officers exited their vehicle and attempted unsuccessfully to escape on foot. In Guasave, a known drug-trafficking stronghold, a woman was shot dead by two gunmen as she held her baby. She was killed and the child was wounded. A police officer was killed in Nuevo Leon. In Colima, a man was shot dead after being ambushed as he drove on a highway.

In the city of Nuevo Laredo, the city government sent out a Facebook message warning residents to stay inside due to ferocious gun battles with cartel gunmen.

Total Body Count for the Week: 187

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,435

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Ecstasy found to Help Alleviate PTSD among Military Veterans

Researchers are gaining ground in the combat against posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in an unlikely way.  Touted as “the party drug,” ecstasy, or MDMA, may just be the saving grace for hundreds of thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD.

According to a study by the Rand Corporation, in 2008 one in five soldiers returning home from Afghanistan or Iraq showed symptoms of PTSD. All in all, nearly 300,000 returning soldiers were affected. Letting individuals with PTSD go untreated is detrimental to both the individual and to society as a whole, as it has been linked to higher incidences of depression, health issues, violence, marital problems, drug use, unemployment, homelessness and suicide among veterans. And although each active military service member is provided with $400,000 in military life insurance coverage, that provides little comfort to families of a PTSD-afflicted veterans.

The Study

In the first controlled study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in July, 2010, ecstasy was used in combination with psychotherapy to treat patients suffering from PTSD.  The subjects tested in the trial were patients with symptoms that were not improving with standard psychotherapy and antidepressants. According to Time Magazine, government-approved drugs such as Paxil and Zoloft typically administered to PTSD patients are only effective in about 20% of cases. Therapy has a higher success rate in alleviating symptoms; however, one-fourth of all patients drop out when asked to recall painful or stressful memories.

The Science behind Ecstasy and PTSD-afflicted Military Veterans

The theory behind this very controversial treatment is that ecstasy releases a large amount of mood-regulating chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, in the brain. Patients who have taken ecstasy are more open in therapy sessions and able to talk about otherwise agonizing events.  The results showed that after two months of therapy 83% of the patients that were given ecstasy showed tremendous signs of improvement and were no longer being classified as PTSD patients.

This pilot study has opened a psychedelic door in the pharmaceutical world. There is hope yet for veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.

CA Marijuana Init Worth Hundreds of Millions Yearly, State Analysts Say

A California Legislative Analyst's Office report released Tuesday estimates that if Proposition 19, the Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative, were to be passed by voters, it could generate "hundreds of millions of dollars a year" in tax revenues in state sales taxes and taxes imposed by counties and municipalities that allowed for taxed and regulated sales and cultivation. Passage of the measure would also lead to reduced costs in state and local law enforcement, courts, and corrections, while not endangering public safety, the report said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office is a non-partisan state agency. Its job is to provide fiscal and policy advice to the state legislature.

The "hundreds of millions of dollars a year" estimate is roughly in line with, although lower than, the State Board of Equalization's estimate that marijuana legalization could bring $1.4 billion a year in taxes and fees in the state. That estimate was based not on Proposition 19, but on an Assembly bill introduced by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would have allowed for direct state taxation of marijuana. Under Prop 19, only cities and counties would have the ability to tax and regulate marijuana sales and cultivation -- although the state could, of course, collect a sales tax on anything sold in the state.

"Proposition 19 allows local governments to authorize, regulate, and tax various commercial marijuana-related activities," the report noted. "As discussed below, the state also could authorize, regulate, and tax such activities... we estimate that the state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues."

The report warned, however, that firm estimates were hard to come by because of uncertainties, particularly those surrounding how the federal government would respond to California cities or counties moving forward to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales.

With California laying off and furloughing state workers, and with California cities and counties doing the same with teachers, firefighters, and police officers because of ongoing budget crises, the Legislative Analyst's Office report is bound to become ammunition for Prop 19 supporters.

EU Court Upholds Dutch Border Town's Ban on Drug Tourism

In a decision that cuts against the grain of the European Union's laws governing free markets and the free movement of people within its borders, the EU Court of Justice has upheld the Dutch border town of Maastricht's bid to ban foreigners from its cannabis coffee shops. The ruling came last Friday.

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downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
Maastricht decided to limit admission to coffee shops to Dutch residents only, in a bid to stanch the flow of pot-seeking tourists, mostly from France and Belgium, who flood into the town conveniently close to the French and Belgian borders. City officials said 4,000 tourists a day come to Maastricht to score, and they make up some 70% of the border town coffee shop business.

