psmith's blog

Supporting One Lost War is Not Enough for John McCain

Note: DRCNet does not take a position on the war in Iraq. I do. Arizona Senator John McCain, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, has suffered mightily for his continuing support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That stance, I predict, will be a major contributor to his eventual failure to win the nomination. But over the weekend, McCain embraced yet another loser of a war--the war on drugs. Here's how the Associated Press reported his remarks in Iowa Sunday:
Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Sunday said the U.S. should step up its war on drugs as part of efforts to secure the country's borders. He said that's because Americans are to blame for "creating the demand" for illegal drugs that come into the country and give too much power to drug cartels that terrorize border areas. "We are creating the demand. We are creating the demand for these drugs coming across our border, which maybe means that we should go back more trying to make some progress and in telling Americans, particularly young Americans, that the use of drugs is a terrible thing for them to do," he said. The Arizona senator spoke during an appearance at a central Iowa farm where he devoted much of the conversation with a few dozen supporters to foreign relations and immigration.
Does John McCain really believe all our war on drugs needs is a little more effort (and, of course, a little more funding)? Does he think we (read: law enforcement) haven't been trying? I don't think so. McCain is from a border state; he should know better. While McCain spoke about demand reduction, it is unclear exactly what he means. If he's talking about prevention education, that's not a bad thing. But if he's talking about reducing demand by increasing already draconian penalties for drug offenders that's an entirely different matter. McCain's campaign web site does not mention drug policy, but he has consistently favored a tough law enforcement approach to the problem. This year, he wrapped his remarks about ramping up the war on drugs in the broader context of border security. But if McCain is concerned about the impact of the cross-national black market drug trade on border security, there is a real solution: end drug prohibition, regulate the cross-border drug trade like other commodities are regulated, and cut the legs out from under the violent cartels who grow more wealthy and powerful every day under prohibition. Instead, McCain, who made his political career on one lost war in Southeast Asia and stands to end it by supporting another one in the Middle East, embraces yet another lost war in a cheap bid to gain support. Let's hope appealing for an ever-expanding, ever-deepening war on drugs is an issue whose time, like McCain's, has come and gone.
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Drug War Chronicle #500 Will Come Next Week, Not This One, Here's a Preview

The Drug War Chronicle's next issue will be #500. Given that Labor Day weekend is coming up and given that the Chronicle arrives in people's e-mailboxes on Friday morning, we've decided to postpone our milestone issue until next week, when we hope people will actually be around to read it. Meanwhile, I'm working on some story ideas for the issue:
Afghanistan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime made it official on Monday: The Afghan opium crop this year is another record-breaker, despite $600 million in US anti-drug assistance. What to do,what to do? I'll be asking some experts about where we go from here. Oregon Medical Marijuana. It looks like there will be two ballot initiatives dealing with medical marijuana in Oregon next year. One, put together by a veteran conservative crime-fighter, is really a sort of omnibus "tough on crime" initiative. It would undo the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA), recriminalize medical marijuana, and make the state of Oregon instead provide synthetic Marinol to patients free of charge. The other, put together by the same folks that sponsored the OMMA initiative, would bring dispensaries to Oregon. Ironically, Oregon activists seem to be devoting more energy to sniping at the dispensary initiative than opposing the crime-fighting initiative. Go figure. Marijuana in Denver. Mason Tvert and his friends at SAFER have been tying the Denver political establishment in knots with their push to effectively legalize the weed there. Now, I think, the council has approved sending a "lowest law enforcement priority" initiative to the voters. But I'm confused by all the political maneuvering and feel a need to talk to folks there to get a handle on all this.
I'm sure there will be more stories as the next few days go by.
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What's a gram of cocaine go for where you live?

