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Harvest Season Hijinks

Every year in August, we see a flurry of marijuana eradication stories in local papers, as police target outdoor plants ripening for the fall harvest. Nowhere is this phenomenon more visible than in California where the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) makes Federal dollars available to local police departments wishing to send their officers on a treasure hunt in the forest.

Local papers have become shameless cheerleaders for this annual ritual, seeking to amaze the public with sexy photos of heavily armed cops repelling into dangerous terrain from helicopters alongside boastful headlines touting seizures in the millions.

Of course, for all the fanfare, many people will notice that there’s no shortage of high-grade marijuana in California. So police use deception to keep the reporters and the public interested.

Here’s how they do it:

Deception #1: Claim a “record” number of seizures every year.

Setting records implies that progress is being made. Every article on outdoor eradication efforts includes a quote like this:

From the Daily Democrat in Woodland, CA:

"I expect this year to be another big year," said [Officer] Resendez. "If we continue on the same pace, we'll exceed the number of plants eradicated last year."

Police are basically competing with themselves here, so they can’t lose. If the numbers go down, they’ll say it’s because last year’s effort intimidated the growers.

Of course record seizures are meaningless if you don’t compare them to an estimate of the overall crop size. A 10% increase in eradication is a failure if the total crop has increased by 20%, but you never get that type of analysis.

There are other factors at play as well. From the Union Democrat in Tuolumne County, CA:

"The increase in plant count is because the gardens are bigger," said Tuolumne County Sheriff Lt. Dan Bressler. "The gardens are bigger because there was so much rain this past year. Streams are full and a lot of water runoff means they're better able to supply their gardens."

Out of a dozen articles on marijuana eradication in California I’ve skimmed this week, only this one mentioned increased rain. Every other article praised record seizures, allowing readers to infer that good police work was the sole factor. It’s a notable omission since rain, unlike police, will find every plant in the forest. If anything, we should be expecting an impressive crop come October.

Deception #2:Dramatically overestimate crop values.

Big numbers get headlines and police will say anything. Here’s a typical quote from KATU News in Oregon:

The plants were four to six feet tall, growing in scattered gardens on three acres of Bureau of Land Management property near Hyatt Lake. Plants of that size can produce about a pound of marijuana each - worth about five-thousand dollars on the street.

I emailed Chris Conrad, court-qualified cannabis expert, to see what he thinks about these numbers. Here’s what Conrad has to say:

After decades of proclaiming "a pound of bud per plant" as being the average harvest, the DEA and DoJ had the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) do an actual study at their experimental marijuana garden at the University of Mississippi. The result: A typical mature female cannabis plant growing outdoors puts out 4 ounces of bud, that is 25% of their claimed yield, and it can be calculated by taking the square foot of the canopy and multiplying it by 1/2 ounce per square foot of area covered by the plant's canopy. The result, published in Cannabis Yields, 1992, notes that "a survey" of police came to a pound per plant, and that is clarified that drug police "estimate" a pound of bud per plant, but it is clear that there is absolutely no data to back that up, it is a made up number used by police to exaggerate crop values.

According to Conrad, police tend to exaggerate crop values within a range of “anywhere from 4 to 1 to 400 to 1.” Of course, with newspapers reporting that you can make $5,000 per plant, it’s no wonder so many people are out in the woods planting the stuff.

Deception #3 Pretend that marijuana eradication is dangerous.

Articles about marijuana eradication always claim the work is hazardous, citing difficult terrain and armed criminals. Again from the Daily Democrat:

[Resendez] added that there are several hazards to law enforcement officials, including the rocky terrain and the suspects. "It's pretty dangerous," Resendez said. "You'll encounter a suspect and they'll be armed. Not so much to protect themselves from law enforcement but from criminals who are trying to steal their plants."

At least he admits that growers arm themselves to protect the crop from thieves and not police. Still, the perception that growers might attack officers has continually driven a militarized approach to eradication. In his book The Great Drug War, Professor Arnold S. Trebach describes how “sensational journalism” in the early 1980s fueled a widespread perception that marijuana growers were armed and dangerous. CAMP officers have been armed to the teeth ever since.

