Drug War Chronicle #505 - October 12, 2007

1. Feature: Canada's New Drug Strategy: Mandatory Minimums In, Harm Reduction Out

Canada's ruling Conservative Party has unveiled a US-style drug strategy with mandatory minimums and without harm reduction. It's not getting a friendly reception.

2. Europe: North Wales Top Cop Calls For Legalization, Regulation of Drugs

Another leading police official has called for an end to drug prohibition.

3. Prohibition: San Francisco Mayor Says Drug War an "Abject Failure," Sheriff Agrees

Mayor Gavin Newsom has criticized the nation's political leadership -- including his own party -- for continuing a drug war that causes crime and doesn't work.

4. More Web Site Success: Another Big Digg Hit Last Week Massively Increased Our Web Site Traffic

Massive increases to our web site traffic have increased our costs, and we need your help to pay for it.

5. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"The Drug Czar's Blog Accidentally Admits That Drug Laws Ruin Lives," "The Truth About Why Republican Candidates Oppose Medical Marijuana," "When The Drug Czar Says We're Winning The Drug War, It Means Nothing," "Mitt Romney's Horrible Encounter With a Medical Marijuana Patient," "McCain and Giuliani Say Terrible Things to a Medical Marijuana Patient."

6. Students: Intern at DRCNet and Help Stop the Drug War!

Apply for an internship at DRCNet for this fall (or spring), and you could spend the semester fighting the good fight!

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

This week, it's not individual cops, but entire drug squads gone bad, and, of course, the requisite drug-smuggling prison guard.

8. Drug Treatment: GAO Study Reveals Abuse Allegations, Deaths at Residential Treatment Programs

A stint in teen boot camp can prove infinitely more deadly than the original problems they purport to address.

9. Tobacco: California City Becomes First to Ban Smoking In One's Own Home

The northern California town of Belmont has enacted a partial indoor smoking ban affecting people in multi-home dwellings.

10. Southwest Asia: US Turns Up the Pressure to Spray Poppy Fields, Afghan Government Resists -- So Far

US drug warriors have long wanted to unleash herbicidal sprays as a weapon to put a dent in Afghanistan's burgeoning opium poppy crop, but the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai -- along with a number of NATO allies -- has staunchly resisted American entreaties. In the wake of the country's record-breaking opium harvest this year, however, the Americans are turning up the pressure, but so far to no avail.

11. Southeast Asia: Burmese Opium Production on the Rise

Poppy planting was up 29% the first half of this year, while opium production jumped by 46%, according to a new UN report.

12. Middle East: Lebanese Political Crisis Means Bumper Hash Crop

A Lebanese government paralyzed by political infighting and a Lebanese Army busy fighting with Islamic radicals have provided all the impetus necessary for farmers in the Bekaa Valley to return to their favorite cash crop.

13. Europe: Dutch to Ban Magic Mushroom Sales

Holland's ruling conservative government is trying to roll back tolerance policies.

14. 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. Feature: Canada's New Drug Strategy: Mandatory Minimums In, Harm Reduction Out

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last Thursday unveiled Canada's new National Anti-Drug Strategy, and it is in some ways a radical departure from what has generally been viewed as Canada's progressive approach to drug policy. While the previous Liberal government pondered marijuana decriminalization and embraced harm reduction -- at least in principle, if not always in practice -- such notions have no place in the Harper era.

The Conservative plan will provide $63.8 million over two years for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement, but will forego any harm reduction initiatives. About $22 million of the funding would go toward enforcement, while about $32 million would be directed to treatment and $10 million for prevention in the form of an awareness campaign. The plan is not getting a friendly reception so far from analysts, drug reformers, or opposition politicians.

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Harper and Clement with Winnipeg Salvation Army representative, announcing the drug strategy
Speaking at Salvation Army headquarters in Winnipeg, with Health Minister Tony Clement and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day at his side, Harper vowed to end Canada's "drug habit," fight its "drug culture," and set the country on the straight and narrow. "Tackling the problem of drug use is going to take all of us," said the Prime Minister. "Breaking Canada's drug habit will require a huge effort. But as of today our country is on the road to recovery."

The country will pursue a two-track policy, said Harper. "If you are addicted to drugs we'll help you and if you sell drugs we'll punish you."

