US federal drug prohibition began with the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914 -- close to a century ago. And yet the Taliban last year could earn a hundred million dollars from the opium trade, and there's not a single drug free high school in our country. When will the failed and not very noble experiment be ended, so we can start to clean up the mess it's left for us?
The AMA's med student branch, the Medical Student Section, overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting medical marijuana at the AMA national convention earlier this month. With the other large national med student group, the American Medical Student Association, already supporting it, it looks like therapeutic cannabis has a future in US medicine.
In a bid to defeat the iconic dope-dealer lurking in the schoolyard shadows, New Jersey was one of many states to pass a "drug-free school zone" law. Now, the state Assembly has passed a bill that will be the first step in undoing it.
Apply for an internship at DRCNet for this fall (or spring), and you could spend the semester fighting the good fight!
Drug War Chronicle is seeking information on serious police misconduct or misjudgments in the treatment of informants. Confidentiality will be protected.
An Ohio jailer, a Connecticut cop, and a pair of Florida deputies get busted, a Louisiana cop goes on trial, a Texas constable cops a plea, and so does a Texas US Border Patrol Agent.
Two weeks ago, we reported on the battle over Mendocino County's Measure B, which would rein in the county's liberal cultivation laws. Now the results are in: B won in a squeaker.
Some well-known Puerto Ricans are calling for the legalization, taxation, and regulate sale of marijuana in a bid to reduce the prison population and keep kids away from unsavory elements.
Hashish growers on the Greek island of Crete ambushed police on Sunday. They also did it last fall. Once again, a manhunt is underway. And once again, the Greek media is talking about "Greece's Colombia."
Coca grower unions in Bolivia's Chapare region have told USAID to get lost. They'll seek assistance from Venezuela's Hugo ChÃ¡vez instead, they said.
The US and European Union are threatening to stop helping Iran fight to stem the tide of Afghan opium and heroin -- heroin destined not only for the Islamic republics but also for the veins of users in places like Berlin and London. It's part of the high-wire pressure act aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear program.
The Taliban is profiting from prohibition. The Islamic insurgents made $100 million last year taxing poppy farmers, UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa said this week.
China celebrates Anti-Drug Day with more executions and death sentences, but there have been more of both elsewhere this month, too.
Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
"Nation's Mayors Take a Stand for Harm Reduction," "And the Winner of the War on Meth isâ¦Cocaine," "Our Drug War Alliances in South America Are Crumbling," "Trained Pigeons That Smuggle Drugs and Cell Phones Into Prison," "They're Drug Testing Our Sewage," "Don Imus: Critic of Racial Profiling?," "George Will's Weak Defense of Our Embarrassing Incarceration Rates," "Rising Coca Cultivation In Colombia Is Driving the UN Drug Czar Crazy."
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David Borden, Executive Director
How long does an experiment need to continue before it's declared a failure?
For alcohol prohibition, our US version, it was about 13 years. Between mafia crime, poisonings from adulterated beverages, and the dropping age at which people were becoming alcoholics, Americans decided that the "Noble Experiment" -- whether it should actually be regarded as noble or not -- was a bad idea. And they ended it. New York State did its part 75 years ago today, ratifying the 21st amendment to repeal the 18th amendment, bringing the Constitution one state closer to being restored. It took another half a year, until December 5th, to get the 36 states on the board that were needed at the time to get the job done. But Americans of the '30s recognized the failure of the prohibition experiment, and they took action by enacting legalization of alcohol.
Industrialist John D. Rockefeller described the evolution of his thinking that led to the recognition of prohibition's failure, in a famous 1932 letter:
"When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before."
In the context of today's leading prohibition -- the drug war -- it's important to realize that those other drugs were made illegal even before alcohol was. It was December 17th, 1914, when the Harrison Narcotics Act passed the US Congress -- ostensibly a regulatory law to synchronize America's system with a new one being adopted by countries around the world. But law enforcement interpreted it as prohibiting drugs -- coca and opium, and derivatives of them such as heroin and cocaine, were the ones in question then -- and law enforcement got its way.