The move prompted a legal challenge from Marc Josemanns, a coffee shop owner and chairman of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops. He argued before the Dutch council of state that the ban contravenes EU legislation on the free movement of citizens, goods, and services within the EU. The council asked the EU Court of Justice to interpret EU law, which it will then incorporate in its ruling later this year.

EU Court of Justice Advocate General Yve Bot found that drugs do not count as regular, legal goods because they are against the law. "Narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale does not benefit from the freedoms of movement guaranteed by European Union law, inasmuch as their sale is unlawful," he said. But marijuana does "come under internal market rules" in cases of medical or scientific use, he specified.

Since Maastricht was correct to view drug tourism as "a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to public order," Bot said, restricting foreigners from coffee shops "constitutes a measure necessary to protect the residents of the municipality from trouble."

Bot even went a step further, saying that pot heads descending on the Netherlands to get stoned and enjoy themselves was itself a threat to EU security. "Drug tourism, insofar as it conceals, in actual fact, international trade in narcotics and fuels organized criminal activities, threatens even the European Union's internal security," he said.

Of course, if the EU just legalized the drug trade, that would eliminate drug tourism at the Dutch border and deprive organized crime of revenues, but this appears to be too much to ask.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More bad apples in the Big Apple, a major drug corruption scandal brews in Tulsa, the city of Oakland pays big for bad cops, a Georgia deputy cops a plea, and a South Carolina state trooper goes down. Let's get to it:

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, five current and former Tulsa police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday in an ongoing probe into drug corruption in the Tulsa Police Department. Officers Jeff Henderson, 37, and Bill Yelton, 49, were indicted together in a 61-count indictment alleging myriad drug trafficking and conspiracy offenses, with Henderson named in 58 counts and Yelton in seven. Retired Officer Harold Wells, 59, was separately indicted on 10 counts that include conspiracy and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Officer Nick DeBruin, 37, was charged with six counts, including crack cocaine distribution and conspiracy to steal money. Officer Bruce Bonham, 52, was indicted on five counts including crack cocaine and methamphetamine distribution and conspiracy to steal US government funds. Henderson and Yelton face one count of threatening a former federal agent, Brandon McFadden, at gunpoint. McFadden has already pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge and is cooperating with prosecutors. He admitted that he, Henderson, and other officer stole drugs and money, falsified reports, and perjured themselves. He also admitted that he and Henderson framed a father and daughter with a fake drug buy in 2007. That pair are among 11 people who were either released from prison or had prosecutions dropped because they were framed by Tulsa police. They are not through digging up the dirt in Tulsa -- prosecutors said more indictments could be coming soon.

In Oakland, California, the Oakland City Council voted Tuesday night to pay $6.5 million to more than a hundred people whose homes were searched by police officers who obtained search warrants by providing false information to judges. The payouts bring an end to two federal lawsuits filed by people who claimed a group of officers had lied on search warrant affidavits by saying seized substances had been confirmed by police laboratories as drugs, when no such tests had occurred. The city agreed to the settlement "to avoid the risk of an adverse verdict should this matter proceed to trial," wrote City Attorney John Russo in a document submitted to the council. The city fired four officers in connection with the case, but allowed seven others to keep their jobs after they argued they had been poorly trained or inadequately supervised.

In New York City, two NYPD officers were indicted July 15 for lying to cover up unlawful stops, searches, and seizures in Manhattan. NYPD Sgt. William Eiseman, 41, a 13-year veteran of the force, and Officer Michael Carsey, 29, are charged with perjury, offering a false instrument for filing, and official misconduct. Prosecutors portrayed Eiseman as a "renegade" who routinely stopped people for no justifiable reason, searched their vehicles, then arrested them when he found drugs or weapons. In one case, Eiseman and Casey unlawfully searched a van, testifying they smelled marijuana smoke and that the driver later told them he had drugs and weapons in his apartment. In fact, said prosecutors, the pair only learned of drugs by seizing the man's cell phone and looking at photos on it. They also lied in the search warrant application for the man's apartment. The pair have been released on bail. They face up to seven years in prison for perjury and up to four years on the false instrument charges.

In Atlanta, a former Fulton County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to taking bribes to protect what he thought were drug dealers. Anthony Atwater, 33, is accused of providing protection for two different 500 kilogram loads of cocaine, but the people he was protecting it for turned out to be undercover FBI agents. Atwater got $4,000 for protecting the "dealers" during two drug transactions in January and March and was arrested in April. He originally faced five felony corruption, drugs, and gun charges, but ended up pleading to attempting to aid and abet the possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, as well as bribery. He's looking at up to 20 years for corruption and up to 40 years on the drug count.