It will be an uphill battle against a culture that "since the 1960s" has done little to discourage drug use and "often romanticized it -- romanticized it or made it cool, made it acceptable," Harper said. "As a father I don't say all these things blamelessly. My son is listening to my Beatles records and asking me what all these lyrics mean. It's just there, it's out there. I love these records and I'm not putting them away. But, that said, there's been a culture that has not fought drug use and that's what we're all up against."

The strategy involves the Department of Justice, Public Safety Canada, and Health Canada in a three-tiered plan to prevent drug use, treat those who are drug dependent, and go after drug production and trafficking. Like the much criticized youth anti-drug media campaign in the US, the Harper strategy envisions a focused public awareness campaign aimed at teens.

The strategy also promises mandatory minimum sentences for "serious" drug offenses, but Harper has so far refused to say what those sentences would be and for what offenses. There is considerable sentiment within the Conservative government to go after marijuana cultivators, but whether Harper wants to send them to prison on mandatory minimums will have to wait until the party introduces legislation later this year.

"Currently there are no minimum prison sentences for producing and trafficking dangerous drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine," Harper said. "But these are serious crimes; those who commit them should do serious time."

As for the Insite safe injection site, which his government grudgingly approved for another six months last week, Harper called it a "second-best strategy at best" and said he remains skeptical about it. "If you remain a drug addict, I don't care how much harm you reduce, you're going to have a short and miserable life," he said.

That stance brought immediate sharp retorts. The new strategy is "a huge step backward," said the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

"The federal government is ignoring widely published scientific evidence on the value of investing in harm reduction programs," said Richard Elliott, the group's executive director. "It seems clear that the new drug strategy is based on ideology instead of evidence, and from every angle -- human rights, public health, or use of taxpayers' dollars -- that's irresponsible and unacceptable."

Elliot ripped Harper for claiming that increased law enforcement is a harm reduction measure. "This is just smoke and mirrors," said Elliott. "The reality is that some people can't or won't stop using drugs. Harm reduction pragmatically and realistically acknowledges this fact by providing evidence-based programs and services to lessen the harms associated with drug use. Arresting and imprisoning people can't be considered harm reduction."

Thomas Kerr, a professor in the University of British Columbia's Department of Medicine who has studied Insite and its effect on the prevention of the spread of HIV-AIDS, joined Elliot in criticizing Harper over Insite. "The government continues to misrepresent the science around harm reduction. In the case of Insite we have shown that there has been a 33% increase in the rate of entry into detox programs," Kerr told the Toronto Globe & Mail. "In no way is the facility perpetuating addiction. In fact, it's helping people quit drug use."

The New Democratic Party was also quick to criticize the Harper drug strategy. "We need to combat the very real problem of youth gangs, violence and crack houses in our communities," said NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis. "But everyday Canadians know that simply criminalizing a public health problem is not the solution. We don't need more advertising -- we need to invest in harm reduction, education, treatment, and enforcement."

Vancouver East Member of Parliament and NDP drug policy critic Libby Davies also weighed in. "A heavy handed US style war-on-drugs only serves to create a culture of fear," said Davies. "This so called drug strategy fails to address the very real needs in our communities. Experts and average Canadians alike agree that we need to invest in real, long-term solutions to drug use and the problems that result from serious substance abuse."

Not everyone had unkind words for the Harper drug strategy. The Canadian Police Association expressed support for the government's get-tough approach to drugs. The organization has called for stronger legislation and a new system of graduated consequences to prevent and deter drug use. The group's president, Tony Cannavino, has called the government's promise to crack down on illegal drug use and dealers "a cornerstone, because a lot of violence is related to drugs."

It not just cops that are finding something to like in the Harper drug strategy. "We are grateful for the government's commitment to increased investment in addiction services," said Gail Czukar, Executive Vice President of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. "Addiction services are in critical need of increased support from government."

But even the center warned that the strategy ignored Canada's most severe drug problem: alcohol. "A comprehensive drug strategy should not ignore the harmful consequences of alcohol use," said Czukar.

