psmith's blog

Ponder This Graph for a Moment, Please

(graph from WOLA/AIN memo, link below) This graph shows what about $10 billion in US taxpayer dollars has accomplished. Note that while coca production has shifted within the region, the 1992 levels and the 2005 levels are essentially identical. Why is our coca eradication policy not subjected to cost-benefit analysis? Is there anyone who will argue that it is working? If so, I'd like to hear it. To be fair, that $10 billion has accomplished some things. It has engendered massive social conflict in all three countries, it has led to tens of thousands of peasant farmers being arrested as drug traffickers, it has led to thousands of deaths (especially in Colombia, where the eradication policy is part of the US's broader military intervention in that country's festering civil war). Your tax dollars at work. $10 billion is a lot of money. Heck, we could finance the Iraq war for a few weeks with it! Or we could give $100,000 college scholarships to 10,000 students. Or build $100,000 homes for 10,000 families. Or numerous other programs that, unlike the coca eradication program, might actually accomplish something. By the way, I came across the graph above in a memo from the Andean Information Network and the Washington Office on Latin America. That memo was occasioned by the US government's release of coca cultivation estimates for Bolivia. The US government has for months been complaining that Bolivian President Evo Morales' pro-coca policies were going to lead to a boom in production there. Surprise! It didn't. Read the memo for some juicy analysis.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Remedial Psychedelic Ethics 101: Don't Dose People

You wouldn’t think people who are prominent members of the psychedelic community would need a reminder about elementary decency, but, sadly, that appears to be the case. Psychedelic drugs, like mushrooms, peyote, and LSD, are not candy. They can be deeply disorienting and disturbing, even for veteran psychonauts, and for people with no experience with or knowledge of them, they can be absolutely terrifying. It would seem to be a fundamental of psychedelic ethics that you do not inflict the experience on people against their will or without their knowledge. To do so is not only disrespectful of the consciousness of the victim of such a stunt, it is also disrespectful of the psychedelic substance that inner consciousness explorers claim to hold in such reverence. But some people just don't get it. Last night, I received a call from an old friend who reported being dosed by someone who was part of the entourage of an elite clique who were putting on an event in a large Eastern city. Now, my friend was fortunate enough to have some experience with psychedelics, so the experience was not absolutely terrifying. But it was most unpleasant. And that's should be no surprise. For at least 40 years, people have been talking about the importance of "set and setting" in determining how a person will respond to psychedelics. Set refers to the person's mental state—what the person knows and expects of psychedelics, whether that person has underlying psychiatric problems, whether that person is prepared for the experience. Setting refers to the physical/notional location of the experience—is it a soothing place, does it take place within some ritual or another, is it loud and noisy and chaotic?—that, along with set, has an impact on the psychedelic experience. Dosing someone with psychedelics without his or her knowledge wreaks havoc with set. People need to prepare themselves for taking drugs like these; to have them inflicted on you even if you like them is unethical. Being dosed also prevents the victim from having any say in setting—here you are, your mind is melting, and that's that. Dosing people is thus double-plus ungood. No names are being named at this point. There are efforts afoot to see if the perpetrators will make proper amends. The most positive outcome is that the people involved will be educated about things they should already know and understand intuitively. For the rest of us who are inclined to dabble with such substances, let's try extra hard to be respectful of each other and these very special substances.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

More Reefer Madness Yellow Journalism in Australia

More Australian Reefer Madness Journalism Yesterday, we published a newsbrief about the Australian media frenzy over "super dope", but the yellow journalism about marijuana coming from Down Under just keeps coming. Early in the week, it was the "super dope" scare, where the Aussies whipped themselves into a frenzy over kind bud. By late in the week, there was a new wave of hysterical marijuana reporting, this time centering on people who have both indoor marijuana grow operations and children. "Children in Drug Den Danger!" screamed the Daily Telegraph in an article about raids on two Sydney homes where parents were growing pot:
SIX children aged as young as five have been forced to live and sleep within metres of toxic chemicals and cancer-causing cannabis plants - all because their parents wanted a quick dollar.
Whoa! "Cancer-causing cannabis plants"!?!?!? This is just simply absurd. As far as I know, no one, not even Harry Anslinger, has ever claimed that a growing marijuana plant is carcinogenic. I suspect this is merely bad reporting; as the Australian AP reported in its account of the raids, the equally silly Kids Allegedly Forced to Sleep Near Mum's Toxic Pot:
South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Acting Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli, said the raids followed tip-offs from the public. "Hydro houses pose significant risk and it appalls me that anyone would have such a disregard for safety that they would jeopardise the lives of children," Mr Mennilli said. "We've gone into some of these homes where young children – one even on a ventilator – are sleeping only metres away from these plants and carcinogenic contaminants. "In all these homes the electricity supplies have been illegally and dangerously diverted, posing a huge risk of fire – endangering the lives of those inside and people living in neighbouring homes."
Ah, it's not the plants that are carcinogenic; it's those darned "contaminants." It appears the "contaminants" referred to here are nothing more than the chemical fertilizers used to make the plants grow faster. As Mennilli put it in the Daily Telegraph story, "So not only do you have the odour from the plants but also you have the chemicals used in relation to the growth of these plants. The "highly toxic" chemical fertilizers are so dangerous they are sold in nurseries and greenhouses and Walmarts and K-Marts across the land. They are so dangerous, they are used by millions of little old gardeners without a second thought. Now, you probably don't want your kid drinking the stuff or making Kool-Aid out of powdered fertilizer, but fertilizer is fertilizer. It's no more dangerous when used to grow marijuana than it is when used to grow tomatoes. The Australian media should be ashamed of itself. It not only uncritically accepts police statements at face value; it then runs with them to the point of simply making shit up. "Cancer-causing cannabis plants," indeed! "Toxic chemicals," oh my! I will give Mennilli and the media accounts props for mentioning the risk of fire from improperly wired, illegally obtained electricity. You can start a fire trying to do that. But even the fire hazard is a function of prohibition, not marijuana. People steal electricity not because it's cheaper, but because they wish to avoid being busted by cops monitoring their electrical use.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Fighting Meth With Misinformation in Idaho