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Drug czar John Walters is making noise this week about how a decline in cocaine availability is causing price increases. Walters always jumps on these price blips to tout the success of US eradication and interdiction policies...then the prices go down again. We will see what happens this time. In the meantime, I wonder what cocaine prices are in your neighborhood. I lived in Austin in the 1980s, and a gram of cocaine (usually obtained from a Nicaraguan college student...go figure) went for between $120 and $150. Just last night I was on the phone with folks in Austin, and they report that a gram can now be had for $40. Gee, maybe it's up from $35 last month; I don't know. But the long-term trend is undeniable: Down in price by about two-thirds since the '80s. What are cocaine prices like in your neighborhood? Historically and currently. Let's get us a little unscientific survey going.
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Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

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We will have a new president in January 2009, and that means we will have a new cabinet as well, including a new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office). Who should the next drug czar be? Do we want another general? Another drug war true believer? (Would that be a job requirement?) A doctor? A public health person? A lawyer? An activist? A politician? The progressive web site The Backbone Campaign is seeking "shadow cabinet" nominations. Anyone can nominate anyone. Here's the list so far for the drug czar position:
Nominee(s): Ethan Nadelmann Dean Becker Tom Hayden Gary Johnson Rep. Maxine Waters Russell Simmons Bill Maher Al Sharpton Keith Stroup
I'd be happy with any of these folks, including our buddy Dean Becker from the Drug Truth Network. I'll also suggest a couple more: Professor Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, co-author of "Drug War Heresies," knows drug policy issues inside and out and is a pretty progressive fellow on these issues. And, of course, in a perfect world, the next drug czar would be Tommy Chong. But I don't know if he could make it through the committee hearings... Who's your nominee?
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Taking it to the Drug Warriors--Is It Time for Direct Action?

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You know, a guy gets tired fighting for decades for the right to do something which should be our right anyway. Yeah, I know the litany: We've got to play the game...if you don't like the law, change it...the political process is slow...we can't be impatient...we have to educate politicians and cultivate law enforcement....blah blah blah. Well, in the face of the no-progress Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote and the continuing defiance of the will of California voters by the DEA, not to mention all the other drug war horrors, I'm prepared to once again make inciteful (if not insightful) calls for direct action against these downpressors. 1. Let's take the DEA's war on medical marijuana patients and providers to the DEA. Let's shut 'em down in California. Blockade their offices, and not for symbolic civil disobedience purposes, but for the actual purpose of disrupting their activities. 2. Let's really take it to the DEA. These black-suited, paramilitary-style goons presumably have homes in the area. I'd like to see protestors on the sidewalk in front of their houses. Ooh, but you say it's not polite or uncouth to do that sort of thing! Well, I frankly find DEA goons kicking down doors and arresting harmless people who didn't do anything to anybody pretty impolite and uncouth. Maybe they'll enjoy explaining to their neighbors (two out of three of whom voted for Prop 215) how they earn a living. These thugs need to pay a price for what they do, and I personally don't care if it offends the sensibilities of some of our more delicate members. And I don't buy their "I'm only following orders" excuse, either. It didn't fly at Nuremburg, and it shouldn't fly now. It's time for public shaming and shunning. 3. And maybe we should be focusing on a mass march aimed at national DEA headquarters one of these months. Again, the purpose would be practical--not symbolic--to shut the monster down. This is an agency that needs to be abolished, and until we can accomplish that, the least we can do it make it impossible for it to function properly. 3. More broadly, let's attack the snitch system that underpins the drug war. Last week, we did a newsbrief on the couple in Philadelphia indicted for posting flyers outing a snitch. They copied information from the Who's A Rat? web site, which is protected by the First Amendment. The folks in Philadelphia are charged with intimidating witnesses--by making public information about what they are doing--and I hope they fight that case all the way. Snitches have no right to have their exploits go unsung. In solidarity with the Philadelphia folks, and everyone who has suffered from drug war snitchery, I propose that DRCNet enter into a collaboration with Who's a Rat? by posting the information about one undercover officer (they list more than 400) or one snitch (they list over 4000) online each week. Personally, I would rather go after the narcs than the snitches, most of whom are victims themselves. ("You're gonna go to prison for 30 years and get raped by hardened cons if you don't give up the names..."). Snitches may be victims of circumstance (and a weak values system), but narcs do this horrid work for a living, either because they believe in or they like it. I want to see their names and mugs plastered across the internet. I don't suppose my boss will agree with me on this one, although I'd like to hear why not. 5. Police on a drug raid in Belfast this week were met by a rock-throwing mob. Mindful of the incitement statutes, I have no comment. Whaddya think, folks? I'm really, really tired of waiting for lamebrain politicians to protect me from these thugs. I guess I'm going to have to do it myself. With your help. More "responsible" members of our movement generally shy away from tactics like these. Let them be responsible. I want to fight back.
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My Representative Explains Why She Voted Against Hinchey-Rohrabacher