Deception #4: Blame the Mexicans.

Every article on outdoor marijuana growing in CA must have an obligatory reference to the Mexican gangs that are supposedly behind it all. We’ve come full-circle here, since racial animosity towards Mexicans was originally used as leverage in the first efforts to criminalize marijuana.

From the Crestline Courier-News in Lake Arrowhead, CA:

“Ninety-nine percent of the plants seized in the national forests,” [Special Agent] Stokes said, “were planted by members of the Mexican National Cartel which has a huge network throughout California and the west.”

99%!? It’s a convenient generalization, since most such articles note that the growers are rarely seen or apprehended. But I’ll bet if you’re a Mexican walking around a remote California forest in August, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to get questioned by the park police.

To the extent that Mexican gangs are getting involved in outdoor marijuana cultivation, it’s entirely due to prohibition. But it also reflects poorly on CAMP, which has dedicated 20 years to fighting marijuana in California’s forests, only to find that the business is still attracting new participants. If they exist, these gangs are the best evidence that CAMP has failed.

Regardless, I believe the role of Mexican crime syndicates has been dramatically overstated. Let’s face it, the upper half of California is crawling with white people that absolutely love planting pot in the woods. They’ve been there for decades.

For more on the history of CAMP, read Martin Targoff’s excellent book Can’t Find My Way Home. And if you’re ever accused of attempting to grow $50 million worth of marijuana, make sure your lawyer calls Chris Conrad to the stand.

Localização: 
United States

Police to Start Ecstasy Tests (For Drivers) (Australia)

Localização: 
VIC
Australia
Publication/Source: 
ABC News (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200608/s1726318.htm

Don't Blame Medical Marijuana for State Park/Wildlife Harm from Illegal Grow-Ops

Earlier this month Mexico's El Universal paper reported on the <?php print l('drug trade harming Mexican environmental efforts', 'speakeasy/prohibition/posts/2006/aug/02/drug_trade_hurting_mexic', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?>. An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle made the same lament about Bay Area marijuana growing in state parks. Henry Coe State Park supervising ranger Mike Ferry told the Chronicle:
"At these gardens, we've found dead animals and birds, ammonia sulfate, pesticides and herbicides, ponds and creeks lined with plastics, and garbage all over the place," he said. "The environmental damage is huge."
El Universal's article made the key point, that the Chronicle article and few articles in US media yet make:
If narcotics are decriminalized, then the black market might cave in, and along with it the smuggling relationships that undermine conservation efforts.
So it would. And that's what has to happen here too. There is nothing intrinsic to marijuana growing that it should have this kind of effect on our national parks -- if people were illegally growing broccoli or tomatoes in the parks for the mass commercial market they would undoubtedly create the same kind of pollution that is hurting the animals. The problem is prohibition. The solution is: legalization. Unfortunately, while Mr. Ferry certainly seems to care about the environment and to be working hard on its behalf, he also has some ideas about drug policy that don't seem well thought out:
One dilemma "that is really throwing us," Ferry said, is the wide-scale acceptance of medical marijuana and the perception that casual marijuana use hurts nothing. But if marijuana smokers saw the carcasses of deer, squirrels, songbirds, owls and other wildlife shot or poisoned at the illegal groves, as Ferry has, perhaps they would understand the price wildlife pays for their next toke.
Blaming it on medical marijuana?!?!?!?!? No. Never mind that federal surveys found no increase in marijuana use in states that passed medical marijuana initiatives. (Could someone send in a link for this? I am having trouble finding it. I think it was part of a Monitoring the Future study one year.) Tell the feds and their ideological allies in certain cities and counties to stop shutting down coops who are in a position to contract with responsible growers. Hmm, I didn't set out to pick two SF Chronicle stories two days in a row. Maybe that's good. Again, here is their letter to the editor information. And again, please send us copies of your letters through our <?php print l('contact form', 'contact', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?> -- select the "Copies of Letter You've Sent" option -- or post a copy in the comments here below.
Localização: 
CA
United States

First Annual Charity Dinner/Fundraiser for In Arms Reach: Parent Behind Bars: Children in Crisis

