Drug War Chronicle #592 - July 3, 2009

Will Foster case makes John Stossel's blog -- via Drug War Chronicle!

1. Feature: US Gives Up on Eradicating Afghan Opium Poppies, Will Target Traffickers Instead

Faced with a growing Taliban insurgency fueled by opium and heroin profits and inflamed by the destruction of farmers' fields, the US last weekend announced a dramatic shift in its Afghan anti-drug strategy. The US will abandon what has been a pillar of its anti-drug strategy worldwide: eradication.

2. Feature: Marijuana Legalization Legislation in the Works in Portugal

Portugal has been getting good press over its decriminalization approach to drug use, including from unexpected places like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Now, some Portuguese lawmakers are ready to take the next step. A bill to legalize the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana is being prepared.

3. Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda," by Gretchen Peters (2009, Thomas Dunne Press, 300 pp., $25.95 HB)

With US and NATO policies for dealing with the Afghan poppy group undergoing quite radical shifts -- giving up on eradication, treating traffickers as terrorists -- Gretchen Peters' exposé of the links between the traffic in prohibited drugs and the Taliban and Al Qaeda couldn't be more timely or more informative.

4. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we need your feedback to evaluate our work and make the case for Drug War Chronicle to funders. We need donations too.

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

It's been a relatively quiet week on the corrupt cops front, with just two stories, but one of them is a real doozy.

6. The Border: Obama Administration Could Deploy Up to 1,500 National Guard Troops in Bid to Increase Anti-Drug Efforts

Here comes the National Guard! The Obama administration is planning to send 1,500 National Guard troops to the Mexican border to support drug war law enforcement there.

7. Latin America: Obama Administration Declines to Restore Bolivian Trade Preferences, Cites Government's Acceptance of Coca Production

Relations between Bolivia and the US just got a little rockier as the Obama administration declined to restore trade preferences, citing Bolivia's "encouragement" of coca cultivation, and Bolivian President Morales responded with hard words.

8. Marijuana: Rhode Island Senate Okays Commission to Explore Marijuana Prohibition, Legalization, and Decriminalization

Thanks to last minute action by the state Senate, Rhode Island will create a commission to explore all aspects of marijuana prohibition, decriminalization, and legalization. It will issue a report seven months from now. And Gov. Carcieri can't veto it.

9. Industrial Hemp: Bill Passes Oregon Legislature, Heads for Governor's Desk

"It's about rope, not dope" was the message as the Oregon House passed a bill allowing for industrial hemp production. It already passed the Senate, and the governor is expected to sign it, but it passed by veto-proof majorities if he doesn't. Still, the federal prohibition on hemp production in the US remains an enormous obstacle.

10. Medical Marijuana: Users, Growers Can Sue Over Police Raids, California Appeals Court Rules

Cops who confiscate legally permitted marijuana or plants from patients and growers in California could pay out the nose for their violations of the constitution, a California appeals court has ruled in the first decision of its kind. That just might rein in some of those renegade, recalcitrant departments who want to ignore a law they don't like.

11. Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland will decide whether to impose a whopping 1500% tax increase on dispensaries, and it's not an attack on them. In fact, it was the dispensaries' own idea. Talk about your good citizens.

12. Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Bryan Epis was the first medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government, and he is one of dozens of people whose fate is still caught up in the federal system despite recent policy shifts by the Obama administration. Bryan is asking all of us to take action to help those who have risked much to help patients.

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"New Study: Marijuana Doesn't Increase Your Risk of Going Crazy," "Innocent Teenage Girls Forced to 'Jump Up and Down' During Marijuana Search," "Can You Name One Good Thing About the War on Marijuana?," "Opponents of Marijuana Legalization Will Say Anything," "A Surprise Encounter with Former Drug Czar John Walters," "Obama Seeks Volunteer Drug War Soldiers," "An Awesome Marijuana Debate on the McLaughlin Group," "US Admits Failure, Calls Off Opium Eradication in Afghanistan," "Boring Drug War Reporting from the Mainstream Press," "Marijuana Expo Draws 20,000 to LA Convention Center," "I Went to Visit Will Foster in Jail a Couple of Nights Ago."

14. Weekly: This Week in History

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

15. Please: Don't Shoot!

The killing of Tarika Wilson, an unarmed mother holding her child, and the maiming of that child, is an inevitable consequences of the overuse of SWAT teams and the growing paramilitarization of the drug war.