There is no question that methamphetamine is a potentially dangerous drug. Communities that take steps to prevent people from starting to use it in the first place are to be lauded. But if such efforts are to be credible with their target audiences, they need to include accurate information, not scary, demonizing distortions. Unfortunately, Blaine County, Idaho, is not doing that. In a new brochure from the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and the Community Drug Coalition written by a sheriff's office employee, comes the following amazing claim:
"One of the biggest dangers of meth is how quickly people can become addicted to it," the brochure says. "The National Methamphetamine Awareness Campaign says that 99 percent of people are hooked on meth after using it the first time."
Oh, come on. Yes, people can become dependent on meth. Yes, it is a drug whose biopharmacological effects make people want to binge on it. But no, 99% of people who try meth once are not hooked on it. And spewing such garbage—at taxpayer expense, no less!—is counterproductive at best. Here's what the federal government's meth resources web page has to say about methamphetamine addiction: "Long-term methamphetamine abuse results in many damaging effects, including addiction." Note that the site says long-term use, not one-time use. Neither do other federal government statistics back up the 99% claim. The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the most recent available, notes that 10.4 million people over the age of 12 reported using meth at least once in their lives, but only 512,000 reported current (last month) use. Even if we assume that everyone who reported using within the last month is an addict (and that's not a very reasonable assumption), we find that only about 5% of people who ever used meth are currently addicted. It is possible, I suppose, that the remaining 93% of all meth users ever got strung out on their first line, but have since managed to beat the addiction. If that's the case, which I doubt, they didn't get the monkey off their backs through drug treatment. In 1992, 21,000 were admitted for meth treatment; by 2004, that number was up to 150,000. But the number of people reporting using meth that year was 1.3 million. Of past year meth users, a little more than 10% got treatment in 2004, whether they sought it themselves or were forced into it. If you want to discourage people from using meth, you need to be believable. Unfortunately for Blaine County, Idaho, it has produced an anti-meth brochure that is more laughable than believable. Next they'll be telling me meth will make hair grow on the palms of my hands.
Location: 
ID
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

"Cannabis Cash 'Funds Islamist Terrorism'"--Here we go again.

The old "drug users fund terrorism" canard is getting new play in Europe this week, where French and Spanish intelligence agencies reported that, as the Guardian (UK) put it, "Cannabis cash 'funds Islamist terrorism'". The report was the result of an investigation launched after the 2004 Madrid train bombings that found the bomb plotters bought their explosives from former miners and paid them in hashish. The intelligence agencies also claimed that the Al Qaeda-linked Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat is using hash sales as part of "a complex network" of financing its terrorist operations. I don't doubt that. People who need money for nefarious schemes typically resort to the black market economy, whether it is drugs, diamonds, oil, or whatever commodity. It is so screamingly obvious that I hesitate to point it out, but pot smokers don't fund terrorism—prohibition does. You don't hear of barley or grapevines or tobacco leaves funding terrorism because they are used to make non-prohibited psychoactive drugs that are integrated into the legal, aboveground economy. If you want to stop Islamic terrorists from using the black market profits from the hash trade to buy bombs, the solution is clear: End the prohibition regime that creates the black market.
Location: 
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

What the heck is going on in Licking County, Ohio?

