The Speakeasy Blog

This way to the Coca Museum...

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pictures from La Paz, Bolivia: Calle Linares pedestrian mall, with Coca Museum sign (Click the "read full post" link or the title link for more pictures if you don't already seen them.) Coca Museum, exterior, Calle Linares 906 Church of San Francisco, at the Plaza of San Francisco, seen from Calle Sagarnaga miners on hunger strike, Plaza San Francisco: "five months without working, and our children without food" families of miners (As these miner photos illustrate, cocaleros are one of a number of intersecting social movements in Bolivia.) shoeshine boys, Plaza San Francisco -- one on left says he's a sharpshooter and wants to go to Iraq "Anarcho Punks Seeking Equality" graffito, Calle Linares pedestrian mall near Plaza Murillo dried llama fetuses, said to ward off evil, at Witches' Market, Calle Linares more Witches' Market view of miners' demonstration view of main drag El Prado, seen from Plaza San Francisco "Combi" passenger vans, with man directing traffic Hostal Republica, on Calle de Comercio -- $16 bucks a night, with bathroom, hot water and wireless internet, but no TV
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United States

Much to Blog About...

I have been a little under the weather the last few days, and so have not gotten the blogging online that I've intended to. I will be posting stuff later in the weekend or early next week, but in the meanwhile here are some "teasers": 1) I testified in Annapolis Tuesday, in support of HB 283, a bill by Maryland State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, before the House Ways and Means Committee, that would require the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to provide college aid to any would-be students who qualify for it under the state's own standards -- e.g., if they've lost federal aid because of a drug conviction, a law to which the state does not have an analogue -- MHEC has to process their applications for state aid anyway, even if it means a little extra work to do so. (Currently MHEC simply using the federal FAFSA system, and so students with drug convictions fall through the cracks, as they do in 34 other states. This is the second year in a row Gutierrez has offered this legislation; I also testified last year; also testifying this year were SSDP's Kris Krane and UMD SSDP's Anastacia Cosner. MHEC this year as last year submitted written informational testimony on the bill, neither supporting nor opposing it. There are reasons to believe they would prefer it not pass, and that they hope to get around having to implement it if it does. Furthermore, they made some real screw-ups leading up to the hearing, and have kind of stepped in it; more on that later. Del. Gutierrez talked about our report (link previous paragraph) in her own testimony and urged legislators to read it, which was cool. We don't have a lot of time to rally support for this, maybe only another week; if you live in Maryland and can help (in ways large or small) please write to me. More about this soon, including copies of our testimony, links to UMD news coverage and more. 2) Our sign-on letter to Congress calling for repeal of the aforementioned federal law, and asking members of the US House of Representatives to cosponsor the Barney Frank repeal bill was delivered this week -- 170 organizational signatories! The total number of groups on record calling for full repeal is now up to about 335, if I counted correctly. Links and more info coming soon. 3) I got to pose a question about the opium trade in Afghanistan and eradication programs to CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen at a forum at the New America Foundation this week (right across the street from our office, actually). His response was both positive (from our perspective) and interesting. I'll be posting a transcript of the exchange with some comments in a separate post. 4) The Lou Dobbs segment on the marijuana legalization movement was not the ultimately slam of us, nor were the remaining segments in his drug war sequence. Nor, however, does the series qualify as quality journalism, and some of it I found kind of offensive. More on this soon. By the way, my take-off on Dobbs' drug war editorial has gotten nearly 3,800 reads so far. A special thanks to all of you who showed an interest, especially those who forwarded it around on sites like stumbleupon.com. - Dave
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United States

