News Brief

RSS Feed for this category

Latin America: Human Rights Watch Calls on Obama Administration to Block Some Anti-Drug Aid Over Human Rights Abuses

In a Monday letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the human rights group Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration not to release tens of millions of dollars of drug war aid under the Mérida Initiative to Mexico. The letter says the aid should be blocked unless and until Mexico allows soldiers accused of human rights abuses in the drug war there to be tried in civilian -- not military -- courts.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/ricardo-murillo.jpg
poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
Under the Mérida Initiative, designed to support Mexican President Felipe Calderón in his effort to suppress the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels, the US is providing $1.4 billion over three years. But under the terms of the enabling legislation, the US government must withhold 15% of the aid unless the State Department certifies that Mexico is meeting certain human rights conditions. One of them is that civilian authorities investigate and prosecute abuses committed by troops and federal police "in accordance with Mexican and international law." The amount in question this year is about $100 million.

Calderón has enlisted the Mexican armed forces into his war against the cartels, and some 45,000 troops have been deployed to violence-wracked cities and drug producing regions in a bid to clamp down on traffickers. But at the same time, complaints of human rights violations by the military -- from unlawful entry and theft to kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder -- have been on the increase. The Human Rights Watch letter referred to a "rapidly growing number of serious abuses."

Of course, the Mexican military is not the only player engaged in behavior that violates human rights. More than 12,000 people have been killed in Calderon's war, most of them members of the various cartels killed by rival traffickers, often after having been kidnapped and tortured. Hundreds of Mexican and police have also been killed by the traffickers, including at least 12 federal police officers kidnapped, tortured, and killed, their bodies left beside a road in Michoacán over the weekend.

The State Department's certification (or not) of Mexico as complying with Mérida Initiative human rights conditions is due later this summer.

Medical Marijuana: Hawaii Legislature Overrides Veto of Bill to Study Program Problems

The Hawaii legislature Wednesday voted to override Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's veto of a bill that would establish a task force to examine problems and critical issues surrounding the state's medical marijuana law. Legislators voted to enact the bill, SB 1058, by a margin of 25-0 in the Senate and 38-9 in the House.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/volcano-national-park.jpg
Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
Hawaii became the first state to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process when it passed its law in 2000. But patients and providers have complained over the years about various aspects of the law -- the program's administration by law enforcement instead of health officials, for example -- and have been urging the legislature to take a second look.

Now it will. Under the bill, the task force will:

  • Examine current state statutes, state administrative rules, and all county policies and procedures relating to the medical marijuana program;
  • Examine all issues and obstacles that qualifying patients have encountered with the program;
  • Examine all issue and obstacles that state and county law enforcement agencies have encountered with the program;
  • Compare and contrast Hawaii's program with all other state programs; and
  • Address other issues and perform any other function necessary as the task force deems appropriate, relating to the program.

Medical Marijuana: US House Overturns Barr Amendment, Removes Obstacle to Implementing 1998 DC Vote

The US House of Representatives Thursday passed the District of Columbia appropriations bill and in so doing removed an 11-year-old amendment barring the District from implementing the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 1998. Known as the Barr amendment after then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the amendment has been attacked by both medical marijuana and DC home rule advocates for years as an unconscionable intrusion into District affairs.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bobbarr.jpg
Bob Barr, lobbied to repeal anti-medical marijuana legislation he wrote
Ironically, Barr, who was defeated in a Republican primary in 2004 in part because of his opposition to medical marijuana, has become an advocate of drug law reform -- including for repeal of his amendment. He has done stints with both the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Today represents a victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have the right to determine their own policies in their own District without federal meddling," said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest."

With Republicans in control of the House until 2006, Congress had reapproved the Barr amendment in every DC appropriations bill until this year. But even under Republican control, pressure had begun to mount after the 2004 death of DC resident Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic medical marijuana user who was arrested and died in a DC jail for lack of adequate medical care.

