Drug War Chronicle #467 - January 5, 2007

1. Editorial: Raid vs. Raid

Our soldiers under insurgent threat in Baghdad seem more clear-headed than our police serving routine search warrants here at home.

2. Feature: Afghan Opium Dilemma Sparks New Calls for Alternative Development, "Normalizing" the Poppy Crop

While the US using tried-and-failed eradication schemes on the Afghan opium trade, others including the UN and World Bank are calling for smarter alternative development. Others are going even further.

3. Hemp: DEA Has Spent $175 Million Eradicating "Ditch Weed" Plants That Don't Get You High

The DEA has spent $175 million in the past two decades to eradicate "ditch weed" plants that don't get anybody high. Your tax dollars at work.

4. Announcement: DRCNet Content Syndication Feeds Now Available for YOUR Web Site!

Support the cause by featuring automatically-updating Drug War Chronicle and other DRCNet content links on your web site!

5. Resource: Screening Kit Now Available for "Waiting to Inhale" Video

You can organize and get the word out by hosting a screening -- small or large -- of this important video about medical marijuana.

6. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Continuing fall-out from the Henry County, Virginia, sheriff's office bust in October, another Tennessee cop running interference for drug dealers, a long-time fugitive INS officer caught, and, of course, a couple more jail guards bringing goodies to the prisoners.

7. Marijuana: Judge Throws Out Religious Defense in Arizona Marijuana Case, Says Defendants Lack "Sincere" Belief

The leaders of a religious group arguing that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects them from prosecution under the federal marijuana laws were shot down in federal court when the judge ruled their beliefs were not "sincere."

8. Medical Marijuana: California's Booming Market Offers Substantial Tax Revenues, Report Finds

The California medical marijuana market could be a substantial source of tax revenues for the state, according to a new study, but it isn't happening yet.

9. Drug Prohibition: Vermont Prosecutor Calls for "Peace Talks" in War on Drugs, Consideration of Public Health Approach

A Vermont prosecutor is calling for "peace talks" in the war on drugs. It is time to debate alternative approaches, he says.

10. Latin America: Colombian Senator Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

A Colombian senator is calling for a debate on legalizing the drug trade. His father, a leading presidential candidate, was assassinated by Medellin Cartel hit men in 1990.

11. Latin America: Mexican Soldiers Occupy Tijuana in Fight Against Drug Trade

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of soldiers and federal police into Tijuana in a bid to stamp out the drug trade in the border city where more than 300 died in prohibition-related violence last year.

12. Europe: Support for Marijuana Legalization Low

A survey conducted by the European Commission finds low levels of support for marijuana legalization in Europe. The Netherlands and Spain poll highest.

13. Weekly: This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

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1. Editorial: Raid vs. Raid

Images from the war in Iraq have become a daily sight on the cable news networks. One of the bits of footage that recurred this week was a tape of US soldiers forcibly entering a home, presumably looking for insurgents or other perpetrators of terrorist violence.

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David Borden
Though the image ran only as background to the discussion by news reporters about the US political situation, it jumped out at me. What I found striking was how carefully the soldiers did their job. With carefully measured force they pushed the door open, stood to the side, cautiously looked in, and only then entered -- with guns drawn, of course, but slowly and carefully.

It struck me because of how strong a contrast it seemed to the way paramilitarized "SWAT" teams here in the US do business. Originally SWAT teams were created as select units to be used in high-intensity emergency situations -- hostages, snipers, that sort of thing. They were deployed a few thousand times a year back then, but now the annual number is about 40,000. According to "Overkill," a report issued last year by the Cato Institute, the great majority of SWAT deployments are for routine serving of search warrants in minor drug cases.

Typically, or at least commonly, the SWAT teams don't show the kind of care and restraint that our soldiers in Iraq did when entering that building. Instead, we often see the black-clad SWAT officers rapidly battering down the door, running in and shouting, setting off flashbang grenades, and pointing guns at the heads of the confused and disoriented adults, children and pets who were unfortunate enough to be at home when it happened. The raids tend to be done very early in the morning or in the middle of the night, to increase the disorientation and confusion. Of course, this also increases the trauma, even when no one winds up getting physically hurt.

Not surprisingly, criticism of these tactics can get intense. Many police defenders will defend them just as intensely. Among the main arguments is that police need to use these tactics, because some of the people inside are dangerous criminals, who will have more of a chance to pull their own guns and shoot if they don't. One of the counterarguments is that such tactics tend to escalate the situations -- most of which are in fact do start out as routine and non-dangerous -- into something more tense, more shocking, more likely to end in needless tragedies.