In Bolivia and Ready to Head for the Chapare

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After an arduous two-day trek by bus from Cusco, Peru, across the Altiplano and over Lake Titicaca by ferry, I'm now sitting in La Paz, Bolivia, which is truly a spectacular city. It's located in a valley at 13,000 feet, and looming above is the majestic peak of Mount Illimani. The city is more than a million people, and the houses crawl up the slopes of the valley. The streets in the city center are teeming with people, many of them in full-blown indigenous attire. You know, the stuff of National Geographic specials. I'll be posting some pics from here after I wander around a bit. view of Lake Titicaca, Peru Today, I'll be going to the Coca Museum to talk to Jorge Hurtado, its curator and a leading defender of the coca leaf. Should be interesting. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'll also visit the witch's market, where you can buy all kinds of strange things, including—I kid you not—dried llama fetuses, which people put in their houses to ward off evil spirits. Guys, how about one of those for the office? [Editor's note: NO - DB] I've been working the phone and email all day today trying to arrange interviews and visits with cocaleros, Bolivian officials, activists, analysts, and the US Embassy. It is a frustrating process; Bolivian government officials seem to rarely be in their offices, and the US Embassy, as usual, is not being especially helpful. Since I'm not an "official" journalist, merely a member of the "new media," the press office doesn't really want to talk to me, but I continue to hope I can wrangle at least an off-the-record sit down with the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). I have firmed up a visit to the Chapare, the main non-traditional coca growing region, where Evo Morales has managed to bring peace through his cooperative eradication program, which allows each family to grow small plots of coca without regard to the official limit of 30,000 acres, all of which is assigned to the Yungas, the traditional coca growing region. I will fly into Cochabamba Monday morning (a half-hour flight versus an all-day bus ride), and meet with the good people of the Andean Information Network before heading out with them by jeep and then motorcycle to the coca zones. I will fly back to La Paz Tuesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope to spend one day going down into Las Yungas (down "the world's most dangerous highway," although I suspect it can't be much worse than that road I took from Ayacucho to the VRAE) and the other day in meetings. I have to start heading back to Gringolandia on Thursday, arriving in Houston at 6am, and back home in snowy South Dakota by mid-afternoon. Coca is prevalent in La Paz. In addition to numerous street vendors sitting with their bags full of leaves, mate de coca is offered almost everywhere. A couple of nights ago, I went to a downtown bar and had a Mojito Boliviano, a mojito made with coca leaves instead of spearmint. Que rico! Traveler's Tip #1: Don't drink much alcohol at high altitudes. One mojito will do. Traveler's Tip #2: Get small bills. Making change is a real problem. A 100 Boliviano bill (worth about $15 US) is difficult to change in the city and almost impossible to change anywhere outside the city. Wow, talk about under-capitalized. This is a real problem, since ATMs and money exchanges always give you big bills. Some more pictures: ferry ride across Lake Titicaca buses riding the ferry (including Phil's) accident near the lake view of lake from ferry, overlooking lake City of Puno, Peru Peruvian Altiplano
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La Paz
Bolivia

ONDCP: Smoking Marijuana Causes Phlegm, Coughing, and Stuff



The Drug Czar's blog eagerly touts the finding of a recent Yale School of Medicine study showing that long-term marijuana use isn’t good for your lungs.
Marijuana: Harmless?

From HealthDay News:

"People who smoke marijuana for a long time face many of the same kinds of respiratory problems -- such as phlegm, coughing and wheezing -- as long-term cigarette smokers, say researchers at the Yale School of Medicine."

Predictably, the drug warriors are grabbing onto this like a life-preserver after a week of tough news. New research proves that medical marijuana helps AIDs patients, a DEA judge recommends ending their monopoly on research, and Americans for Safe Access sues them in federal court for lying to the public, and all they can say is "but you'll get a bad cough!"

Remember the good old days when marijuana made you rape and kill? No one complains that crack is bad for your lungs, because it's goddamn crack and its reputation precedes it. Indeed, the phrase "long-term health consequences" is seldom used with regards to any drug but marijuana, because they're too busy promising instant death.

Further progress on our part will become evident during the imminent debate over whether pot brownies cause tooth decay.

NIDA To MMJ Patients: Shove It Up Your Ass

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The Clarion-Ledger reports that scientists at NIDA's marijuana research facility in Mississippi are working on a marijuana suppository:
[Dr. Mahmoud] ElSohly and his staff used the plant to create a marijuana suppository. On the market in five years, it could be used to treat neuropathic pain, nausea and vomiting experienced by chemotherapy patients.
It's unclear why the National Institute on Drug Abuse is making marijuana medicines, but anyone familiar with NIDA's notoriously bad product can't help but laugh at its new destination.

Many have suggested that NIDA's contempt for marijuana itself has contributed to their decades-long failure to grow it properly. Coupled with NIDA's ongoing blockade against medical marijuana research in general, their suggestion that patients medicate anally certainly adds insult to injury.

At last, I think we've stumbled on the federal government's secret and hilarious medical marijuana strategy. After years of bitter debate, the feds will seek to placate us all with a take-it-or-leave-it offer of perfectly legal marijuana-laced butt medicine.

It's a brilliant plan, but everything will fall apart at the press conference when John Walters laughs for the first time ever, setting off a chain reaction that turns Nora Volkow into a hippy and generally disorients the drug war establishment.
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United States

Drug War Irrationality Watch: Banning Things That Are Already Illegal

One of the fun things about being a drug warrior is that you can always propose crazy new drug laws, even when they overlap with existing legislation. The temptation to single out and stigmatize perpetrators of every remote subcategory of drug activity has been known to keep drug-obsessed legislators off the golf course.

This week, Nevada State Sen. Joe Heck (R-Las Vegas) is championing unnecessary marijuana laws in a state where 44% of voters want to legalize the stuff. From the Reno Gazette-Journal:

Nevada parents who grow a single marijuana plant in their home where children live could be subject to a prison term of up to 15 years, according to a bill that was debated Monday at the Nevada Legislature.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Heck, R-Las Vegas, would subject parents who grow or sell marijuana in the presence of children to the same penalties as adults who operate methamphetamine labs in front of children.

Of course meth labs frequently explode and spew toxic chemicals, eventually producing methamphetamine. Marijuana plants just sit around smelling nice and getting larger, and eventually you get marijuana. Different drugs, different process, different people, same draconian punishment?