16. Students: Intern at StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

Apply for an internship at DRCNet and you could spend a semester fighting the good fight!

1. Feature: US Gives Up on Eradicating Afghan Opium Poppies, Will Target Traffickers Instead

Thousands of US Marines poured into Afghanistan's southern Helmand province this week to take the battle against the Taliban to the foe's stronghold. But in a startling departure from decades of US anti-drug policy, eradicating Helmand's massive opium poppy crop will not be part of their larger mission.

US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told members of the G-8 group of industrialized nations Saturday that attempting to quash the opium and heroin trade through eradication was counterproductive and bad policy. Instead, the US would concentrate on alternative development, security, and targeting drug labs and traffickers.

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Afghan anti-drug artwork, Nejat Center, Kabul
"Eradication is a waste of money," Holbrooke told the Associated Press during a break in the G-8 foreign ministers meeting on Afghanistan. "The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure. It might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar. It just helped the Taliban, so we're going to phase out eradication," he said.

"The farmers are not our enemy; they're just growing a crop to make a living. It's the drug system," Holbrooke continued. "So the US policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."

The Taliban insurgents are estimated to earn tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the opium and heroin trade, which generates multiple streams of income for them. Taliban commanders tax poppy farmers in areas under their control, provide security for drug convoys, and sell opium and heroin through smuggling networks that reach around the globe.

As late as last year, US policymakers supported intensifying eradication efforts, with some even arguing for the aerial spraying of herbicides, as has been done with limited success, but severe political and environmental consequences in Colombia. That notion was opposed by the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, as well as by the US's NATO partners, particularly Britain, which supports expanded manual eradication of the poppy fields.

On Sunday, Afghan counternarcotics minister General Khodaidad disputed Holbrooke's claims that eradication was a failure, telling the Canadian Press that Afghanistan had achieved "lots of success" with its anti-drug strategy, which relies heavily on manual eradication of poppy fields. Still, he said he was open to the new American strategy. "Whatever program or strategy would be to the benefit of Afghanistan, we welcome it," Khodaidad said. "We are happy with our policy... so I'm not seeing any pause or what do you call it, deficiency, in our strategy. Our strategy's perfect. Our strategy's good."

Britain and US are at odds over opium field eradication plans. According to the London newspaper The Independent, British officials said Sunday they would continue to fund manual eradication in areas under their control. Those officials downplayed any dispute, however, saying details remained to be worked out.

But eradication has met with extremely limited success. According to the UN Office on Crime and Drugs, eradication peaked in 2003, while the Taliban were in retreat, with more than 51,000 acres destroyed. By 2007, that figure had declined to 47,000 acres, and last year, it was a measly 13,500 acres. Similarly, a survey of villages that had participated in eradication last year found that nearly half of them were growing poppy again this year.

The shift in US policy drew praise from observers across the ideological spectrum. It also aroused speculation that it could be emulated elsewhere, particularly in Latin America.

"The new counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan which scales down eradication and emphasizes rural development and interdiction is exactly right," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs, development, and security expert with the Brookings Institution. "Under the prevailing conditions in Afghanistan, eradication has been not only ineffective; it has been counterproductive because it strengthens the bond between the rural population dependent on the illicit economy and the Taliban. Backing away from counterproductive eradication is not only a right analysis, it is also a courageous break on the part of the Obama administration with decades of failed counternarcotics strategy worldwide that centers on premature and unsustainable eradication," she added.

"This is clearly a positive, pragmatic step," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It seems that the Obama administration is so deeply invested in succeeding in Afghanistan that they're actually willing to pursue a pragmatic drug policy. This is an intelligent move," he added. "It is an implicit recognition that you are not going to eradicate opium production in this world so long as there is a market for it. Given that Afghanistan is the dominant opium producer right now, the pragmatic strategy is to figure out how to manage that production rather than to pursue a politically destructive and ineffective crop eradication strategy."

"This administration is finally showing some pragmatism," said Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "We are beginning to understand that our policies are affecting the policy outcomes we want. We didn't see this under the previous administration, so this is definitely very promising," she added.

But it doesn't necessarily mean there is light at the end of the tunnel, she was quick to add. "Sadly, this doesn't make me more optimistic about our prospects," she said. "This will win us more hearts and minds on the ground, but it also has to be linked to fewer targeted killings, fewer airstrikes that generate civilian casualties, or any good will is likely to be canceled out," she said.