Tragedies like the killing last year by Atlanta police of 88-year old Kathryn Johnston. When the police stormed her apartment, Johnston, not able in the scarce seconds available to her to thoughtfully reason that the armed, loud, sudden invaders of her home were in fact just police who meant her no harm, took out a gun given to her by her niece for her protection in the tough neighborhood she lived in, and opened fire. She wounded three of the invaders (er, peace officers), before they were able to shoot and kill her. Obviously the SWAT tactics did not produce a favorable outcome in this case, neither for Johnston nor for the officers themselves. Of course, it turned out to be a wrong address, no drugs were found there, and it was all based on the uncorroborated word of an anonymous, paid informant. Various indicators of police misconduct have come out in the media since that time, one by one contradicting statements made by department spokespersons under pressure to hide the severe blame that the department deserves.

And so we come back to our soldiers in Baghdad, the ones in that video, despite the great peril of their situation showing such care when entering the suspected insurgent house, despite the very real possibility that someone inside would try to shoot them or blow them up. I'm sure that things have gone wrong with the conduct of US troops on plenty of occasions, because that is built into the nature of war. But I also get the sense that the way these particular soldiers handled this raid is in fact what was expected of them, and that that is what our soldiers usually do.

And so I have trouble accepting the police argument that they have to use paramilitary tactics in routine drug raids for the sake of police safety. What about safety for the rest of us? I respect the risk our police officers take every day, just by being police officers. But the purpose of the job is to protect the public safety, not to put members of the public in danger. There are extremely few law enforcement situations in which police in the US are under as much potential threat as our troops are every day in Iraq. If our soldiers can show as much care and restraint as they demonstrated while hunting insurgents in Baghdad in that news video, our police can do so too while serving routine search warrants on suspected, low-level, nonviolent drug offenders here.

Also, many police clearly don't know how to properly handle these kinds of tactics -- the dozens of needless killings in recent decades under circumstances similar to Kathryn Johnston's demonstrate that pretty clearly. It's time to re-separate our police and military and turn our police officers back in peace officers as they were intended to be. It's too late to save Kathryn Johnston from the horrible fate Atlanta police inflicted on her. But it's not too late to save the next Kathryn Johnston.

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2. Feature: Afghan Opium Dilemma Sparks New Calls for Alternative Development, "Normalizing" the Poppy Crop

With Afghanistan's opium crop reaching record levels last year and seemingly destined for a repeat performance this year, lawmakers and officials on both sides of the Atlantic are looking for innovative solutions. Or at least some of them are. Seemingly bereft of new ideas, the US government's official line is that the solution is eradicating as much of the crop as possible with herbicides, as drug czar John Walters announced in Kabul two weeks ago.

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
While the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has endorsed the notion -- though not yet put it into effect -- it has done so reluctantly, knowing that eradication will infuriate the hundreds of thousands of poor farmers who depend on the poppy harvest to feed their families. As the Karzai government knows full well, angry poppy farmers mean bad times for the government and good times for the resurgent Taliban, which awaits the aggrieved growers with open arms.

But while the US government and a grudging Afghan government are embracing standard drug war tactics, the situation in Afghanistan has created the political space for the consideration of other solutions. Some, such as alternative development proposals, are almost as shop-worn a response as eradication, while others, including various schemes to legitimize the poppy crop, represent a break with the global prohibitionist consensus.

Alternative development -- the substitution of other cash crops for opium poppies and the creation of new economic activities -- is the preferred solution of a number of scholars and non-governmental organizations, as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations and the World Bank. In a highly detailed report on the Afghan opium economy released at the end of November, the World Bank called for a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy featuring both alternative development and law enforcement action against the trade, but even as it did so, it underscored that alternative development would be a long-term -- not a short-term -- solution.

"A 'smart' counter-narcotics strategy will be essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of the fight against drugs," the report noted. "The diversity, flexibility, and dynamic character of the drug industry have been amply demonstrated in recent years. It must be recognized that counter-narcotics efforts -- whether enforcement actions or development of alternative livelihoods -- inevitably cannot be anywhere nearly as nimble or quick as the activities they are targeted against, and they inevitably take time, measured in decades rather than years in the case of alternative livelihoods programs."

But evidence of a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy being implemented is severely lacking. As Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin noted in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, the US government failed to consolidate gains it made with a small reduction in the area cultivated in 2005. "Although the decrease was due almost entirely to the political persuasion of farmers by the government, the United States failed to deliver the alternative livelihoods the farmers expected and continued to pressure the Afghan government to engage in counterproductive crop eradication," Rubin wrote. "The Taliban exploited the eradication policy to gain the support of poppy growers."