The Canadian Medical Association also praised the strategy, calling it a "positive step forward" and a balanced approach. "The Canadian Medical Association welcomes the increased attention being paid by the federal government to the health-related aspects of illicit drug use and commends the increased resources allocated to treatment and prevention," said CMA President, Dr. Brian Day. "While the strategy is short on support for harm reduction strategies, it goes beyond the tradition focus of criminal sanctions and recognizes the importance of treating drug addiction as a health problem rather than just a criminal problem."

Still the CMA appears to have no problem with some criminal sanctions. "The CMA welcomes the government's intention to crack down on dealers and sellers while being more compassionate with those addicted to illegal drugs," Day said.

Now, the real battles will begin. Canada's strong harm reduction movement will fight hard for programs it sees as effective, Canada's opposition parties will use the drug strategy as a hammer with which to pound on Harper and the Conservatives, and Canada's progressives and civil libertarians will fight to block mandatory minimums and any other moves that threaten to turn Canadian drug policy into an echo of US-style drug war.

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2. Europe: North Wales Top Cop Calls For Legalization, Regulation of Drugs

The Chief Constable of the North Wales Police, Richard Brunstrom, called for the legalization and regulation of currently illicit drugs in a report he issued this week in response to the national government's ongoing drug strategy consultation. Drug prohibition is "unworkable and immoral," he said.

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Richard Brunstrom
Brunstrom's report, "Drugs Policy -- A radical look ahead?," calls on the North Wales Police Authority to adopt his prescription for legalization, as well as recommending that the Police Authority affiliate with the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a leading British drug reform organization. The Police Authority will meet next week to discuss the findings and recommendations.

"If the UK really wants a radical, evidence based strategy then the current 'war on drugs' policy… should be replaced, and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 should be repealed and replaced by a new 'Substance Misuse Act' based upon the legalization and careful regulation of all substances of abuse in one consistent manner," Brunstom bluntly concluded. "This new Act will have at its core a philosophy of objectively assessed harm assessment and reduction."

"We are absolutely delighted at Mr. Brunstrom's paper," said Transform's Danny Kushlick. "The Chief Constable has displayed great leadership and imagination in very publicly calling for a drug policy that replaces the evident failings of prohibition with a legal system of regulation and control for potentially dangerous drugs," Kushlick continued.

"The current government consultation on the drug strategy has inexplicably ruled out any discussion of alternatives to prohibition, despite the policy's systematic failure over a number of decades," said Kushlick. "Mr. Brunstrom's paper puts these pragmatic alternatives firmly back on the table, where they should be, if a meaningful debate about 'what works' is to be entertained. It is to be hoped that the Police Authority support the Chief Constable's recommendations and that other Police Authorities seriously examine the impact of enforcing prohibition. It signals the start of a renewed critique of prohibition, which Mr. Brunstrom's paper describes as 'both unworkable and immoral' and should force the Home Office and indeed Government to take the issue far more seriously than it has until now. An enormous amount of respect is due to the Chief Constable for supporting a 'pragmatic and ethical' policy, despite its taboo nature in front line party politics. Those that denounce him should be wary of relying on what Mr. Brunstrom calls 'moralistic dogma,'" Kushlick warned.

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3. Prohibition: San Francisco Mayor Says Drug War an "Abject Failure," Sheriff Agrees

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has harshly criticized current drug policies, calling them unworkable and counterproductive. The crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment instead of arresting and jailing people, he said. Newsom's remarks came last Thursday as he addressed reporters at city hall.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/gavin-newsom.jpg
Gavin Newsom
"If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs," he said. "You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs."

Local jails are stuffed with people arrested for drug offenses, leaving little room for violent criminals, Newsom said. As a result, dangerous offenders are cut loose.

That's right, said Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who said between 60% and 75% of San Francisco jail inmates are there for drug offenses or because of substance abuse problems. "No, the war on drugs is not working. The war on drugs is not working because we are relying on law enforcement instead of on treatment," Hennessey said.

Newsom told reporters that politicians lack the guts to take on the failures of current drug policy. "It's laughable that anyone could look at themselves with a straight face and say 'Oh, we're really succeeding.' I mean it's comedy. And as I say, shame on my party, the Democratic Party, because they don't have the courage of their private thoughts, because we don't want to appear weak on this topic," Newsom said.