Similarly, Felbab-Brown cautioned that the Obama administration must be prepared to defend the shift at home. "It is imperative that the administration lay down the political groundwork and inform Congress, the public, and the international community that it is unlikely that the new policy will result in a substantial reduction of cultivation or of the dependence on the illegal economy any time soon since rural development is a long-term process dependent on security," she said. "Setting the right expectations now is necessary so that accomplishments of the new strategy in two or three years are not interpreted as failures since the numbers of hectares cultivated with poppy has not dramatically decreased."

Nadelmann suggested that the new strategy is not likely to significantly impact the drug trade. "With the alternative measures they're proposing, such as the focus on traffickers, there's not much reason to think it will have any significant impact on Afghan opium and heroin exports, but it will enable the US, NATO, and the Afghan government to pursue a more discriminating and productive strategy, at least at the political level," he said.

"The really potentially interesting implication of this is for Latin America," said Nadelmann. "It makes one wonder if the Obama administration might come to realize that the same strategy they are pursuing for opium in Afghanistan makes sense in Latin America for coca cultivation in the Andes."

That may be premature. With analysts predicting no decrease in the poppy crop and little impact on the drug trade, in the medium term, the only political selling point for the move away from eradication will be success in defeating or significantly weakening the Taliban insurgency. That will be a difficult task, one whose success is by no means guaranteed.

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2. Feature: Marijuana Legalization Legislation in the Works in Portugal

Portugal has been the subject of a lot of attention lately over its decriminalization of drug possession. Although decriminalization has been in place for eight years now, it is only this year that it has caught the world's attention. The success of Portugal's approach was the subject of a piece by Salon writer Glenn Greenwald commissioned by the Cato Institute that was widely read and commented on earlier this year, and last week it earned kind words from a most unexpected place: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which could find little to complain about for its 2009 World Drugs Report.

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But Portugal isn't resting on its laurels, and at least one political party there is preparing to take the country's progressive approach to drug reform to the next level. The Leftist Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) is preparing legislation that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and retail sales of small amounts of marijuana, as well as providing for regulated wholesale cultivation to supply the retail market.

The Bloc is also now actively encouraging the participation of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, in developing new drug laws. The alliance comes too late to influence the marijuana bill, but will provide an entree for drug reformers in the process in future drug legislation, or even revising the current marijuana bill if it does not make in through parliament this year.

"The contacts between ENCOD and the Bloc were arranged by common activists and members," explained ENCOD steering committee member and Portuguese law student, journalist, and activist Jorge Roque.

Under the draft bill, a copy of which was made available to the Chronicle, marijuana consumers could purchase "the amount needed for the average individual for a 30-day period," as determined by the existing decriminalization law, or 15 grams of hashish and 75 grams (almost three ounces) of marijuana. The average daily dose is a half-gram of hash and 2.5 grams of pot. Individuals would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants, and could possess the 30-day amount as well as up to 10 plants.

The draft bill calls for licensed retail sales outlets authorized by municipal councils. Such retail establishments would not be allowed to sell alcohol or allow it to be consumed on the premises, would not be allowed within 500 meters of schools, and would not be allowed to have gambling machines. No one under 16 would be allowed to enter, nor would people adjudged to be mentally ill.

The draft bill prohibits advertising, but requires that packaging for marijuana products intended for retail sale clearly reveal the source, the amount, and a statement giving the World Health Organization's position on the effects and risks of consumption.

The bill also provides for the Portuguese National Institute of Pharmacy and Medicine to license the wholesale cultivation of marijuana to supply the retail trade. And it provides for an excise tax on cannabis sales to be determined during the budgetary process.

People who traffic in marijuana outside the parameters set down in the draft would face four to 12 years in prison for serious offenses, and up to four years for less serious offenses. Licensed retailers or wholesalers who breach the regulations could face imprisonment for up to three months or a fine of up to 30 days' minimum wage.

The bill's immediate prospects are uncertain. The Leftist Bloc is a small party, holding only eight seats in the 230-seat parliament. But the government is controlled by left-leaning parties, and the Bloc has a reputation as a "hip" party in the vanguard of political change in the country.

"Honestly, at first I thought this would never pass, but with time and after discussing this with the deputies, I am much more optimistic," said Roque. "Of course, the Left Bloc alone cannot get it passed, but as usual, they provoke the debate of ideas, and then, since they are seen as an intelligent and humane group, they can pick up support among other political parties."