"The very behavior of small children puts them at risk around these materials, including marijuana," Heck said. "As any parent knows, the first place a toddler places anything they find is in their mouth. What if this object is a marijuana plant?"

I'm skeptical. A lot of kids won’t eat vegetables unless you withhold dessert. And unheated marijuana is basically non-psychoactive. I'm not saying people should grow marijuana with kids around, but the bill's proponents have cited no evidence of small children being injured by live marijuana plants. I doubt they'll find any.

At best, a 15-year mandatory minimum for small-time marijuana cultivation is an imprecise reaction to the general concern that children put random things in their mouths. At worst, one might call it shameless drug war posturing, hastily drafted without evidence of any particular urgency, to the detriment of a thousand better ways to spend money on Nevada's children.

Actually, that's exactly what it is.

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United States

In the Rain on the Shores of Lake Titicaca---This Is a Potential Problem

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I´m in Puno, Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca in heavy downpour. There is already massive flooding in Bolivia (I saw it on CNN en espanol tonight and heard about it from Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network a couple of days ago), so the rain here is not a good sign. Kathryn said her husband was lucky to get back from the Chapare a couple of days ago, and it´s only gotten worse. What does this mean? It means it may be impossible to get to either of the major coca regions in the next few days. I don´t know that for sure, but that road to Las Yungas (the world´s deadliest highway) is dirt, and with heavy rains, it sounds very iffy. And the Chapare is where the deadly flooding is (36 dead so far), so that sounds pretty iffy, too. I had hoped to be in Bolivia tonight, but it was not to be. By the time my rain-delayed bus from Cusco got here to Puno, it was late afternoon, and the Bolivians close the border crossing at 6:30 local time, and given that it´s another two or three hours to the border, I stopped here rather than face the prospect of getting trapped overnight in the middle of nowhere. I will arrive in La Paz tomorrow afternoon, God willin´ and the creek don´t rise (as my old man used to say, and it seems appropriate in these circumstances) and will probably meet up with Annie Murphy from the Bolivian embassy in Washington. She is in La Paz. Since Kathryn and the AIN are in Cochabamba, on the way to the Chapare, with the roads doubtful, and since the Drug War Chronicle deadline looms, I think I will just stay in La Paz Thursday and write from there. Of course, the Coca Museum is there, too. My return flight is a week from Friday, but it´s next Friday at 12:30am, which means I´m effectively gone as of Thursday since I will have to travel back to Lima to catch that flight. Maybe it´s worth investigating what it would cost to switch tickets and postpone my return for another week. I think I can afford the extra days of food and cheap hotels...Something to ponder. Otherwise, I will effectively have only six days in Bolivia, and I may not be able to go where we need to go. In other news, I managed to interview the owner of the Coca Shop in Cusco last night. Very interesting fellow and a nice little place he has. I took some photos, too, so I´ll blog about that one of these days.
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Puno, PU
Peru

As Promised, More Pictures from Phil

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Phil took a day off from his reporting to visit the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, but coca seems to be everywhere... stunted coca plant in garden, Machu Picchu (click this post's title link or the "read full post" link for more pictures -- not coca or drug policy, but breathtaking) Machu Picchu, Rio Urubamba below Temple of the Sun Inca sundial, pointing to true magnetic north intrepid editor Phil Smith view of Machu Picchu
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United States

Dobbs Losing CNN Marijuana Legalization Poll Big-Time

I haven't yet watched the Lou Dobbs piece on the marijuana legalization movement, but it is has already been made available for viewing on YouTube, here. I am very interested to read comments -- hopefully posted here to the blog -- from those of you who have seen it. There is an online poll running on CNN from the Lou Dobbs Tonight home page. If it's still going when you read this blog post, please go there and vote. At latest count Dobbs was losing big-time -- 79-21%! So there. Read my takeoff on Dobbs' drug war editorial if you haven't already, in this week's Chronicle or here.
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United States

Bringing Home The Troops

As blowhards like Lou Dobbs call for escalation in the war on drugs, even the White House is singing a different tune. From The Washington Times:
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia -- President Bush's new budget calls for deep cuts in the leading U.S. program to fight drug trafficking in the Andean region, amid growing clashes over drug policy between Washington and leftist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia.


"It would be the largest across-the-board reduction in aid since the war on drugs began," said one U.S. diplomatic official, who asked not to be named.
It's refreshing to see ordinarily smug drug warriors decline to be named. That's to be expected when their opposition comes from the White House rather than the drug policy reform movement.

There's nothing to debate here. The Andean Counterdrug Initiative has failed utterly and everyone knows it. It has caused great devastation, but the one thing it has not done is reduce the availability of drugs in the U.S.

Meanwhile, The Miami Herald reports that Ecuador is evicting U.S. anti-drug forces from our only military stronghold in South America.
They are responsible for about 60 percent of drug interdiction in the eastern Pacific.