There's something funny going on in Licking County, Ohio. According to the local newspaper's courthouse roundup, a bunch of people were charged with drug trafficking, but the charges don't seem to match the facts. Let me show you what I mean:
• Ti C. Warner, 27, last known address 381 N. Executive Drive, Newark, was charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, a second-degree felony. The charge also carries a specification of selling drugs near a school. Between March 29 and 30, Warner allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying a total of about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions, according to court reports. Both purchases were allegedly made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports. Branstool set Warner’s bond at $40,000. • Sherry L. Runyon, 46, last known address 16328 Pleasant Hills, Newark, was charged with trafficking in crack cocaine, a fifth degree felony. On April 11, she allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying less than one gram of crack cocaine, according to court reports. Branstool set Runyon’s bond at $10,000. • Kevin L. Barker, 29, last known address 9215 Lancaster Road, Hebron, was charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, a fourth-degree felony. On March 26, he allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying 1.64 grams of methamphetamine, according to court reports. Branstool set Barker’s bond at $10,000.
Do you see what I mean? These are people who were apparently caught buying drugs. And they are charged with drug trafficking? I don't know who is responsible for these charging decisions—either the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force or local prosecutors—but they don't seem to be supported by the facts. And here's one more bizarre charging example from Licking County:
• Kelly L. Mihelarakis, 32, last known address 633 Mount Vernon Road, Newark, was charged with permitting drug abuse, a fifth-degree felony. Between March 29 and 30, Mihelarakis allegedly allowed an associate to buy about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions. Both alleged purchases were made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports. Branstool set Mihelarakis’ bond at $5,000.
Excuse me!? "Permitting drug abuse"? This person is charging with not stopping someone else from buying speed? This is a crime? You have got to be kidding. Well, my hat is off to the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Licking County criminal justice system. With their apparently unjustified charging decisions, they are certainly doing their part to ensure that Ohio's chronic prison overcrowding crisis continues.
Location: 
OH
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Initial Reports on the Global Marijuana Marches

Posted in:
DRCNet bumper sticker on a car at the SF marijuana march I'll be writing this week about the Global Marijuana Marches that were set to take place in 232 cities Saturday. I drove into San Francisco for the event there, and I've gathered some initial reports from around the globe. Look for a full run-down in the Chronicle on Friday. Saturday was glorious in San Francisco, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. San Francisco's version of the global marijuana march, Cannabis Awareness Day, was at City Hall plaza, where rows of vendors and exhibitors bracketed the crowd and local bands blasted rock, surf, pop, and rhythm & blues at the crowd. The San Francisco event was long on music, short on rhetoric—"We've heard all that pot talk before," said one organizer from the stage—and extremely mellow. What pot politics there was came around making too much money off the dispensaries, with some speakers warning that the greedy would be weeded out. Jack Herer held court in one tent as star-struck fans sought autographs and pictures. There was lots of open pot-smoking, and not a policeman in sight all afternoon. It was like a lovely afternoon in the community park. Things weren't so mellow in Eastern Europe. In Sofia, Bulgaria, police dispersed a crowd of about 400 demonstrators, blocking the event from taking place. It was worse in Moscow, Russian police attacked ralliers, arrested 30 and beating others. Some have already been sentenced to jail time. In Prague, by contrast, authorities stood aside as about 1500 held a pot party at Letna Plain. The largest rally reported so far was in Toronto, where "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery led a crowd of about 20,000 in calling for freeing the weed. I haven't heard anything from other European capitals or the big cities of Latin America yet. Meanwhile, down under at the Nimbin Mardi Grass festival in Austalia, police reported more than 100 arrests, 60 of them for marijuana, among the more than 7,000 festival-goers. What does all this mean? What does it accomplish? Look for some rumination on these questions as well as more scene reports on Friday. (Click the "read full post" link or here for more pictures.)
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Sonoma County and the Future of Marijuana

Last weekend, I drove into California on US 101, the Redwood Highway, blowing past Crescent City and the Pelican Bay supermax prison as I headed south toward Sonoma County, where I will be residing for the next couple of months. The area's world-famous vineyards and wineries began appearing just south of Ukiah, and by the time I actually crossed the Sonoma County line, the vines were everywhere. When I got to my hotel in Santa Rosa, I was met with a complimentary bottle of Sonoma County wine and handed a hardcover book listing all the vineyards in the region. They offer tours and tastings, there are wine festivals and myriad events. Wine is big business in Sonoma; it is part of the local culture, and it is a celebration of the good things in life. So, why am I going on about the wineries of Sonoma County? Because this is what the marijuana industry should be like. Both wine and weed are "soft" drugs around which has grown a connoisseur culture. Both are eminently social drugs, to be shared and celebrated with friends and family. While both can be abused, neither is associated with the serious problems around hard-core alcoholism or hard drug use. Northern California's wine industry is an open, above ground, and vital part of the regional economy. It drives tourism to the area. Northern California's marijuana industry is hidden, underground, and a vital part of the regional economy. It, too, drives tourism to the area, but to a much lesser degree. If pot were to move out from the shadows—if we were to move to a system of regulation instead of prohibition—and we started treating marijuana growing with the respect we give wine-making, I can foresee a Northern California Marijuana Country that would parallel the wine country experience. Imagine taking off on a tour of the pot farms of Mendocino or Humboldt counties (or even Sonoma County, for that matter): You drive off the highway and through beautiful countryside, past fields of marijuana plants glistening in the sun, and through the gates of the local boutique grower's estate. The skunky odor of maturing buds fills the air. In the tasting room, workers display the estate's best, while visitors taste and contrast the varieties. (In wine tastings, the tasters spit out the wine after tasting it to avoid over-intoxication. Will pot smokers merely roll the smoke around their mouths without inhaling for similar reasons?) Marijuana is already a key part of the Northern California culture and economy. Embracing and developing the marijuana economy is only a matter of time. And the wine country model is a good and entirely appropriate path.
Location: 
CA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Charges Dismissed Against Loretta Nall; Happy 4/20 To All of Y'all!