The problem of support for alternative development is not limited to isolated opium growing communities, as Barnett noted. "As numerous studies have documented over the years, Afghanistan has not received the resources needed to stabilize it. International military commanders, who confront the results of this poverty every day, estimate that Washington must double the resources it devotes to Afghanistan. Major needs include accelerated road building, the purchase of diesel for immediate power production, the expansion of cross-border electricity purchases, investment in water projects to improve the productivity of agriculture, the development of infrastructure for mineral exploitation, and a massive program of skill building for the public and private sectors."

And that is the Catch-22 of eliminating the poppy crop through alternative development. While the lack of roads, electric power, and other infrastructure for development make it difficult to get off the ground, let alone sustain alternative development, the opium economy, with its hostility toward interference from the central government and the West and its de facto alliance with insurgents and freelance gun men, makes the creation of such crucial developmental infrastructure almost impossible. In fact, in the face of a revitalized Taliban, some of the non-governmental organizations working on alternative development have fled the opium growing regions.

Rubin is harshly critical of US counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, noting that the US at first ignored trafficking by warlords it wanted as allies, then, as the uproar over increasing opium production grew louder, called for crop eradication. "To Afghans," he wrote, "this policy has looked like a way of rewarding rich drug dealers while punishing poor farmers."

After noting that the current global prohibition regime does not reduce drug use, but does produce huge profits for criminals, armed insurrectionists, and corrupt government officials, Rubin recommends treating the opium problem as a security and development issue. But then we are back to Catch-22. Still, he makes certain concrete recommendations: "[R]ural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including the construction of roads and cold-storage facilities to make other products marketable; employment creation through the development of new rural industries; and reform of the Ministry of the Interior and other government bodies to root out major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections."

But the continuing expansion of the Afghan opium economy, combined with the reemergence of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies and the need for US and NATO soldiers to fight and die to try to stop them, has led to increasing calls for an approach that transcends both repression and alternative development. Most recently, in the past few days, a US congressman and British Member of Parliament (MP) have called separately for diverting the poppy crop into the legitimate medicinal market for opioid pain relievers.

The European defense and drug policy think tank Senlis Council was first out of the gate with that notion, unveiling a comprehensive proposal to do just that. But that proposal has so far gained little traction, garnering the support of only a handful of Western politicians. Still, rising fears in the West that attempts to eradicate the crop will lead to increased political instability and violence by driving Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban appear to be leading to a new receptivity to the notion -- or something similar.

Here in the US, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) said last week that he would use his newly acquired seat on the House International Relations Committee to raise the issue this month. "You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," Carnahan said. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Carnahan cited the successful experiences of Turkey and India in the early 1970s, when US officials were worried about a rising tide of heroin from poppy crops in those two countries. Officials in the Nixon administration drafted a treaty that blunted the threat by allowing Turkey and India to sell their crops to make pain medications as part of their legitimate economies. Carnahan is also exploring the idea of using altered, morphine-free poppies containing thebaine, which can be turned into a number of therapeutic compounds, including oxycodone, oxymorphon, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. The altered poppies that produce thebaine are the strain that is used in Australia, where they are grown under license for the medicinal market.

"The idea of creating a trade for morphine-free opium is very worthwhile and needs to be thought through carefully," said Toni Kutchan, a biochemist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "It should not be pushed off the table by a knee-jerk reaction against it."

"I'd certainly like to see a study on how feasible that is," said James Dobbins, director at the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. "I do think that the current US and international effort is at best a kind of a band aid that can't have more than a marginal impact."

"I think the government should give serious consideration to attempting to implement that type of program," said Dr. Charles Schuster, former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Current US policies alone "are never going to be the solution for this," he added.

But the senior State Department official heading US efforts to fight the Afghan drug trade scoffed. Tom Schweich said the idea was "not realistic." Instead, he counseled more of the same. "You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Meanwhile, a British MP last week was calling on the British government to just buy up the Afghan opium crop and use it around the world for pain relief. South West Beds MP Andrew Selous asked the House of Commons why not? "Why, given that heroin can have legitimate medical uses, cannot we buy up the Afghan heroin crop and use it around the world for pain relief? That would stop it flooding into this country illegally. We need much serious thought on that issue."

Selous cited the murders of five addicted prostitutes in Ipswich last month. "I read the biographies of the women who were so brutally and horrifically murdered and I cannot have been the only one to be struck by the fact that they were all heroin addicts," he said. "It is a problem that affects all our constituencies -- there will not be a single Member of Parliament who does not have a heroin problem in their constituency. Given that we know that 90% of the heroin on UK streets comes from Afghanistan and that we have a major military presence there, it is extraordinary that we cannot do more to stop the poppy crop ending up here."

