The Speakeasy Blog

Hemp: A Coming Epidemic

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MSNBC reports on the alarming surge of hemp-laced foods being sold openly in our neighborhoods. Hemp products flow freely across our border from source countries such as Canada, where liberal policies have facilitated a booming industry targeting American snackers south of the border. While a ban on domestic hemp production provides some protection, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep these products out of the hands of children.

According to MSNBC, hemp cultivation has been a problem for quite some time:

Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years for fiber and food. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp and in fact Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

In recent years, hemp users have adopted increasingly diverse and discreet methods of administration:

Since the early 1990s, shelled hempseeds have been used as a food ingredient in a wide variety of foodstuffs, including baked goods, snacks, breakfast cereals, beverages, frozen desserts, tofu, and milk substitute.

The DEA has invested millions combating the dangers of hemp, both in court and in open fields around the country where the plant has learned to reproduce itself without human assistance. Still, there remains a well-funded campaign to legalize hemp in several states. Hemp advocates seek to deceive the public with misleading claims that it is a healthy food and that it isn't drugs.

To its credit, MSNBC refutes the dangerous myth that hemp foods are non-psychoactive:

If 20 percent of a food's ingredients are shelled hempseeds, and assuming a 2 ppm THC level, a human being would have to eat 50 pounds of the food in question to become intoxicated.


The prospect of hemp addicts consuming 50 pounds a day to get their fix is frightening indeed, and stands in stark contrast to the hemp advocates' repeated claims that it is "good for you."

Needless to say, this is not your daddy's granola bar.

Location: 
United States

Finally, Someone is Getting Serious About Marijuana

Why screw around arresting pot smokers when you can get to the root of the problem by simply eliminating marijuana? That is the latest plan from Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency, at least according to this report, which notes that the country should be pot-free by 2015:
BNN: 2015, Indonesia Free from Marijuana Fields Tuesday, 16 January, 2007 | 17:46 WIB TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta: The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) targets Indonesia to be free from marijuana fields by 2015. “BNN will fight marijuana growth” said Executive Chairman of BNN, Insp. Gen. Made Mangku Pastika, during the working meeting with the Regional Representatives Assembly (DPD) in Senayan yesterday (15/1). For the first stage, he said, BNN will clear marijuana fields in Aceh. “In Aceh, there are 500 hectares (marijuana fields), but we target 200 hectares in this year,” he said. In order to make the program successful, he will cooperate with the Agriculture Department and the Trade Department in looking for substitute production. “If there is no substitute, it will be difficult,” he said. In addition, the agency will carry out a rehabilitation program for illegal drug addicts via the religious way. “This is more effective,” he said.
Gen. Pastika is only the latest in a long line of politicians and drug fighters who have set their eyes on the ultimate prize. The last one I can recall is former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was going to eliminate drugs there in 2003. Well, Thaksin is gone now, and he didn’t manage to eliminate drugs, although his cops murdered some 2,000 or so drug users and sellers. I think the European Union was going to eliminate drugs by 2008, or maybe it was the UN. And wasn’t it Newt Gingrich who wanted to wipe out drugs by 2002 in our country? I'm not sure because I don't spend a lot of time pondering such codswallop. Such promises are enough to embarrass Don Quixote. But hey, at least the good general in Indonesia is promising faith-based treatment…
Location: 
Indonesia

The Fine Line Between Forfeiture And Extortion

Via Rogier van Bakel, here's another example of gratuitous malfeasance courtesy of the war on drugs.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee Police Department is accused of taking possession of a Mercedes-Benz convertible from a drug-addicted local businessman in return for agreeing not to prosecute him for cocaine possession.


"In brief, the family claims Beck did this only because it was threatened that the fact he had been arrested would be affirmatively disclosed to his former wife's attorney to be used against Mr. Beck in a child custody matter."

Again and again, we discover our public servants perverting justice and jettisoning any remote appearance of caring about the law. The complete moral bankruptcy of the drug war becomes particularly vivid when police start offering to drop charges in exchange for luxury sports cars.

Of course no such incident would be complete without the obligatory nonsensical rationalization from the local prosecutor:

"The drug violation in this case, . . . possession of cocaine, is among those violations for which a vehicle is not subject to forfeiture," [Milwaukee County district attorney, E. Michael McCann] wrote. "We believe the officers acted in good faith under this creative interpretation in justifying securing Mr. Beck's car, but it cannot stand up as a matter of law."

Ok, if something "doesn't stand up as a matter of law" that means it's illegal. It's not a "creative interpretation" of some otherwise appropriate sanction, and police shouldn't be administering punishments anyway. Of course Mr. Beck ultimately wasn't punished, because the police department accepted a bribe instead. That's called extortion.