While it is too late for ENCOD to influence this legislation, the group can still play a role in the debate, said ENCOD coordinator Joep Oomen. "ENCOD could contribute with information on the need to make consistent moves and no half-measures, as has been the case before with the decriminalization of possession. Portugal should learn from the experiences in the Netherlands. Here liberal cannabis policies that have proven successful during more than 30 years are now in danger of being abolished because of the pressure of Christian parties who continue blaming these policies for problems that in fact are caused by prohibition," he said.

Oomen was alluding to Holland's "backdoor problem," where the sale of marijuana is tolerated, but there is no provision for legally supplying Dutch cannabis cafes. That has led to the growth of organized crime participation in the pot business in Holland.

"It is quite simple," Oomen said. "When you allow people to use, you should allow them to possess, and if you allow them to possess, you should allow them to cultivate, produce, buy or sell. If you only go halfway, and refuse to regulate the first necessary element in the process (cultivation or production) you create more problems than solutions."

For Roque, Portugal's experience with decriminalization was critical in laying the groundwork for the legalization bill. "Decriminalization helped us lose the taboos and break the fear of being persecuted for drugs, and Portugal nowadays is much more ready to move forward," said Roque.

One big remaining taboo is the UN drug conventions, but neither Oomen nor Roque appeared to be very concerned about them. "Portugal does not need to openly challenge the UN conventions," said Oomen. "As long as the new bill is aiming at regulating cultivation of cannabis for personal use, it cannot be considered as a violation of international conventions, which leave it up to national authorities to deal with the status of drug use."

Roque was a bit more combative. "The international conventions and the Lisbon treaty don't provide solutions in these matters, and the UN conventions were ratified by the specific will of one country," said Roque. "When the UN conventions don't present any solutions that are good for the national interest, only a stupid country will follow them forever."

Now, Portugal can put the conventions and their interpretation to the test, if its parliament so chooses.

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3. Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda," by Gretchen Peters (2009, Thomas Dunne Press, 300 pp., $25.95 HB)

Gretchen Peters certainly has a sense of timing. She spent the last decade covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News, and managed to bring "Seeds of Terror" to press just as the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan begin lurching toward a new approach to drug policy there. Just this past weekend, the US announced it was giving up on trying to eradicate its way to victory over the poppy crop, and for the past few weeks, news accounts of US and NATO attacks on traffickers, opium stockpiles, and heroin labs have been coming at a steady, if not escalating, pace.

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Afghan opium
Peters' thesis -- that the immensely lucrative opium and heroin trade is funding the Taliban and Al Qaeda to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which they use to wage their insurgency against the West and allies in Afghanistan -- while portrayed as stunning and shocking, is nothing new to readers of the Chronicle, or anyone else who has been following events in Afghanistan since before the 2001 US invasion.

But where "Seeds of Terror" shines is in its unparalleled detail and depth of knowledge of the drug trade, the Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency, the Pakistan connection, and the intricate and complicated linkages between the actors. With access to government and security officials from the US, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and through interviews with everyone from simple famers to fighters to opium traders and even some amazingly high-up people in the international heroin trade, Peters is able to navigate and share with readers the murky, ever shifting nature of the beast.

She is especially useful in unraveling the various groupings that are simplistically referred to as "the Taliban." There is no single Taliban, Peters explains; there are rival warlords (Hekmatyar, Haqqani, Mullah Omar) running their drug empires and fighting to drive out the Westerners, their jihadist convictions clouded more each year in a haze of opium smoke and illicit profits. And then there are what are in essence criminal drug trafficking organizations. They, too, will identify themselves as Taliban for pragmatic reasons -- the intimidation factor, mainly -- but have little interest in holy war, except as it provides the chaotic cover for their underground trade.

Actually, as Peters details, the story goes back a generation further, to the last great American intervention into this Fourth World country on the other side of the planet. Then, during the Reagan-era sponsorship of the Afghan mujahedeen fighting to drive out the Soviet Red Army, millions of Afghans fled into refugee camps in Pakistan, and would-be warlords and foreign jihadis (including a young Osama bin Laden), tussled for the billions of dollars coming from Washington and doled out by Pakistani intelligence, or, alternately, from funding sources in Saudi Arabia.

Those warlords turned Pakistan, particularly the refugee-ridden Northwest Frontier territories into a leading opium producer during the 1980s, to ensure sources of funding for their armies, and secondarily, to turn as many Russian soldiers into junkies as they could. The Pakistani drug trafficking networks, including some very highly placed army and other officials, set up then are still the main conduits for the opium and heroin leaving Afghanistan today. Man, talk about your blowback.

