Breaking News:Dangerous Delays: What Washington State (Re)Teaches Us About Cash and Cannabis Store Robberies [REPORT]


RSS Feed for this category

Company That Killed Iraqi Civilians Gets Lucrative Drug War Contract

What do you do when you've been kicked out of Iraq for killing civilians and your company's reputation is in shambles? Fear not, the drug war is always hiring, and there's nothing on earth you could do to disqualify yourself from employment in the accountability-free industry of international drug prohibition.
While Blackwater's mercenaries beg for mercy for killing a baby and 19 other people in Baghdad on Sunday, they're already working on another lucrative government contract on yet another foreign adventure: the "war on drugs." [Village Voice]
Details are sketchy since the government doesn't report eagerly on the creepy deals it makes with baby-killing mercenary groups. But Village Voice says they're building giant remote-control surveillance blimps.

It remains unclear what these blimps will be used for or what other secretive drug war endeavors Blackwater will be undertaking, but this much is for sure: it will all be phenomenally expensive and it won't change a damned thing.
United States

The Drug Debate: American Mayors Urge "A New Bottom Line" and a Public Health Approach for Drug Policy

Meeting at its annual convention in Los Angeles late last month, the US Conference of Mayors passed an historic resolution putting America's chief elected municipal officials on record urging a fundamental rethinking of the country's drug policies. The mayors called for a public health approach to drug use and abuse and "a new bottom line" in assessing how and whether drug policies reduce harms associated with drugs and society's effort to deal with them.

The US Conference of Mayors represents more than 1,100 mayors of cities with a population over 30,000. The non-partisan group plays a significant role in advocating for and setting national urban policies. Resolutions passed at its conventions become official policy.

The drug policy resolution, "A New Bottom Line in Reducing the Harms of Substance Abuse," was introduced by long-time drug reform advocate Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. It was adopted after debate at the convention.

After a long series of "whereases" in which the resolution recites a now-familiar litany of drug war failures and excesses -- the huge number of drug war prisoners, the lack of spending on drug treatment, the failure of expensive law enforcement programs to affect drug price and availability, differential racial impacts, the ineffectiveness of the drug czar's office, massive marijuana arrests in the face of rising violent crime -- the resolution gets down to business:

"The United States Conference of Mayors believes the war on drugs has failed and calls for a New Bottom Line in US drug policy, a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse, while ensuring that our policies do not exacerbate these problems or create new social problems of their own; establishes quantifiable, short- and long-term objectives for drug policy; saves taxpayer money; and holds state and federal agencies accountable," the mayors resolved. "US policy should not be measured solely on drug use levels or number of people imprisoned, but rather on the amount of drug-related harm reduced."

The mayors identified a number of specific policy objectives they supported, including:

  • Provide greater access to drug abuse treatment on demand, such as methadone and other maintenance therapies;
  • Eliminate the federal ban on funding sterile syringe access programs;
  • Establish local overdose prevention policies; and
  • Direct a greater percentage of drug-war funding toward evaluating the efficacy and accountability of current programs.

While the mayors did not explicitly call for an end to the drug prohibition regime or even for an end to imprisoning drug users, the resolution identified the large number of drug law offenders behind bars and the racial disparities created by drug law enforcement as examples of "drug-related harm."

"The mayors are clearly signaling the serious need for drug policy reform, an issue that ranks in importance among the most serious issues of the day," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The drug prohibition regime appears increasingly hollow and rotted from within. The resolution adopted last month by the US Conference of Mayors is one more indication that what once was fringe thought is now going mainstream.

Coordinated Drug War Raids as Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