Although I'm sitting in British Columbia this month and will be in Northern California next month, I am registered to vote in South Dakota. My representative in Congress--South Dakota only has one congressperson--is Democrat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Elected in 2004 in an extremely tight race, she has consistently voted against Hinchey-Rohrabacher, which would stop the feds from arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. I emailed and telephoned her office prior to the vote urging her to vote for Hinchey. Again this year, she voted against it. Here's her reason why:
July 27, 2007 Mr. Phillip Smith XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Huron, SD 57350 Dear Phillip: Thank you for contacting me regarding the issue of medical marijuana. I appreciate hearing from you. As you may be aware, on July 25th, the House of Representatives again defeated an amendment that would have prevented federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against medical marijuana users and providers in the states that have approved such use. I opposed the amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the scope of federal authority to make and enforce laws regarding medical marijuana. The Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can continue to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act against medical marijuana use in states whose laws authorize medical marijuana use. The ruling does not strike down state laws approving such use, but permits the Department of Justice to continue enforcing federal laws regarding such use. Thank you again for contacting me. I will keep your thoughts in mind as issues related to medical marijuana use are discussed in Congress. Sincerely, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Basically, Herseth Sandlin is saying that illegal (under federal law) is illegal, and she's not about to get in the way of the DEA--even if it means allowing the agency to disrupt the lives of seriously ill people (whom she never even mentions). She does not bother to say where she stands on the issue of medical marijuana, only that the feds are allowed to enforce the law. As much as I disliker her reasoning and her vote, she has something of a point: If we don't like a law, we should get rid of it, not allow it to remain on the books but with no funding to enforce it. Now, I understand the political realities that lead to efforts like Hinchey-Rohrabacher: A bill to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level will go nowhere any time in the foreseeable future, and we want to do something NOW to stop these raids. But as my Blue Dog Democrat representative and her fellow "no" voters demonstrate, Hinchey-Rohrabacher doesn't seem to be going anywhere, either. Maybe it's time to drop the Hinchey effort and retarget. Is it better to push for the currently unobtainable--a federal medical marijuana law--or try to seek interim fixes like Hinchey? I don't have a good answer. All I know is I'm getting very frustrated playing this political game. Where's my "Don't Tread On Me" flag? I'll have some more suggestions tomorrow about where we can go from here, and they don't involve begging our political leaders to do it for us. Stay tuned.
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When Oversight Means Oversight: Waxman Goes After Walters for Politicizing His Office

"Oversight" is a funny word. It has two meanings, one the opposite of the other. "Oversight" can mean watching over, supervising, or reviewing an action, a policy, or a process. Or it can mean the failure to do so, as in: "I meant to keep an eye on those guys, but I didn't. I guess that was an oversight on my part." When it comes to monitoring the activities of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its head, drug czar John Walters, six years of Republican control of the Congress meant the only oversight that was practiced was of the latter variety. That was especially true when it came to looking into charges that Walters and ONDCP were using their drug-fighting mission to unfairly intervene in state and local ballot issues or legislation, or to seek partisan advantage for the Republican Party. What a difference an election can make. With the opposition Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress, the drug czar's office is joining other large hunks of the Bush administration in coming under tough congressional scrutiny. Today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), head of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, released the following statement charging Walters and ONDCP with coordinating with the White House to schedule events with some 20 vulnerable Republican incumbents in the months leading up to the November 2006 elections:
Politicization of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation’s drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members. A November 20, 2006, memo from Ms. Taylor summarizes the travel Director Walters took at her request. An agency e-mail sent the following day describes how Karl Rove commended the historically nonpartisan Office of National Drug Control Policy and three cabinet departments – Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture – for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in making “surrogate appearances” at locations the e-mail described as “the god awful places we sent them.” Other documents include an e-mail from the Interior Department to Ms. Taylor’s predecessor stating: “these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographical travel can benefit this President.” Chairman Waxman wrote to Ms. Taylor to request her attendance at a Committee deposition on or before July 24 and her possible appearance at a Committee hearing on July 30. He also wrote to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, the Republican National Committee, Director Walters, and the Secretaries of the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture requesting relevant documents.
There's a complete set of links to the documents mentioned at the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee web site linked to in the title of the Waxman release. It makes some interesting--and damning--reading. Waxman looks like he will schedule some hearings on this soon. Gosh, it sure is fun when we have someone on the oversight committee who actually practices the first definition of the word!
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Rudy Hates Pot Smokers (Especially Black and Brown Ones) More Than He Likes Effective Policing