Peters has a keen grasp of local affairs, knows how to write, and has constructed a gripping and informative narrative. But, faced with a counterinsurgency effort that has floundered, in good part because of profits from the illicit drug trade keeping the Taliban well-supplied with shiny new weapons, she cannot resist the temptation to try her own hand at recommending more effective policies. Here, unfortunately, she is decidedly conventional and unquestioning of the prohibitionist paradigm.

For example, the proposal floated by The Senlis Council in 2005 to simply buy up the poppy crop and divert it into the legitimate medical market gets remarkably short shrift. Peters devotes a mere paragraph to the plan, dismissing it as not pragmatic -- a position not universally held by experts.

Similarly, her policy prescriptions, while including such progressive developmentalist planks as alternative livelihood programs, strengthening institutions, and opening new markets for new crops, also include a call to "arrest or kill" drug kingpins, heroin lab chemists, and even mid-level traffickers. She also advocates air strikes against smuggling convoys, "smarter" counterinsurgency, and beefed up law enforcement against the "bad guys."

Peters' thinking on drug policy may be decidedly inside the box, but her contribution to our understanding of the complex nexus between the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan, local insurgencies, and global jihadi ambitions is important and chilling. This is the best layperson's guide to that nexus out there.

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4. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we'd like to hear from you. DRCNet needs two things:

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

It's been a relatively quiet week on the corrupt cops front, with just two stories this week, but one of them is a real doozy. Let's get to it:

In Memphis, a former Memphis police officer was sentenced Wednesday to a whopping life plus 255 years after being convicted of 44 counts of civil rights, narcotics, robbery, and firearms offenses. Arthur Sease IV was one of a group of rogue Memphis police officers who from November 2003 through April 2006 robbed drug dealers of cash, cocaine, and marijuana, and then sold the stolen drugs for their own profit. Sease was linked to at least 15 armed robberies during the trial. Three other Memphis police officers and two civilians have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced in the case, though none to anywhere near as long as Sease.

In Bentonia, Mississippi, a part-time Bentonia police officer was arrested Monday on felony drug charges. Officer Carl Fleming, 49, is charged with two counts of selling cocaine. He will remain behind bars until trial. He is not eligible for bail because he is already under indictment for assaulting a school teacher and was out on a felony bond at the time of his arrest.

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6. The Border: Obama Administration Could Deploy Up to 1,500 National Guard Troops in Bid to Increase Anti-Drug Efforts

The Obama administration is developing plans to deploy up to 1,500 National Guard troops along the southwestern border in an effort to step up the US military's anti-drug efforts there, the Associated Press reported, citing administration sources. Some 575 National Guard troops are already deployed there to support border law enforcement in a program that has been ongoing for years.

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Esequiel Hernandez was killed by US Marines near the Texas border, while herding sheep. Are there more such victims to come?
The plan is being worked out between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. It comes despite Pentagon concerns about militarizing the border and stretching its resources too thinly.

Administration officials said the program was a stopgap measure designed to last for only a year until civilian law enforcement could be beefed up. The administration has already announced plans to hire 1,500 additional border agents. The National Guard program would be federally funded and would draw on National Guard volunteers from the four states that border Mexico: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Guard duties would include surveillance, intelligence analysis, and aviation support, but would not include direct law enforcement duties.

"We have been working very closely to build a set of options that would have the Department of Defense in a very limited way, for a limited period of time, serve in direct support for CBP," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul Stockton, referring to Customs and Border Protection.

The move comes just months after President Obama vowed to Mexican President Felipe Calderón that the US would help Mexico confront escalating prohibition-related violence, in which nearly 11,000 people have been killed since Calderón unleashed the Mexican military against the country's powerful drug trafficking organizations in December 2006. It also comes just three weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a new southwest border counternarcotics strategy that will devote more federal resources to fighting the Mexican drug trafficking groups.

Undersecretary of National Protection at Homeland Security Rand Beers told the AP the administration has proposed spending $250 million on the program, but that the precise cost will not be known until all the details are worked out.