Alabama housewife turned activist Loretta Nall is out from under the long arm of the law, with the marijuana charges against her dropped as Cannabis Nation celebrates its unofficial national holiday, 4/20. She was arrested over an alleged roach after a pro-marijuana legalization letter she wrote to the Birmingham News prompted police and officials at her daughter's school to improperly interrogate the young child. The letter and the child's statements were the basis of the search warrant that led to her arrest. She was convicted in district court in 2004 of two misdemeanor counts and given a 30-day suspended sentence. But, activist that she has become, she appealed the conviction and sought to get the evidence from the search thrown out. Today, the judge ruled that prosecutors did not respond to Nall's motion, granted her motion, and suppressed the evidence. Prosecutors responded that without the evidence the case could not continue, and the judge then dismissed the charges. After her arrest, Nall blossomed as a marijuana reform activist, founding the US Marijuana Party, doing countless appearances and interviews, writing letters to the editor, and running for governor of Alabama under the Libertarian Party banner in 2006. Now, with the order of dismissal in her hand as of this afternoon,(and posted on her blog, Nall is in a justifiably exuberant mood:
I am exquisitely pleased to announce that on April 17, 2007 my attorney informed me that the DA's office in Tallapoosa County *UNCONDITIONALLY SURRENDERED* to *ME* and will be formally withdrawing charges against me by the end of this week in the case that has dragged on for five years. Guess what that means friends and neighbors? Hidday Ho, just guess what that means! And, in the ultimate irony for the prosecution, it was finalized today on 4/20 Tallapoosa County authorities must rue the day they went after the fiery mom five years ago because while they may be done with her, she isn’t done with them. The righteous reefer wrath below suggests Nall wants justice—and she wants heads on a pike:
So, here is the beginnings of my list of demands. I want a federal investigation into the Tallapoosa County DA's office, the Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force, the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office, the Alexander City Police Department and into Judge Kim Taylor's office. I want to know how many people are in jail on bullshit charges like mine. I know that I cannot be the only one. I want the Alabama Bar Association to investigate the complaints I am in the process of filing against the DA and Deputy DA of Tallapoosa County. I'd like both E. Paul Jones and Damon Lewis's license to practice law hanging on my wall. I want them arrested, prosecuted and jailed. I have to "make an example out of them" and "send a strong message" that there will be "zero tolerance" for this kind of prosecutorial misconduct. I want [teacher] Beth Shaw charged for conspiring with the school resource officer, Eric McCain, to have me jailed, for inviting DHR workers and police officers to interrogate my children without counsel and other unbiased adults present REPEATEDLY, for filing a malicious complaint with DHR that I was starving my children, for going outside the school and telling personal friends that I was starving my children, for having a box of food with "Bell's Special Snack" written on it under her desk that she only allowed Bell to eat from, for turning notes I sent to the school about my children over to police, for making school a hostile environment for my children and for allowing my five-year-old baby to be humiliated in front of her peers. I want Beth Shaw's license to teach hanging on my wall next to the DA's law licenses. I want her house, cars and retirement account. I want her fired and barred from ever working with children ever again. That bitch needs to suffer. I want Eric McCain charged for using a letter to the editor as a way to question my daughter at school without counsel or another unbiased adult present, for conspiring with Beth Shaw to have me jailed on bogus charges, for humiliating my 5-year-old baby in front of her class, for LYING on the witness stand UNDER OATH. For fabricating this whole damn case because my letter to the editor was not in line with his views on marijuana. I want Eric McCain's badge to hang on my wall next to Beth Shaw's teaching certificate and the DA's' law licenses. If he has one of those nifty cop hats, then I want that, too. I want him barred from ever working as a police officer and from working with children ever again. And, I want him sterilized, because it is never a good idea to allow vermin to breed. I'd like them all jailed. I want pictures.
Go get 'em, Loretta! It's time for some reefer justice; in fact, it's long past time. When do we get our drug war Nuremburg? I tried calling Loretta this afternoon, but it's already past 4:20 in Alabama, so I' m assuming she is celebrating in the appropriate manner. Damn, it's just past 4:20 here now. Gotta go.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Peru's Garcia Seems Determined to Stoke Conflict With Coca Growers