While the Bush administration is pushing for tougher measures and chemical eradication of the crops, and the UN, World Bank, and some academics are advocating intensified development and state-building strategies as an adjunct or alternative, the chorus of critics looking for a better way is growing, and they are implicitly -- if not explicitly -- challenging the global prohibition regime itself.

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3. Hemp: DEA Has Spent $175 Million Eradicating "Ditch Weed" Plants That Don't Get You High

In the past two decades, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has spent at least $175 million in direct spending and grants to the states to eradicate feral hemp plants, popularly known as "ditch weed." The plants, the hardy descendants of hemp plants grown by farmers at the federal government's request during World War II, do not contain enough THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, to get people high.

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chart by Jon Gettman for Vote Hemp
According to figures from the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, it has seized or destroyed 4.7 billion feral hemp plants since 1984. That's in contrast to the 4.2 million marijuana plants it has seized or destroyed during the same period. In other words, 98.1% of all plants eradicated under the program were ditch weed, of which it is popularly remarked that "you could smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole and all you would get is a headache and a sore throat."

While the DEA is spending millions of tax payer dollars, including $11 million in 2005, to wipe out hemp plants, farmers in Canada and European countries are making millions growing hemp for use in a wide variety of food, clothing, and other products. Manufacturers of hemp products in the United States must import their hemp from countries with more enlightened policies.

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chart by Jon Gettman for Vote Hemp
"It's Orwellian that the biggest target of the DEA's Eradication Program is actually not a drug but instead a useful plant for everything from food, clothing and even auto parts and currently must be imported to supply a $270 million industry," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a group lobbying for increased acceptance of the versatile plant. "While Vote Hemp has urged the DEA to recognize the difference between hemp and marijuana so farmers could grow it here, the federal agency is spending millions of dollars to destroy hundreds of millions of harmless hemp plants."

DEA officials regularly argue that there is no difference between hemp and marijuana, but their own statistics belie that claim. In its reports on the domestic eradication program, the agency clearly differentiates between ditch weed and "cultivated marijuana."

Not only is the ditch weed eradication program a waste of money, it may even be counterproductive, said Vote Hemp national outreach coordinator Tom Murphy. "Much of the ditch weed eradicated is believed to be burned, turning a carbon consuming plant into a contributor of Greenhouse gasses," said Murphy in a post-Christmas press release. "For all the effort to find and destroy these harmless wild hemp plants they are coming back year after year. It is likely that the eradication programs help re-seed the locations were ditch weed is found. The late summer timing and removal method causes countless ripe seeds to fall to the ground where they will sprout again the following year."

Your tax dollars at work.

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For example, if you're a big fan of Drug War Chronicle and you think your readers would benefit from it, you can have the latest issue's headlines, or a portion of them, automatically show up and refresh when each new issue comes out.

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5. Resource: Screening Kit Now Available for "Waiting to Inhale" Video

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Many DRCNet readers have ordered copies of Waiting to Inhale, an important new documentary about the movement to legalize medical use of marijuana.

The producers of Waiting to Inhale have created a Screening & Discussion Guide for motivated citizens who want to use the video to get the word out and stimulate discussion and debate. A PDF version of the Guide is available online here.

If you haven't already gotten your copy of Waiting to Inhale, you can request one from DRCNet with a donation of $30 or greater -- visit our online donation page to donate online or to print out a form to send in with your check by mail. Thank you for participating in this important effort.

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6. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Drug War Chronicle may have taken a week off, but the corrupt cops didn't. There's continuing fall-out from the Henry County, Virginia, sheriff's office bust in October, another Tennessee cop running interference for drug dealers, a long-time fugitive INS officer caught, and, of course, a couple more jail guards bringing goodies to the prisoners. Let's get to it:

In Roanoke, Virginia, two former Henry County sheriff's deputies pleaded guilty to charges they were part of a conspiracy to sell drugs seized from drug dealers. Former Deputy James Alden Vaught pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, while former Deputy David Allan King pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and drug conspiracy. Both were among 20 people, including Henry County Sheriff H. Franklin Cassell and 12 other sheriff's deputies, who were indicted in October. Sheriff Cassell has resigned since being accused of turning a blind eye as his deputies sold drugs seized in investigations, as well as other misconduct. King faces up to 40 years in prison and Vaught up to 20 years, but their sentences will depend on how much they cooperate with the government in the cases against their colleagues. Meanwhile, another former Henry County deputy has been re-indicted in the case. Former Deputy Robert Keith Adams was originally charged with making false statements, but was hit with a new, six-count indictment December 21. Adams allegedly knew that Vaught had stolen two kilograms of cocaine and $40,000 in cash, but instead of turning him in, demanded $20,000. He is charged with concealing a felony, attempting to obstruct an official proceeding by encouraging a potential witness to withhold and/or present false evidence to federal investigators, making false statements and attempting to mislead federal investigators.