Newsom said that politicizing drug policy prevents real discussion about how to deal with drug use and abuse. "End this war on drugs," he said. "Now, that is an attack ad by any politician, what I just said, they would be desperate to find that tape of what I just said," Newsom said.

But Newsom was also quick to point out that he wasn't calling for blanket drug legalization. "I'm not saying that," he said. "I'm saying get real about it," he explained. "So what does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things. It means this war on drugs is an abject failure."

A representative of the San Francisco Police Officers Association begged to differ. "I don't think that you give in to a problem by just acquiescing," said Gary Delagnes. "I think that there does have to be control and I don't think legalizing drugs is the answer," he said.

But Delagnes also made it clear that he and his fellow officers can't see the forest for the trees. "When we see the homicides in San Francisco, I mean this all centers around drugs," Delagnes continued. "This is gangs and drug violence, this is money. It's all about money all the time."

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4. More Web Site Success: Another Big Digg Hit Last Week Massively Increased Our Web Site Traffic

DRCNet blogger Scott Morgan has again made it to the front page of the popular web site Digg, with McCain and Giuliani Say Terrible Things to a Medical Marijuana Patient, nearly 38,000 reads so far and counting. Thanks to support provided by members like you over the last several weeks, our server was ready to handle the traffic.

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Please visit our site if you haven't in awhile -- you'll find a professionally redesigned site, daily blog posts, mainstream news links, an "activist feed" of bulletins from other organizations, and of course the weekly Drug War Chronicle and many other interesting items. With your continued support we will take the message about ending prohibition to more and more people in more and more ways this year and next!

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5. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet has since late summer also been providing daily content in the way of blogging in the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy -- huge numbers of people have been reading it recently -- as well as Latest News links (upper right-hand corner of most web pages), event listings (lower right-hand corner) and other info. Check out DRCNet every day to stay on top of the drug reform game!

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dc-beer-raid-small.jpg
prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "The Drug Czar's Blog Accidentally Admits That Drug Laws Ruin Lives," "The Truth About Why Republican Candidates Oppose Medical Marijuana," "When The Drug Czar Says We're Winning The Drug War, It Means Nothing," "Mitt Romney's Horrible Encounter With a Medical Marijuana Patient," "McCain and Giuliani Say Terrible Things to a Medical Marijuana Patient."

David Guard posts numerous press releases, action alerts and other organizational announcements in the In the Trenches blog. And please join us in the Reader Blogs too.

Thanks for reading, and writing...

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6. Students: Intern at DRCNet and Help Stop the Drug War!

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a DRCNet internship for this fall semester (or spring) and you could come join the team and help us fight the fight!

DRCNet (also known as "Stop the Drug War") has a strong record of providing substantive work experience to our interns -- you won't spend the summer doing filing or running errands, you will play an integral role in one or more of our exciting programs. Options for work you can do with us include coalition outreach as part of the campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, and to expand that effort to encompass other bad drug laws like the similar provisions in welfare and public housing law; blogosphere/web outreach; media research and outreach; web site work (research, writing, technical); possibly other areas. If you are chosen for an internship, we will strive to match your interests and abilities to whichever area is the best fit for you.

While our internships are unpaid, we will reimburse you for metro fare, and DRCNet is a fun and rewarding place to work. To apply, please send your resume to David Guard at [email protected], and feel free to contact us at (202) 293-8340. We hope to hear from you! Check out our web site at http://stopthedrugwar.org to learn more about our organization.

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

This week, it's not individual cops, but entire drug squads gone bad, and, of course, the requisite drug-smuggling prison guard. Let's get to it:

In New Haven, Connecticut, two former members of New Haven's disbanded drug squad pleaded guilty in federal court last Friday to civil rights violations for a 2006 drug raid where they planted drugs in a man's room. Detective Jose Silva faces up to a year in prison for his plea to a misdemeanor civil rights count, while former Detective Justen Kasperzyk faces 18 to 24 months in prison after pleading to one felony civil rights count and one misdemeanor charge of theft of government funds. The theft charge was in relation to a separate drug raid where Kasperzyk pocketed $1,000 in seized funds, then gave half to Silva. This is only the latest act in a long-running corruption probe that resulted in the New Haven drug squad being disbanded a few months ago, and there is more to come. US Attorney Kevin O'Connor said outside the courthouse that the investigation was "active" and "ongoing."