Equally preposterous is McCann's casual determination that the officers acted in good faith. The "good faith" doctrine forgives police for actions they believed to be legal (i.e. executing a flawed warrant), but it requires some vague pretense of reasonableness. Calling something like this "good faith" is an extremely generous, but obnoxiously typical, prosecutorial response to police misconduct.

As long as prosecutors persist in redefining misconduct as "creative" or "good faith" policing, we should expect plenty more of it.
Location: 
United States

DEA Treasurer: "There Will Be Less Drug Enforcement Going On"

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It might be time for all you hippies to stop worrying and learn to love the War in Iraq. Via Time.com:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which annually loses some 3% of its 5,000 agents to attrition, has a two-year hiring freeze because of budget cuts to U.S. programs. DEA bean counters say they would need an additional $12 million to maintain current agent levels. The DEA's overseas funding has increased, but overall, DEA chief financial officer Frank Kalder admits, "there will be less drug enforcement going on. There's no getting around that."

Ironically, the same foreign policies that have necessitated DEA cutbacks have also caused this:

The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that opium production in Afghanistan, which not only provides 90% of the heroin consumed globally but also funds Taliban activities, rose 61% last year over 2005. Some 670 tons of heroin are expected to flood the market, and that should slash the street price of a kilo of Southwest Asian heroin, now about $90,000 in Los Angeles.

Roll up your sleeves, folks. It's about to get crazy up in here.

Seriously though, faithful readers, please stay away from the Afghani heroin. We're primarily a web-based organization and I've heard that stuff can make you sell your computer. We need you to respond to our action alerts, write LTE's, and hopefully donate when you can.

Instead of getting jacked up on junk from Jalalabad, let's celebrate the DEA's hiring freeze by sending them job applications.


Location: 
United States

Drug War Corruption Forces Disarmament of Entire Tijuana Police Force

A new day, a new extreme as the dark swarm of drug war-corrupted cops continues to swell.

From The Baltimore Sun:

Disarmed municipal police patrolled alongside armed state police Friday, a sight that brought some comfort to many in this border city, where municipal police are often equated with corruption and drug-fueled violence.


Members of the 2,300-strong municipal police force were ordered by the military to turn in their weapons to see whether any are linked with homicides and other crimes. More than 2,000 weapons, most of them 9 mm handguns, but also some automatic weapons and shotguns, are being inspected.

There's something terribly wrong when public safety necessitates the disarmament of the police. It's a bizarre situation that would never happen in a million years if it weren't for the infinitely corrupting influence of the war on drugs. Indeed, the drug war is more than mildly corrosive; it corrupts entire nations, beginning with the people placed in charge of preventing corruption.

The best evidence that everything is going to hell comes from the citizens of Tijuana, who couldn't be more thrilled about the disarmament of their police force:

Municipal police may get their weapons back within two weeks, Tijuana officials say, but many residents aren't demanding urgent action.

"This is stupendous," said Alfredo Arias, the manager of a restaurant in the tough neighborhood of La Libertad that was riddled by hundreds of bullets in a shootout last year between masked gunmen and federal agents.


Alberto Capella, president of Tijuana's citizens advisory council on public safety, said disarming the police had met with widespread support. "In some ways it's a necessary evil ... part of the cleansing we need to improve the department." he said.

I totally understand. The worst consequences of U.S. drug policy are suffered by innocent citizens in source countries, but I can think of a few good reasons to disarm some of the cops up here. Maybe the Mexicans are on to something. But even drastic steps like disarming police cannot quench the drug war's insatiable appetite for chaos and disorder.

We're seeing a steady escalation of drug trade violence across our southern border, and while many bloggers are concerned, most are content to simply propose building fences and such. Never mind that drug prohibition will always encourage well-financed drug traffickers to cut holes in the fence.

No, a fence isn't going to work. Unless it's a magic fence. A magic fence that knows how to end drug prohibition.

Location: 
United States

South America trip back on again, and maybe a visit to the meth conference, too.

As readers of this blog know, I had to postpone my trip to Peru and Bolivia to report on coca doings because the Bolivian government announced on New Year's Day that US citizens would need visas to enter the country, even if coming as tourists. That announcement was followed by days of uncertainty, with the Bolivian consulate in Washington saying first one thing, then another about visa requirements. That's when we decided to postpone the trip. Now, thanks to Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, who was kind enough to send me Bolivian press reports, we find out that the Bolivian government has decided the new visa requirements will not go into effect until March. That means I will now reschedule my trip for February. One of the regrets I had about the original trip schedule was that it would mean I would miss the 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis organized by the Harm Reduction Project. The last one was absolutely outstanding, with cutting edge research and too many good panels to take in, and I expect this one to be as important. Now, I could make this conference...if DRCNet has enough money to send me. Calling Mr. Borden...
Location: 
United States

Irony: Newark Launches "Ground War" To Curb Drug Trade Violence

From The New York Times:

NEWARK, Jan. 8 — Mayor Cory A. Booker and his police director announced the formation of a new narcotics division today to try to defeat a stubbornly high murder rate, firmly linking the trade in illegal drugs to the city's persistent violence.