Peter Guither at the Drug WarRant blog has pointed out what he calls a "blatant and pathetic effort" by the State of Kentucky to secure drug war funding from Congress:
State police, local law enforcement, sheriff's offices, HIDTA and multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the nation collectively conducted undercover investigations, search warrants, consent searches, marijuana eradication efforts, drug interdiction and arrest warrants for a period of one week. This collective effort, Operation Byrne Drugs II, was conducted from April 23-29 to highlight the need and effectiveness of the Byrne grant funding and the impact cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement.
Actually it is the media efforts that seem to be coordinated, in addition to the drug enforcement. I noticed a suspiciously similar press release distributed by the California Dept. of Justice last July about a suspiciously similar incident:
BNE task forces, comprised of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, throughout the state served 16 search warrants, seized three firearms, confiscated 53 pounds of methamphetamine, 91 pounds of marijuana, and 37,747 marijuana plants. State drug enforcement agencies across the U.S. on July 27, 2006 participated in a "national day of drug enforcement." Organized by the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, "Operation Byrne Drugs" promoted the continued funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program that supports local and statewide drug enforcement. The federally funded program has suffered deep cuts over the last few years, directly affecting BNE. In fiscal year 2001-02, BNE received more than $11.5 million for personnel and operating costs. In fiscal year 2006-07, BNE received less than $6 million, nearly a 50% decline over five years.
your tax dollars at work to get more of your tax dollars Now I run an advocacy group, and I can tell you with confidence that this is exactly what groups who want to achieve a legislative objective will do -- organize media-worthy events in order to get the attention of the policymakers you need to influence, in this case Congress. The main differences between what we do and what the narcs are doing are that: 1) They are using taxpayer funds to carry out their media/lobbying campaign to secure taxpayer funds; and 2) They are using the authority the government has given them to wield state power including guns in order to arrest and incarcerate people, as a component of their media-lobbying campaign. We will generally just hold a press conference or a rally, or issue a report. I suspect that in strict legal terms they have not violated the law. But make no mistake -- this is lobbying of Congress by state agencies to get our money, and they are destroying numerous lives in order to do it. I don't agree with drug enforcement at all (as readers know), but even for those who do, clearly enforcement decisions about when and whom to raid should be based on law enforcement/public safety needs, NOT politics. Unfortunately, it is not only drug money that corrupts our law enforcement; it is drug war money too.
United States

Spending on Prisons on Pace to Outstrip Education Outlays

United States
Join Together/The Oregonian

Marijuana: Wisconsin's Dane County (Madison) Will No Longer Prosecute Simple Possession

The Dane County, Wisconsin, District Attorney's Office will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases involving less than 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of pot. Prosecutors said it wasn't an effort to decriminalize marijuana, merely recognition of limited resources and setting priorities for the office.

"There's been some adjustment in our policies," Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard told reporters March 1. While Blanchard acknowledged that state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, he said his office had different priorities. "We're simply going more wholesale to saying 25 grams or less of possession of marijuana -- not a crime."

With Dane County having the same number of prosecutors it had 20 years ago, prosecuting marijuana possession offenses cannot take priority over other crimes, Blanchard said. "We're about to have the same number of prosecutors in this office that we had in 1988," he noted. "We struggle to staff child abuse cases, so when it comes to something like marijuana possession we are not going to be handling it as aggressively as we could."

While state law mandates up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for simple marijuana possession, Dane County residents will now be looking at only a citation. In Madison, a ticket for pot possession could cost up to $109, but in some smaller Dane County communities, the fines could be much steeper, as in Fitchburg, where users could be hit with a $1,300 ticket. County communities without a local marijuana ordinance can submit cases to the District Attorney's Office, which will issue citations for violating the county anti-marijuana ordinance. That carries a fine of up to $310.

"Marijuana possession is one of the least significant cases we get in our office," Blanchard said. Cases with victims -- such as sexual and physical assaults and thefts -- take priority, he said. The county faces much more serious drug problems than marijuana, Blanchard said. "I don't think we have a marijuana problem in Dane County. I think we have a heroin problem. I think we have a crack problem... I think we have a much larger alcohol problem than we have a marijuana problem."

Feature: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- 2008 US Federal Drug Control Budget

The Bush administration released its fiscal year 2008 budget Monday, and when it comes to drug policy, it's pretty much business as usual. According to an Office of National Drug Control Policy fact sheet, the overall federal drug control budget requested for next year is $12.91 billion, up $200 million from the $12.7 million requested this year.
same old, same old again
The budget includes $1.6 billion for prevention programs or, as the National Drug Strategy puts it, "stopping drug use before it starts," $3.1 billion for drug treatment ("healing America's drug users"), and $8 billion for law enforcement ("disrupting the market for illegal drugs"). This roughly two-to-one ratio between spending for law enforcement and spending for treatment and prevention is consistent with past federal drug control budgets.

ONDCP highlighted increases in controversial and unproven programs, such as an increase in funding for random student drug testing to nearly $18 million, up from $7.5 million in 2007. Another controversial program seeing a budget increase is the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, from $100 million in 2007 up to $130 million next year.

Also seeing significant increases are the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) program, which aims to promote early diagnosis of drug use and intervention by health care providers, up $11.5 million to $41.2 million in 2008, and the Drug Courts program, with its funding more than tripled from $10.1 million this year to $31.8 million next year.