Although the Peruvian government cut a deal with coca growers in San Martin state last month to end a strike, promising a temporary end to forced eradication of coca crops, it has since decided to resume the destruction of crops. Garcia has also vowed loudly to bomb coca crops and maceration pits. It is almost as if he is seeking confrontation with growers. Now he's getting it. Coca growers in Tingo Maria, Aucayacu, and Leoncio Prada announced strikes beginning today. Growers in San Martin's Tocache district are already rumbling over the government's reversal on eradication. And someone has taken more direct action: On Friday, snipers opened fire on an eradication team in Yanajanca, killing one civilian eradicator and wounding five police officers. Garcia is headed for Washington soon for trade talks. Is he attempting to curry favor with the US by taking a tough line on coca and cocaine? And what kind of price in terms of domestic conflict and violence is he willing to pay?
Location: 
Peru
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Peru's President Looking for Trouble in Coca Lands

Peruvian President Alan Garcia appears determined to spark an open confrontation with the county's hundreds of thousands of coca growers. Two weeks ago, we reported on a coca grower strike in Tocache. That was resolved last week with an agreement to end forced eradication of coca crops there. Now, Garcia has declared that forced eradication will resume and, for good measure, he is threatening to use military force to wipe out the numerous backwoods labs that process coca leaves into cocaine.
Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine producer, should launch air strikes and machine-gun attacks to destroy jungle drug factories and airstrips used by traffickers, President Alan Garcia said on Monday. Garcia said a day earlier the destruction of coca crops would resume in one of the most-important cocaine-making regions in the South American country. Officials had made a deal with local farmers to halt the eradication. "We've got to finish every last cocaine factory and every last airport. Use the A37 planes, bomb and attack these airports, these cocaine factories with machine guns," Garcia said, directing his comments to the country's interior minister, who is in charge of the police that lead the fight against drugs. Peru is the second-largest producer of cocaine in the world after Colombia. "I'm not willing to be blackmailed ... I'm not going to be a straw doll or puppet of the political fears," said Garcia, who took office in July. According to official figures, Peruvian police raided 718 cocaine factories last year and seized 14.7 tons of partially processed cocaine. They also destroyed more than 25,000 acres of illegal crops of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
While Garcia appears to be seeking confrontation, his leading rival, Peruvian Nationalist Party leader Ollanta Humala, who came in a close second to Garcia in last year's elections, has a better idea: Buy up the crop. According to Humala, $250 million over four years would buy 90,000 tons of coca leaves, which could be processed into legitimate nutritional and medicinal products, and would provide a window of opportunity for coca farmers to switch to alternative crops. Humala said he is worried about growing social conflict in the coca zones. Garcia, on the other hand, seems determined to exacerbate it.
Location: 
Peru
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

STATS is a resource you should know about.

Posted in:
I want to bring to your attention a great resource for debunking bad science posing as policy analysis. The Statistical Assesment Service (STATS) at George Mason University says its mission is "correcting scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge; and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies." And it is very good at what it does. STATS got on my radar again this week with a nice report on the British "skunk" controversy, the dispute in the British press over just how much stronger skunk is than regular weed and whether skunk is causing teens to turn into schizophrenics. "Do Skunk Stats Stink? examines the controversy and the often overheated claims swirling around it. Check it out. The skunk article was written by Trevor Butterworth, but much of the examination of statistical claims related to drug policy is done by Maia Szalavitz, an uncommonly gifted and acute observer of the statistical drug wars. This month, Szalavitz has gone after Joe Califano's National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which recently raised alarms over college student drinking and drugging. "Is There a College Substance Abuse Crisis?" Szalavitz asks, or is this yet another example of CASA's manipulating the numbers? Read it and find out. She also blogged on the Huffington Post on the Richard Paey case. Paey is the Florida pain patient doing a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer for trying to obtain sufficient pain meds. And Szalavitz took on CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has lately been on a crusade to revitalize the drug war. In addition to gallantly appearing with the populist poseur, she took him to task in print with "Lou Dobbs on Drugs. Check out any or all of these pieces to see how statistical analysis and careful argumentation is done right. STATS is a valuable resource for all of us.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

More Reefer Madness in the UK Press

The current anti-cannabis crusade in the UK press is going hot and heavy. I imagine we're all used to the "cannabis boy in drugs shame" tabloid headlines from over there, and, as I blogged a couple of days ago, we now see respectable newspapers like the Independent on Sunday flip-flopping on marijuana (now it's bad). But sometimes, it's just too ridiculous. Here are the opening paragraphs of a story about potent weed from the Liverpool Echo:
Police issue warning about super strength Cannabis Mar 20 2007 by Ben Rossington, Liverpool Echo SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs. Cannabis resin, usually smuggled in from Morocco, has been replaced by home-grown super skunk as the drug of choice for sale by criminal gangs on Merseyside. Experts warn this new strain of cannabis is so incredibly strong it can bring on the early signs of schizophrenia from a single puff. Today Merseyside’s police chief has warned that organised gangs are moving into the production of the drug as a quick way of making cash.
Wow, that stuff must have a 150% THC content. The article also repeats the claim that this super-skunk is 25 times more potent than what Brits are used to. But here's what the most recent peer-reviewed scientific evaluation of THC levels in Europe had to say:
Location: 
Liverpool
United Kingdom
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