In Nashville, a city police officer was indicted by a federal grand jury December 21 for using his position to help his nephew distribute cocaine. Officer Ernest Cecil, 49, a 15-year veteran of the force, faces counts of conspiring to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine, possession with the intent to distribute over 500 kilograms of cocaine, brandishing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, and robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, a federal law that prohibits extortion affecting interstate commerce. Cecil was a narcotics detective from 1997 through 2004. He is accused of, among other things, protecting his nephew's drug dealing operation by warning him about police investigations.

In El Paso, a fugitive former Immigration and Naturalization Service officer was captured December 22. Jose Trinidad Carrillo, had been convicted of conspiracy to import marijuana, aiding and abetting the importation of marijuana, and bribery of a public official in 1994, but fled to Mexico. He returned to the El Paso area at an unknown date and someone informed US Marshals he was in the area. They arrested him without incident although he was armed. Carrillo was carrying false identification when he was arrested.

In Indianapolis, a Marion County Jail guard was arrested December 24 for trying to smuggle marijuana and cigarettes into the jail. Tacaria Eskew was arrested after jail supervisors told police she received a package containing 20 cigarettes and two small bags of marijuana hidden inside food containers. Eskew told the Indianapolis Star she was set up and didn't know who sent her the package.

In Albemarle, North Carolina, an Albemarle District Jail guard was arrested December 22 on charges he smuggled drugs into the jail. Ryan White, 25, had worked at the jail for about six months when she was arrested. She was in possession of the prescription drugs Flexaril and Darvocet when the bust went down. She was charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver a schedule IV controlled substance, selling/delivering a schedule IV controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance in a prison facility and providing a controlled substance to an inmate. All four are felony charges. White was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

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7. Marijuana: Judge Throws Out Religious Defense in Arizona Marijuana Case, Says Defendants Lack "Sincere" Belief

A federal judge ruled December 22 that the founders of an Arizona church that uses marijuana as a sacrament, and worships it as a deity, must stand trial on marijuana trafficking charges despite their claim that they are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That means Dan and Mary Quaintance, founders of the Church of Cognizance, face a January 16 trial on charges related to a 172-pound marijuana seizure in New Mexico. They face up to 40 years in prison each.

Ten months ago, in a case pitting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act against the Controlled Substances Act, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a New Mexico church to use a controlled substance as a sacrament. The Quaintances cited that case in seeking to have their charges thrown out. But US District Judge Judith Herrera in Albuquerque refused to dismiss the charges against the couple, saying their religious beliefs were not "sincere" and they had "adopted their religious belief in cannabis as a sacrament and deity in order to justify their lifestyle choice to use marijuana."

"She doesn't fully understand our doctrine," Dan Quaintance told the Associated Press after the ruling. "This is very upsetting to members of our church. It was quite a holiday present. Normally on Christmas we would have shared the herb with our friends and church members," Quaintance said. "Instead we had presents. We were a little empty... What's happening to us is a clear violation of the US Constitution. It's clear we are sincere."

The Church of Cognizance was founded in 1991 and filed a statement of "religious sentiment" with local authorities in 1994. According to the Quaintances, the church has 40 or 50 members in Arizona and an unknown number across the country. The church's motto is: "With good thoughts, good words and good deeds, we honor marijuana; as the teacher, the provider, the protector."

The couple remains free on bond at their home near Pima, Arizona, while awaiting trial. They have stepped down as leaders of the church.

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8. Medical Marijuana: California's Booming Market Offers Substantial Tax Revenues, Report Finds

Medical marijuana is a billion dollar a year business in California, according to a new report, and the state's bottom line could improve dramatically if it were taxed like other herbal medicines. The report, "Revenue and Taxes from Oakland's Cannabis Economy," was prepared for that city's Measure Z Oversight Committee by California NORML head Dale Gieringer and and Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance board member Richard Lee.

While the report focused on Oakland, which has seen medical marijuana revenues and the taxes derived from them decline dramatically since the city tightened regulations on dispensaries in recent years, it also looked at state and federal data to attempt to draw a state-wide picture of the size of the therapeutic cannabis industry. According to the data, the state's medical marijuana patients are currently consuming somewhere between $870 million and $2 billion worth of weed a year. That would translate to somewhere between $70 million and $120 million in state sales tax revenues, the authors estimated.

But currently, the state treasury is receiving nowhere near that because many dispensaries do not pay sales taxes or keep financial records that could be used against them in a federal investigation. Other dispensaries and patient groups argue that nonprofit collectives and co-ops should be exempt from taxes.

