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Afghan Heroin's Surge Poses Danger in US; the World's Purest Form Can Kill More Addicts, As Seen in LA County

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-heroin26dec26,0,7339972.story?coll=la-home-headlines

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

Chávez Backs Ecuador in Attacking U.S. Drug War

Location: 
Caracas
Venezuela
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/world/americas/21venez.html?ref=americas

Latin America: Peruvian President Lauds Coca Leaf in Salad, Blasts Guerrillas

Peruvian President Alan Garcia had coca on his mind this week. In response to an attack Saturday by presumed Shining Path guerrillas working with drug traffickers that killed five police officers and two government coca control workers, Garcia called for the imposition of the death penalty. Just a day later, perhaps to indicate he is not anti-coca, he told a foreign press news gathering that coca would be wonderful consumed in salads.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
Peru is the world's second largest coca producer, after Colombia, and indigenous Peruvians have been growing the leafy bush for thousands of years for its sacramental, nutritional and mild stimulative properties. The plant is grown legally in some parts of the country under arrangement with ENACO, the National Coca Company, which holds a monopoly on legal sales and purchases.

But Peru is also the world's second largest producer of cocaine, which is derived from coca either grown legally and diverted from ENACO or grown illegally. For years, the country has embraced a policy of eradication of illicit crops, which has pleased Washington but left Peru's coca growers angry and frustrated. President Garcia in October pledged during a Washington meeting with President Bush to continue the policy of eradication.

Some coca growing areas have been under a state of emergency for the past two months, and the Garcia government announced this week that it would be continued for another two months after the killings, which took place in Ayacucho province. The attack, described as a carefully-planned ambush, took place during a police crackdown on unsanctioned coca growing in the region. More than 20 police have been killed in similar attacks in the past year.

Two days after the attack, Garcia told lawmakers they should allow the death penalty for such crimes. Currently, the death penalty in Peru is allowed only in cases of treason during war-time. Congress should "give the necessary tools to the judges and to the executive branch to definitely eliminate these leftover [Shining Path rebels]." They should be dealt with using "the most energetic and harshest sanction that the law... permits," Garcia said.

But the next day, Garcia defended the coca leaf and his drug policy to foreign reporters. Coca leaf is great in salads, Garcia said. "I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad. It has good nutritional value." Garcia added that one of the country's best-known chefs, Gaston Acurio, had recently served several coca-based dishes at the Government Palace. "He offered us some tamales and pies made with coca flour. He offered us a coca liqueur cocktail," Garcia said. "Could eating coca leaf be harmful? No, absolutely not."

Such talk aligns Garcia with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Those two leaders are touting the industrial uses of coca and collaborating on a production plant in Bolivia.

Garcia told reporters that Peru's anti-drug policy is based "fundamentally" on controlling the sale of precursor chemicals used for cocaine production, but that Peruvian police must also do a better job of combating the cocaine traffic. As much as 90% of Peruvian coca goes to the cocaine trade, not the coca industry.

Heading Down South America Way

Very early on January 12, I will board a plane in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and that night I will be sleeping in a hotel in downtown Lima, Peru. That will be the first of 21 nights in the Drug War Chronicle's Coca Tour 2007, which will take me deep into the indigenous Andean coca heartland (but not to Colombia, where, for the most part, coca production is not tied to ancient tradition but to the global cocaine market). I will be meeting with coca farmers, coca growers' union leaders, academics, harm reductionists, and government officials in Peru and Bolivia, as well, I hope, with US government officials in the embassies in Lima and La Paz. I will spend a week in Lima and the vicinity, then take a tourism break to visit Machu Picchu and the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. From there, it'll be a bus ride across the 12,000 foot high altiplano to the Bolivian border and on to La Paz. I'll spend 10 or 11 days in Bolivia, where I hope to travel to both major coca producing areas, the Chapare and Las Yungas. The road from La Paz to Las Yungas, from the heights of the Andes to the edge of the Amazon basin is known as "the world's most dangerous road." Yee-haw! In Peru, I'm working on setting up meetings with ENACO, the Peruvian government coca monopoly, as well as with DEVIDA, the anti-drug agency. Maybe I'll even have to try some of that coca salad President Garcia was praising this week. In Bolivia, I'll be talking to the Ministry of Coca, NGOs, and companies that produce coca products, as well as growers and union leaders. I will be blogging from the Andes throughout the journey. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

Peru President Favors Using Cocaine-Producing Leaf for Salad

Location: 
Lima
Peru
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/19/america/LA_GEN_Peru_Coca.php

Mexicans weed out new super marijuana

Location: 
Lazaro Cardenas
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Chicago Sun-Times
URL: 
http://www.suntimes.com/news/world/179186,CST-NWS-mex20.article

Analysis: Cocaine Fuels War, Undermines Peace in Colombia

Location: 
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19266469.htm

Government to Open Opium Processing to Private Firms

Location: 
New Delhi
India
Publication/Source: 
Times of India
URL: 
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/India/Govt_to_open_opium_processing_to_private_firms/articleshow/843197.cms

Afghanistan: Government Warns of Possible Poppy Crop Spraying

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
United Nations Integretated Regional Information Networks (IRIN News)
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/52be6f726b83c13d72b098c292febb74.htm

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