The Independent on Sunday Reverses Itself on Decrim, Warns of Killer Skunk, Reefer Madness

A decade ago, the British newspaper the Independent on Sunday made headlines itself when it came out strongly for the decriminalization of marijuana. Now, sad to say, it appears that the venerable newspaper has succumbed to Reefer Madness. In a front page editorial and series of related articles yesterday, the Independent reversed course:
Yes, our front page today is calculated to grab your attention. We do not really believe that The Independent on Sunday was wrong at the time, 10 years ago, when we called for cannabis to be decriminalized. As Rosie Boycott, who was the editor who ran the campaign, argues, the drug that she sought to decriminalize then was rather different from that which is available on the streets now. Indeed, this newspaper's campaign was less avant-garde than it seemed. Only four years later, The Daily Telegraph went farther, calling for cannabis to be legalized for a trial period. We were leading a consensus, which even this Government - often guilty of gesture-authoritarianism - could not resist, downgrading cannabis from class B to class C. At the same time, however, two things were happening. One was the shift towards more powerful forms of the drug, known as skunk. The other was the emerging evidence of the psychological harm caused to a minority of users, especially teenage boys and particularly associated with skunk. We report today that the number of cannabis users on drug treatment programs has risen 13-fold since our campaign was launched, and that nearly half of the 22,000 currently on such programs are under the age of 18. Of course, part of the explanation for this increase is that the provision of treatment is better than it was 10 years ago. But there is no question, as Robin Murray, one of the leading experts in this field, argues on these pages, that cannabis use is associated with growing mental health problems.
Ouch. This is really a shame, and it's even more shameful because the Independent on Sunday appears to have fallen prey to propaganda that could have come straight from the mouth of the American drug czar. This is not your father's marijuana, the newspaper argues with a straight face, this is the KILLER SKUNK! As one of the related articles puts it, "skunk - a form of cannabis so powerful that experts are warning it can be 25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations." What!? As far as I know, the most high-powered strains of marijuana are capable of THC yields of around 25% to 30%, with what is commonly known as "kind bud" having a yield of 10% to 15%. (These figures may be a bit off, but not much). Marijuana with 1% THC is about the equivalent of ditch weed. For the Independent's claims to be accurate, all those people smoking pot in Swinging London in the 1960s must have been smoking ditch weed and deceived into thinking they were getting high, while everyone in London now must be smoking the most exclusive buds in the world. This "25 times" figure is just plain bogus, and I don’t understand how the Independent fell for it. We've already debunked the American drug czar's version of this. Now are we going to have to do remedial work across the pond? Besides, skunk is but one variety of high-potency weed. What about AK-47 and White Widow? Singling out skunk as the culprit seems to be to be based on ignorance more than anything. I am also struck by the increasingly shrill claims of links between marijuana and madness. These seem to be especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. (While the UK frets about skunk, the Australians have their own idiosyncratic and equally scientifically indefensible bogeyman: HYDROPONIC! As if the growing medium used to produce marijuana were the determinant of its nature.) I'm not prepared to debunk the Independent on these claims today, but I do wonder about at least two things: Why isn’t this stuff driving us crazy over here, or, at least, why isn’t John Walters raising holy hell about the link between marijuana and madness? And if marijuana use has increased dramatically in the UK in past decades and if potency has indeed increased (which I don't doubt), then where is the accompanying spike in reported schizophrenia cases? I think I'm going to have to do a feature article on this important and disappointing turn of events. I'll use that to look more closely at the claims about marijuana and mental illness. I am starting to get worried, though; I've been smoking that stuff for 35 years, and now madness could be right around the corner. Who knew?
Location: 
London
United Kingdom
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Bitter, who's bitter? On the New Mexico medical marijuana vote.