There's a link, alright. And in time politicians will come to understand that it is prohibition which makes drug-trade violence inevitable. Surely we can't keep addressing community problems with hollow rhetoric like this:

The new 45-person unit, led by a deputy chief, will tackle the city's drug trade as it if were a "ground war," he said.


So basically they're proposing a war on violence. It won't work. It can't work because drug-trade violence stems from an absence of regulation, not a shortage of armed police ready to kick doors in on an informant's tip.

In fact, temporary successes achieved through "ground war" tactics frequently increase violence as new competitors rush to replace those removed from the market by law-enforcement. Nor should anyone disregard the abundant collateral damage that occurs when armed raids are conducted based on tips from shady criminal informants.

The New York Times isn't responsible for making this argument, but they should at least acknowledge it. The discussion of drug-trade violence is incomplete and unproductive when the contributing role of drug prohibition goes unmentioned.

Help us spread the message: The New York Times accepts letters to the editor at [email protected].

Location: 
United States

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.

Location: 
United States

Drug War Chronicle's South America trip postponed

I decided today to postpone my long-awaited trip to Bolivia and Peru because of uncertainty surrounding the situation with Bolivian visa requirements. As I blogged a few days ago, the Bolivian government announced New Year's Day that it would now require all American citizens traveling there to have visas (previously visas were not required for tourist visits lasting less than 30 days). Okay, so I'll get a visa, right? Wrong. When my DC-based colleague went to the Bolivian consulate there, he was given a visa application for me to fill out, but when he returned it, he was told no visa was necessary. When he reiterated his concerns, the consular employee gave him a copy of Bolivian consular service document saying because the embassy had not been officially informed of the change, the old rules were still in effect. Meanwhile, at least one US citizen responded to my initial blog by saying he had been turned away at the border. My contacts in Bolivia tell me nobody knows what's really going on yet and that the whole thing is being done in a seat-of-the-pants fashion. I could theoretically apply for a business visa, just to have some sort of guarantee I will be able to enter the country, but unlike tourist visas, I would have to appear in person at a Bolivian consulate. I haven't been able to find one of those in East Central South Dakota. So, to hell with this uncertainty. I was supposed to take off a week from today, but I'm bumping my departure back a month. I am not going to arrive at a remote Bolivian border crossing in the altiplano only to be turned back because the Bolivians don't have their act together. Instead, I'll wait and hope they get it figured out soon.
Location: 
United States

Debate Over Afghan Opium Medicalization Coming to Washington

The pressure to medicalize poppy cultivation in Afghanistan won't go away. The idea continues to find new proponents because it sounds considerably less absurd than asking Afghan families to give up on feeding themselves.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

After a year of escalating Afghan heroin production, calls are mounting for a shift in U.S. policy aimed at turning Afghanistan's poppy into an economic asset by using it to produce medicinal painkillers.

Backers of the proposal include several leading scientists and economists, as well as some in Congress.


"You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," [Rep. Russ] Carnahan said Thursday. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Congratulations, Russ Carnahan! You solved the riddle. Extra points if you can dumb this down enough to explain it to the drug policy experts at the State Department.

Tom Schweich, a senior State Department official who is spearheading U.S. efforts to curb Afghan narcotics, said he welcomed "creative ideas" but found this one to be unrealistic.

He said Afghan farmers wouldn't have enough economic incentive to turn away from illegal poppy cultivation. He added that Afghanistan lacks the required business infrastructure for processing, manufacturing and distribution, and that the oversight needed to prevent illicit drug trafficking would be near impossible.

Ok, we're listening. Yes, it's complicated situation. So what do you propose?

"You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Darn, he blew it. For a second there I thought he understood something.

Schweich rattles off a list of reasons why eradication won't work and then, like some sort of involuntary reflex, spontaneously proposes eradication. He sees all the reasons eradication won't work, but he cites them as arguments against Carnahan's plan rather than his own. Such rank incompetence might be funny if the fate of a nation weren't hanging in the balance.

Location: 
United States

So You Don't Have To

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My favorite blog Drug War Rant frequently reports on my least favorite blog, the ONDCP's Pushing Back, a habit I intend to undertake myself, since Pete can't possibly find time to counter every last kernel of incoherent kookiness to be found there.

Unfortunately, the only way to learn what they're saying is to visit them and risk perpetuating this:

ONDCP would like to thank all of the loyal readers of Pushing Back for helping make this blog a success. Thanks in part to you, we are now averaging over 300,000 hits per month!