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of criticism this week for his comments rejecting medical marijuana and suggesting that its advocates are actually stalking horses for marijuana legalization. But his antipathy for marijuana goes far beyond simply rejecting its therapeutic applications and opens a window into what a Giuliani marijuana policy might look like. During Giuliani's years in office in the 1990s and into this decade, the number of marijuana arrests shot through the roof, rising from a few hundred before Giulani took office to more than 51,000 in 2000. At that point, thanks to Giulani's "zero tolerance" or "broken windows" approach to policing, New York City accounted for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests in the country. But it wasn't that Giulani just hated pot smokers; the results of his marijuana policy show starkly that his ire was aimed at pot smokers of a certain color--and it wasn't white. As an analysis of city pot arrests between the early 1980s and the early 2000s showed, as marijuana busts shot upward during Rudy's reign, the arrests shifted from the wealthy, central areas of the city to the cities poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. As the authors of that study noted, "these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalize even minor criminal offenses in highly public locations - anymore." Not only did the mass marijuana arrests not appear to be related to claimed decreases in violent crime, they appeared to be related to increases in violent crime, according to another researcher, Bernard Harcourt, commenting on the report:
New York City’s psychedelic experiment with misdemeanor MPV [marijuana possession violation] arrests—along with all the associated detentions, convictions, and additional incarcerations—represents a tremendously expensive policing intervention. As Golub et al. [authors of the original research] document well, the focus on MPV has had a significant disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic residents. Our study further shows that there is no good evidence that it contributed to combating serious crime in the city. If anything, it has had the reverse effect. As a result, the NYPD policy of misdemeanor MPV arrests represents an extremely poor trade-off of scarce law enforcement resources, imposing significant opportunity costs on society in light of the growing body of empirical research that highlights policing approaches that do appear to be successful in reducing serious crime. Our findings, building on those of Golub et al., make clear that these are not trade-offs in which we should be engaging.
So, not only did Giulani's mass marijuana arrest policy target racial minorities, it also hampered effective crime-fighting in the city. Can you imagine a President Giulani sitting in the White House and ordering something similar on a nationwide basis? It would certainly be a boon for the jail, drug testing, drug treatment, and other drug war-dependent industries, but I hope we are not at a point as a nation where we say "what's good for the prison-industrial complex is good for America." I'll be writing more about Giulani, his crime-fighting career, and what a Giulani presidency might mean for America's criminal justice system next week. But I have to wonder if what America needs now is a Prosecutor in Chief.
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Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
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Let's Celebrate UN Anti-Drug Day...By Killing People

Yesterday was the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Most countries that actually observe the day (mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia), generally celebrate it by burning piles of drugs and holding propagandistic anti-drug events. But China really knows how to put on an anti-drug day show. Every year, it executes drug offenders on anti-drug day. This year was little different, as this headline indicates: China Approves Death Penalty for Seven Drug Traffickers:
BEIJING, June 25 (Xinhua) -- The Supreme People's Court (SPC) on Monday announced its approval of the death penalty for seven drug traffickers, a day before the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Gao Guijun, presiding judge of the Fifth Criminal Court under the Supreme People's Court, said that since the SPC took back the power of review over the death penalty on Jan. 1, the SPC had strictly examined death penalty cases involving drug trafficking. "Our approval of the death penalty regarding drug trafficking could stand the test of history," said Gao. Ni Shouming, the SPC's spokesman, reiterated the court's resolute stance on fighting drug trafficking, saying the court would show no leniency in handing down heavy penalties to the kingpins of drug trafficking gangs and those who participate in cross-border drug crimes.
No word yet on whether China actually executed any drug offenders yesterday, but stay tuned--I will be writing a feature article on this annual exercise for this week's Chronicle. In the meantime, happy UN anti-drug day, y'all.
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The Latest Imprisonment Numbers Are Out; No Surprises