Which means that drugs have been illegal for almost a century. And yet despite a century of prohibition -- a century of fighting opium -- the Taliban could somehow make a hundred million off of it last year, that's how much of it is still being used. Our addiction rate in the US is higher today than it is believed to have been at the turn of the 20th century, and while other things that have certainly changed that could affect drug use, if you're fighting a "drug war" to end drug use, if addiction goes in completely the opposite direction, then you have a problem. A recent example of things going in the completely opposite direction as intended is cocaine prices on the streets of our cities, which according to DEA data is about a fifth of what it was in 1980 when adjusting for inflation and purity. The goal of the eradication-interdiction-arrest-incarceration strategy is to raise prices, in order to discourage use. Oh, and the drugs have gotten worse too -- who had ever heard of crack cocaine before 1986 -- 72 years after passage of the Harrison Act?
Marijuana prohibition, enacted in 1937, is an even less successful experiment than opiate and cocaine prohibition. For the harder drugs one might say at least that some young people have trouble getting them, although that's really just the kids who aren't into drugs. But marijuana can be purchased by virtually any high school student in the country, at virtually any high school in the country, and generally from other students. When kids are dealing drugs to other kids, and that is happening EVERYWHERE, what is the result of the experiment? What is its conclusion? Is further research really necessary at that point?
No, it's not. The findings are on the drug prohibition experiment are conclusive -- it's a failure. And while many of the people waging the drug war believe it's noble, that belief is misguided -- with half a million people incarcerated in US jails and prisons for drug offenses, the prohibition experiment is anything but noble.
The day we legalize drugs is the day we can begin to clean up the mess that the drug prohibition experiment has created.
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The Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American Medical Association (AMA) overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution urging the AMA to support the reclassification of marijuana for medical use at the AMA's annual conference in Chicago earlier this month. The resolution will now go before the AMA House of Delegates for a final vote at its interim meeting in November.
After a lengthy series of whereases detailing scientific support for therapeutic uses of cannabis, the MSS resolved that:
- RESOLVED, That our AMA support reclassification of marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance into a more appropriate schedule; and be it further
- RESOLVED, That this resolution be forwarded to the House of Delegates at I-08.
Sunil Aggarwal and Tapoja Chaudhuri, Wrigley Building in Chicago, near conference site
With some 50,000 members, the MSS is the largest and most influential organization of medical students in the US. The other major medical student group in the county, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which split from the AMA in the heady days of the 1960s to pursue a more socially activist agenda, endorsed rescheduling marijuana in 1993
and added its own resolution endorsing clinical research on medical marijuana
in 1999. (AMSA claims 68,000 members, but also includes pre-med students.)
Those two organizations join a growing list of medical groupings supporting medical marijuana, including the AIDS Action Council, the Alaska Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the American Preventive Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the California Medical Association, the California Pharmacists Association, the Connecticut Nurses Association, Cure AIDS Now, the Florida Medical Association, the Los Angeles County AIDS Commission, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the National Association for Public Health Policy, the National Association of People with AIDS, the National Nurses Society on Addictions, the New England Journal of Medicine, the New Mexico Medical Society, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the San Francisco Medical Society, the Virginia Nurses Society on Addictions, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, and state nurses associations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to the medical marijuana education and advocacy group Patients Out of Time.
The most recent addition to that list was the American College of Physicians (ACP), which adopted a resolution called for rescheduling of marijuana and an expansion of research into its medical efficacy in February. With 124,000 members, the ACP is the country's second largest physician group, second only to the AMA.
But the AMA remains recalcitrant. Its most recent recommendation on medical marijuana, adopted in 2001, calls for further study, but urges that marijuana remain at Schedule 1 pending the outcome of those studies. The resolution passed by the MSS is designed to prod the organization forward.
The MSS may have some clout, but it can't do it alone, said Sunil Aggarwal, a University of Washington medical student who championed the resolution in Chicago. "If it's just us, we lose," he said. "Between now and November, we'll be trying to get different organizations within the AMA to stand with us. We'll be going after the state medical societies in all the medical marijuana states, and we'll be building alliances with groups that are our allies, like the ACP," he strategized. "We have to be careful, though. There are some forces that would like to quash us, like the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Even though they're a relatively new organization, everyone tends to defer to them on matters of addiction and substance abuse. If they say no, the AMA might get cold feet."