In Chicago, the Chicago Police Department will disband its elite drug and gangs unit in the face of repeated scandals and ongoing state and federal investigations into misconduct ranging from armed violence and home invasions to kidnapping and plotting a murder for hire. At least seven members of the Special Operations Section have been charged with belonging to a rogue band of officers who shook down and intimidated citizens. Three members of the unit were stripped of their badges last month after videotape of a raid on a bar showed that they lied when they reported arresting a man for cocaine possession outside the bar. Police said they arrested the man for drinking in the street, then found cocaine when they searched him. But video from the bar showed more than two dozen SOS members raiding the bar and searching everyone inside. The video also showed them arresting the man inside the bar. The disbanding of SOS comes as the Chicago Police Department is awash in scandals, ranging from the videotaped beating of a female bartender by a drunk Chicago cop to recent revelations about police torture of black suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Aiken, South Carolina, the Aiken County Sheriff's Department drug squad has been fired. Lt. Jonathon Owenby, 30, of Aiken; and investigators James Crowell, 33, of North Augusta; Tim Roberts, 29, of Aiken; and Luke Williamson, 34, of North Augusta are all out of a job and facing criminal investigations after Sheriff Michael Hunt fired them on October 2. Hunt said they got the axe for using unmarked, county-owned cars to go bar-hopping last month. According to Hunt, at least one woman performed a sex act on the officers as they rode around. He has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate whether the officers misused government money, improperly destroyed evidence or committed other misconduct.

In Acadia Parish, Louisiana, a parish jail guard was arrested Sunday for smuggling drugs into the jail. John Herbert, 51, is charged with the intent to distribute marijuana. An inmate and his relative also got nailed in the scheme.

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8. Drug Treatment: GAO Study Reveals Abuse Allegations, Deaths at Residential Treatment Programs

The first federal look at "boot camps," wilderness programs, and similar programs aimed at troubled youth, including those sent away because of drug use, has found widespread allegations of abuse at such facilities. The Government Accountability Office study released Wednesday also examined 10 cases where teens died in those programs.

According to the study, in 2005 alone, 1,619 allegations of abuse were made against such residential treatment facilities. "GAO could not identify a more concrete number of allegations because it could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects comprehensive nationwide data," the report noted.

The privately operated programs may or may not be subject to state regulation, depending on the state. There are no federal rules governing residential facilities for youth, something Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, may be preparing to change, but not quite yet.

"This nightmare has remained an open secret for years," Miller said in a statement. "Congress must act, and it must act swiftly." He has sponsored a bill designed to encourage states to enact regulations.

The GAO examined 10 cases between 1990 and 2004 where teens died at those facilities. Three of the victims were placed in the facilities by their parents because of their drug use.

In one case, a 16-year-old girl was sent to wilderness survival school because of depression and her parent's fears about her drug use. Her parents paid $25,000 to the facility operators, and $4,000 more to a "transportation service" who dragged her from her bed at 4am and deposited her in the middle of a hike in the Utah desert. The girl died three days later of heatstroke.

In the second drug treatment-related fatality, a 16-year-old boy was sent to a wilderness survival school because of his parents' concern about "minor drug use, academic underachievement, and association with a new peer group that was having a negative impact on him." He died of a perforated ulcer 31 days into the 90-day, $18,000 program after program staff ignored his repeated collapses and pleas for help.

In the third case, a 15-year-girl placed in a wilderness program because of a history of drug use and mental problems died of dehydration and heat exhaustion before her parents even made it back home. When they arrived upon their return from dropping off their daughter, a phone message from the facility awaited them. There had been an accident, the message said. But instead, the girl died after repeatedly collapsing on a strenuous hike.

Each year thousands of teenagers are referred for drug treatment, even after being caught once smoking marijuana. The drug czar uses teen drug treatment figures to argue that marijuana is a serious problem, but doesn't mention that most teens "seeking" treatment for marijuana are ordered there by courts or schools. Nor does he mention that when it comes to treatment facilities like those examined by the GAO, the cure can be infinitely worse than the disease.