Funding for Plan Colombia, or as it is now officially known, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative will decline from $721 million in 2007 to $635.5 million in 2008. Funding for anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, on the other hand, will increase from $297 million this year to $327.6 million next year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will see its budget increase from $1.684 billion to $1.803 billion. Similarly, the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Drug Task Force will get $509 million, up from $485 million this year.

Some of the items ONDCP wasn't bragging about include cuts in funding for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (down 20%), the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (down 12%), and state grants under the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, which were slashed dramatically from $346.5 million this year to a proposed $100 million next year. The budget also zeroes out completely state grants for Alcohol Use and Reduction programs. Those grants totaled $32 million this year.

Also facing continuing efforts to cut its budget is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, with the Bush administration seeking to cut its current year budget of $224.7 million down to $220 million. And while it is not yet clear whether the Bush administration will continue its efforts to eliminate the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program, a coalition of law enforcement lobbying groups is already urging Congress to fund it at $1.1 billion, more than double the $450 million it will get this year. The Byrne grants pay for the notorious multi-agency drug task forces running roughshod around the country, but they can also be used for prevention and treatment grants.

"This is the same approach they've been using for years," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They continue to shortchange treatment and prevention and they spend most of the money on enforcement and interdiction. They continue to use sloppy accounting; for instance, ONDCP puts the overall drug budget at $12 billion, but they don't include the costs of imprisoning 100,000 federal drug offenders."

"This $12 billion figure is a sham, just as the federal drug control budget has been for the past few years" said Doug McVay, research director for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "It excludes the $3 billion we're paying each year to incarcerate drug offenders, and there are hidden, black budget intelligence and military funds that go to the drug war. I'd estimate the feds are really spending more like $22 billion in drug control across the agencies."

"I see they want more money for student drug testing and the anti-drug media campaign, which is a bit of a surprise given all the evidence of the failure of these programs," Piper said. "Given that they're talking about balancing the budget by 2012, it seems like they wouldn't be expanding failed programs, but they are."

Efforts to restore Byrne grant funding concerned Piper. "I'm worried that the Democrats are going to restore funding to that program that funds the drug task forces," he said. "Still, some states are using the funds for reentry programs, treatment, drug courts, things like that. The $500,000 grant we got in New Mexico was a Byrne grant," Piper laughed. That grant funds a methamphetamine prevention and education program.

"I think the Byrne grants should be done away with," said McVay, "and the money should be used to put police on the street to stop property crime and violent crime. As drug reformers, we have to be careful. We don't want to put ourselves in the position of telling the public we don't want enough police on the streets to keep them from getting mugged."

Time will tell with the Byrne grant program, as it will with the entire 2008 Bush budget. At this point, the budget is a fantasy document, a wish list that is sure to be hacked to pieces in Congress. But it also lays out the Bush administration's position on where the nation's drug policy should go and how much we should pay for it, and the answers are down the same old path and a few billion more.

Spare Us From Asparagus Tariffs (Or The Lack Thereof)

Eradication efforts in South America continue to find news ways of being counterproductive and unsuccessful.

From The Seattle Times:

The [U.S. asparagus] industry has been decimated by a U.S. drug policy designed to encourage Peruvian coca-leaf growers to switch to asparagus. Passed in 1990 and since renewed, the Andean Trade Preferences and Drugs Eradication Act permits certain products from Peru and Colombia, including asparagus, to be imported to the United States tariff-free.

Meanwhile, the Washington industry is a shadow of its former self. Acreage has been cut by 71 percent to just 9,000 acres.

Well at least something got eradicated. Perhaps Washington farmers will now turn to growing America's number one cash crop instead.

Notwithstanding divergent views on free trade among our readership, I'm sure we can all agree that tariffs shouldn't be arbitrarily lifted in support of a failed drug war policy in Peru. Any success achieved in South America (there hasn't been any, but bear with me) must be measured against the sacrifices American farmers are forced against their will to make impact of abandoning protectionism spontaneously. Factoring this against ONDCP's otherwise already pathetic claims of progress leaves a worse taste in one's mouth than that of canned asparagus.

This is what we're trying to tell you about the U.S. war on drugs. The people running this thing will screw over confuse American farmers while pretending to protect our nation's interests.