Medical marijuana advocates were pleased at the news. "This is a positive and necessary step in the right direction," said Dr. David Ostrow, a member of the AMA and Chair of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Board of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. "We are hopeful that the full house of delegates will follow the example set by the American College of Physicians earlier this year and vote to support this resolution, thereby placing the needs and safety of our patients above politics."
Whether the battle is won this year or not, Aggarwal and his colleagues are the wave of the future, he said. "The two organizations that represent medical students nationally have now both called for the reclassification of marijuana," he said. "We're the future doctors of America. These are the people who are going to be the leaders in American medicine, and now they are officially supporting medical marijuana," he said. "This is a big milestone."
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Like many other states, New Jersey adopted "drug-free school zone" laws in the 1980s in a bid to stop that iconic drug war menace, the dope peddler lurking in the schoolyard shadows trying to hook our kids on their fiendish wares. Now, in good measure because of its drug-free school zone law, which applies harsh mandatory minimum sentences to areas reaching far beyond any school's walls, the Garden State boasts the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of prisoners -- 35% -- behind bars for drug offenses.
Under current law, anyone convicted of selling drugs, or possessing drugs with the intent of selling them, within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of parks, libraries, museums, or public housing projects, faces a mandatory minimum jail sentence of three years and $15,000 in fines.
While the language of the law is color-blind, its effect has been racially pernicious. In the dense urban environment where the state's minority populations are concentrated, the law in effect turns huge swathes of the landscape into drug-free school zones and subjects most urban drug offenders to prosecution under that law. Nineteen out of every 20 people prosecuted under the law are black or brown.
In 2005, the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing issued a groundbreaking report on the law, with a supplemental publication released in 2007. The commission found that the zones were ineffective in reducing drug offenses within the designated areas, while at the same time disproportionately affecting minority communities through its "urban effect."
Pressure has been building to reform the law ever since. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New Jersey office, headed by Roseanne Scotti, has been prowling the corridors of the statehouse in Trenton seeking to build a winning strategy. DPA added further fuel to the flames earlier this year with its own report, "Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey." The report found that in addition to the approximately $331 million that New Jersey spends each year to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders, the state loses millions more in taxable income from the lost wages of those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.
Despite winning the support of Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, reformers could not gain passage of an earlier bill, which would have reformed the law by limiting the drug-free zones to 200 feet. But on Monday, the state Assembly took a big step toward reforming the drug-free school zone law, passing by a two-to-one margin a compromise bill that would restore a measure of judicial discretion in sentencing. Under the bill, A-2762, judges would be authorized to allow consideration of parole or probation on a case-by-case basis for some people convicted of distributing, dispensing, or possessing with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance while on or within a Drug Free School Zone. The following factors could be applied when weighing whether to apply a mandatory minimum sentence:
- The extent of the person's prior criminal record and the seriousness of the offense;
- Where the offense was committed in relation to the school property, including distance from the school or bus and the reasonable likelihood of exposing children to drug-related activities there;
- Whether school was in session at the time of the offense; and
- Whether children were present at or in the immediate vicinity of where the offense occurred.
Judges would be prohibited from waiving a mandatory minimum sentence if the offense occurred on school property or the defendant used or threatened violence, possessed a firearm, or resisted arrest during the commission of the offense.
Now, the bill heads for the Senate, which is unlikely to address it before fall. The bill's sponsors and supporters are urging the Senate to follow their lead.
"Our current Drug-Free School Zone law does not work," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), one of the bill's cosponsors. "The mandatory minimum sentencing the zones require has effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives. This is geographic discrimination at its most basic, and it is something to which I am adamantly opposed."
"Our insistence on mandatory minimums combined with the disparate geographic distribution of Drug-Free School Zones has created a situation in which 96% of the individuals imprisoned for dealing drugs within the zones are black or Hispanic," said cosponsor Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, in a statement made available to the Chronicle by his office. "When a policy so disproportionately affects a single group, we must take corrective action."
"Judges should have the discretion to craft fair and effective sentences and not waste taxpayer money," said DPA's Scotti. "It costs more than $46,000 a year to incarcerate someone in New Jersey. If someone doesn't deserve the additional penalty and if the additional penalty does nothing to improve public safety, mandating an additional penalty is just throwing taxpayer money down the drain. It damages the individual's ability to earn a living and become a productive member of society and it shrinks New Jersey's tax base. The bottom line is that New Jersey can't afford ineffective mandatory minimum sentences."