That matters little to newly inaugurated President Rafael Correa, whose rejection of a U.S. military presence in Ecuador reflects widespread resentment over Washington's foreign policy in a region where the Bush administration now has few reliable allies.

''We've said clearly that in 2009 the agreement will not be renewed because we believe that sovereignty consists of not having foreign soldiers on our home soil,'' Correa said.
This is the kind of humiliating defeat that makes drug war addicts like Joe Biden call for biological warfare in South America. It's a reminder that the drug war won’t end with a public apology, but rather a quiet-as-possible reallocation of funds.

When the war finally ends, it will be at the hands of Congress and the Executive branch. It won’t be at the hands of the "deep-pocketed pro-drug lobby," for there truly is no such thing. We're just a group of people who recognize, as even the White House sometimes does, that there are always better things to do with a billion dollars than trying to stop people from getting high.

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United States

Coca at Machu Picchu--Who Knew?

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Yesterday, I visited the world class Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Despite it being a cloudy, foggy, rainy day (it is that season, after all), it was a very impressive experience, one I cannot recommend too highly. Located atop a mountain peak several thousand feet above the raging Rio Urubamba (to enter its waters at this time of year is certain death), Machu Picchu was the primary center for scientific and philosophical research for the Inca empire and a place of retreat for the Inca nobility. Its stonework is amazingly well-hewn, and the complex is huge. About a thousand people lived there full-time, with others coming for special occasions along the Inca trail from Cusco, the capital of the empire. If you ever get to Peru, seeing Machu Picchu is an absolute must. I’m sure I haven’t done it justice with these brief comments. I benefited from traveling with a small group that had a very well-informed tour guide, and it was from him that I learned that coca was part of the Inca diet. In addition to using it for its hunger-suppressing and energy-providing qualities, the Incas used it to keep their teeth strong! The coca leaf is heavy in calcium, and because the Inca lacked cows and llamas provided only enough milk for their young, the coca leaf was their primary source of calcium. Our guide was quite proud of the fact that Inca skeletons always showed strong, healthy teeth, a fact he attributed to chewing the coca leaf. Among the ruins at Machu Picchu, there is a garden packed with plants used by the Inca. Among them is coca, even though it is ill-suited to grow well at such elevations. In fact, the coca plant in the garden there was stunted and scraggly, growing only about 18 inches high, or about one-half to one-fourth of the size obtained by coca plants at elevations to which it is more suited. Still, they grew it at Machu Picchu, for the reasons mentioned above. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and news and all that good stuff before heading for Bolivia tomorrow. One thing I will do today, though, is visit the Buen Pastor shop, that place I mentioned a blog post or two ago, where they sell coca products here in Cusco. Look for something about that later today or Wednesday, since tomorrow will be a long day of bus travel across the 12,000-foot altiplano past Lake Titicaca and up to La Paz. I think I will be heading on to Cochabamba the next day, where my friends from the Andean Information Network await me. The coca leaf is ubiquitous around here. My hotel provides some with breakfast every day. All the restaurants offer mate de coca (coca tea). Little indigenous women near Machu Picchu offer it to travelers getting ready to trek around the heights. And the US government wants to eradicate it all. Now, I'm off to visit the coca shops of Cusco. Stay tuned. Note: Dave Borden will be posting some Machu Picchu photos I sent him later today. Come back and check 'em out!
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CU
Peru

More Lou Dobbs to Come...

So my takeoff on a Lou Dobbs drug war editorial has apparently been making the rounds on the web site stumbleupon.com, and has already gotten 2,700 reads even though it only went up yesterday. Thank you to whoever it was who got that action started. Apparently Dobbs is continuing his drug war reporting -- if you can call it "reporting" -- Monday night at 6:00pm with a look at the "deep-pocketed lobby that wants to legalize pot in this country." Of course Dobbs goes on to talk about "marijuana's backers" -- as if there is some equivalence between people who believe in drug policy reform (e.g. legalization, or freedom as it can also be called) and those who promote or might profit from the personal choices of people who might use the plant. Earth to to Lou Dobbs: it's not the same to be pro-legalization or pro-reform as it is to be pro-marijuana or pro-drug. Never having used illegal drugs and never having recommended them to anyone I feel offended by that. We will post some observations about the show on Monday, along with contact information for writing in with your opinions. Keep your typing fingers warmed up!
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United States

More Pictures from Coca Country -- Ayacucho and Cusco

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Pictures from Phil, Ayacucho province and Cusco -- more of them (and good writing) can be found in Phil's Drug War Chronicle scene article here. Many more to come... cocalero Percy Ore in his fields, near the town of San Francisco, Ayacucho province coca waiting by the side of the road to go to market (Click the "read full post" link if you're not seeing the rest of the pictures.) Ayacucho highlands, seen from highway A washout (landslide) on the road back to Ayacucho kept Phil and other travelers waiting for three hours -- delaying publication of Drug War Chronicle in the process. at the market in Ayacucho overview of Ayacucho Cusco's main cathedral view of cathedral from Plaza de Armas
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Peru