"Had the District been able to implement its medical marijuana law when it passed in 1998, Mr. Magbie may well be alive today -- and free to treat his pain as he and his doctor saw fit," Houston said. "Perhaps now nobody in the District will ever have to suffer as he and his family did simply for using the medicine that works best for them."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A crooked Chicago cop goes to prison and a pair of jail guards get stung. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, a former Chicago police officer was sentenced June 30 to almost 11 years in prison for robbing drug dealers. Former officer Richard Doroniuk, 33, had pleaded guilty to racketeering and bribery and testified against another officer involved in return for prosecutors dropping a civil rights charge that could have left him looking at 30 years in prison. Doroniuk and his partner went down after they were videotaped in an FBI sting stealing $31,000 from self-storage lockers they thought were rented by drug dealers.

In Miami, an Everglades Correctional Facility guard was arrested July 2 in a sting where he thought he was negotiating with an inmate's family to smuggle a pound of pot, four ounces of cocaine, and two cell phones into the prison. Correctional Officer Shamel Watson went to collect the contraband in Collier County, but was instead met by a Collier County sheriff's deputy and arrested. It's not clear yet what the charges are, but Watson has been fired and prosecutors are promising to go after him to the fullest extent of the law.

In Amite, Louisiana, a Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's deputy was arrested Monday in a DEA sting. Deputy Kevin Whittington, 44, was allegedly providing drugs to inmates at the parish jail, and was arrested after a DEA snitch gave him 24 grams of crack cocaine and he agreed to take it to an inmate at the jail. He faces federal charges for intent to distribute crack cocaine, and is looking at up to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine if convicted.

Law Enforcement: California Budget Crisis Could Gut State Narcs, Drug Task Forces

The latest version of the California state budget being considered by legislators in Sacramento would reduce the number of state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) agents to 100 and zero-out funding for 51 drug task forces funded by the agency. A decade ago, BNE fielded 400 agents. Cuts in recent years have reduced that number to 185 agents, and the latest budget proposals would slice that number nearly in half.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/camp1.jpg
California ''Campaign Against Marijuana Planting'' (CAMP) task force at work (photo from calguard.ca.gov)
California is faced with a $26 billion budget deficit, state employees have been told to take three unpaid days of leave each month, the state is now issuing IOUs instead of cash payments to some vendors (and people expecting income tax refunds), and drastic cuts are already being administered to a wide variety of health, education, and welfare programs. But that doesn't stop the narcs from squealing.

"We realize everyone's going to take cuts," said Mike Lloyd, head of the Association of Special Agents. "But to have already cut us by 215 agents and turn around and cut us again this year by another 70 agents, which is 50 percent of our general fund budget, that's huge. There's no agency in the state that's taking that kind of hit," he told the Redding Searchlight.

The association met with legislators last week to try to reverse the cuts. The narcs argued that in additional to handling statewide drug enforcement, BNE also funds the local drug task forces. If BNE funding dries up, those task forces will go the way of the dodo bird, the narcs warned.

BNE has the support of California Attorney General Jerry Brown. "What the task forces do and what BNE does is they bring expertise and resources to stop drug-trafficking organizations that go beyond city and county lines," said Brown spokesman Scott Gerber. "They're the only bureau in the state that does that. They play a critical role."

If the BNE funding cuts actually occur, drug law enforcement will devolve back to local police forces and sheriff's departments, which are also cutting back because of budgetary pressures. The end result is likely to be less drug law enforcement, for better or worse. [Ed: Mostly for better.]

Afghanistan: Coalition Death Toll Mounts as Fight for Opium Center Helmand Province Ratchets Up

US and NATO casualties in Afghanistan jumped sharply this week as some 4,000 US Marines and 650 Afghan army troops poured into Helmand province, Afghanistan's largest producer, which supplies more than half of the world's opium by itself. According to the war monitoring site icasualties.org least 23 US and NATO soldiers were killed in fighting this week, although not all the casualties came from Helmand.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kabul2.jpg
war-torn Afghanistan (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2005)
The pace of casualties this month, with 26 already, is set to easily surpass last year's June toll of 30. Every month this year, the US and NATO death toll has eclipsed last year's figures. The only exception was April, which saw 14 NATO and US deaths in both years.

NATO and US military commanders have warned that this year's offensives against a Taliban insurgency flush with opium and heroin funds would be bloody, and they've been right. So far this year, 179 coalition troops have been killed, a pace that will easily eclipse last year's record 254 coalition deaths. In fact, each year since 2003 has seen a new record number of US and NATO troops killed.