The Bureau of Justice Statistics will tomorrow officially release its latest annual report on the number of prisoners in America. It's pretty much the same old story, one I'm sick of writing every year, and it has a title like this: "Number of Prisoners in America At All-Time High (Again)" According to a BJS press release today (which apparently will not appear on their web site until tomorrow):
LARGEST INCREASE IN PRISON AND JAIL INMATE POPULATIONS SINCE MIDYEAR 2000 More Than 2.24 Million Incarcerated as of June 30, 2006 WASHINGTON -- During the 12 months that ended June 30, 2006, the nation's prison and jail populations increased by 62,037 inmates (up 2.8 percent), to total 2,245,189 inmates, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. State and federal inmates accounted for 70 percent of the increase. At midyear 2006, two-thirds of the nation.s incarcerated population was in custody in a state or federal prison (1,479,179), and the other one-third was held in local jails (766,010). The number of prisoners under the legal jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities -- some of whom were held in local jails -- increased by 42,942 prisoners (2.8 percent) during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006, to reach 1,556,518 prisoners. In absolute number and percentage change, the increase in prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction was the largest since the 12 months ending on June 30, 2000. The growth in state prisoners was due largely to a rise in prison admissions, up 17.2 percent between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, releases from state prisons increased at a slower rate, up 15.5 percent. New court commitments totaled 421,426 during 2005, a 20.3 percent increase since 2000, and parole violators returned to prison totaled 232,229, up 14.1 percent. Forty-two states and the federal system reported an increase in their prison populations during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006. Idaho had the largest percentage increase (up 13.7 percent), followed by Alaska (up 9.4 percent) and Vermont (up 8.3 percent). Eight states reported declines in their prison populations, led by Missouri (down 2.9 percent), Louisiana and Maine (both down 1.8 percent). The number of federal prisoners increased by 3.6 percent to reach 191,080 prisoners. At midyear 2006 the federal system had jurisdiction over more prisoners than did any single state, including California and Texas, which had jurisdiction over 175,115 and 172,889 prisoners, respectively. The number of local jail inmates increased by 2.5 percent during the year, the smallest annual percent change since 2001. Since 2000, the number of unconvicted inmates held in local jails has been increasing. As of June 30, 2006, 62 percent of inmates held in local jails were awaiting court action on their current charge, up from 56 percent in 2000.
There's more to the press release, but the above is the gist of it. This annual report does not, if I recall correctly, include a breakdown by offense, which means I have to hunt through other BJS reports to come up with a likely number of drug offenders behind bars. I've been saying "around a half million" for the past three or four years. Maybe now we'll be able to say "more than half a million." But you'll have to wait until Friday, when my story on this comes out. For those who can't wait to read the BJS report, it will be available here tomorrow morning. In the meantime, ain't it great to live in the land of the free?
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Plane Crash, Missing Person Search Hinder Pot Crop

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Marijuana growing must be ubiquitous these days. Not only are there the daily grow busts that any dedicated drug war news scanner notices, but this week, we have a couple of incidents where the pot growers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time: In Baton Rouge, an unfortunate 53-year-old woman got busted for growing pot after a small plane crashed in her back yard. Cops and emergency personnel arriving at the scene found the pilot uninjured, but they also found 14 potted pot plants, so the woman and her roommate are going to jail. Meanwhile, the search for the missing pregnant Ohio woman (if you watch cable news this story is unavoidable) had a dramatic moment yesterday when a cadaver dog started alerting near a patch of ground where the soil had been disturbed. No, it was the body of the missing woman, it was...you guessed it, some poor guy's little pot patch in the woods. Man, talk about bad luck! But these stories also make one wonder just where else this stuff is growing. Apparently everywhere.
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North Dakota Farmers File Lawsuit Against DEA Over Hemp Ban

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This afternoon, I particpated in a tele-news conference held in Bismarck, North Dakota, to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit by two North Dakota farmers (including a Republican state representative!) against the DEA for its refusal to issue permits allowing them to grow hemp. North Dakota has passed state legislation permitting hemp growing under strict regulations, and its hemp-friendly Agriculture Commissioner, Roger Johnson, has promulgated the necessary guidelines. Johnson issued state permits to the two farmers months ago and sought DEA approval, but DEA did nothing. Now, the farmers are suing. This case could be a big one, once and for all getting the DEA out of the way of commercial hemp farming. I'll be writing about this in a feature article this week, but in the meantime, you can check out VoteHemp's North Dakota information page here for more detailed info on the case. Too bad somebody has to sue the DEA to get it to uphold the Controlled Substance Act, which specifically exempts hemp from the marijuana prohibition.
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Advanced Drug Testing: Creepy Science, Creepy Scientists