The state legislature is going on summer break soon, but Scotti said the push would be on in the Senate in the fall, and organized opposition is scarce. "There hasn't really been any," she said. "The prosecutors are for this, the state probation office is for this. The Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. There are some legislators who don't like it, but that seems to just be that old amorphous fear of being called soft on crime and drugs."
Maybe, just maybe, New Jersey is ready to make a break with the past. While the drug-free zones will still exist, at least judges would have the option of not sending all offenders to prison. That could be a start on shaving away at that $331 million annual prison bill. Now, it will be up to the Senate.
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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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Many of our readers know about the tragic case of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old in Tallahassee, Florida, who was killed by drug dealers after police coerced her into acting as an informant without having access to an attorney. Drug War Chronicle is currently looking for cases, reported or unreported, in which police appear to have committed misconduct or made serious misjudgments in their treatment of informants.
If you can help us find such cases, please email David Borden at [email protected]. We will keep your name and personal information confidential unless you tell us otherwise. If you are uncomfortable sending this information by email, feel free to contact us by phone instead; our office number is (202) 293-8340, and you can speak or leave a message with David Borden or David Guard. Thank you in advance for your help.
Further information on the informant issue, including the Rachel Hoffman case, can be found in our category archive here.
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An Ohio jailer, a Connecticut cop, and a pair of Florida deputies get busted, a Louisiana cop goes on trial, a Texas constable cops a plea, and so does a Texas US Border Patrol Agent. Let's get to it:
In Toledo, Ohio, a Lucas County corrections officer was arrested June 18 after authorities with a warrant searched his home and found cocaine, scales, baggies, and cash. Thomas Walker, 24, was charged with permitting drug abuse. The two-year veteran of the sheriff's department has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of his case.
In Waterbury, Connecticut, a Waterbury police officer was arrested Monday for allegedly warning a friend he was the target of a drug investigation. Officer Israel Lugo, 29, is charged with illegally disclosing information about a state police drug investigation that netted 20 pounds of marijuana. He allegedly used a police computer to check the license plate of a state police undercover car for a friend whose home was raided last week. The friend suspected he was being tailed by police and called Lugo for help.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, two Broward County sheriff's deputies were charged Monday with acting as guards for supposed drug loads in a federal sting. Deputy Richard Tauber, 37, was arrested last week and promptly agreed to snitch on his colleague, Deputy Kevin Frankle, 38. Tauber is accused of helping load a plane with what he thought were 50 kilos of cocaine, while Frankle stood watch. Bail was set at $60,000 for Tauber; Frankle was awaiting a Thursday bail hearing.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, a former Shreveport police officer went on trial this week for alleged drug-peddling. Former Officer Roderick Moore, 52, faces two counts of drug distribution. Moore's downhill slide began last August, when he was suspended from the force after a drunk driving arrest. Then, in November, he was arrested on the drug charges and fired. That bust went down after the Caddo-Shreveport Narcotics Task Force received information he was selling drugs. Moore faces one other drug charge -- a possession beef in Bossier Parish stemming from the November search of his home.
In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County constable pleaded guilty June 19 to selling drugs he stole from the evidence locker. Former Precinct 1 Constable Saul Ochoa copped to one federal count of distributing 10 pounds of marijuana. He may have made off with up to 175 pounds of marijuana stored under his control. According to evidence logs, 190 pounds should have been in storage, but federal investigators could only find 15 pounds the day they arrested Ochoa. Now, county authorities are trying to figure out how to handle drug cases where the evidence has gone missing.
In McAllen, Texas, a former Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying about his failure to document cocaine he seized. Juan Espinoza, 31, copped a plea to making false statements or entries after internal investigators found a duffel bag full of cocaine he had seized but not reported. Espinoza is free on bond pending a September 16 sentencing date. He faces up to five years in prison.
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Two weeks ago, we reported on the battle over Measure B in California's Mendocino County. At that time, 10 days after voters there went to the polls to weigh in on the bid to undo the county's groundbreaking Measure G, which allowed anyone to grow up to 25 marijuana plants, Measure B was leading by a margin of 52% to 48%, but more than a third of the votes had not been counted.