The study estimated the number of California medical marijuana patients at between 150,000 and 350,000. There is no firm figure, because unlike many other medical marijuana states, there is no comprehensive, statewide registry of patients. Those patients each smoke about a pound of pot a year.

Medical marijuana patients account for about 10% of California marijuana users, the study found, suggesting that tax revenues from a legal recreational marijuana market would skyrocket into the low billions of dollars each year. The state is currently spending about $160 million a year to arrest, prosecute, and imprison marijuana offenders, and not collecting any tax revenue from recreational sales.

State officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens they represent. This report makes clear just how miserably California officials are shirking that responsibility.

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9. Drug Prohibition: Vermont Prosecutor Calls for "Peace Talks" in War on Drugs, Consideration of Public Health Approach

In an opinion piece published Thursday in the Rutland Herald and at least one other newspaper, Vermont's Windsor County States Attorney Robert Sand has called for "peace talks" in the war on drugs. Rather than declaring victory or defeat, "it's time to devise an intelligent exit strategy, one that includes consideration of a regulated public health approach to drugs instead of our current criminal justice model."

The current approach to drug policy, with its heavy reliance on law enforcement "may actually be counterproductive to public and personal safety," Sand wrote. Drug prohibition spawns three forms of violence, he noted -- structural violence (i.e. gun battles to resolve business disputes), acquisitive violence (i.e. drug addicts resorting to robbery to pay inflated black market prices for drugs), and to a much lesser extent, biopharmaceutical violence (i.e. people who get high and attack others).

According to Sand, any inquiry into drug policy must answer five critical questions:

  • If we are serious about addressing substance abuse, why do we treat addicts as criminals?
  • Given the addictive and dangerous nature of certain drugs, why do we allow criminals to control their distribution (criminals with a financial interest in finding new customers and keeping others addicted)?
  • Why reject a regulatory approach to drugs yet regulate alcohol and tobacco, two highly addictive and dangerous substances?
  • If a regulatory approach would increase health care costs, would those costs be more than offset by savings in the criminal justice system?
  • If our current approach is working, why have drug use, potency, arrest, and incarceration rates increased and not decreased as enforcement expenditures have gone up?

    Sand also suggested that a regulatory approach to currently illegal drugs could result in less drug use by adolescents, citing young people who say it is easier to obtain marijuana than alcohol. By moving away from prohibition to regulation, the "forbidden fruit" effect would also be reduced, Sand argued.

    Interest in changing drug policies should cross party lines, Sand suggested. "Drug policy reform should appeal to a broad political spectrum. Reform would allow us to treat addicts more compassionately and effectively. It would remove government from the private choices of adults. And it could result in substantial savings by reducing criminal justice and correctional expenditures. To suggest that proposing reform is tantamount to 'being soft on drugs' is to reduce a highly complex issue into a one-dimensional catch phrase. We can, and must, be more thoughtful than that."

    Lastly, Sand argued that change needs to occur at both the state and federal levels. Noting that the state, represented in Washington by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernard Sanders (I), and Rep. Peter Welch (D), has some pull in the new Congress, Sand urged the delegation to influence change in drug policy. "Even if Vermonters sought a bold and courageous new approach to drug policy," he noted, "the federal government might seek to stifle innovation. The states and the federal government must try to work in partnership on these issues."

    Local prosecutors are a stalwart of the war on drugs. Only a handful have ever spoken out against it. Let's hope Sand's stand unleashes a deluge of them.

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    10. Latin America: Colombian Senator Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

    A Colombian senator is calling for an urgent debate on alternatives to drug prohibition, and he isn't just any senator. Sen. Juan Manuel Galán, of the opposition Liberal Party, is the son of Luis Carlos Galán, who was weeks away from winning the Colombian presidency when he was gunned down by assassins from Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel in 1990.

    https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/juanmanuelgalan.jpg
    Juan Manuel Galán
    It is time for a congressional debate on drug legalization, Galán told the Associated Press in an interview December 28. "The current repressive approach against drug trafficking hasn't worked despite the huge amounts of blood we Colombians have shed," said Galán. "It's time to look at different options, together with other drug-production nations, as a way to break the back of the drug traffickers."

    Drug possession is already legal in Colombia under a Colombian Supreme Court ruling, but the growing of drug crops -- coca, opium poppies, and marijuana -- is illegal, as is the drug trade. The country has received more than $4 billion is US aid -- most of it military -- to defeat the drug trade, without making a significant impact on it. Despite a massive aerial herbicide spraying campaign aimed at eradicating the crop, the US government admits that the amount of land dedicated to the coca crop grew 26% this year.