Yes, thanks in small part to spite-readers like us and in large part to ONDCP not telling the truth about its web traffic, their blog is a huge success according to them. As Pete Guither explains, their claims are not demonstrably false, but rather meaningless either way:

Note the use of the word "hits." It may be technically true that Pushing Back is getting 300,000 hits per month, if you use server terminology. In that case, every call of the server counts as a hit, so as a single page is loading it could call upon the server dozens or hundreds of times to load images, run scripts, etc. "Hits" may be useful for analyzing the way you organize your site to reduce server overload, but means very little in terms of the number of people who come to read your site.

In other words, ONDCP uses misleading rhetoric to claim that people like reading their misleading rhetoric.

And we've now found ourselves frequently visiting this blog in order to expose its erroneous claims of being popular. It seems a bit silly, but not as silly as ONDCP bragging about their site traffic when anyone can look them up at Technorati.com and see that every single link to their blog is hostile.

The conspicuous absence of friendly or even neutral links to Pushing Back is notable. It shows that reformers are the only ones reading it, but it also shows how many potential drug war supporters aren't interested enough to discuss the issue. It's a powerful example of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson's observation that support for the drug war is a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Across the vast blogosphere, otherwise an epic political battleground, we can't seem to find much opposition.

In the meantime, I'll continue reading the Drug Czar's blog. So you don't have to.

Location: 
United States

Mexican Federal Police Take Tijuana By Storm -- Too Bad It Won't Work

A Reuters article this afternoon reported that Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, is sending over 3,000 troops to Tijuana in a crackdown aimed at stemming the ongoing violence that has wracked the border city in recent years. The first 500 arrived today and are investigating charges of corruption in the local police force:
As two helicopters circled overhead, dozens of troops with assault rifles and riot shields converged on a police headquarters to inspect weapons, a first step in probing alleged drug gang links and corruption inside the local force.
The move comes only three weeks since Calderon sent 7,000 troops to his own home state of Michoacan. 2,000 people were killed in drug trade violence in Mexico last year. One of the guests at DRCNet's 2003 conference in Mexico, "Out from the Shadows, Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century" ("Saliendo de las Sombras: Terminando de le Prohibición de las Drogas en el Siglo XXI" en Español) was Gregorio Urias German, a Mexican congressman from Sinaloa, another part of the country that has suffered in the drug wars. Urias blames drug prohibition for this violence, but he fears that "If we can't even discuss the alternatives, if we can't even admit the drug war is a failure, then we will never solve the problem." He said that existing forums, such as the UN and the Organization of American States, are not fruitful places for discussion, "because only the repressive policies of the United States are discussed at these forums." While it is not the job of media outlets like Reuters to take a position favoring legalization in their news reporting, they will be doing a better job when they start to include leaders like Urias in their articles who hold that point of view. This Google News link will pull up a list of hundreds of appearances of this news story that are currently active in the mainstream media (many though not all the Reuters story or another by the AP). We encourage you to follow the links and submit some letters to the editor. Post them back here along with the letter-writing info for others.
Location: 
Tijuana, BCN
Mexico

I've Got Those Mean Old Bolivian Visa Blues

With my departure for South America set for 10 days from now, the Bolivian government has put a hitch in my plans. Bolivian President Evo Morales announced yesterday that as of now, American citizens will need a visa to visit Bolivia. As the Associated Press reported:
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- The government of President Evo Morales approved a decree Monday requiring U.S. citizens to obtain visas to enter Bolivia. Morales said the decree "a matter of reciprocity." The U.S. government requires Bolivians to obtain visas to enter the United States. "We are a small country but we have the same dignity as any other," Morales said. The decree, approved during a Cabinet meeting, applies to other countries, including Serbia and Montenegro and Cyprus. In February 2006, Leonilda Zurita, a congresswoman belonging to Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party, had her U.S. visa revoked. Zurita said Washington cited an alleged link between her and terrorist activities, which she denied. Morales also cited security concerns for the rule. An American man has been charged with setting off bombs in two La Paz hotels in March. Two Bolivians were killed and seven people were injured, including an American woman. U.S. ties to Bolivia have been tense partly due to Morales' friendship with Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well as by Morales' background as the leader of coca growers fighting U.S. attempts to eradicate their crops.
What the AP did not make clear is that the visa requirement for Bolivians to enter the US is a recent, post-911 move by the US reversing years of visa-free travel for South Americans coming north. The Brazilian government has also imposed a visa requirement for Americans now in this game of diplomatic tit-for-tat. Thanks, Mr. Bush. What this means for my trip is unclear at this point. The Bolivian consulate in Washington wasn't answering the phone today. One of colleagues in the Washington office will run over there first thing tomorrow morning to try to find out what the new requirements are and how fast I can actually get a visa. I am going first to Peru, which hasn't imposed a visa requirement, and it may be possible to get a visa there, but I don't know that yet. I'll keep you all updated on the situation. (Read the comment I've posted to learn a little more about Leonilda Zurita. - DB)
Location: 
United States