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A German electronic newsletter about scientific innovations advises that a Russian scientist has developed a drug testing technique that will spot drug use weeks or even months after it occurred. The Russian scientist involved, Dr. Marina Myagkova won an award from the World Intellectual Property Organization, a UN organization, for her work a couple of months ago. Myagkova's long-term drug testing technique identifies drug antibodies in blood or saliva. According to her research team, her "Dianarc" technique will allow the identification of drug use by a person from two to four months ago. Myagkova and her cohorts see practical applications for the drug testing technique:
The authors assume that the ‘Dianarc’ will be useful for clinical and forensic medical practice, as well as for staff selection to enforcement and guard entities, for issue of driver’s licenses and weapon permissions.
Or to block recreational drug users from getting or keeping a job. Or to punish high school students who smoked a joint over summer vacation. Or to more assiduously punish probationers or parolees. Or, in states that have those draconian "internal possession" laws, to extend the period of potential liability for arrest of occasional drug users from days to months. I have to wonder about the mind-set of researchers busily trying to find new and improved ways to conduct internal surveillance on us. I also have to wonder about researchers who see someone taking drugs on an occasional basis only as an addict in the making. As the German newsletter noted:
Specialists of the Institute of Physiologically Active Substances, Russian Academy of Sciences, and of the Moscow Narcological Clinical Hospital #17 have developed a technique called “Dianarc” that allows to discover drug addicts at the very early stage, when they take narcotics occasionally.
There is something flawed here. I can understand that they want to intervene early, but the underlying premise is rotten. How can you discover a drug addict before he is a drug addict? A person who "takes narcotics occasionally" is, by definition, not a drug addict. And a person who "takes narcotics occasionally" actually describes the vast majority of drug users. So what the good Dr. Myagkova and her good colleagues have developed is a technique that doesn't spot addicts early, but identifies occasional drug users. If you think this innovation is going to be used to help people, I have some nice waterfront property here in South Dakota for sale. Back in the good old days, when a Dr. Frankenstein created a monstrosity, the peasants burned down his castle. Now, she gets an award from the UN.
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Latest Entry in the Annals of Excess Department

This is not directly drug war related, but this is such an asinine abuse of both police and prosecutorial power that I thought I needed to share it. Alright, here's the tale in a nutshell: Kid riding in pick-up that gets pulled over, kid videotapes cop during encounter (just as cop-car camera videotapes the pick-up), cops seizes camera, arrests kid, cop consults with prosecutor, then charges kid with felony wiretapping, punishable by up to seven years in prison. To stupidly repressive to be true? Here it is: Video Recording Leads to Felony Charge:
Brian D. Kelly didn't think he was doing anything illegal when he used his videocamera to record a Carlisle police officer during a traffic stop. Making movies is one of his hobbies, he said, and the stop was just another interesting event to film. Now he's worried about going to prison or being burdened with a criminal record. Kelly, 18, of Carlisle, was arrested on a felony wiretapping charge, with a penalty of up to 7 years in state prison. His camera and film were seized by police during the May 24 stop, he said, and he spent 26 hours in Cumberland County Prison until his mother posted her house as security for his $2,500 bail. Kelly is charged under a state law that bars the intentional interception or recording of anyone's oral conversation without their consent. The criminal case relates to the sound, not the pictures, that his camera picked up.
Yes, that's right. Apparently, operating a video camera is a crime in Pennsylvania. Who knew? I'm not aware of mass busts of video camera operators at weddings, in parks, at concerts, at family reunions, or any of the thousand and one other places they are commonly used. I haven't seen the Pennsyvlania cops rounding up media camera operators, either, come to think of it. Oh, and the police have an exemption. They can videotape you, but you can't videotape them. Funny how that works.
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Mexico is Bleeding