Well, now they have, and the results are the same: Measure B was approved by voters by a margin of 52% to 48%. Now, if the measure is found to be constitutional -- which is in doubt because of a recent California appellate court ruling -- only medical marijuana patients and caregivers can grow, and they can only grow six plants per patient.
Still, opponents of Measure B claimed a "moral victory," as Dale Gieringer of California NORML put it in a press release. "The final margin was so close that opponents would have won in a general election, where turnout is larger, younger, and more liberally inclined. Marijuana proponents intend to return to the county with more workable proposals for legally regulating the county's marijuana industry," Gieringer wrote.
Spurred in part by cultural opposition to marijuana, in part by worries over crime and quality of life issues associated with the county's $500 million a year (lowball figure) pot crop, and in part by complaints that local employers could not find workers because they were making more money in the pot trade, the initiative was expected to win convincingly. The measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, with support from the city councils of Willits and Ukiah, the district attorney, the county's leading newspaper and major media, and local development interests upset by the difficulty of paying competitive wages.
"Everything was stacked against us from the beginning," said No on B campaign director Laura Hamburg. But the No on B campaign managed to raise serious doubts about whether Measure B would have any impact on the large commercial grows that stoked much of the concern, turning the election into a horse race.
Look for a quick legal challenge to Measure B from the Mendocino activist community, which has already vowed to go back to voters with new measures aimed at taxing and regulating marijuana production and sales there.
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A former health secretary and an ex-university president are calling for the legalization of marijuana in Puerto Rico in a bid to reduce the prison population and prevent young people from being exposed to criminality. According to a report by the Associated Press late last week, their plan to tax marijuana sales, with proceeds going to drug treatment programs, is also supported by other former public officials and a medical doctor.
"The fight against drugs, using punishment, has not worked," said JosÃ© Manuel SaldaÃ±a, former president of the University of Puerto Rico. "This is a social reality." People should not go to jail for smoking pot, he added.
According to the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections, 24% of the island territory's 13,500 inmates are doing time for drug offenses. The department estimates that 80% of crimes are "drug-related." More than 21,000 minors under age 18 were arrested in "drug-related" incidents between 1990 and 2005, according to police statistics.
The proposal for marijuana legalization comes as part of a broader package that includes tougher penalties for drug traffickers. It comes as the island is getting ready to begin drug treatment programs aimed primarily at the abuse of heroin and crack cocaine.
SaldaÃ±a was joined by former Health Secretary Enrique VÃ¡zquez Quintana in pushing for legalization. They have been discussing the proposal with prison officials and legislators, he said.
But lawmakers have said they only want to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes -- if that. Corrections Secretary Miguel Pereira told the AP he favors drug treatment programs legalizing marijuana, but only for medicinal, not recreational, use. "It's a proposal that we should be open to discussing," he said.
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Three Greek police officers taking part in a raid on a hashish plantation were ambushed and shot by suspected growers armed with AK-47s Sunday night, leaving one officer in critical condition with a head wound. The attack took place in the village of Malades on the Greek island of Crete, about nine miles from Heraklion, the island's largest city.
Port of Heraklion, Crete
Sunday's shooting is the second serious attack by hash growers against police on the island in seven months. Last November, three police officers were shot and wounded when their convoy was headed to the village of Zoniana, just west of Heraklion. The Greek government responded with a massive police sweep and house-to-house searches. Police arrested 16 people in connection with the ambush and a series of bank robberies, but recovered few of the heavy weapons believed to have been used in that assault.
Crete has a longstanding tradition of gun-ownership, and weapons remain readily available despite police efforts to crack down. Marijuana growing is rife in remote mountain villages on the island. Marijuana growers and dealers routinely take pot-shots at police helicopters or vehicles patrolling their area, prompting the Greek media to refer to the region as a "Greek Colombia" and a "state within a state," according to Agence France-Presse. Local officials in Crete are often accused of protecting growers and traffickers, the agency noted.