On the Gringo Trail, Getting Whispered Solicitations, and Sipping Mate de Coca

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I'm not sitting in Cusco, the old Inca capital, where the Spanish invaders built their churches and houses on the ruins of the Inca city. There is still that fine Inca rock work all over the place; in fact, the place I'm staying in, the Posada de Loreto, has exterior walls that are made of Inca stone, and the whole Callejon de Loreto is one of the streets most noted for its Inca stone work. In Ayachucho, mine was a rare white face; in the rural countryside of the high Andes and the Amazonian selva, mine was the only white face; one that men and women stared at and little child hid from. That's not the case here in Cusco, the gringo capital of Latin America. This city of about 400,000, with its incredible Inca cachet and closeness to the ruins of Machu Picchu, attracts droves of tourists, from tour groups of old people to the international youth backpacker set to the Andean hippies (you know the type, long haired, wearing indigenous ponchos and caps and playing flutes and beating on drums and getting quite messed up on local substances, could be American or German or Australian or even Peruvian). And where there are lots of gringo tourists, there are people wanting to sell them things, including drugs. I don't know what it is about me—is there a neon sign above my head?—but once again it didn’t take more than a few minutes from the time I ventured into the main square this afternoon to be offered cocaine, marijuana, and women. My worry-wart boss will be happen to know I passed on all them, although I feel remiss in not having inquired about prices. Maybe tomorrow. Cusco is high, some 11,000 feet, so I figured this was the time for me to try mate de coca (coca tea) for the first time. I've chewed the leaves before, several times in the last week, as a matter of fact, but I had never had the tea. It was basically a glass of hot water with coca leaves steeping in it. According to my waiter, I was supposed to chew the leaves as I sipped the tea. I did, and I got a nice coca jolt within seconds. Did it help me cope with the altitude? Well, it seems likely; I certainly felt more energetic. I also discovered that there is a store here in Cusco that sells various coca products, along with other hip, "socially conscious" stuff. It's name is the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd), but they were closed by the time I tracked them down this evening. Since I'll spend the day at Machu Picchu tomorrow, I'll track them down on Monday and see what the deal is. And since I'll be gone all day—up at 5am to catch the train up the Sacred Valley, getting to Machu Picchu about 10am, spending the day at the site, and returning to Cusco about 8pm—you won't be hearing anything more from me for awhile. But there should be some pictures posted. I'm going back to my hotel right now to get the camera, so I can upload them and Borden can download them. On Tuesday, it's on to Bolivia…
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Peru

What a trip it's been, and it's only the end of week one!

Since last I blogged, I've gone by overnight bus from Lima to the Andean highlands city of Ayacucho, thence over the top of the Andes and down into the Amazonian selva (actually, the "ceja de selva," the eyebrow of the jungle) to the small towns of San Francisco, Ayacucho, and Kirimbiri, Cusco, on the other side of the rain-swollen Rio Apurimac deep in the heart of the coca growing region known as the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), and then back to Ayacucho. It has been brutal—hours of travel on crappy, crappy dirt roads over mountains and across flooded out stretches of road through some of the poorest land in the country. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, I get up a 5AM to catch a flight back to Lima and then on to Cusco, for a little rest and tourism at Machu Picchu. (Ayacucho is halfway between Lima and Cusco, but as they say, "you can’t get there from here." There are no city to city flights in Peru except to and from Lima. Go figure. An Aero Condor rep told me it's because they're a Fourth World country.) The travel to coca country was mind-bending: Huge mountains, endless switchbacks on dirt roads with no shoulder and a thousand-foot drop-off, indigenous people herding sheep and goats and burros and horses, the women wearing those funny Andean hats. (I hope Dave Borden will be good enough to post some more pictures here.) It is rainy season, so water is pouring down the mountains in spectacular cascades, but also ripping the road open and causing landslides that block the road. Local people come out to fix it, but put rocks in the road to collect a toll for their labors. From the crest of the Andes, somewhere at about 12,000 feet near Tambo, it was downhill all the way to the Apurimac River, a tributary of the Amazon. You go from jacket weather to dripping with sweat in the heat and humidity of the Amazon, pine trees turn to palm trees and tropical fronds. It was in some towns along the Apurimac that I hooked up with some local cocalero leaders and went out into the poverty-stricken countryside to view the fields myself. I've seen a lot of poverty in my day, but the conditions in which the coca farmers live are truly grim. They have to walk miles just to get to the nearest town, they have no running water or electricity, and even with four coca crops a year, they barely make enough money to feed and clothe their children. One of the highlights was one of the cocalero leaders pointing out the houses (more like shanties) of the cocaleros and demanding to know "Where are the narco mansions?" Well, certainly not around here. Every cocalero I've talked to has had the same refrain: This is our sacred plant, we have nothing to do with the drug trade, either leave us alone or provide real agricultural development assistance. And that refrain resonates: Of 70 municipalities in the VRAE, cocaleros hold power in all 70. This is also the home of the country's premier cocalero leader, Nelson Palomino of CONCPACCP, with whom I talked in Lima earlier this week. Will it be pretty much the same in Bolivia? I don't know. Check back later. Editor's Note: I certainly will post Phil's pictures, but it will be a little later this weekend. In the meanwhile, be sure to read Phil's Drug War Chronicle article from Peru, published earlier today -- three pictures, interviews with key people and lots of good info. -- Dave
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AY
Peru