Violence Rate Rising Again -- AP Doesn't Mention Prohibition

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An Associated Press article today reports that the homicide rate in the US is going up again:
After many years of decline, the number of murders climbed in 2006 in New York and many other U.S. cities, including Rocky Mount, reaching their highest levels in a decade in some places. (Rocky Mount is a North Carolina community whose local paper drew on the AP story to produce this article. Among the reasons given: gangs, drugs, the easy availability of illegal guns, a disturbing tendency among young people to pull guns when they do not get the respect they demand and, in Houston at least, an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
While drug warriors like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani credited the "broken windows" theory of policing and tough sentences in general for the crime drop, criminologists pointed instead to a range of factors -- a decrease in the number of youth in the population figured prominently. (With my elementary school -- Roosevelt -- having been converted into a condominium -- The Roosevelt -- because of demographics, I was aware that fewer kids were growing up for awhile.) A corollary is that with youth numbers expected to go up again, crime would eventually go up again too. And now it has (yes, in New York too). The AP story did not go into the role of drug prohibition in all of this. Basically, it is prohibition of drugs that causes the vast majority of the drug-related violence -- pharmacologically-induced violence, acts committed because of being under the influence of drugs -- makes up only a small portion of the total. Drug-related violence is first and foremost the violence of the drug trade -- gangs and other sellers fighting it out over turf. The illegal drug trade exists solely because the drugs are illegal. The second most important cause of drug-related violence is economic crimes committed to get the money needed to buy drugs. This would mostly go away if drugs were legal because the price of the drugs would drop to normal market levels and addicts would not need to commit crimes to afford them. It's impossible to have a serious discussion of the causes of violence without discussing -- without even mentioning -- the consequences of prohibition. This must be stated over and over and over until the people leading the discussion take note. Click here to submit a letter to the editor to the Telegram, and here for info on their letter standards. Please make a post here with a link or letter to the editor information for any other papers where you see the AP story or articles based on it.
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United States

Editorial: One of My Many Wishes for the New Year

This editorial was published as part of our 12/29/06 "Mini-Bulletin." The entire bulletin can be read online here. One of the news items today -- not in drug policy -- was the filing of an ethics complaint by the North Carolina Bar Association against Mike Nifong, the now high-profile prosecutor in the case involving three Duke University lacrosse players who originally faced rape charges and are still charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. The complaint comes on the heels of a letter sent by a member of Congress from the state, asking the US Attorney General to investigate Nifong. No, I'm not about to express a wish related to this case. I'm not familiar enough with it to express what I would consider an informed opinion, and I wouldn't post such an opinion here in this drug policy newsletter if I did. But I do know something about prosecutorial misconduct in general. For example, that a 2003 report by the Center for Public Integrity, "Harmful Error," found that it is widespread but almost never punished. According to CPI, prosecutorial misconduct falls mainly in several categories:
  • courtroom misconduct;
  • mishandling of physical evidence;
  • failing to disclose exculpatory evidence;
  • threatening, badgering or tampering with witnesses;
  • using false or misleading evidence;
  • harassing, displaying bias toward, or having a vendetta against the defendant or defendant's counsel;
  • improper behavior during grand jury proceedings.
(There's much more detail about these, of course, on the web site.) Another thing I know about prosecutorial misconduct is that the most common victim of it is black or brown, and poor, is not enrolled at a prestigious university, and doesn't have the best lawyers that money can buy. Media outlets, certainly national ones, almost never focus on their cases. Often they receive the arguably sound advice that innocent or guilty they should really not fight the charges, or the outcome will be much worse. And the Bar Association won't do anything about their cases, because there are just too many. Misconduct in the criminal justice system is by no means limited to the ranks of prosecutors. Police are also serious, perennial offenders. For example, a recent case in Hartford, Connecticut involved a retired police officer who was convicted recently of falsifying an arrest warrant. His colleagues came to his defense, arguing that this was common practice in the department. The judge gave him a special form of probation that will allow him to get his record expunged upon completion of it. The trial has myriad implications. First, there is confirmation by actual police officers, under oath, that police officers constantly break the law in order to make arrests. Second, the officers obviously felt comfortable enough with that fact to state it publicly, before a judge. Third, the judge was okay enough with this to give the officer a sentence that is a little more than a slap on the wrist, but not all that much more. How is police and prosecutorial misconduct to be stemmed if it is tolerated? And if it isn't, how can we in the public have faith in the outcome of any criminal case? One of my many wishes for the New Year is that fewer police and prosecutors commit misconduct, and that more complaints are filed against those who do.
Location: 
United States

The Rack N' Roll Conspiracy

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It's diabolical! It's confusing! It's the Rack N' Roll Conspiracy and Radley Balko has created an entire category for it.