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9. Tobacco: California City Becomes First to Ban Smoking In One's Own Home

Belmont, California, located between San Francisco and San Jose, has become the first jurisdiction in the United States to bar some homeowners from smoking in their own domiciles. While states and localities across the country have steadily imposed ever-tighter restrictions on smokers, the action taken by the Belmont city council marks the escalation of anti-smoking fervor to a new level.

On Tuesday night, the council adopted an ordinance that declares second-hand smoke to be a public nuisance and extends the city's current smoking ban to include multi-story, multi-unit residences. Belmont and some other California cities already ban smoking in multi-residence common areas, but now the ban will be extended to residences that share a common floor or ceiling with other units.

Homeowners or renters will be allowed to smoke on their own property only in single-family homes and their yards. Dwellers in multi-residence buildings will only be able to smoke in "designated outdoor" areas of their complexes.

The new Belmont apartment-smoking ban will not take effect for 14 months, so that one-year lease agreements will not be affected. But the rest of the ordinance goes into effect in 10 days. It also bans smoking in indoor or outdoor workplaces, and in parks, stadiums, sports fields, trails, and outdoor shopping areas. Smoking on streets and sidewalks will be permitted, as long as it is not at a city-sponsored event or close to prohibited areas.

City officials said enforcement of the smoking ban will be complaint-driven.

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10. Southwest Asia: US Turns Up the Pressure to Spray Poppy Fields, Afghan Government Resists -- So Far

US drug warriors have long wanted to unleash herbicidal sprays as a weapon to put a dent in Afghanistan's burgeoning opium poppy crop, but the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai -- along with a number of NATO allies -- has staunchly resisted American entreaties. In the wake of the country's record-breaking opium harvest this year, however, the Americans are turning up the pressure, but so far to no avail.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Afghanistan produced 93% of the global opium supply this year, and is increasingly exporting refined heroin as well as raw opium, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. While the Afghan government has undertaken manual eradication campaigns, they have been of limited effectiveness, reaching less than 10% of the crop this year.

For the Americans, eradicating the poppy crop is a key goal in Afghanistan, not only for traditional drug policy reasons, but also because some of the profits from the crop, estimated at $3 billion this year, end up financing the Taliban insurgency via taxes the rebels impose on farmers and merchants.

But for the Karzai administration, as well as some NATO countries with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and some surprising elements of the US government including the Pentagon and the CIA, a massive aerial eradication campaign runs the risk of destabilizing the Afghan government by alienating farmers and pushing them into the waiting arms of the Taliban. The Afghan government has also raised health and environmental concerns about the widespread use of chemical herbicides, particularly glyphosate, or Roundup, which is the poison the Americans are pushing.

For at least two years, a cavalcade of top American officials, including President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, and drug czar John Walters, have met with Karzai to try to convince him to change his stance -- to no avail. In April of this year, the Bush administration named William Wood the new ambassador to Kabul, fresh off a four-year stint as ambassador to Colombia, scene of the largest US-backed aerial eradication campaign against a drug crop. In August, US officials began turning up the heat.

"Aerial eradication is undoubtedly the most effective way," Thomas Schweich, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told a news conference in Kabul in August. "You go in, you get large blocks of land in a very short period of time. You do it with minimal loss of life, since you don't have to fight your way in and you don't have to fight your way out. You don't ever negotiate with anybody," he said.

"We are working to convince the key ministers and President Karzai to accept this strategy," a US official "who asked not to be identified because of the issue's political sensitivity" told the New York Times this week. "We want to convince them to show some power. The government has to show its power in the remote provinces."

This weekend, State Department officials took the unusual step of sending one of its top crop-eradication experts to Kabul to attempt to persuade the Afghan government that glyphosate is safe. The expert, Charles Helling, a senior scientific adviser to the department's bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, met with Afghan officials who have publicly opposed the use of herbicides to wipe out the poppy crop.

"He is here to explain what it is and how it works. He is here to discuss the science of glyphosate, not to persuade anyone they should be spraying from planes or anything," an unnamed embassy official told Reuters. But the implication was clear: Glyphosate is safe and should be adopted by the Afghan government.