I can't avoid writing about Mexico again this week. Last week was one of the ugliest yet in President Felipe Calderon's newly energized war on drugs, with at least 46 people killed last week, including five civilians gunned down by soldiers at a roadblock in Sinaloa. So far this year, nearly a thousand have died as the cartels fight each other and the police and the army. It's all part of President Calderon's effort to break the power of the cartels, and it's all so absolutely predictable, with outcomes that are easily foreseeable. The Mexican army and police will undoubtedly effect some big-time captures or killings, the cartels will splinter into micro-cartels, and then begin the process of reformulating themselves into new cartels, killing off rivals and buying off (or killing off) police and soldiers. That's been the case every time a Mexican president has tried to stand tall against the power of the drug traffickers. In fact, the present round of violence is the legacy of former President Fox's 2004 war on drugs, and so far, there is every indication it will end the same way. I'll be talking to as many Mexican observers as I can this week, from academics to human rights watchers, along with Mexico experts here in the US. And Mexico continues to pay the price for America's war on the drugs it loves.
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Why do we let cops be our "drug experts"?

We see this at all levels, from the local DARE officer misinforming the kids to national law enforcement associations lobbying for more funding to top cops explaining why marijuana is not a medicine. All will tout the dangers of their target drug du jour, and we listen to them as if they knew what they were talking about. Why? Police presumably "know" about correct drug policy because they deal with messed up drug offenders. But police also deal with domestic violence incidents, and we don't assume that makes them experts on marriage. (For anyone who does assume that, check out their divorce rates.) Law enforcement is not a dispassionate, disintered bystander in the debate over drug policy. It sucks greedily on the taxpayer's teat for ever-increasing funding, and it manufactures drug threats to do so. I await breathlessly the arrival of the "new heroin" or the next "worse than crack" drug, and I'm sure the cops are going to tell me all about it and explain why they need more money to fight it. Even if we are generous and grant that people in law enforcement want to do the right thing and save people from themselves, they are not the right people to be teaching our kids about drugs. The latest exhibit comes from Biloxi, Mississippi, where the local newspaper had a story with this headline: Officers Give Biloxi Students the Truth About Illegal Drugs. Here are the three "truths" I could discern from reading the article:
The police investigator told the group that " Young people are actually taking this frog and licking it." The students couldn't believe their ears. Then the investigator explained how licking a certain kind of frog has the same effects as using LSD. He also said there were people willing to do it to get high. "Are you serious? A frog?" asked one boy. "That's nasty," a girl chimed in.
The cop is referring to the Sonoran Desert Toad, which indeed excretes an hallucinogenic substance when agitated. I am unaware of any contemporary reports of a psychedelic toad-licking trend, but thanks, officer, for making the kids aware of this bizarre drug-taking possibility. The second "truth" I discerned from the article is this one:
Richard Robinson said the most surprising thing he learned was "That crack kills."
It's not quite so simple. Yes, one can die from a cocaine overdose, typically from cardiac arrhythmia, but I'm unaware of any wave of crack-related heart attack deaths. (Am I wrong? Anyone?). I did find one five-year study of Brazilian crack users that looked at 124 chronic users. After five years, 40% reported not using within the last year, and 23 of the original cohort had died during the five-year interim, a mortality rate above average. But the study noted that the most common cause of death was homicide, not drug overdose. Crack kills? Sometimes, maybe. But far, far more often, not. Finally, the third "truth" I discerned from the article:
"We try to help them to determine what's real and what's not real. What's falsehood and what's a myth," said Sgt. Jackie hodes. "There's a myth that marijuana doesn't hurt you but it does. It definitely hurts you. It destroys your brain cells. So we just try to give them some truth so they can make more informed decision."
Truth, huh? Here's the skinny on the tired old "marijuana kills brain cells" meme, courtesty of the Drug Policy Alliance's marijuana myths pages:
Myth: Marijuana Kills Brain Cells. Used over time, marijuana permanently alters brain structure and function, causing memory loss, cognitive impairment, personality deterioration, and reduced productivity. Fact: None of the medical tests currently used to detect brain damage in humans have found harm from marijuana, even from long term high-dose use. An early study reported brain damage in rhesus monkeys after six months exposure to high concentrations of marijuana smoke. In a recent, more carefully conducted study, researchers found no evidence of brain abnormality in monkeys that were forced to inhale the equivalent of four to five marijuana cigarettes every day for a year. The claim that marijuana kills brain cells is based on a speculative report dating back a quarter of a century that has never been supported by any scientific study.
I ask again: Why do we let cops pose as "drug experts"?
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More Border Blues--Canadian Mom Searching for Missing Daughter Denied Entry