Victory, At Least for Now: Lafayette City Council Withdraws Harsh Marijuana Ordinance Pending Further Study

bulletin from the city of Lafayette: http://www.cityoflafayette.com/News.asp?NewsID=1466 City Withdraws Ordinance Ordinance No. 06, 2007, which amended Section 75-41 and 75-42 of Lafayette's Municipal Code regarding the maximum penalties for possession of cannabis (marijuana), has been withdrawn. City staff and City Council have determined that more information and analysis are needed on this matter, and it will be the subject of a Council Workshop Meeting on April 3. If and when the ordinance is brought forward after the workshop City Council's process for voting on the ordinance will start from the beginning, with votes required at two separate Council Meetings. The April 3 City Council Workshop will be held at City Hall, Council Chambers, 1290 South Public Road, at 5:30 PM. The workshop meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast live on Cable Channel 8. also, a press release from SAFER about it: PRESS RELEASE For Immediate Release -- Feb. 16, 2007 Lafayette City Council withdraws bid to increase marijuana penalties Officials reconsider drastic and unnecessary ordinance in light of strong public opposition Contact: Mason Tvert, SAFER executive director, 720-255-4340 DENVER -- The Lafayette City Council has withdrawn a municipal ordinance that would have drastically and unnecessarily increased the fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed measure would have increased the fine for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana from a maximum $100 fine and no time in jail -- as called for under state law -- to a maximum $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), along with the ACLU of Colorado, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Sensible Colorado, coordinated a strong grassroots response in opposition to the proposal, which the council initially approved at its Feb. 6 meeting. According to a statement on the Lafayette City Council's Web site (see below or http://www.cityoflafayette.com/ News.asp?NewsID=1466), "City staff and City Council have determined that more information and analysis are needed on this matter." The measure came at the behest of a Lafayette municipal court judge and was introduced by Lafayette police. Proponents failed to provide any evidence supporting the stated intent of the ordinance, and no public support was demonstrated for such heightened penalties for simple marijuana possession. A majority (53.2 percent) of Lafayette voters and an even larger majority (55.5 percent) of Boulder County voters approved Amendment 44 last November, which would have removed all penalties for adult possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. "We are very pleased that the Lafayette City Council has withdrawn this drastic and unnecessary measure," said SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert. "We appreciate their responsiveness to the concerns of Lafayette and Boulder County citizens, and we look forward to serving as a resource for accurate information on marijuana at the council's public workshop on this issue in April." "Every objective study on marijuana has found it to be less harmful than alcohol to both the user and to society," Tvert said. "There is simply no justification for penalizing adults so severely -- if at all -- for making the safer choice. Colorado's criminal justice system is already overwhelmed and Boulder County's jail is full, so there is no sense in further cluttering either of them with adults doing nothing more harmful than having a couple cocktails. " # # #
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United States

Phil is Back in Ayacucho -- Report and Pictures Coming Tomorrow AM...

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Phil called me this afternoon from a small town called San Francisco, off in the wilds of the Peruvian state Ayacucho -- the heart of coca country. He promised a bunch of pictures, including some of coca fields, when he got back tonight to the city of Ayacucho itself -- all three Internet cafes in San Francisco were offline, so he couldn't send them or post to the blog from there. Among other things, Phil told me that the roads are really bad there, and together with it being a real mountain region he can see why it is difficult to transport most crops out of there to larger markets. Phil was expecting to get back to Ayacucho around 7:00pm, but debris left by a landslide had to be cleared off of the road, and they were delayed for three hours. The hotel doesn't have Internet or even phone lines in the rooms to try a dial-up, and he was left with a little over an hour with which to post some Chronicle articles for me to proof, and with much of the Chronicle writing job in front of him. So no blogging from Phil tonight, unfortunately. But check back tomorrow morning, when Phil will recount the tale of his trip over the top of the Andes and down into the edge of the Amazonian jungle to visit with coca growers...
Location: 
Ayacucho, AY
Peru

Don't Talk To The Kids About Drugs

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Seriously, just don't. Because if you mention drugs to children for any purpose other than to terrify them, you'll make national news for being a bastard.

That's exactly what happened to a high school teacher in New Mexico who mentioned meth on a math test. From KOB-TV.com:

Teacher Will Klundt’s question reads: “Smoky J. sells meth. Smoky’s source says he has to sell a G’s worth of meth by the end of the month. If Smoky sold $245 the first week and $532 the second week, how much money must Smoky still make if he wants to avoid the beat down from his connection?”
...
[Moriarty High School Principal] Marshall refused to discuss what, if any, disciplinary action will be or has been taken against Klundt.