But as of this week, the Afghans weren't buying. "We have rejected the spraying of poppy in Afghanistan for good reasons: the effect on the environment, other smaller crops and on human genetics," the acting minister for counter-narcotics, General Khodaidad, told the
Guardian
Tuesday. "It was a very friendly discussion, but it is difficult to change our mind," he added. "We listened to their experts and they listened to our experts and they eventually accepted our position would not change. Our responsibility is to the people of Afghanistan."

Still, the pressure is on. There are hints the Karzai government may seek to alleviate some of it by okaying a limited ground spraying project this coming spring, but so far the Afghans are standing firm.

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11. Southeast Asia: Burmese Opium Production on the Rise

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production is rising dramatically in Burma, now known officially as Myanmar. Poppy planting was up 29%the first half of this year, while opium production jumped by 46%, according to a UNODC report on opium cultivation in Southeast Asia.

Along with Laos and Thailand, Burma made up Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle of opium production, at one time a major source of opium on the global market. But Thailand has been almost opium free for 20 years, and Laos has reduced opium production by 94% in less than a decade.

While hailing the end of the Golden Triangle as a major opium producing area, UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa called the situation in Burma "extremely alarming." The increases this year, he noted, make Burma the world's number two opium supplier behind Afghanistan, which dominates the trade with more than 90% of global supply.

The report found that opium production in Burma is concentrated almost entirely in two areas of the country, the South and East Shan States. The Shan States are also producing methamphetamine, Costa noted.

Costa called for strengthening controls over precursor chemicals, more forceful anti-corruption measures, and alternative development schemes for farmers.

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12. Middle East: Lebanese Political Crisis Means Bumper Hash Crop

A Lebanese government paralyzed by political infighting and a Lebanese Army busy fighting with Islamic radicals have provided all the impetus necessary for farmers in the Bekaa Valley to return to their favorite cash crop: cannabis. According to Agence France Press, the valley is on track to produce its largest cannabis crop since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990.

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Persian smoking hashish (from DrugLibrary.org)
Most Lebanese cannabis is processed into hashish. It then heads for markets in Europe and the region, including Israel. Last summer, during Israel's month-long war with Hezbollah, Israeli activists called for a boycott of Lebanese hash.

But with the Lebanese government embroiled in a power struggle with Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army busy much of this spring and summer fighting to drive Islamic radicals from a Palestinian refugee camp, the Lebanese government has been unable or unwilling to crack down on hash farmers as it has in recent years.

The farmers are happy. "This has really been an exceptional year," one farmer told AFP as he surveyed his crop near a village high in the Bekaa Valley. "If the state leaves us in peace for the next three years, our agricultural crisis will be over and we should be out of the woods," he added.

The Bekaa Valley is a poor, largely Shiite region dominated by Hezbollah. It also has a long tradition of smuggling and militancy.

During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), Bekaa farmers and drug traders made about $500 million a year off hash, but under pressure from the US, a reconstituted Lebanese government took military action against farmers after the civil war, while at the same time it and the United Nations promised to assist them in developing alternative livelihoods. The farmer and his colleagues said they know they are breaking the law, but the government and the UN have failed to live up to their vows since the early 1990s.

"People are fed up and are desperate because of the bad economic situation," said the farmer, whose family has been growing cannabis for half a century. "The entire region is suffering and hashish makes for easy money."

Indeed. Hash sells for between $1000 and $1500 a pound at local markets, depending on quality. This year's crop is estimated to be worth $225 million, less than the peak years during the civil war, but far more than any year since.

Lieutenant Colonel Adel Machmouchi, head of Lebanon's Drug Enforcement Bureau, told AFP his agency had been unable to eradicate crops this summer for security reasons. "We targeted eight sectors in the Bekaa and Hermel region, but the army could not fully ensure the security of my agents in light of its battles with the Islamists at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp," he said.

Machmouchi also complained that farmers from whom his agents planned to rent tractors to mow down the crops reneged at the last minute, saying they had received threats. Machmouchi's men ran into more than threats when they finally found tractors, he said.

"We had managed to find two tractors from the southern Bekaa region and as we were eradicating the hashish they started shooting at us and we were forced to pull back," he said. "We wanted to go back the next day but we knew that they were waiting for us and we didn't want the situation to escalate so we dropped it."