As was the case after the Zoniana ambush, Greek police responded this week with another manhunt. Greek Police head Vassilis Tsiatouras ordered a contingent of police from Athens to the scene, including Greek SWAT teams, members of the criminology service, officers of the police drugs squad, and members of the homicide force. In all likelihood, their search will reach the same inconclusive results as before.
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Coca grower union leaders in Bolivia's Chapare region said Wednesday they will suspend development projects funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and instead look to Venezuela's President Hugo ChÃ¡vez for help. They accused USAID of using its assistance to undermine Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader who is an ally of ChÃ¡vez, Washington's bÃªte noire in Latin America.
Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle in person in March 2007
"We want USAID to go. If USAID leaves, we will have aid from Venezuela, which is unconditioned and in solidarity," Chapare coca leader Julio Salazar told the Associated Press
in a telephone interview.
Venezuela already provides financial assistance to Bolivia. ChÃ¡vez has also invested in the Andean nation's effort to create an industry around coca products, providing support in the building of coca-processing facilities.
Asterio Romero, vice president of Chapare's main coca-growing group, told the AP growers on Tuesday agreed to cancel the USAID's operations in the region and gave it until Thursday to leave.
The coca grower action has apparently taken both governments by surprise. The US Embassy in La Paz refused comment, saying it had not been officially informed of the coca growers' decision. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Tuesday he was not familiar with the decision, but that his government wants to make US aid "more transparent."
President Morales has accused USAID of financing his political opponents. Among them are wealthy landowners from the country's eastern provinces who are seeking greater autonomy or secession.
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With Afghan opium and the heroin made from it flooding into Europe, Iran is one of the first bulwarks in the effort to stem the tide. But now, the West is threatening to condition further anti-drug assistance on Tehran's compliance with its demands that the Islamic Republic halt uranium enrichment.
International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Iran and the West had quietly cooperated in efforts to block the trade from Afghanistan. United by a common loathing for the Sunni insurgents, Iran and the West were able to work together on this issue. But that is now in doubt.
The threat came in a package of incentives presented June 14 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, France, Britain, China, Russia) and Germany in a bid to get Tehran to change its nuclear policy. Iran has repeatedly said it will not stop enriching uranium, and now the European Union is considering wider sanctions, including ending cooperation with Iranian anti-drug efforts.
The package promised Iran "intensified cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking" from Afghanistan, but only if it first stops uranium enrichment. Tehran insists it has the right to use such technology and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.
Burdened with a 560-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Iran has deployed some 30,000 soldiers and police to fight opium and heroin smuggling from its neighbor. Some 3,500 of them have been killed in the past two decades. Last year, Iranian officials reported seizing 660 tons of opium, nearly three-quarters of the total seized worldwide. Despite such efforts and a draconian Iranian response to drug trafficking offenses -- the death penalty -- Iran suffers arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate.
But not all the opium and heroin smuggled across the Iranian border stays in Iran, and that had UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Antonio Maria Costa warning that Europe could be hit by a "heroin tsunami" if anti-drug aid is blocked. "We should definitely assist in this respect," he told the Associated Press this week. "Iran is a front-line country."
The UNODC's man in Tehran, Roberto Arbitrio, told the AP fighting the drug war should be seen as "a non-political area of mutual interest."
"Cooperating with Iran in Afghanistan on this and other issues is not a favor we do for Iran -- but something we need to do in our own interest," Barnett Rubin, perhaps the leading US academic expert on Afghanistan, told the AP.
"Fighting drug trafficking should not be politicized," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the top anti-drug official in Iran. "When narcotics reach Europe, it is the people, not governments, that suffer."
Such objections notwithstanding, however, drug interdiction has manifestly failed to reduce the supply, making the specter of increased drug abuse should aid be withheld an uncertain outcome.
Neither the White House and State Department nor the office of European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would comment on the linkage between continued anti-drug assistance and Tehran's compliance with Western demands.
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The Taliban made about $100 million last year by taxing Afghan farmers involved in growing opium poppies, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told BBC Radio. The money came from a 10% tax on farmers in Taliban-controlled areas, Costa said, adding that the Islamic insurgents profited from the illicit drug business in other ways as well.
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"One is protection to laboratories and the other is that the insurgents offer protection to cargo, moving opium across the border," Costa told the BBC's File on 4 program.