Could this be because there isn't yet a rule against innocuous acknowledgements that drug dealers exist? Surely the school board must now convene to determine the appropriate sanction for teachers who mention drugs without adding, in the same breath, that they'll turn you into a walking freak show. This is necessary, because the hippies that pass for teachers these days aren’t worth the aluminum it takes to roll 'em out of town in a trashcan.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association thinks that movies should be rated 'R' if they depict smoking. They got the idea from a study showing that kids who watch movies are more likely to smoke, or some such nonsense. I don't know. I refuse to even read that crap.

You could write a book about how stupid this is, consisting mostly of long chapters listing activities more dangerous than smoking that are allowed in 'PG' movies. But it's preferable to censorship for those of us old enough to watch whatever movies we want. I'd rather watch I Love Lucy on the Playboy Channel than have to explain to a child why Ricky Ricardo's hand is blurry all the time.

The 'slippery slope' problem presents itself here, but this level of hysteria is typically reserved for drugs, sex, and trans fats. To its credit, NPR gave airtime this morning to the idea that excessive eating is just as deserving of an 'R' rating as cigarette smoking. I grinned for a moment, but then paused to wonder if maybe they should shut up about that.

Location: 
United States

Press Release from Judge Leonard I. Frieling on His Resignation in Protest of Harsh Marijuana Ordinance

Following my resignation as a Lafayette Municipal Court Associate Judge in protest of an unnecessary and drastic proposal to increase marijuana possession penalties in the City of Lafayette, some misinformed officials with the city launched an attack on my character, spurring news stories that suggested I was no longer an associate judge with the city at the time of my resignation. According to a member of the local press who requested my employment history from Lafayette Human Resource Director Pam Spring, my employment status was "active" as of Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007. Ms. Spring also informed this individual that , while a new judge had been hired last April, I had not been replaced and retained my position with the City. It is true that I had not been called to sit on the bench for a while. As a result, the message I intended to send with my resignation is still as pertinent now as it was when this story first broke. The City hired me because they trusted my judgment, and I can no longer serve as a judge for a city willing to go to such great measures to ensure they have the ability to punish non-violent adult marijuana users more harshly than the state mandates. I do not pretend that it was a huge personal sacrifice. I am not the issue. The issue is the issue. Thus, I will be standing in opposition to this measure at a press conference Tuesday, the day on which this measure's fate will be determined. More details about this event will follow from Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER). I suspect that I will NOT attend the city council meeting on Tuesday evening. The city council SHOULD be informed of the position of the public on this issue. I suspect that they already are aware of my position, and won't benefit from hearing it again. I would be a distraction, and this story is not about me. Lenny Frieling (See Judge Frieling's blog piece written for DRCNet's Speakeasy here.)
Location: 
Lafayette, CO
United States

Mexico Proposes Decriminalization…Again

Filipe Calderon is so totally not getting a Christmas card from the White House this year. From ABC News:
Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government wants to decriminalize first-time possession of small amounts of drugs in a move likely to draw criticism from U.S. anti-narcotics officials.

Under the proposed legislation, users found for the first time with 2 grams (0.07 ounces) or less of marijuana and small amounts of other drugs ranging from cocaine to methamphetamine would not be prosecuted.
A similar proposal last spring from Mexico's then-President Vicente Fox dropped jaws at the U.S. State Department, culminating in frantic diplomacy and a last minute veto. Since the bill had emerged from Fox's office, his subsequent veto under U.S. pressure was a pathetic reversal. If Vicente Fox got a new iPod out of the deal, I guess Felipe Calderon wants one too.

The fun part here is that Calderon has recently enjoyed gushing praise from the drug war peanut gallery for his unwavering campaign against the cartels. So I won't be the first to pass a napkin when the smug Robert J. Caldwell at Human Events spits coffee on his monitor. Or Karen Tandy, for that matter.

What do you say when the man who's been quenching your insatiable appetite for massive drug war demolition says he wants to pardon the cannon fodder? Some might sympathize with Calderon's explanation that he aims to conserve resources for the bigger battles, but an underlying principle behind the American drug war holds that people who use drugs are unforgivable bastards. No, this won't play well in Washington.

If the bill becomes law, will frustrated U.S. officials commence lobbying Mexico to divert resources from their cartel wars back towards the fruitless endeavor of busting drug users for dime bags? That would be quite revealing.