    While other Colombian politicians have broached the topic before, Galán possesses a particular stature on the issue because of the high esteem in which Colombians hold his father. A foe of the cartels, Luis Carlos Galán was killed as part of a campaign by Escobar to terrorize the Colombian political establishment into blocking his extradition to the US. Escobar himself was killed in 1993, but by then, dozens of political figures, judges, police, and journalists had been killed by cartel assassins.

    Galán senior would approve of his son's position, Juan Manuel Galán said. "I think after two decades, seeing the violent impact of drug trafficking, he would not be closed to new ideas about how to deliver a final deathblow to the drug traffickers." While the United States is likely to oppose the discussion, Galán said, "Colombia has the moral authority to lead this debate at the international level. Two decades into the drug war we continue having illegal mafias that spread violence across the country, we continue having guerrillas, we continue having paramilitaries," said Galán. "And despite it all there's no real solution in sight to the problem."

    But President Alvaro Uribe's Conservative government is unalterably opposed to legalization, and Galán's own Liberal Party has so far failed to back his call for a congressional debate.

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    11. Latin America: Mexican Soldiers Occupy Tijuana in Fight Against Drug Trade

    More than 3,000 Mexican soldiers and federal police were dispatched to the border city of Tijuana this week to fight the drug trade, Mexican officials announced Tuesday. That same day, convoys containing several hundred police clad in body armor rolled into the city, the headquarters of one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, the Arrellano Felix cartel.

    The move into Tijuana, where more than 300 people were killed in drug prohibition-related violence last year, is the second tough strike against the cartels by new Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Last month, he sent more than 7,000 troops into the state of Michoacan to eradicate marijuana and opium poppy crops and move against traffickers located there.

    "The operations will allow us to reestablish the minimal security conditions in different points of Mexico so we can recover little by little our streets, our parks and our schools," President Calderon told the country in a New Year's message on Tuesday.

    "We will carry out all the necessary actions to retake every region of national territory," Mexican Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez Acuna said in a news conference the same day. "We will not allow any state to be a hostage of drug traffickers or organized crime."

    Ramirez Acuna added that the Tijuana force would include 2,620 soldiers, 162 marines, and 510 federal police. They will be equipped with 28 boats, 21 planes, and nine helicopters to attempt to squelch the booming cross-border trade in cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines. The soldiers and police will patrol the coast, man checkpoints, and hunt down wanted traffickers in teeming Tijuana, just across the US-Mexico border from San Diego.

    The federal intervention was welcomed by Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, who, under attack from city business interests, late last year announced that he was placing the entire municipal police force under investigation for drug-related corruption. Rhon told reporters in Tijuana this week he hoped the soldiers and federal police would work with city police -- presumably ones who have already been vetted -- who are establishing random checkpoints.

    "I hope this will make Tijuana a safer place," he said, while denying that the deployment means the city is being militarized.

    Like his predecessor, Vicente Fox, President Calderon is making a big show of going after the so-called cartels, whose internecine battles left around 2,000 people dead last year. But Fox's blows against the cartels, which eliminated part of their previous leadership, are what led to the bloody violence as the cartels jostled with each to readjust. Given the lucrative nature of the business and the insatiable appetite for illicit drugs north of the border, there is little evidence to suggest the outcome will be any different this time.

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    12. Europe: Support for Marijuana Legalization Low

    Only about one quarter of adults in Europe believe marijuana should be legal for personal use, according to a Eurobarometer poll conducted by the European Commission. In the survey of some 29,000 European Union residents, pollsters found 26% of adults EU-wide were ready to legalize the weed. The figure was highest in the Netherlands, where the sale of marijuana in coffeeshops is winked at by authorities, but even there, support for legalization was not a majority position, coming in at 49%.

    In a second tier of countries, support for legalization ranged between 30% and 40%, with approval hitting 40% in Spain, 32% in Britain and the Czech Republic, and 30% in Ireland. At the other end of the scale, in Romania, Sweden and Finland, less than 10% of respondents agreed that marijuana should be legalized. Among other European countries, support for legalization was 28% in Austria, France, and Italy, 27% in Portugal, 26% in Belgium, and 19% in Germany.

    Somewhat surprisingly, support for marijuana legalization is lower in Europe than in the United States. According to a year-old Gallup poll, 36% of American adults favored legalization, with that figure reaching 47% on the West Coast.

    According to the authors of the Eurobarometer, which included more than 40 questions on support for the European Union and attitudes toward various social issues, "The high level of opposition to the idea that the personal consumption of cannabis should be legalized throughout Europe provides further evidence that Europeans feel there is too much tolerance these days."

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    13. Weekly: This Week in History

    January 11, 1906: LSD inventor Dr. Albert Hofmann is born.

    January 9, 1923: US Labor Secretary Davis endorses the idea of a national campaign against the peril of habit-forming drugs.