In Conway, South Carolina, a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer was arrested last Friday night on felony drug charges. Lance Cpl. Bobby Lee Spurgeon is charged with manufacturing, distribution or possession of a schedule II product, cocaine or a cocaine derivative. He made $10,000 bail on Saturday. He has been fired from the Highway Patrol. No further details were available.

Coalition Calls on Obama to Withdraw Michele Leonhart DEA Nomination

A coalition of five drug reform organizations called Wednesday for the Obama administration to withdraw the nomination of Michele Leonhart to be DEA administrator. The career DEA veteran is currently the agency's acting administrator. The groups are the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and its California affiliate, California NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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Michele Leonhart with Eric Holder
The call comes in the wake of recent DEA raids against medical marijuana providers in California, Colorado, and Michigan, including one two weeks ago in Mendocino County, California, aimed at the first person to register with the county sheriff under a new cultivation ordinance. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo instructing the Justice Department, of which the DEA is a part, to not persecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state laws.

In the Mendocino case, in which the DEA raided a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff, a DEA agent reportedly responded to being informed that the sheriff okayed the group by saying, "I don't care what the sheriff says."

The reformers also attacked Leonhart for her January 2009 refusal to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to grow marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative judge's determination that such a license would be "in the public interest." With that action, Leonhart blocked privately funded medical marijuana research in the US.

"With Leonhart's nomination pending, one would expect her to be more -- not less -- respectful of the Department of Justice and the rights of individuals in medical marijuana states," said Steve Fox, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Such behavior is an ominous sign for the future of the DEA under her leadership. Moreover, she has continually demonstrated her desire to block privately funded medical marijuana research in this country. The Obama administration has reversed many Bush administration policies over the past 18 months. It is time to transform the culture at the DEA by either withdrawing Leonhart's nomination or directing her to change her attitude toward medical marijuana."

"Michele Leonhart continues to wage war on sick people and their caregivers, undermining the Obama Administration's otherwise compassionate medical marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Obama needs to withdraw her nomination and nominate someone who will follow the stated policies of his administration."

It's not just Leonhart's recent actions that are raising the alarm among reformers. As we reported when she was nominated, Leonhart had a close and friendly relationship with a serial perjuring DEA informant, "super snitch" Andrew Chambers, who was paid $2.2 million by the agency for his work between 1984 and 2000 despite repeated findings by federal courts that he was not believable. Leonhart defended Chambers and his credibility despite all the evidence to the contrary.

As Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Clinton and Bush administration's persecution of medical marijuana users and providers, Leonhart was an enthusiastic participant and ranking DEA member involved. In January 1998, she stood proudly with then US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi as he announced at a press conference that the government would take action against medical marijuana clubs.

The administration has announced no timeline on moving her nomination forward.

Marijuana Church Founder "Too Dangerous" For Bail

Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry (THC Ministry), has been ordered held without bail after being arrested along with 13 current or former employees and growers by the DEA on July 8. He and the others are charged with marijuana trafficking offenses related to their alleged distribution of marijuana as a sacrament at the ministry.

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Roger Christie (courtesy thc-ministry.org)
Christie had been raided by the DEA in March, with agents seizing cash and marijuana at that time, but not arresting him. Federal authorities allege that after that raid, Christie recommenced his marijuana distribution at the ministry. He and the others were secretly indicted last month.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang originally ordered Christie held without bail at federal prosecutors' request. Christie and his public defender, Matthew Winter, last week filed a motion seeking his release, citing the nonviolent nature of the offenses, Christie's longstanding ties to the community, his lack of a criminal record, and his willingness to abstain from marijuana use or distribution pending trial.

A federal pre-trial services report also recommended that Christie be freed on bail. But prosecutors fought back with a 46-page memorandum in opposition. Because Christie allegedly recommenced marijuana distribution after the March raids, that made him "a danger to the community and... no conditions/combination of conditions could assure the safety of the community," they wrote.

On Friday, US District Court Judge Alan Kay agreed with prosecutors. Now, Christie will be held behind bars until trial because the pot-loving minister is "too dangerous" to be freed on bail.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Makes Ballot

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown announced last Friday that an initiative campaign to allow state licensed medical marijuana dispensaries had handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. An initiative that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on repeat felony sex offenders and drunk drivers also qualified for the ballot.