Some 1,224 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the US invaded in late 2001. The US leads the casualty count with 728 killed, followed by Great Britain with 176, and Canada with 124. Several other NATO countries, including France, Germany, and Spain, have had dozens of troops killed.

As the center of opium production in Afghanistan and a stronghold of the Taliban, Helmand is a key battleground in the Afghan war. Unlike previous years, when the Western presence in Helmand was light and fleeting, this time the Marines are there to stay in a bid to woo the local population, provide security, and allow for the establishment of effective government
.
Key to winning popular support in Helmand is the new US strategy of ignoring poppy cultivation. Instead of alienating farmers by destroying their crops, the West will concentrate on traffickers and traders linked to the Taliban. It is a smarter strategy than eradication, but whether it is a smart strategy -- whether it will work -- remains to be seen.

Europe: Dutch Cannabis Commission Recommends Making Coffee Shops "Members Only," Legalizing Cultivation for Supply

Holland's famous cannabis coffee shops should become "members only" to serve local communities and prevent "drug tourism," a commission set up to advise the Dutch government recommended last week. It also suggested the country experiment with legalizing the supply of cannabis to those coffee shops.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/thebulldog.jpg
The Bulldog coffee shop, Amsterdam
"Coffee shops should again become what they were originally meant to be: vending points for local users and not large-scale suppliers to consumers from neighboring countries," said the body. "In some aspects, the situation has gotten out of hand," it added.

The retail sale of cannabis through licensed coffee shops has been tolerated -- though technically still illegal -- since 1976. There are currently some 700 coffee shops, each of which can keep 500 grams of cannabis on hand. While popular, the coffee shop system has come under increasing pressure, with critics citing the aforementioned drug tourism, as well as the development of organized crime links in the cannabis trade.

The "members only" policy is already set to go into effect in the border province of Limburg, and two other border councils, Roosendaal and Bergen-op-Zoom, responded to drug tourism by simply closing all their coffee shops last fall.

Under the Dutch system, while the sale of cannabis is permitted, its production to supply the tolerated coffee shop market is not, leading to the "backdoor problem," where coffee shops are forced to deal with illegal growers and traffickers. The commission recommended experimenting with legalizing the supply chain for the coffee shops in a bid to solve the backdoor problem.

The commission's report will form the basis for a government reevaluation of drug policy, which is due to be presented to parliament in September, Justice Ministry spokesman Wim van der Weegen told Agence France-Presse.

But at least one influential Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, said the commission's proposals are untenable. In an editorial last Friday, the newspaper argued that as a member of the European Union, Holland can neither exclude foreigners from the coffee shops nor legalize cannabis production for commercial purposes. The solutions to Holland's "drug problem" lie not in the Hague, but in Brussels, the editorial said.

Europe: Copenhagen Ponders Cannabis Decriminalization, Coffee Shops

In its glory days, the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Christiania was known as the place to go to purchase cannabis. It even had a "Pusher Street" where vendors sold their wares. But a conservative Danish government cracked down on Christiania's hash sellers in 2003, and six years later, the Copenhagen city government is starting to wonder whether that was a mistake.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/christiania-entrance.jpg
entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (courtesy Wikimedia)
The City Council's Social Affairs Committee has issued a report on cannabis policy and is calling on the council to seriously consider decriminalization as a means of reducing gang violence. Since the crackdown on Christiania, the hashish trade has been pushed out into the rest of the city, with police admitting that much recent gang violence is linked to the geographical expansion of the trade.

The report called on the council to consider decriminalization as "a possible alternative" to prohibition. It found that cannabis prohibition has neither lessened use rates nor reduced crime related to its sale. It also noted that "easy access to cannabis has not been shown to lead to more users or addicts."

The report was largely based on the Global Cannabis Commission Report published by the British Beckley Foundation. That report sought "more rational and effective" approaches to cannabis control.

The go-ahead for the report came in February, when the Social Democrats, the largest party on the council, joined with the Social Liberals, the Red-Green Alliance, and the Socialist People's Party to approve it. The three smaller parties already backed the legal sale of cannabis in small quantities for personal use, or "the Amsterdam model," but the Social Democrats are not willing to go that far.

According to the Copenhagen Post, a recent poll found 59% support for Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes. Still, Social Democrats social affairs spokesman Thor Gronlykke told the newspaper his party would only support a model that aims to limit the number of abusers and addicts.