    January 11, 1923: The New York Times publishes the article "Marihuana Is Newest Drug," and claims the State of New York has 50,000 drug addicts.

    January 5, 1985: Colombia extradites four drug traffickers to Miami. Within days, the US becomes aware of the Medellin cartel's "hit list" which includes embassy members, their families, US businessmen and journalists.

    January 8, 1990: General Manuel Noriega is convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering, and sentenced to 40 years in Federal prison.

    January 9, 1996: DEA agents in Miami arrest Jorge Luis Cabrera, a $20,000 donor to the Democratic Party who had attended a White House Christmas Party the year before. He was busted in possession of thousands of pounds of cocaine.

    January 7, 1997: The US House of Representatives votes 226-202 in favor of 25 changes to internal House rules, including requiring House members and their staffs to be tested for illegal drug use.

    January 5, 1998: In a speech given to his constituents, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) calls on his fellow politicians to dramatically increase federal anti-drug efforts. "Just say, now, what does it take to seal off the border?" Gingrich asks. "What does it take to go after drug dealers? What does it take, frankly, to raise the cost for drug users?" Gingrich urges Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to map a "World War II-style battle plan," to end drug use in America.

    January 8, 1998: Rep. Bobby Moak's (R-Lincoln County) Mississippi House Bill 196 proposes "The removal of a body part in lieu of other sentences imposed by the court for violations of the Controlled Substances Law."

    January 6, 1999: A lawsuit is filed in Paris accusing Fidel Castro of international drug trafficking.

    January 6, 2001: General Barry McCaffrey steps down from his post as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

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    14. Announcement: DRCNet RSS Feeds Now Available

    RSS feeds are the wave of the future -- and DRCNet now offers them! The latest Drug War Chronicle issue is now available using RSS at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/feed online.

    We have many other RSS feeds available as well, following about a hundred different drug policy subtopics that we began tracking since the relaunch of our web site this summer -- indexing not only Drug War Chronicle articles but also Speakeasy blog posts, event listings, outside news links and more -- and for our daily blog postings and the different subtracks of them. Visit our Site Map page to peruse the full set.

    Thank you for tuning in to DRCNet and drug policy reform!

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    15. Job Listing: Communications Associate, Justice Policy Institute, Washington, DC

    The Justice Policy Institute is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit research and public policy organizations dedicated to ending society’s reliance on incarceration and promoting effective and just solutions to social problems. JPI is located in Washington, DC and works with advocacy organizations, citizens and policymakers across the country to promote progressive criminal and juvenile justice reforms.

    The communications associate will assist the communications director in the development and implementation of all media and communications activities. Responsibilities will include developing and maintaining communication lists; writing and editing media materials including press releases and advisories, op-eds, letters to the editor, articles, brochures and promotional materials; pitching stories to media on behalf of JPI, allied organizations and projects; assisting in development of communications strategies for JPI and allied organizations; maintaining website and electronic newsletters; orchestrating media and publicity events; monitoring news on adult and juvenile justice issues; tracking and cataloging media hits; managing electronic newsletter; public speaking and presentations; other communications-related administrative tasks as assigned.

    Qualifications: including a demonstrated understanding of and commitment to JPI’s mission, issues and projects; a minimum of two years of experience in a related field, such as strategic or campaign communications, public relations, or other relevant non-profit or public sector experience; excellent written and oral communications skills; excellent interpersonal skills with diverse groups including advocates, media, nonprofit professionals, criminal justice systems players, and grassroots organizations; computer proficiency; web site design or maintenance skills. Experience as a trainer a plus; ability to travel and flexibility a must.

    Benefits provided. Competitive salary is commensurate with experience. Electronic submissions are encouraged. Applicants should send a letter of interest, resume, and writing sample (preferably a press release or article) to: [email protected] or Laura Jones, Communications Associate Search, Justice Policy Institute, 1003 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20001. Please review JPI's work at http://www.justicepolicy.org before applying. No phone calls accepted.

    People of color and individuals with direct experience of the criminal justice system strongly encouraged to apply. The Justice Policy Institute is an equal opportunity employer.

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    16. Announcement: New Format for the Reformer's Calendar

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    With the launch of our new web site, The Reformer's Calendar no longer appears as part of the Drug War Chronicle newsletter but is instead maintained as a section of our new web site:

    The Reformer's Calendar publishes events large and small of interest to drug policy reformers around the world. Whether it's a major international conference, a demonstration bringing together people from around the region or a forum at the local college, we want to know so we can let others know, too.

    But we need your help to keep the calendar current, so please make sure to contact us and don't assume that we already know about the event or that we'll hear about it from someone else, because that doesn't always happen.

    We look forward to apprising you of more new features of our new web site as they become available.

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    Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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