This is the story of David Ruttenberg, the totally law-abiding owner of Rack N' Roll billiards in Manassas, Virginia, who for years now has been targeted in repeated and fruitless attempts to link his business to drug activity. His livelihood is now almost completely destroyed and most of the cops and public officials in Manassas seem to be in on it. Motivated by an apparent desire to build an off-track betting facility on the property, Manassas police and others have spared no expense in this otherwise inexplicable series of bizarre events.

My favorite part is when Ruttenberg tries to explain his plight to a local news reporter at 1:00 in the morning and the Mayor suddenly jumps out of the bushes and tells the reporter not to trust to him.

Balko's research illustrates the ease with which ambiguous allegations of drug activity can be used by politicians as leverage against their enemies. Still, I suspect that the only thing unique about this story is the fact that someone as meticulous as Balko took an interest in it. His work on the Cory Maye case similarly illustrates the improbability of severe police corruption coming to light absent the involvement of a politically savvy blogger from Washington, D.C.

When business owners can be held liable for activities they had no knowledge of, it becomes painfully easy for corrupt officials with ulterior motives to capitalize on malfeasance.

If you were trying to screw over a business owner, how would you do it? Think about how easy it is to frame someone for drugs. Think about it, then ask yourself how often it happens.

Location: 
United States

Corruption and Misconduct: Bastard Children of the War on Drugs

One of the most widely ignored consequences of the drug war is its negative influence on the men and women who carry it out. Two disturbing stories from local papers illustrate the drug war's profound ability to criminalize our public servants.

First, a revealing story of police misconduct from The Journal Inquirer in North Central Connecticut:

A Hartford police detective arrested days after his retirement in 2004 on charges of falsifying an arrest warrant has been granted a special form of probation that could lead to his arrest record being expunged.

The decision came after a hearing in which [Sgt. Franco] Sanzo's lawyer, Jake Donovan of Middletown, called another retired officer who said that police frequently sign their names to warrants - and swear before judges - that they've seen things they haven't.

So basically Sanzo's defense was that this type of misconduct is a matter of routine at his department. And it worked! I don't know if I'm more shocked that a defense attorney would offer an argument so contemptuous towards the Fourth Amendment, or that a judge would actually be persuaded by an attempt to rationalize police misconduct.

The warrant at the center of Sanzo's arrest claimed that he and Officer Nathaniel Ortiz had witnessed people buying drugs from a convicted felon in Hartford's north end on Aug. 27 and 28, 2004.

However, police and prosecutor Dennis J. O'Connor say the warrant was based on false information, and that the convicted felon was actually in jail at the time Sanzo and Ortiz claimed to have seen him.

The warrant was used in a search of the felon's mother's apartment. Ortiz and another officer, William Ward, say they bought crack cocaine from the woman. She later complained to the Police Department that items were stolen and property destroyed during the search.

Gosh, I don't know whom to believe.

Next, the Santa Fe New Mexican tells the story of a highly regarded officer's descent into corruption:

What emerges is a portrait of a man who worked extra hours to keep drugs and criminals off the streets, a man who consistently testified honestly in court and would sometimes buy turkeys for needy families during the holidays. However, Altonji also increasingly gravitated toward what many involved in the criminal justice system say can be the most morally bankrupting assignment in all of police work: narcotics.


Today, he has been stripped of his badge and gun, and stands as the sole target of a federal grand jury meeting this morning in downtown Albuquerque to investigate allegations of money laundering, deprivation of civil rights and theft concerning a program receiving federal funds.

This story is all too familiar. To its credit, The New Mexican puts these events in context:

To nearly everyone involved in the criminal justice system, narcotics is a dirty business. To be effective, officers must learn to look, act and think like drug dealers, according to lawyers, current and former police officers, and others who work in the justice system. Consequently, officers continually work around large amounts of cash and drugs, and opportunities to take one or the other or both are frequent, they said.

"You've got to stoop down to their level," said a retired area narcotics detective. "You've gotta get slimy."

And that's the problem. Too many police officers have been allowed to become slimeballs in uniform. Too often, constitutional violations by police have been deemed necessary. Too often, criminal activity by police has been deemed anomalous. And too often, the perpetrators of these crimes are forgiven with remarkable haste, as the concept of judicial discretion that is essential to the administration of justice in a free society is brought to bear only in defense of public servants who abuse their power.

How petty a crime is drug possession compared to that of deliberately violating the Constitution?