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7. Latin America: Obama Administration Declines to Restore Bolivian Trade Preferences, Cites Government's Acceptance of Coca Production

President Barack Obama has declined to restore trade benefits under the Andean Trade Preference Act to Bolivia, citing the Bolivian government's acceptance of coca growing. The decision came in a Tuesday report from the office of the US Trade Representative.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare area of Bolivia
The report also complained about Bolivian nationalization of the hydrocarbon sector and increases in tariffs, but it was the pro-coca policies of the government of President Evo Morales that drew the sharpest language. Even while acknowledging that the Bolivian government continues to undertake significant interdiction efforts against the cocaine trade, the report criticized Bolivia for failing to adhere to US demands to decrease coca cultivation and for expelling the DEA from the country last fall.

Since assuming the presidency, Morales has dramatically changed Bolivian drug policy from "zero coca" to "zero cocaine, not zero coca." Coca production has seen slight annual increases under Morales, but Bolivia remains only the third largest coca and cocaine producer, behind Colombia and Peru.

"The current challenges include the explicit acceptance and encouragement of coca production at the highest levels of the Bolivian government; government tolerance of and attractive income from increased and unconstrained coca cultivation in both the Yungas and Chapare regions; and increased and uncontrolled sale of coca to drug traffickers," the report scolded. "The efficiency and success of eradication efforts have significantly declined in the past few years."

Tensions between La Paz and Washington have been high in recent years as Morales has defended the use and cultivation of coca and expelled US diplomats after accusing them of intervening in Bolivian internal affairs. Bolivia's close relationship with Venezuela under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez hasn't helped, either.

And this won't help, either. President Morales reacted angrily Wednesday, saying the move contradicted Obama's vow to treat Latin America countries as equals. "President Obama lied to Latin America when he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that there are not senior and junior partners," he told reporters. The report, he added, used "pure lies and insults" to justify its decision.

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8. Marijuana: Rhode Island Senate Okays Commission to Explore Marijuana Prohibition, Legalization, and Decriminalization

As the Rhode Island General Assembly rushed to adjourn last Friday, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The last-minute move comes just weeks after the legislature approved the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.

Under the move, which does not require any further approval, a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana" will be set up to issue a report by January 31, 2010. The commission will be composed of "elected members of the Rhode Island Senate, local law enforcement officials, physicians, nurses, social workers, academic leaders in the field of addiction studies, advocates or patients in the state's medical marijuana program, advocates working in the field of prisoner reentry, economists, and members of the general public."

Among the specific issues and questions the resolution mandates the commission to address are:

  • The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws.
  • The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana.
  • Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use.
  • Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918.
  • Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana
  • Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels.
  • Whether those who sell marijuana on the criminal market may also sell other drugs, thus increasing the chances that youth will use other illegal substances.
  • How much revenue the state could earn by taxing marijuana at $35 an ounce.

The sponsors of the resolution were Senators Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), Leo Blais (R-Coventry), Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Charles Levesque (D-Portsmouth), and Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown).

In a Wednesday interview with the Providence Journal, Miller said the move was sparked by "a national trend towards decriminalization" and the voter-driven decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. He added that he waited until the sessions' end to introduce the resolution because it was "very important" for the study to stay separate from the issue of medical marijuana.

The marijuana policy commission is a done deal. But who will sit on it isn't. Rhode Island activists would behoove themselves to follow the selection process closely. Maybe they could even come up with some suggestions.

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9. Industrial Hemp: Bill Passes Oregon Legislature, Heads for Governor's Desk

The Oregon House Monday passed SB 676 by a veto-proof margin of 46-11. The measure would allow for the production, possession, and commercialization of industrial hemp and its products. The measure passed the state Senate on June 19 an equally veto-proof 27-2 margin.

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hemp plants
During the House debate, hemp supporter Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland) used visual aids to demonstrate the diversity of hemp products, waving around bags of hemp tortilla chips and non-dairy hemp milk. He also held up a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Senate Bill 676 is about rope, not dope."

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the list of states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said bill sponsor Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). "By passing SB 676 with strong bipartisan support, the Oregon legislature has taken a proactive position to allow its farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

The industry association Vote Hemp said it was confident Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) would sign the bill. If he does, or if a veto is overridden, Oregon will become the ninth state to authorize industrial hemp production under state law. It remains forbidden by federal law.

"The time has come for the federal government to act and allow farmers to once again grow hemp, so American companies will no longer need to import it and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown in the US for over fifty years because of a misguided and politicized interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While a new bill in Congress, H.R. 1866, is a welcome step, the hemp industry is hopeful that President Obama's administration will recognize hemp's myriad benefits to farmers, businesses and the environment," he added.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to invest in hemp processing and production locally," says Hans Fastre, chief executive officer of Living Harvest, one of the numerous hemp product companies based in Oregon. "This bill represents another step towards heightening the hemp industry's profile within mainstream America and making hemp products more accessible to businesses and consumers."