The New Mexico House killed the medical marijuana bill there today on a vote of 36-33. The debate was filled with the usual bigotry, hypocrisy, and ignorance parading as expertise. I'm particularly irritated with Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), who, because he works as a pharmacist, apparently thinks he is an expert on medical marijuana. Here's what he had to say as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Opponents disputed that marijuana was an effective medicine. "Medically it just really has no value. For us to approve a drug like this tells our children and tells the rest of the people in this state that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug," said Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad and a pharmacist. "That is absolutely wrong for us to do." He described marijuana as "the No. 1 gateway drug to abusing other drugs in our society."
Heaton, who makes a living pushing pills, tells us authoritatively that marijuana has no medical value. Does he cite the scientific literature? No. Has he ever read the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics? Not as far as we can tell. What is the basis for his claim of no medicinal value? There is none, except for his appeal to authority as a pharmacist, and therefore, someone who presumably knows about such things. Heaton also argues that approving the medicinal use of marijuana "tells the children…that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug." Oh, really? Does that mean when he is dispensing prescription opiates like Oxycontin he is giving "tacit approval" of their recreational use? Or does he mean that his opposition to medical marijuana is so ideologically driven that he would rather forego its healing and ameloriating effects than risk having young people know it can be used medicinally? If it's the former case, Heaton is a hypocrite of the highest order. If it's the later, he is a demagogue pretending to be an expert. Take your pick. The New Mexican also noted another argument often trotted out in opposition to state medical marijuana laws:
Opponents of the bill said marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and patients in New Mexico could be subject to potential federal prosecution.
I really don’t understand why this argument should sway anyone. My response is, "Okay, let the DEA come in and start arresting patients, then." My second response is to wonder incredulously at the concern displayed by people who make this argument. Let me get this straight: They are so concerned that patients could be arrested under federal law that they would rather have them be arrested under state law? Gee, thanks for all that concern. If I sound just a bit grumpy, it's because I am. I spend my working life trying to end this stupid drug war. Every week, I write stories like the following about a Brazilian governor who wants to legalize drugs to fight crime, a high-level British panel calling for a complete rewriting of the drug laws, or a Scottish politician calling for the decriminalization of drugs. There are also similar stories from the US (although not this week)—a politician or an academic or an ex-cop calling for the end of the drug war. Yet although our anti-prohibitionist position is well justified both pragmatically (in terms of policy results) and philosophically (in terms of morality and ethics), not only do we seem not to be progressing toward our goal of a sensible and compassionate policy surrounding the use of drugs, we can't even get a goddamned measly little medical marijuana bill passed in a state where the public says it wants it, the governor says he wants it, and the state Senate voted for it. Sometimes I just want to chuck it all and move to my own sovereign island republic. But since there don’t seem to be too many of those available right now, I guess I'll keep slogging away. Today, however, I remind myself of Woody Harrelson's Woody the Bartender character in the 1980s sit-com "Cheers." At one point, when Woody is feeling betrayed by his rich girlfriend, Kelly, Sam accuses him of being bitter. "I'm not bitter, Sam," Woody replies. "I'm just consumed by a gnawing hate that's eating away at my gut until I can taste the bile in my mouth."
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

many pictures from the Chapare...

Posted in:
US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors Site of major landslide produced by massive rainstorms. Buses and trucks by the dozens were backed up here. We had to leave the jeep on the near side, walk across the landslide, hire motorcyclists to carry us about a mile to where taxis were waiting, then hire a taxi for the afternoon in the Chapare. Click the "read full post" link or here for 20 more pictures chronicling Phil's visit to the Chapare coca-growing region.
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Back from the Chapare

I'm now back from the coca producing region of the Chapare. Yesterday was a real grind: Get up very early, fly from La Paz to Cochabamba, take a taxi to the Andean Information Network office where I met up with AIN's Kathryn Ledebur and her husband, former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo) Gotofredo Reinecke, hopped in his jeep with him, stopped for gas and coca leaves (it's a tiring journey), then drove about two hours over an 11,000-foot mountain pass and down into the jungly Chapare.

The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. But first, we had to traverse a major landslide on the highway caused by incessant rains. (We were extremely fortunate to have a mostly sunny day, a rarity this rainy season). At the landslide, buses and cargo trucks were backed up by the dozens, as they had been for days. The smell of rotting fruit in the trucks was pervasive. Bus passengers had to gather their bags and make a mile-long trek over a muddy path to get to buses waiting on the other side, but we left the jeep on the near side and walked right down the roadway itself—a shortcut—after Godofredo explained to the soldiers that I was a photojournalist shooting the "derrumbe." My sandals, socks, and jeans were covered with mud (which made quite an impression at the Cochabamba airport this morning). Once across the washed out area, it was onto the backs of small motorcycles for hire for another half-mile to where the buses and taxis were waiting for travelers trying to continue their journey, and then we hired a taxi for the tour of the Chapare. In the miserably hot and humid lowlands, we stopped for lunch, where Godofredo spotted veteran newspaper vendor and scene-observer Don Jaime Balderrama, with whom we had an interesting chat. Then it was on to the local military base for a talk with the comandante, which proved absolutely fruitless. He refused to say a word of substance, saying it all had to be cleared with the military high command. Sadly, this seems to be the attitude throughout the Morales government when it comes to coca matters, and as a result, I am not making much progress in getting interviews with government officials (although I still have some feelers out and some hopes, fading as they may be). The army fort, bought and paid for by US tax dollars was nicely constructed, and the colonel's office featured the only air conditioning I ran across on the whole trip. Sweet for him. Sweet for us, too. I didn’t want to leave, even though we were getting nothing from him.