Location: 
United States

Monitoring the Future Annual Report Warns of Prescription Drug Use

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Thursday. The news is mixed, the researchers report. Here's the opening of their press release:
Teen drug use continues down in 2006, particularly among older teens; but use of prescription-type drugs remains high ANN ARBOR, Mich.----The percentage of U.S. adolescents who use illicit drugs or drink alcohol continued a decade-long drop in 2006, according to the 32nd annual Monitoring the Future survey of 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in more than 400 schools nationwide. This year’s survey reveals that a fifth (21 percent) of today’s 8th graders, over a third (36 percent) of 10th graders, and about half (48 percent) of all 12th graders have ever taken any illicit drug during their lifetime. The proportion saying they used any illicit drug in the prior 12 months (called “annual prevalence”) continued to decline in 2006, and the rates (15 percent, 29 percent, and 37 percent in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, respectively) are now down from recent peak levels in the mid-1990s by about one third in 8th grade, one quarter in 10th grade, and one eighth in 12th grade. However, the declines since last year are relatively small—only 0.7, 1.0, and 1.9 percentage points, respectively. (The 2005–2006 decline is statistically significant for the three grades combined, but not for any one grade taken individually.)
While marijuana use was down slightly, the use of Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other prescription drugs was up, as was the use of cough syrup. Hmmm...pot or cough syrup? Also, drug czar Walters crows about declines in the past five years, but we're still at about the same level as 1991 and not that far different from 1975. The peak year for teen drug use was 1979.
Location: 
United States

Only One Commutation :) Ask for More!

According to the Associated Press, President Bush issued 16 pardons yesterday, including one sentence commutation. Six of them including the commutation were for drug offenses. (For those of you who are not familiar with this, a pardon can simply mean that an old offense is wiped off of one's record -- feels good, may help with employment and other matters, but the individual was already finished with any incarceration that was part of the sentence.) A commutation is when someone actually gets out early or finishes parole or probation early. According to the AP:
Bush also granted a commutation of sentence to Phillip Anthony Emmert of Washington, Iowa, whose case involved conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He was sentenced Dec. 23, 1992, to 262 months’ imprisonment (reduced on Feb. 21, 1996) and five years’ supervised release. Bush directed that Emmert’s sentence expire on this coming Jan. 20, but left the supervised release intact.
Please contact the White House to let them know that: 1) We're glad he's releasing Phillip Emmert; 2) One commutation is nowhere near good enough. The president should release more nonviolent drug offenders this year! Just a few of the more well known ones: Weldon Angelos, Clarence Aaron, Lawrence & Lamont Garrison.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Marijuana Defeats Mexican Soldiers in Battle

From The Washington Post:

Soldiers trying to seize control of one Mexico's top drug-producing regions found the countryside teeming with a new hybrid marijuana plant that can be cultivated year-round and cannot be killed with pesticides.
Soldiers fanned out across some of the new fields Tuesday, pulling up plants by the root and burning them, as helicopter gunships clattered overhead to give them cover from a raging drug war in the western state of Michoacan. The plants' roots survive if they are doused with herbicide, said army Gen. Manuel Garcia.

You gotta hand it to these brave soldiers for standing their ground against such a resourceful enemy.

Research into marijuana hybridization has largely been conducted in secret, but it's well understood that this plant is particularly amenable to genetic modification. The abundance of diverse strains with silly names is more than a marketing scheme. Marijuana grows and breeds vigorously, thus it's relatively easy for knowledgeable people (who aren't in jail) to design marijuana plants that are ideal for certain growing conditions.

The ability to withstand chemical warfare is marijuana's most impressive achievement yet, although curing all sorts of diseases is pretty cool too.

I always feel a bit nutty when I say this, but it's true: marijuana is arguably Mother Nature's most impressive botanical accomplishment. Its ability to make people feel good has earned it some enemies among the anti-fun crowd, but that's only one of its many useful properties. You can also make nutritious food out of it, which is a great quality in a plant that grows so resiliently.

In this case, innovation was inspired by the drug war, but under other circumstances it's easy for sane people to assume that other noble purposes could be achieved by experimenting (scientifically) with marijuana. It requires great foolishness to miss the point that this magnificent plant is supposed to be used for something.

…and greater foolishness to think that it can be made to go away.