Taliban opium revenues could decline slightly this year, Costa said, suggesting that yields and revenues are likely to decrease due to drought, infestation and a poppy ban enforced in the north and east of Afghanistan. That would lower Taliban revenues, "but not enormously," he said.
But a smaller harvest this year is unlikely to cause any shortages or put a serious dent in Taliban opium trade revenues. For the past three or four years, Afghanistan has produced more than the estimated world annual consumption, Costa noted. "Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,800 tons of opium," he said. "The world in the past few years has consumed about 4,400 tons in opium, this leaves a surplus. It is stored somewhere and not with the farmers," he added.
The Taliban have put the funds to effective use, as evidenced by the insurgency's growing strength, especially in southeast Afghanistan -- precisely the area of most intense opium cultivation. More than 230 US and NATO troops were killed in fighting in Afghanistan last year, and 109 more have been killed so far this year. US Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser told reporters Tuesday Taliban attacks in the region were up 40% over the same period last year.
British officials interviewed by the BBC said it was incontrovertible that the Taliban was profiting off of the illegal trade created by prohibition. "The closer we look at it, the closer we see the insurgents [are] to the drugs trade," said David Belgrove, head of counter narcotics at the British embassy in Kabul. "We can say that a lot of their arms and ammunition are being funded directly by the drugs trade."
Which leaves NATO and the US stuck with that enduring Afghan dilemma: Leave the poppy trade alone and strengthen the Taliban by allowing it to raise hundreds of millions of dollars; or go after the poppies and the poppy trade and strengthen the Taliban by pushing hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers into their beckoning arms.
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The resort to the death penalty for drug offenses continues apace. And it is the usual suspects. Here's what's gone on so far this month, with a glimmer of potential good news from Vietnam. (All information below comes from the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain.)
June 9: Iran hanged a man convicted of drug trafficking in the northeastern province of North Khorasan, the Jomhouri Eslami newspaper reported. The unidentified man was executed in the prison of Bojnourd city for buying and trafficking four kilos of crystal methamphetamine.
June 10: The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, told reporters that no fewer than 60 Nigerian nationals face death sentences for drug offenses in Indonesia alone. The foreign minister had earlier pleaded with Indonesian authorities to commute a death sentence on one of his fellow citizens, but wondered how he could make the case for the others. "With over 60 Nigerians on the death row in Indonesia, how will the government be able to make a case for all of them?' he asked.
June 19: In a rare bit of good news on the death penalty front, Vietnam announced it is considering abolishing the ultimate sanction for 12 crimes, including smuggling and "organization of illegal drug use." Vietnam has sentenced dozens of people to death for drug offenses so far this year.
June 23: A Malaysian High Court sentenced a 59-year-old cook to death for trafficking 1.4 kilos of heroin in front of a hotel eight years ago. Tan Kok Tiong will go to the gallows, but his co-defendant got only 18 years. In Malaysia capital crimes include murder, rape, drug crimes, treason and possession of arms. Under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, a death sentence is mandatory for distributing drugs.
June 24: The Kuwaiti Supreme Court upheld a death sentence against a member of the royal family for drug trafficking. The royal, identified only as Sheikh Talal, was arrested along with two Lebanese, an Iraqi, a "stateless Arab" (Palestinian), and a Bangladeshi in April 2007 when police found 22 pounds of cocaine and 260 pounds of hashish. Three codefendants got life sentences, while two others got seven years each. Only one other member of the royal family has been sentenced to death -- for murder -- but that sentence was later commuted.
June 25: On the eve of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, courts in three Chinese cities executed three drug dealers and sentenced five more to death in a coordinated move designed to spotlight the country's tough approach to drug abuse. "As the number and scale of drug dealing cases have been increasing in recent years, the court has raised its strength to crack down," Zhang Zhijie, Deputy Chief Judge of the Second Intermediate People's Court of Shanghai Municipality, was quoted as saying by official Xinhua news agency. The Shanghai court handed down sentences in four drug trafficking cases on Monday, giving capital punishment in three of them. Two others were sentenced to death by the Intermediate People's Court at Shenzhen in Guangdong province which pronounced sentences in seven cases, it said.