The Red-Green Alliance is ready to go much further. It has long supported the Amsterdam model and has campaigned for cannabis to be legalized and sold as freely as alcohol and tobacco are now.

"It's completely ridiculous that police use more time and energy looking for clumps of cannabis at Christiania than they do finding the people behind human trafficking," wrote Mikkel Warming, deputy mayor for social affairs, on the party's website. "The legalization of cannabis would get rid of a huge part of gangs' income base."

Decriminalization is also supported by Liberal Party council candidate Lars Dueholm. If he wins a seat on the council, decriminalization would become even more likely.

"For me there are two important reasons to decriminalise cannabis," he said. "One is the fact that we're pouring millions, if not billions, of kroner into gang pockets because they're the only ones selling hash when it's illegal."

Still, even if the Copenhagen City Council approved decriminalization and/or cannabis cafes, the measure would have to win approval by the Danish parliament.

Europe: Londoners Fined For Marijuana Possession Are Tearing Up Their Tickets

Since the British Labor government's rescheduling of cannabis as a more serious drug went into effect in January, police have undertaken a three-pronged strategy to deal with pot smokers. A first offense garners a written warning, a second offense garners a $128 fine, and a third offense earns prosecution. But second-time cannabis offenders, those who face the fine, are not lining up to pay those fines.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/londonparliament.jpg
UK Parliament building, London
According to the London Standard, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the data, only 42% of those ticketed had paid their fines within the regulation 21 days they are allowed. The courts will have to pursue each individual to collect the fine, a process the courts already have problems with in regard to collecting fines in general.

Of the 565 ticketed pot possessors who have failed to pay, only 13 are described by the Metropolitan Police as subject to prosecution with a court hearing pending. Another 470 are marked merely as "fine registered," with the pursuit of payment being delegated to magistrates. And 82 cases are simply marked "unpaid," although officials told the Standard those, too, would be pursued.

As interesting as the non-payment rate, however, is the window the data open on the level of cannabis enforcement in London. In the fourth period from January through April, police issued warnings to 12,482 people, issued fines to 977 second-offenders, and sent 530 third-offenders off to court.

At that rate, London police will warn, fine, or arrest about 42,000 people a year for minor cannabis infractions. Those kinds of numbers put London in the same league as New York City at the height of the Giuliani crackdown when New York City accounted for roughly 10% of all pot arrests in the United States.

Latin American: Mexican Army Accused (Again) of Torture in Drug War

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón called on the armed forces to join the fight against violent drug trafficking organizations, observers have warned that involving the military in law enforcement is a recipe for human rights abuses. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported allegations from victims, families, political leaders, and human rights monitors that the army has carried out forced disappearances, illegal raids, and acts of torture as it wages war on the so-called drug cartels. It is by no means the first time such allegations have been made.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/ricardo-murillo.jpg
poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
The Post report shows a clear pattern of human rights abuses across Mexico. In a mountain village in Guerrero, residents told how soldiers stuck needles under the fingernails of a disabled farmer, stabbed his 13-year-old nephew, fired on a preacher, and stole food, milk, clothing, and medicine. In Tijuana, 24 police officers arrested on drug charges in March allege that they were beaten and tortured in order to extract confessions.

It is an old story. Earlier this year, after the Mexican army roared into the border town of Ciudad Juarez to put an end to a wave of killings, residents there reported similar abuses. Last year, the Chronicle reported on soldiers killing civilians in Sinaloa and Sinaloa human rights activist Mercedes Murillo's campaign to rein in the abuses. More than 2,000 other cases, with allegations ranging from theft and robbery to rape, torture, and murder, have been filed with local and national human rights monitors.

"What happens is the army takes [suspects] back to their bases -- and of course a military base is not a place to detain people suspected of a crime -- and they begin to ask questions," said Mauricio Ibarra, who oversees investigations for the national human rights commission. "And to help them remember or to get information, they use torture."

The US supports the Calderón offensive against the cartels through the $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative, but under that legislation, 15% of those funds must be withheld until the secretary of state reports that Mexico has made progress on human rights. That report is due to be delivered to Congress within weeks. It is going to be hard for the State Department to argue that the human rights situation in Mexico is improving, but with drug war politics at stake anything could happen.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School