Just two weeks ago, in an article titled Border Blues, we wrote about how both the Canadian and the US governments can and do deny entry to people who admit to past drug use or have a drug conviction. Last week, a particularly egregious example of the abuse of this provision occurred. In a sad tale first picked up by the Vancouver daily the Province, "Mother's Hunt for Missing Daughter Blocked at Border", Kamloops, BC, mother Glendene Grant related how she was turned away from the US as she headed for Las Vegas to search for her young adult daughter, Jessie Foster, who went missing a little more than a year ago. Although Grant had made several previous trips to Las Vegas in an effort to find her daughter and even though she was scheduled to meet local law enforcement and appear at a Crimestoppers event about Jessie's disappearance, she was turned away a week ago today. Why? The 49-year-old mother was arrested in 1986 on marijuana and cocaine possession charges. We are looking into this. Right now, I have emailed Ms. Grant to set up an interview, and I have calls in to US Customs and Border Protection and an anti-human trafficking unit in the Las Vegas Police Department. There is apparently some suspicion that Jessie Foster was the victim of sex slavers. But who cares about that, right? Customs and Border Protection appears more interested in protecting us from a harmless woman who got busted on penny ante drug possession charges more than two decades ago than helping her spur an investigation with possible international implications. My understanding that the decision to deny entry to people with old drug convictions is not mandatory (I'll be checking with CBP on this) but discretionary. In the case of Glendene Grant, the denial of entry looks to be an abuse of discretion, not to mention just downright mean, inhumane, and cold-hearted. Is there more to the story? Stay tuned.
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Mexico's President is Half Right

Mexican President Felipe Calderon told Deutsche Press-Agentur this weekend that America's drug habit is the cause of Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence. In Mexican President Blames US for Drugs War, Calderon said:
"Our problem is the demand for narcotics in the US market, which significantly affects Mexico," the Mexican president said. Calderon stressed that no strategy from the Mexican government against drug cartels will be sufficient unless demand is reduced. "It is evident that as long as there is a market, as long as there is drug consumption in the United States, this problem will persist in Mexico," he said.
Calderon is, of course, absolutely correct on that score. I've often noted that the prohibition-related violence plaguing our southern neighbor--there have been 1,046 killed in Mexico's drug wars so far this year--is Mexico paying the price for our war on the drugs we love to consume. Where he is wrong is his implicit assumption that the US government can meaningfully reduce demand and that the war on drugs could somehow succeed if--gosh darnit!--we Americans only tried harder. We spend about $40 billion and arrest nearly 2 million people a year in the drug war, and the drug use numbers fluctuate at the margins. The US drug market will never go away. If Calderon wants to see an end to the prohibition-related violence in Mexico, he would be much better off calling for the regulation and normalization of the illicit drug business than waiting for Americans to quit using drugs. The only thing less likely than the US government ending drug prohibition is that Americans are going to change their ways.
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A New Activist's Tactic Emerges in the Rosenthal Trial

One of the feature stories I'm working on this week is the Ed Rosenthal re-trial on federal marijuana production and distribution charges, which ended yesterday with a split verdict. The trial was a complete waste of time since even if Rosenthal was found guilty, he could not be sentenced to anything more than the one day he had already served, but federal prosecutors were vindictively determined to get their man. Rosenthal's supporters were equally determined not to help the government, and that's where the new tactic emerged: A dozen people in the medical marijuana movement who had been subpoenaed to testify against Rosenthal simply refused. A civil contempt citation is the usual response to such refusals, but as the judge in the case noted, the contempt citation is designed to impel people to testify, not to punish the. When the judge asked if throwing them in jail for the weekend would change their minds, they all said no. Since they convinced the judge they were rock solid in their positions, he decided not to issue the citations and instead dismissed them. He also thanked them for the dignity they displayed in articulating their positions. We should all thank them for taking this courageous stand. Who knows? Maybe we can start a movement. Look for a feature story on the trial and the witness rebellion tomorrow.
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