The government can threaten farmers with long prison sentences, but as long as the central government fails to respond to farmers' requests for development assistance, they will resort to growing cannabis, said Jihad Sakr, head of social services for the neighboring Hermel region. "People need to send their kids to school, they need medical care, they need to eat and they are desperate," he said. "So it's all nice and dandy to make them promises, but if they don't give them any subsidies they have no other option."

The UN, for its part, told AFP it was currently working on an alternative development scheme for farmers in Hermel and the Bekaa. Ironically, the plan is for farmers to grow hemp. "We are in the process of setting up the program and hope to implement it on the ground by next year," said Edgar Chehab, head of the energy and environment division at the United Nations Development Program.

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13. Europe: Dutch to Ban Magic Mushroom Sales

Dutch Health Minister Ab Klink is on the verge of announcing a ban on magic mushroom sales, the newspaper AD reported Wednesday. According to the newspaper, a final decision should come by week's end.

Under current Dutch law, the sale of dried mushrooms is illegal, but fresh mushrooms may be sold and purchased. They are widely available at "smart shops" across the country.

Pressure has been mounting for a ban since a photogenic young French tourist died under the influence of magic mushrooms earlier this year. There have been a handful of widely publicized other incidents involving foreign tourists taking mushrooms. According to Amsterdam health service figures, paramedics responded to 128 calls from people tripping on 'shrooms last year.

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

October 14, 1970: President Nixon spearheads the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), legislation establishing today's "schedules" as a means of classifying drugs strictly by their medical value and potential for abuse.

October 12, 1984: The Comprehensive Crime Control Act becomes law, establishing federal "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines allowing judges no discretion in handing down prison terms. Over the next two years drug sentences increase by 71% nationwide.

October 15, 1986: Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard testifies before the Kerry Committee that he had attended a meeting with 20 to 25 officials and that the DEA did not want to provide any of the information the committee had requested on the Contra involvement in drug trafficking.

October 13, 1999: In a series of raids named "Operation Millennium," law enforcement in Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador arrest 31 persons for drug trafficking, including Colombian cartel leader Fabio Ochoa. Ochoa is indicted in a Ft. Lauderdale court for importing cocaine into the US, which requests his extradition in December 1999.

October 13, 1999: Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson is quoted by the Boston Globe: "Make drugs a controlled substance like alcohol. Legalize it, control it, regulate it, tax it. If you legalize it, we might actually have a healthier society."

October 17, 2002: Florida Governor Jeb Bush's daughter is sentenced to 10 days in jail and led away in handcuffs after being accused of having crack cocaine in her shoe while in drug rehab. In a statement, the governor says he realizes his daughter must face the consequences of her actions.

October 14, 2003: Supreme Court justices reject the Clinton administration's request, continued by the Bush administration, to consider whether the federal government can punish doctors for recommending or even discussing the use of marijuana for their patients. The decision by the High Court clears the way for state laws allowing ill patients to smoke marijuana if a doctor recommends it.

October 14, 2003: At Emory University Law School former President Jimmy Carter says, "All three of my boys smoked pot. I knew it. But I also knew if one was caught he would never go to prison. But if any of my [black] neighbors got caught, they would go to prison for ten, twelve years. No law school has had the temerity to look at what is fundamentally wrong with our legal system, which discriminates against the poor."

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15. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

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16. Webmasters: Help the Movement by Running DRCNet Syndication Feeds on Your Web Site!

Are you a fan of DRCNet, and do you have a web site you'd like to use to spread the word more forcefully than a single link to our site can achieve? We are pleased to announce that DRCNet content syndication feeds are now available. Whether your readers' interest is in-depth reporting as in Drug War Chronicle, the ongoing commentary in our blogs, or info on specific drug war subtopics, we are now able to provide customizable code for you to paste into appropriate spots on your blog or web site to run automatically updating links to DRCNet educational content.

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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Contact us for assistance or to let us know what you are running and where. And thank you in advance for your support.

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17. Resource: DRCNet Web Site Offers Wide Array of RSS Feeds for Your Reader

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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18. Resource: Reformer's Calendar Accessible Through DRCNet Web Site

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DRCNet's Reformer's Calendar is a tool you can use to let the world know about your events, and find out what is going on in your area in the issue. This resource used to run in our newsletter each week, but now is available from the right hand column of most of the pages on our 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.

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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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