Feature: What We Will Be Watching at Drug War Chronicle in 2008

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Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

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Phil Smith
Last week Drug War Chronicle wrapped up the year with a summary of the top ten drug war stories of 2007. Now it's a new year, and a time to look ahead. When it comes to drug policy reform, there is not that much new on the horizon, but there is a whole lot of unfinished business and lots of longstanding issues to be resolved. Much of what we will be covering will be about these all-too-familiar issues, but not all of it. While, like other media, much of our coverage is driven by what comes in over the newswire, we will also be undertaking some special reporting. And, of course, this being an election year means there will be lots of politics to cover as well. Here are 10 major issues/events/countries we will be paying special attention to in 2008:

The Election Campaign

The national elections will be a major story all year long. Democrats appear poised to take back the White House and strengthen their majorities in the House and Senate. But what would that mean for drug policy reform and how much of a role -- if any -- will it play in the primary and general election campaigns? We will be watching and reporting on drug policy in the national election campaign throughout the year -- whether it is Democratic primary contenders lining up on medical marijuana or Republicans trying to out-tough each other on meth; whether it's Mike Huckabee talking about redemption or Hillary Clinton talking about why crack sentencing retroactivity isn't a good thing; whether it's Ron Paul saying "legalize it" or John Edwards declining to. Will the Republicans attempt to attack the Democrats as "soft on drugs"? Will the Democrats scuttle away from drug reform if they do? Stay tuned. What about House and Senate races? We'll be watching those, too.

Ballot Initiatives

It won't be just candidates running in November. Michigan is poised to become the first medical marijuana state in the Midwest, and a signature-gathering campaign for an Arizona medical marijuana initiative effort is about to get underway. We will be reporting on these campaigns during 2008, as well whatever (if any) medical marijuana-related initiatives activists in Oregon decide to put on the ballot and, on the other side of the issue, the effort to gut the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in a possible initiative organized by self-styled Oregon crime fighters. Meanwhile, a marijuana decriminalization initiative will be on the ballot in Massachusetts, and we'll be reporting on that and any other initiatives that pop up as well.

Drug Reform in Congress

With the Democrats in control of Congress for a second year, will drug policy reform fare any better than it did during the first year? There was some movement last year, but not much, and the Democrats barely have a majority in this election year. We will be tracking the progress (or not) of congressional issues such as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment, the bills to reduce the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and funding for foreign anti-drug adventures, among others. But, as we saw this year, Democratic control on Capitol Hill also means hearings, a key prerequisite to action. We will also be keeping an eye on who is pushing for hearings, and who isn't, and on which issues.

Medical Marijuana

The one drug policy reform effort that seems to have developed real traction is medical marijuana. Last year, bills were introduced in some 20 states, but only made it all the way through the process in New Mexico and Rhode Island, where an existing medical marijuana law was made permanent. We expect renewed efforts to win passage of medical marijuana bills in most of the states that saw action last year, as well as some others that didn't. This year, we should pick up at least a couple more states and perhaps as many as a half-dozen. We'll be following the statehouse action on all these bills.

California: The Special Case

California is a world apart. It has the broadest medical marijuana law, it has hundreds of dispensaries, it has DEA raids and federal prosecutions, it has local jurisdictions grappling with medical marijuana issues, and it has one-tenth of the whole country's population. Is California the wave of the future? Is it sliding into de facto personal legalization as a result of the medical marijuana law, and if so, is that a bad thing? Is it move over, Amsterdam; move over, Vancouver; here comes the San Fernando Valley? The situation in the Golden State is complex and rapidly evolving in directions no one can easily predict. Certainly, events there will make the news here this year.

Who Profits from Prohibition?

Drug prohibition has palpably failed on its own terms. Despite decades of drug war and hundreds of billions of dollars, a substantial portion of the population continues to use drugs and will do so into the foreseeable future. Drug prohibition has also brought all sorts of unintended consequences, from funding political violence to street-corner shootouts among competing dealers to stuffing our prisons way past full and on and on. Yet prohibition not only remains, but remains nearly unchallenged. Why? Clearly, there are lots of people deeply concerned about drug use, but just as clearly, there have emerged institutional interests, both public and private, that benefit from the drug policy status quo. In what will be a continuing series throughout the year, we will be looking at those interests, how they benefit, and how they influence policy. Among them: The drug testing industry, the drug treatment industry, the drug dog industry, law enforcement, and prison designers, builders, and contractors. Do you have suggestions for others? Send me an email.