If the bill becomes law, Oregon will become the second state to approve industrial hemp this year. Maine did so last month. Four other states, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and North Dakota passed resolutions or memorials urging Congress to allow states to regulate hemp farming this year.

The states that have okayed hemp production are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. North Dakota has even issued licenses to would-be hemp farmers for the past two years, but the federal prohibition has prevented any hemp planting.

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10. Medical Marijuana: Users, Growers Can Sue Over Police Raids, California Appeals Court Rules

In the first ruling of its kind, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento held Wednesday that medical marijuana patients and growers can sue police for illegally raiding their properties and destroying their plants. The ruling came in County of Butte v. Butte County Superior Court.

In that case, a Butte County sheriff's deputy went to the home of medical marijuana grower David Williams and demanded he destroy all but 12 of the 41 plants he was growing for a seven-person collective. Williams had complete documentation for his grow, but, threatened with arrest, he complied with the unlawful order. He then sued the county and won in Superior Court.

The county appealed, arguing that patients and providers could invoke the state's medical marijuana law only as a defense to criminal charges, not to sue for damages. But the appeals court sided with the lower court, holding that medical marijuana patients and providers have the same right as any other citizens to sue officials who violate the constitutional ban on illegal searches and seizures.

Williams was relying on "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals," wrote Justice Vance Raye for the 2-1 majority. Medical marijuana patients and providers do not need to suffer "the expense and stress of criminal proceedings," to assert their rights, he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Fred Morrison wrote that Congress should ease the federal ban on marijuana to accommodate the 13 states that allow medical use. But in the meantime, he argued, no one has the right to use marijuana, and police can legally confiscate it.

The county is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court. But unless and until that happens, law enforcement in California should be on notice that any misbehavior regarding medical marijuana could turn out to be very expensive.

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11. Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland, California, will decide this month whether to create a new business tax aimed at the city's four medical marijuana dispensaries. Mailed ballots went out this week and must be returned to the city registrar's office by July 21 to be counted.

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The tax measure, known as Measure F, would levy a business tax rate of $18 per every $1,000 in gross sales at dispensaries. Under the standard retail business tax rate, the dispensaries now pay $1.20 per every $1,000, meaning the new rate would be a whopping 1500% increase.

But that's okay with Oakland dispensary operators. In fact, it was the dispensaries that approached Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel about instituting a new tax.

Operators say they are willing to pay their fair share to help the city deal with pressing financial problems. The proposed tax should bring in $315,000 in tax revenues for the city in 2010, up substantially from the $21,000 generated under the retail tax rate last year.

It is also an effort to further legitimize medical marijuana in a city that is already pretty pot-friendly. "Criminals don't pay taxes," said James Anthony, an attorney for Harborside Health Center, one of the dispensaries. "Law-abiding citizens do. We are nothing if not law-abiding citizens," he told the Oakland Tribune.

Councilmember Kaplan, a prominent medical marijuana supporter, also argued in favor of the measure. "It is important that there be regulation and that there be a permit process and that there be taxation," Kaplan said. "Both because the city needs the revenue and to be sure that we weed out the bad actors."

The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass. It is also supported by the broad-based Yes 4 Oakland coalition.

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12. Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Dear reformers:

You probably know my name from the pages of Drug War Chronicle. I was the first California medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government -- in 1997, during the Clinton administration -- and I served two years before being released in 2004 while my ten-year sentence was appealed. Last month a federal judges panel upheld that sentence, and now I'm appealing to the full 9th Circuit.

I'm writing to StoptheDrugWar.org readers because I'm one of 32 medical marijuana activists who are still caught up in a federal prosecution, despite the Obama administration's promise to stop interfering with state medical marijuana laws; and because there are 67 others of us whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned. I've created a "political action" page that asks you to sign eight online petitions and to write a letter to President Obama about these issues. The page also takes on other aspects of marijuana prohibition. Please visit my page at http://www.bestlodging.com/politics/ to sign them -- the only way that anything will change is if we all let our voices be heard, and the dozens of us caught up in this for helping patients need for change to come sooner rather than later.

A little bit about the petitions, three of which I authored. One of them is directed to US Attorney General Eric Holder, listing the 32 medical marijuana defendants whose cases should be dismissed. Another is about my case, and emphasizes some egregious prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in my case and affected the outcome -- I think you'll agree it's an astonishing story. A third is directed to President Obama, and lists all 67 defendants whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned because they were implementing state medical marijuana law. (Let me know if I've left anyone out.) The other five petitions are related to these issues.