Location: 
United States

Big Medical Marijuana Research News

One of the stories we've reported on in Drug War Chronicle is the request of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that one of its professors, Lyle Craker, be granted the necessary licenses to allow him to legally grow research grade marijuana for research on marijuana as a medicine. The DEA always says "there's no research supporting medical marijuana" and "it needs to go through the FDA like any other drug." Actually there is research supporting medical marijuana, quite a bit of it in fact. But the specific research that needs to be done to get marijuana through the remainder of the FDA process can only be done if the DEA allows researchers the legal right to have the marijuana around to do the research. And DEA usually says no. Not surprisingly, DEA has obstructed Craker's efforts, which led to litigation This week DEA administrative law judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled that DEA should issue the licenses and allow UMass to proceed with its plans. The ruling is not binding, and DEA officials have the power to simply decide otherwise if they so choose. This is what happened in 1988 after Judge Francis Young issued an historic and oft-cited pro-medical marijuana ruling. We'll see what happens this time. Visit the web site of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies for more information and extensive background on this issue.
Location: 
United States

First Pictures from Coca Land

Mana coca foods (and other foods) store owner of Mana, with coca energy powder changing of the guard, Municipal Palace, Plaza de Armas, Lima cocalero leader Nelson Palomino, with coca leaves Drug War Chronicle editor Phil Smith with Nelson Palomino National Cathedral, Plaza de Armas Phil Smith with Peruvian academic and coca expert Baldomero Caceres upscale Lima suburb Miraflores pedestrian shopping street Jiron de la Union, Lima Municipal Palace National Cathedral
Location: 
Lima
Peru

Off to Ayacucho and the Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers

Oh, my situation is fluid. I was supposed to travel to Ayacucho today to visit cocalero leader Nelson Palomino and check out what is going on in the coca fields of the Valles de los rios Apurimac y Ene (VRAE), one of the most conflictive coca zones in the country. But last night, I got word that Palomino and his crew had come to Lima for meetings. I managed to hook up with them this morning, as well as visiting Mana Integral, a small company devoted to the nutrional uses of coca. It makes coca wheat, coca yoghurt, coca energy packets (they would look great at your local convenience store). And now, although Palomino is headed up to San Martin in the northeast for more meetings, one of his men is going to accompany me on an overnight bus ride, getting into Ayacucho at dawn, then another ride of four or five hours into the heart of the VRAE. It´ll be up and over the Andes and down into the selva at the edge of the Amazon basin. Should be very, very interesting in the VRAE. It takes so long to get there that we will stay there tomorrow night and return to Ayacucho Thursday afternoon. This has some implications for near-term blogging and for getting the Chronicle out in a timely manner this week. I don´t think I´m going to find high speed internet access in the VRAE, so you may not hear from me for a day or two. I also had very interesting and disturbing conversations with coca experts Baldomero Caceres and Ricardo Soberon yesterday. Look for some of that in one of the articles I do for the Chronicle this week. This working from the road in the Third World is really kind of a hassle. I have to rely on internet cafes, and often the people working them don´t have a clue about why my connection won´t work. Then, if I have to use their machines, I have problems with the strange keyboards. But I do my best.
Location: 
Lima
Peru

"Never Get Busted Again" Video Says Consent To Searches

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Barry Cooper's new video Never Get Busted Again Vol. 1: Traffic Stops recommends consenting to searches, even when you have marijuana in your car.

As civil libertarians have struggled to explain, consenting to a search makes the search legal and destroys your chances in court if anything is found. It's deeply troubling that Cooper is targeting marijuana users with this reckless and shortsighted advice.

His only rationale is that a well-hidden stash could evade detection during the search, yet Cooper completely ignores the consequences of consent for those whose stash is discovered. And discovery is likely since Cooper's stash spots aren't very secret anymore. Asserting your rights is an indispensable skill during a police encounter and Cooper's failure to address this would be laughable if it weren't so destructive.

Flex Your Rights details the numerous threats posed by Cooper's ill-conceived advice.

Please help us counter this dangerous message. Waiving your rights in the war on drugs is never the answer.

Location: 
United States

With Baldomero Caceres in Miraflores

I´ve spent the last few hours with Baldomeo Caceres, the Peruvian psychologist and coca expert, walking around central Lima and talking about the politics of coca. Now, we´ve traveled to Baldo´s house in the upscale Lima suburb of Miraflores, where we´re going to have a nice Peruvian lunch, then I´ll pull out my laptop and do a formal interview with him. One of the points that Baldo hammered away on while we walked and talked was his frustration with the slow pace of efforts to get coca removed from the list of banned plants in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics. Evo Morales is supposedly ready to formally request coca´s removal from the list, but according to Baldo, he isn´t getting support from some of the quarters he should be in the world of the non-governmental organizations. We´ll see what Baldo is willing to say about that on the record. He was also pessimistic about the prospects for change at the UN General Assembly special session on drugs in Vienna next year. Again, we´ll see what he says about that on the record. I have just been called to lunch, so I will keep this short. After this, I go to interview Peruvian defense and drug policy analyst Ricardo Soberon, formerly an advisor to Congresswoman Nancy Obregon. I will have photos soon. I had to buy a cable for the camera so I can transfer the photos. I´ll try to post some this evening.
Location: 
Lima
Peru

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