Drug Policy and the Undertreatment of Pain

For several years now, the Chronicle has episodically covered the plight of pain patients and doctors, as well as the broader issues surrounding the treatment of pain in a drug prohibition regime. This year, we will be digging deeper into the issue, not only here in the US, but also abroad, particularly in the poorer countries of the third world, where the use of opioid pain relievers is at dramatically lower levels than in the wealthy developed nations. We'll be looking at the role of the global drug prohibition regime and opiophobia, as well as examining other factors, such as poverty or the structural effects of global drug regulation, that could also factor in to perpetuating this state of affairs. What about those proposals to divert Afghan poppy crops to the legitimate medicinal market? Could they help? Look for Chronicle reports on these issues this year.

Afghanistan: War and Poppies

And speaking of Afghanistan, this is a story that is not going away this year, or anytime in the foreseeable future. Last year was the bloodiest since the US invasion six years ago as more US and NATO troops were killed than ever, along with thousands of Taliban insurgents and Afghan civilians. It was also the largest poppy crop ever, with Afghanistan now having a virtual choke-hold on the global opium market. The top US general there this week predicted this year's poppy crop will be even larger. The US government is tying itself in knots trying to figure out how to respond, and meanwhile, the Taliban, corrupt Afghan government functionaries, and drug traders are all growing fat off the profits. Drugs, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and nation-building are all at play in Afghanistan, and there is a lot at stake. Stay tuned.

Mexico: Drug War to the South

Drug prohibition-related violence in Mexico has been spinning out of control, with the death toll mounting year after year. Last year, incoming President Felipe Calderon called out the Mexican army, and now, 2,500 deaths, thousands of arrests, and hundreds of seizures later, the drug trade appears unaffected. Still, Washington is happy with Calderon's aggressive approach and appears set to approve a $1.4 billion, multi-year anti-drug aid package known pejoratively as Plan Mexico. Meanwhile, drug use levels are rising in Mexico, drug crop production continues unabated, and that Colombian cocaine keeps on coming through on its way to the insatiable markets north of the Rio Grande. Just a few weeks from now, Drug War Chronicle will do an extended tour of Mexico, most likely starting on the border in the Rio Grande Valley, then down to Mexico City, on to the drug-producing states of Guerrero and Sinaloa, and up the Pacific Coast, ending up on the border in Tijuana. Look for blogging and in-depth reports during that trip, as well as more coverage throughout the year.

The International Scene: Drug Policy on the Agenda

Drug policy will be on the agenda at both the United Nations and the European Union this year. The UN will meet in a General Assembly Special Session in Vienna to discuss the success of the previous 10-year anti-drug strategy and work on the next, while the EU will be attempting to come up with a second five-year plan as part of its 2005-2012 EU Drug Strategy. The first five-year plan ends this year. Also, long-term drug strategies will be on the plates of policymakers in Britain and Canada. We will be watching and reporting on all of this.

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!

hemp

hemp for paper and clothing..i wonder how much money the cotten and timber industry
would lose if hemp was competing??

Include promoting an anti-overdose smoking safety device

In your resume of programs for the next year :

1. Promote UUSDRU universal uniform smoking dosage reduction utensil

Manufacture, advertise, distribute Minitoke Utensil with quarter-inch diameter screened crater and an extended flexible draw tube, providing 25-mg. servings of any herb (herb democracy), replacing 700-mg. commercial nicotine cigarets, 500-mg. :"joints", 1-gram "blunts", hot-burning wide-bowl "bongs" etc. and any other "compulsory overdose" equipment which commits you to the overdose each time you light up for "one smoke".

2. LSMFT = Life-Saving Minimum Firing Temperature.

Define "one smoke" as one 25-mg. serving. Shredded tobacco broken from off a cigaret or any screened herb (uniform particle size) can be used. Suck slow to assure low burning temperature and maximum harm reduction.

3. Traditional miniature pipes

Alternatively, import and distribute Kiseru (Japan) or Midwakh (UAE), existing traditional narrow-crater utensils. ( Order a crater --use this word, it sounds smaller than bowl--that is cylindrical rather than conical, so you will be able to get the screen to nest snugly and not fall out.)