Thank you for standing up and taking action.

Sincerely,

Bryan Epis

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13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet also provides 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.

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prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "New Study: Marijuana Doesn't Increase Your Risk of Going Crazy," "Innocent Teenage Girls Forced to 'Jump Up and Down' During Marijuana Search," "Can You Name One Good Thing About the War on Marijuana?," "Opponents of Marijuana Legalization Will Say Anything," "A Surprise Encounter with Former Drug Czar John Walters," "Obama Seeks Volunteer Drug War Soldiers," "An Awesome Marijuana Debate on the McLaughlin Group," "US Admits Failure, Calls Off Opium Eradication in Afghanistan" and "Boring Drug War Reporting from the Mainstream Press."

David Borden links: "Marijuana Expo Draws 20,000 to LA Convention Center."

Phil Smith writes about his attempt to visit Will Foster in jail, and the latest action alert to help him.

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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14. Weekly: This Week in History

July 6, 1919: A Los Angeles Times article entitled "Officers Object to 'Dream Weed' Crop," includes an account of a woman many believe to be the state's first medical marijuana arrestee, a Mexican maid who insists that she was raising marijuana to make tea for stomach trouble.

July 4, 1970: First annual 4th of July "Smoke-In" near the White House, still taking place today.

July 4, 1997: Amado Carrillo Fuentes, according to the DEA the number one drug trafficker on the planet and chased world-wide, dies in a Mexico City clinic of post-surgery complications. He was attempting to change his face through plastic surgery by having excess fat removed.

July 9, 1997: Thirty-seven leading physicians including Dr. Joseph B. Martin, the new dean of Harvard's Medical School, Dr. Lonnie Bristow, past president of the American Medical Association, Dr. David C. Lewis, director of Brown University's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, and several former Reagan and Bush administration health officials, announced the formation of Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy. Declaring that "the current criminal justice-driven approach is not reducing, let alone controlling, drug abuse in America," they called for the US to explore "harm reduction" approaches to substance use and abuse which rely more upon medical science and public health than on public hysteria and incarceration.

July 5, 1999: In response to Governor Gary Johnson's call for drug reform debate, organizations in New Mexico form an alliance to examine alternative options to current drug policies.

July 8, 1999: Mexican PAN and PRI legislators in the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico City exchanged heated accusations about each others' party associations with drug trafficking organizations.

July 4, 2001: Sir Keith Morris, Britain's former ambassador to Colombia, is quoted in The Guardian: "It must be time to start discussing how drugs could be controlled more effectively within a legal framework. Decriminalization, which is often mentioned, would be an unsatisfactory halfway house, because it would leave the trade in criminal hands, giving no help at all to the producer countries, and would not guarantee consumers a safe product or free them from the pressure of pushers. It has been difficult for me to advocate legalization because it means saying to those with whom I worked, and to the relatives of those who died, that this was an unnecessary war. But the imperative must be to try to stop the damage. Drug prohibition does not work."

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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15. Please: Don't Shoot!

Dear Drug War Chronicle Reader:

The graphic to the left is from the web site of the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team. In January 2008, the team stormed the home of Tarika Wilson and Anthony Terry during an ordinary drug investigation. A member of the SWAT team shot and killed Wilson -- an unarmed 26-year old -- also blowing a finger off the one-year old son she was holding. Another member of the SWAT team killed two family dogs on a different floor. The police department removed the graphic from the web site following the incident. Wilson's killer was charged with two misdemeanors, acquitted, and continues to work for the Lima police department, though not for the SWAT team.

Created for emergency or very high-intensity situations (snipers, hostages and the like), today SWAT teams deploy more than 50,000 times per year, mostly in low-level drug raids. This is dangerous and wrong, as the killing of Wilson, the maiming of her child, and the image the SWAT team chose to represent itself before things went bad all demonstrate. Please watch our online video, "SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe," please forward it to your friends, and if possible please post it on your web site. When you're done, please sign the "Petition for Responsible SWAT Reform" to limit SWAT raids to when they're truly needed.

Please consider donating to this effort, and thank you for helping to stop the "war on drugs."

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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16. Students: Intern at StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

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

StoptheDrugWar 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 rein in the use of SWAT teams, to expand our work to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act 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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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.

Drug War Issues

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