December 1, 6:30pm, New York, NY, First Annual Charity Dinner/Fundraiser for In Arms Reach: Parent Behind Bars: Children in Crisis, with former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks. At the Great Hall of City College, call (212) 650-5894 for further information.
Data: 
Fri, 12/01/2006 - 6:30pm - 10:00pm
Localização: 
New York, NY
United States

Methamphetamine: Third Murder Trial For Woman in California Meth Poisoning Infant Death Case

A California woman whose infant son died with methamphetamine in his system will face a third murder trial, a Riverside County Judge ruled Monday. Amy Leanne Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in her son's death in 2003, but that conviction was overturned by an appeals court citing flawed jury instructions. A retrial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors deadlocked 6-6.

After the mistrial, Prien's lawyers moved to dismiss the charge, but Judge Patrick Magers declined. "It is abundantly clear to the court that the cause of death of the victim was methamphetamine intoxication," he said from the bench as he rejected the motion.

What is not so clear is where the meth in the child's system came from. Prosecutors have argued that Prien, an admitted long-time meth user, caused her child's death by feeding him her breast milk when she was using the popular stimulant. They argued that Prien continued smoking meth while breast-feeding, a charge she has consistently denied. She has suggested that a male guest in her home may have provided the drug to the baby.

A major problem for the prosecution is that the bottle of milk found beside the dead baby was misplaced by law enforcement and never tested for the presence of methamphetamine. And while Prien was tested and came back positive for meth, police never tested her breast milk. Los Angeles attorney Joe Reichmann, who is representing Prien, argued futilely that the charge should be dropped because it was based on "make-believe science" since prosecutors had no way of knowing the meth levels in her breast milk.

California prosecutors have repeatedly proven unable to make meth mother murder cases stick, and it is unclear why they are pursuing Prien with such a vengeance. It's not like she got off scot-free. In addition to losing her child, she is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for felony child endangerment in the same case.

Padua Builds Wall in Drugs Battle (Italy)

Localização: 
Italy
Publication/Source: 
British Broadcasting Corporation
URL: 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4782925.stm

Judge deals blow to claim that meth sting targeted South Asians

Localização: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/news/politics/15190586.htm

Smugglers Innovate as Border Tightens

Localização: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
USA Today
URL: 
http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060803/a_borderdrugs03.art.htm

Roadside Drug Tests in Two Years (UK)

Localização: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Scotsman
URL: 
http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1123982006

New "Meth Gun" Not as Cool as it Sounds

Courtesy of Pete Guither at DrugWarRant comes this terrifying story.

From CNET News:

A new "meth gun," in development by Maryland-based CDEX, enables police to use ultraviolet light to detect trace amounts of chemicals left by methamphetamines and other illegal drugs.

Civil libertarians have been concerned for some time that drug war profiteers would begin marketing something like this. Of course, the obvious problem with this type of technology is that it will inevitably be wrong sometimes.

More likely, it will be right way too often. Drug molecules are ubiquitous. Take for example the rumor that 80% of U.S. currency contains cocaine residue. It’s actually true.

So if your lifestyle involves touching money periodically, the "meth gun" might catch you red-handed.

Here's a hilarious example of the uselessness of this technology:

From BBC News last year:
A Welsh assembly member who called for his colleagues to volunteer to try out a new drug detection machine has tested "positive" for cannabis himself. Swabs taken from Conservative AM William Graham's hands at the Welsh assembly building revealed traces of the drug, probably from a door handle.

I think that pretty much says it all. It should be obvious to anyone who isn’t drunk on drug war hysteria that this technology can’t reasonably be used as a means of establishing probable cause to search people.

But alas, it would be foolish to expect that logic will prevail over insanity among those who build and operate creepy drug war machines that spot meth with ultraviolet lasers. Inevitably, police agencies will stock up on "meth guns," and it will be up to the courts to decide whether the device passes constitutional muster.

It might destroy the 4th Amendment forever, but there’s no question the "meth gun" would make a totally sweet membership gift.

Afterthought: remember the "meth rocket"?

Localização: 
United States

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