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
The dispensary initiative, I-28, would amend the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act to mandate that the state Department of Human Services license and regulate dispensaries and producers. The dispensaries would be nonprofit and would be allowed to be reimbursed for their production costs. The initiative also contains provisions providing that the department set up a program for low-income patients and that the Department of Human Services conduct research into the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana. Those programs would be funded with fees generated by the medical marijuana program.

Under current Oregon law, patients or caregivers can grow their own, and caregivers can grow for up to four patients. But patient advocates have complained for years that the lack of a dispensary system has meant patients unable or unwilling to grow their own and who do not have a caregiver have had to resort to the black market or go without their medicine.

The initiative isn't officially qualified for the ballot just yet. It will be official on August 1, the deadline for verification of ballot initiatives. While it could theoretically be challenged between now and then, no such challenges have appeared on the horizon.

The initiative will not be known as I-28 on the ballot. It will be assigned a measure number on August 1.

The initiative is sponsored by Voter Power, the same folks who successfully sponsored the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act initiative in 1998.

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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on Thursday), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:

Friday, July 9

In Ciudad Juarez, sixteen people were killed in various incidents across the city. Among the dead was an 85-year old man, and another man who was apparently beaten to death with rocks.

Sunday, July 11

In Ciudad Juarez, three men were killed in an intense gun battle between police and suspected cartel members. The incident began after gunmen attacked a combined municipal and federal police patrol. Several of the gunmen were reportedly armed with grenades.

Monday, July 12

In Nayarit, nine men were arrested in connection with the Sunday killing of two police officers. Several vehicles, weapons and marijuana were seized in the raids, which took place in the cities of Xalisco and Tepic.

In Acapulco, marines captured Aguirre Tavira, who is thought to be head of the Villareal faction of the Beltran-Leyva organization in the city.

In Guerrero, five men were killed during a firefight with an army patrol. Drug-related killings were also reported in Nayarit, Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon.

Tuesday, July 13

In Cuernavaca, three bodies were hung from an overpass. A note was left at the scene accusing the men of worker for Edgar Valdez Villareal, the leader of a breakaway faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization. Cuernavaca has seen a drastic surge in violence in recent months as rivals battle for leadership positions in the organization, which was left leaderless after the death of its boss, Arturo Beltran-Leyva, at the hands of Mexican Marines in December. It was later revealed the men had all recently escaped from prison.

Thursday, July 15

In Ciudad Juarez, three people were killed after suspected gang members rammed an explosives-laden car into two police patrol trucks. Two of the dead were police officers and a third was a paramedic. Nine people were wounded in the incident, which occurred just hours after the arrest of a high-level boss in the Juarez Cartel's armed wing, La Linea.

In Chihuahua, the nephew of a governor-elect was killed after attempting to flee from kidnappers. Near Monterrey, four men were found shot dead after being bound with tape and blindfolded.

In a small town near Ciudad Juarez, eight houses were burned to the ground by a group of heavily armed men. Two of the properties attacked in the town of Guadalupe, Distrito Bravo, belonged to former mayors who were murdered in the last three years.

Total Body Count for the Week: 277

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,248

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Picks Up Big Labor Endorsement

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council announced Wednesday that it is backing Proposition 19, the California Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative. The Western States Council represents some 200,000 union members in Western states, including some 26,000 in California.

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
"The Western States Council is endorsing Proposition 19 based upon our previous support of the medical cannabis initiative, 1996's Proposition 215," George Landers, the council's executive director, said in a statement. "We view Proposition 19 as an enhanced version of the previous proposition, that creates taxable revenue and produces jobs in agriculture, health care, retail and possibly textile. We further believe that the proposition will deprive narcotics traffickers of a significant source of criminal revenue."

"The marriage of the cannabis-hemp industry and UFCW is a natural one," said Dan Rush of the union's Local 5, which in May began representing about 100 Oakland medical marijuana industry workers. "We are an agriculture, food-processing and retail union, as is this industry."

Rush has been assigned by the union to work on the campaign. "I'll be handling the strategy to bring in other unions, and their endorsements and resources," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Some other union locals in the state have already endorsed the initiative, as has the state NAACP, a number of law enforcement figures and a number of elected officials. (See the endorsement list here.)

Initiative supporters had hoped to gain the endorsement of the California Labor Federation, which met this week in San Diego, but ended up settling for the group to remain neutral, which it did. That means the organization's 1,200 member unions are free to endorse the initiative if they wish.

"Obviously, I would have liked to have had a full endorsement," said Rush, adding that the neutrality pledge would allow him to continue to try to win more labor endorsements. "I'm expecting to garner the endorsements of most of the major unions in California over the next several weeks," Rush said.

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