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June 28, 1776: The first draft of the Declaration of Independence is written -- on Dutch hemp paper. A second draft, the version released on July 4, is also written on hemp paper. The final draft is copied from the second draft onto animal parchment.
June 30, 1906: Congress passes the "Pure Food and Drug Act."
July 1, 1930: The Porter Act establishes the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), an agency independent of the Department of the Treasury's Prohibition Unit and consequently unaffected by the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment. Harry J. Anslinger is named acting commissioner, a position he remains in for the next thirty years.
June 29, 1938: The Christian Century reports, "in some districts inhabited by Latino Americans, Filipinos, Spaniards, and Negroes, half the crimes are attributed to the marijuana craze."
July 1, 1973: The Drug Enforcement Administration is established by President Nixon, intended to be a "super-agency" capable of handling all aspects of the drug problem. DEA consolidates agents from BNDD, Customs, the CIA, and ODALE, and is headed by Myles Ambrose.
June 27, 1991: The Supreme Court upholds, in a 5-4 decision, a Michigan statute imposing a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of possession of more than 650 grams (about 1.5 pounds) of cocaine.
July 1, 1998: DEA Chief Thomas Constantine is quoted, "[In] my era everybody smoked and everybody drank and there was no drug use."
July 2, 1999: Robert Vorbeck, 38, is arrested for allegedly selling cocaine to undercover officers. Facing life in prison if convicted of felony drug charges, he commits suicide in his jail cell 11 days later. On July 10, 2001, the AP reports that his estate has been ordered to pay $750,000 to the Nassau County, New York district attorney's office. The ruling, part of a settlement in a civil forfeiture case, is the first in the state in which a prosecutor seeks assets from a dead person.
June 27, 2001: A Newsday article titled "Census: War on Drugs Hits Blacks," reports: Black men make up less than 3 percent of Connecticut's population but account for 47 percent of inmates in prisons, jails and halfway houses, 2000 census figures show.
July 1, 2001: Portugal introduces Europe's most liberal drug policy to date with the implementation of new laws establishing no criminal penalties for using and possessing small amounts of not only cannabis but also hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.
June 27, 2002: In Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the Supreme Court decides 6-3 to uphold the most sweeping drug-testing policy yet to come before the Court -- a testing requirement for any public school student seeking to take part in any extracurricular activity, the near-equivalent of a universal testing policy.
July 3, 2003: The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) announces the results of a California Latino voter poll: 65% oppose jailing young, first-time marijuana sellers, 85% oppose jail for marijuana possession, and 58% oppose jail for possession of "hard drugs."
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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! Check out the Speakeasy main page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy.
prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)
Since last issue:
Scott Morgan writes:
"Nation's Mayors Take a Stand for Harm Reduction," "And the Winner of the War on Meth isâ¦Cocaine," "Our Drug War Alliances in South America Are Crumbling," "Trained Pigeons That Smuggle Drugs and Cell Phones Into Prison," "They're Drug Testing Our Sewage," "Don Imus: Critic of Racial Profiling?," "George Will's Weak Defense of Our Embarrassing Incarceration Rates" and "Rising Coca Cultivation In Colombia Is Driving the UN Drug Czar Crazy."
David Guard posts numerous press releases, action alerts and other organizational announcements in the In the Trenches blog.
Please join us in the Reader Blogs too.
Again, http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and writing...
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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.
If your site is devoted to marijuana policy, you can run our topical archive, featuring links to every item we post to our site about marijuana -- Chronicle articles, blog posts, event listings, outside news links, more. The same for harm reduction, asset forfeiture, drug trade violence, needle exchange programs, Canada, ballot initiatives, roughly a hundred different topics we are now tracking on an ongoing basis. (Visit the Chronicle main page, right-hand column, to see the complete current list.)
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Click here to view a sample of what is available -- please note that the length, the look and other details of how it will appear on your site can be customized to match your needs and preferences.
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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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.
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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.
- Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org each day and you'll see a listing of upcoming events in the page's right-hand column with the number of days remaining until the next several events coming up and a link to more.
- Check our new online calendar section at to view all of them by month, week or a range of different views.
- We request and invite you to submit your event listings directly on our web site. Note that our new system allows you to post not only a short description as we currently do, but also the entire text of your announcement.
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.
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