4. Capture and use political credit!

If signs are soon seen of a sudden reduction in the 5.3 million per year tobackgo death toll, and it is credited to a smoking equipment reform originating among cannabis users, it will be politically impossible to arrest or persecute cannabis users any more, and some nicelooking figurehead like David can get a Nobel Prize to be invested in further smoking- and drug-related harm reduction programs (such as ministering to the existing 1.2 billion Nicovictims; please see Wikiversity article on Smoking Cessation).

Missing Message

When will DRCNET start reporting on the fight to the First Amendment Right to use Cannabis as a religious sacrament?

http://www.forbiddenfruitpublishing.com/chris/index.html

Missing Message

I also would like to get an answer to this question.

Namaste fellow DRCNet reader,

If you have experienced spiritual phenomenon of even the smallest measure while using Cannabis then you know the validity of this First Amendment claim. If you have not, may I invite you to find a quiet place and seek within for that someone who speaks of Love, Beauty, Goodness, Hope, Courage, Strength, Truth and Life Eternal.

And Then ask NORML, MPP. DRCNet why they support the flagrant violations of our civil liberties by remaining silent.

revjack
Rev. Jack Roberto
[email protected] com

borden's picture

yes we do report on religious use of marijuana

Friends,

DRCNet does in fact report on this issue -- visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/504/hawaii_supreme_court_rejects_rel..., http://stopthedrugwar.org/in_the_trenches/2007/may/17/press_release_home..., http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/467/judge_throws_out_religious_defen... and http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/465/eddy_lepp_victory_largest_DEA_cu... for some relatively recent articles. Doubtless we've missed some developments from time to time, but that is the case in any issue we follow, due to limited resources. Keep us informed, and we will continue to get the word out about the religious use of marijuana movement.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

You've missed a lot!

The Church of Cognizance is current at the center of an interlocutory appeal on the issue of sincerity in the religious use of marijuana in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, U.S. v. Quaintance, No. 07-2140. All of the pleadings are online at:

http://www.cannabischurches.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i...

The UDV church is currently at the center of a civil complaint for interference with its right to use hoasca (a hallucinogenic plant) in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Mukasey, No. CV-00-1647. Most of the pleadings are online at:

http://www.cannabischurches.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i...

The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church is currently at the center of a civil complaint for interference with its right to use marijuana in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Olsen v. Mukasey, No. 07-3062. The Rutherford Institute is representing Olsen. All of the documents are online at:

http://www.ethiopianzioncopticchurch.org/Federal/Eighth.aspx

The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church is currently at the center of a civil complaint for interference with its right to use marijuana in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Olsen v. United States, No. 07-3062. All of the documents are online at:

http://www.ethiopianzioncopticchurch.org/Federal2/Docket.aspx

There are several state criminal cases currently pending where people are claiming religious defenses.

How many does it take?

There are at present a dozen states with decrim of pot, with another four or so coming up for a vote. When there are 25 states, half the country, with decrim what will the feds do...go to real war? States rights...it's in the 10th amendment.Suggestion...blow smoke in uncle Sams face, after inhaling, it's your right.

meth

are there any new laws that are going to help meth offenders who do not have a violent offense

Equal Access To The Mainstream Spotlight

Despite drug prohibition proven to be a truly enormous corruption that violates freedom, costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars annually, allows a black market to thrive to a degree leading to military intervention, and basically intersects negatively with virtually every major issue (crime, economy, healthcare, immigration, terrorism, etc.), all while failing to offset those massive costs with any tangible benefit, the mainstream media essentially fails to find any of this newsworthy.

Does the mainstream media, and the advertising industry it caters to, benefit from drug prohibition? If so, how?

The reason I feel this is important is that our movement suffers from a lack of strong access to the mainstream spotlight, basically leaving prohibitionists "one podium on the national stage" to widely project false information absorbed by the majority of voters (i.e. the prohibitionist "megaphone" is still much bigger than ours). We need "two podiums" as then we can immediately debunk this misinformation (reducing prohibitionist tough talk to a whimper) in front of the same majority.

Congress has no incentive to remove the Controlled Substances Act until the majority of voters demand it. The majority of voters won't demand it until they know how awful the CSA is for our society. Waging our opposition in the mainstream spotlight should expedite our efforts dramatically, as our case is very strong to put it mildly.

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