If they didn't anticipate this outcome, they are incompetent and should be permanently enjoined from drafting economic policy. And if they did anticipate this inevitable outcome, and took no action to mitigate it, they should be jailed for treasonous malfeasance and fed forever on the bitter canned fruits and vegetables of their hypocrisy.

Full disclosure: I don't like asparagus. Thus, it's humorous to contemplate the irony that we can now add asparagus proliferation to the growing list of undesirable drug war consequences. Our resident vegetable enthusiast Dave Borden might disagree, but I'm sure he'd trade all the asparagus in the world for an end to the ongoing international disaster of drug prohibition.

Update: In response to comments below and at Hit & Run, it's not my contention that U.S. farmers are entitled to protection against foreign competitors. My point is that drug war politics should rarely, if ever, be used as a justification to waive policies otherwise deemed appropriate by Congress.

United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can't Handle The Truth?

A new report proving that marijuana is America's number one cash crop has sparked significant interest around the blogoshere, mostly from fair-weather friends of our cause who recognize the absurdity of prohibiting a product of such enduring popularity.

Indeed, this news highlights the failure of prohibition, both for failing to eliminate the market, and for driving its value above that of various more popular vegetables.

But the fun part is reading what the anti-pot crowd has to say. The most entertaining entry in this regard is from Scott Whitlock at Newsbusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias, who cites this story as evidence of a liberal media bias at CNN.

It's really funny. First, Whitlock complains that CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam refers to the drug as "our friend marijuana." Of course, Elam's remark is a nod to the fact that Americans spend more on pot than corn, rather than an admission that everyone at CNN loves weed. Whitlock includes the transcript, which makes this quite clear, but why let your own blockquotes get in the way of your argument?

Whitlock finds further evidence of "CNN's fondness for marijuana" in Elam's statement that marijuana legalization is "an interesting idea." Still, "interesting" is an interesting word in that it doesn't always indicate genuine interest. And when it does, interest is often not analogous to agreement. Perhaps Scott Whitlock only says something is "interesting" when he's really strongly in agreement with it, but I must admit that I've often said "that's interesting" when I actually just wanted somebody to shut up.

If CNN is pro-marijuana, that's great news and I can't wait for them to start making actual pro-marijuana statements on TV, but I still don't see what that has to do with liberal media bias. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to support marijuana reform, but there's certainly nothing inherently liberal about opposing the government's ill-conceived war on America's number one cash crop. The best evidence of this comes from Whitlock's own commenters, who come out decidedly in favor of legalization (though I suppose this could be the work of stoned CNN staffers masquerading as conservative blog trolls).

"Stoners Issue Report on Weed" from Christian blogger Jack Lewis comes in at a close second. Rather than lambasting the "liberal media" for reporting the story, Lewis attacks the report's methodology by not reading it and instead guessing what it might have been:

Not being a pot user myself, I had to go look up the price per pound for marijuana. What I could piece together is that the street value ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 per pound.
Since these are "Hey!, like, marijuana, dude, okay?" types who are obviously cooking the figures to try to make their case, my bet is that they used the $5,000 price or something close. So ultimately we have the conclusion, not that the US produces more marijuana, but that marijuana prices are high enough (or at least the prices they used for their report) to make it more expensive than the cost for the corn and wheat we grow. That speaks more toward the stupidity of marijuana users than anything else.
For the record, the report's author Jon Gettman used a generously low estimate of $1,606 per pound. Reformers aren't the ones who inflate drug prices. That's a law-enforcement trick used to create the appearance that substantial gains have been made in the drug war.

It's amusing that Lewis has nothing to offer other than a weak attempt at refuting the study's conclusions. He implies unintentionally that this data would mean something if it were true. Well since it is true, what does it mean to you, Jack Lewis? We think it shows that marijuana prohibition has failed dramatically. I'm sure you'd hesitate to agree with that, but does it trouble you that prohibition has created a perpetual business opportunity for criminals?

Finally I checked out the Drug Czar's blog to see what ONDCP had to say about all of this. Surely, a thorough and deceptive "debunking" attempt awaited me. But alas, this story was bumped by the fascinating news that the Cullman County Board of Education in Alabama has decided to start drug-testing students who participate in extra-curricular activities.

Maybe they'll write something about this tomorrow. After all, it would be pretty silly to run the world's only exclusive pro-drug war blog and consistently fail to weigh in on the hottest drug policy stories of the day.

I swear, half their hits are just me trying to catch them doing something other than announcing when various school districts start a drug-testing program.

United States

Cost of illegal drugs falls across EU (

United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School