former cocalero leader Vitalia Merida with her daughter, in their coca field

Then it was on to visit Vitalia Merida, a former coca grower union leader (and current member), who has a coca field way out in the middle of nowhere. After her family suffered during the repression of the forced eradication years, she now reports that there is peace, if not prosperity. I'll be writing about what she had to say in a feature article this week. I have to say that is was an absolutely brutal hike in the mid-day sun to her coca patch. When I complained, Vitalia said, "You see how we suffer," although she sweated not a drop. Next was Shinahota, a small town that was the center of the Chapare cocaine economy during the Wild West days of the "cocaine coup" back in the early 1980s. Main street there features a bunch of two-story buildings erected at that time. Downstairs you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury items; upstairs you rented prostitutes. It's much quieter these days, and much less profitable. Just outside Shinahota, we stopped at a coca leaf warehouse operated by the local growers' union and had a nice chat with some Six Federation leaders who, sadly, were camera shy, and just a little bit suspicious of this wild-looking gringo. (I was indeed wild-looking by then: mud-splattered, sweat-drenched, my hair blown into knots as I hung my head out the window of the taxi seeking relief). We had an interesting conversation, though, and I will report on that in the Chronicle, too. Between Shinahota and Villa Tunari, we stopped briefly at a new coca leaf processing plant, which is being financed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He has promised to import coca products to Venezuela, which would violate the UN Single Convention, but as AIN's Kathy Ledebur noted, "Who's going to stop him?" No one there but construction workers, though. Shortly past the new coca plant, in Villa Tunari, is a municipal hospital staffed primarily by dozens of Cuban doctors and nurses. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast: The US builds forts and supplies the military, Venezuela helps Bolivia industrialize coca, and the Cubans heal the sick. So it goes. That's my report for today. I now have in essence a day and half left in Bolivia. I'm attempting to line up some last interviews, but I'm a little depressed by my lack of success with government functionaries, and just bad luck with some other people I hoped to talk to. But I still have 36 hours... More pictures will be posted here later today.
Location: 
COC
Bolivia
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

This way to the Coca Museum...

Posted in:
pictures from La Paz, Bolivia: Calle Linares pedestrian mall, with Coca Museum sign (Click the "read full post" link or the title link for more pictures if you don't already seen them.)
Location: 
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

In Bolivia and Ready to Head for the Chapare

Posted in:
After an arduous two-day trek by bus from Cusco, Peru, across the Altiplano and over Lake Titicaca by ferry, I'm now sitting in La Paz, Bolivia, which is truly a spectacular city. It's located in a valley at 13,000 feet, and looming above is the majestic peak of Mount Illimani. The city is more than a million people, and the houses crawl up the slopes of the valley. The streets in the city center are teeming with people, many of them in full-blown indigenous attire. You know, the stuff of National Geographic specials. I'll be posting some pics from here after I wander around a bit. view of Lake Titicaca, Peru Today, I'll be going to the Coca Museum to talk to Jorge Hurtado, its curator and a leading defender of the coca leaf. Should be interesting. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'll also visit the witch's market, where you can buy all kinds of strange things, including—I kid you not—dried llama fetuses, which people put in their houses to ward off evil spirits. Guys, how about one of those for the office? [Editor's note: NO - DB] I've been working the phone and email all day today trying to arrange interviews and visits with cocaleros, Bolivian officials, activists, analysts, and the US Embassy. It is a frustrating process; Bolivian government officials seem to rarely be in their offices, and the US Embassy, as usual, is not being especially helpful. Since I'm not an "official" journalist, merely a member of the "new media," the press office doesn't really want to talk to me, but I continue to hope I can wrangle at least an off-the-record sit down with the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). I have firmed up a visit to the Chapare, the main non-traditional coca growing region, where Evo Morales has managed to bring peace through his cooperative eradication program, which allows each family to grow small plots of coca without regard to the official limit of 30,000 acres, all of which is assigned to the Yungas, the traditional coca growing region. I will fly into Cochabamba Monday morning (a half-hour flight versus an all-day bus ride), and meet with the good people of the Andean Information Network before heading out with them by jeep and then motorcycle to the coca zones. I will fly back to La Paz Tuesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope to spend one day going down into Las Yungas (down "the world's most dangerous highway," although I suspect it can't be much worse than that road I took from Ayacucho to the VRAE) and the other day in meetings. I have to start heading back to Gringolandia on Thursday, arriving in Houston at 6am, and back home in snowy South Dakota by mid-afternoon. Coca is prevalent in La Paz. In addition to numerous street vendors sitting with their bags full of leaves, mate de coca is offered almost everywhere. A couple of nights ago, I went to a downtown bar and had a Mojito Boliviano, a mojito made with coca leaves instead of spearmint. Que rico! Traveler's Tip #1: Don't drink much alcohol at high altitudes. One mojito will do. Traveler's Tip #2: Get small bills. Making change is a real problem. A 100 Boliviano bill (worth about $15 US) is difficult to change in the city and almost impossible to change anywhere outside the city. Wow, talk about under-capitalized. This is a real problem, since ATMs and money exchanges always give you big bills. Some more pictures:
Location: 
La Paz
Bolivia
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

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, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 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, Pill Testing, Safer 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, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School