Location: 
United States

Heading Down South America Way

Very early on January 12, I will board a plane in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and that night I will be sleeping in a hotel in downtown Lima, Peru. That will be the first of 21 nights in the Drug War Chronicle's Coca Tour 2007, which will take me deep into the indigenous Andean coca heartland (but not to Colombia, where, for the most part, coca production is not tied to ancient tradition but to the global cocaine market). I will be meeting with coca farmers, coca growers' union leaders, academics, harm reductionists, and government officials in Peru and Bolivia, as well, I hope, with US government officials in the embassies in Lima and La Paz. I will spend a week in Lima and the vicinity, then take a tourism break to visit Machu Picchu and the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. From there, it'll be a bus ride across the 12,000 foot high altiplano to the Bolivian border and on to La Paz. I'll spend 10 or 11 days in Bolivia, where I hope to travel to both major coca producing areas, the Chapare and Las Yungas. The road from La Paz to Las Yungas, from the heights of the Andes to the edge of the Amazon basin is known as "the world's most dangerous road." Yee-haw! In Peru, I'm working on setting up meetings with ENACO, the Peruvian government coca monopoly, as well as with DEVIDA, the anti-drug agency. Maybe I'll even have to try some of that coca salad President Garcia was praising this week. In Bolivia, I'll be talking to the Ministry of Coca, NGOs, and companies that produce coca products, as well as growers and union leaders. I will be blogging from the Andes throughout the journey. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

How Long Can We Avoid Talking About What?

Posted in:
A featured post today on the Huffington Post blog by Josh Sugarmann ask Crime is Back -- How Long Can We Avoid Talking About It? The author, referring to an article in yesterday's Washington Post predicts that crime will make it to back to the front burner in the nation's political agenda. One of the causes is the rise, after a lengthy drop in the number of young males in the population. The Plank, a blog published by The New Republic magazine, also predicts today that crime will figure more prominently in 2008 than in other recent political campaign seasons. That scares me. When crime becomes a political issue, reason and creativity tend to go out the window in favor of tough talk and slogans. The heinous mandatory minimums -- the laws that got Weldon Angelos 55 years, to pick just one case -- were the result of politicos focusing on crime. I seriously doubt that Sugarmann favors that kind of sentencing, aligned as he is with the liberal left. That said, the collective "we" have been avoiding talking one of the most important causes of crime, perhaps the most important, since long before the recent years' crime drop even began: drug prohibition. So long as drugs are illegal, young males (and others) will get recruited by the illicit drug trade, will possess guns as a part of that, and will carry the guns wherever they go. Sometimes they'll use them. Whether crime rises or drops, the violence rate in our society and around the world is dramatically greater than it would be if drugs were legal. All the money that people spend on illicit drugs, hundreds of billions of dollars per year, are going into the criminal underground because of the drug laws. How could that not have a serious increasing effect on violent crime? How much longer can we avoid talking about that? Having mentioned the Huffington Post and the New Republic, I'll point that out that Post published Arianna Huffington is herself a longtime opponent of the drug war, as is New Republic Senior Editor Andrew Sullivan. Whatever else should be done about crime, prohibition must get addressed. A conversation about violence that omits the issue of the drug laws is incomplete.
Location: 
United States

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! Uh...like...legalize, 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.

Location: 
United States

The Best and Worst of 2006?

The year is coming to an end, and it is time to look back at 2006. What did we achieve? What did we fail to achieve? What were the highlights and lowlights for drug policy reform this year? I'm thinking I'll make a pair of feature articles out of this and I hereby invite you to submit your nominations for the best and worst of the year. They can be events, they can be trends... Just off the top of my head, I would include the success of the lowest priority marijuana law enforcement initiatives and New Jersey's passage of needle exchange legislation last week among the highlights of the year. On the downer side, there is the failure of the statewide legalization initiatives in Nevada and Colorado and the failure of the medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota. The continuing methamphetamine mania as an excuse to continue to craft repressive, punitive legislation will probably also make the list. But let's not limit this to the United States. Certainly, there are things going on in the rest of the world that could be included. Perhaps the relative quiet in the Bolivian coca fields during the first year of Evo Morales' presidency is worth mentioning? Or the increasingly shrill shouts from England and Australia that marijuana is linked to mental illness? (And just what is it about that Commonwealth weed? I don't hear too many similar accusations here in the US, even though you would think John Walters and his ilk would be jumping all over it). What do you think needs to be mentioning in the year-end wrap-up? Do tell.
Location: 
United States

Read Between the Lines: Why DEA Only Raids Some Dispensaries

Here's the Drug Czar's blog gloating over the DEA's raid of the Local Patient's Cooperative in Hayward, CA:

The DEA took down another illegal marijuana dispensary in California. The owners were selling pot for profit under the guise of "medicinal use." Police seized pot cookies and expensive cars. More here (with video).

Notice the careful language used here. We're told that this was an "illegal marijuana dispensary" that used medical use as a "guise" to make money. As dispensary raids have increased in recent months, DEA has claimed each time that they're targeting clubs that engage in recreational sales. Similarly, ONDCP's blog post clearly implies that LPC was uniquely criminal in its conduct.

In other words, DEA and now ONDCP are tacitly condoning dispensaries that only sell to patients!

In both word and deed they are suggesting that dispensaries which follow California State law will generally not be targeted, despite the fact that federal law draws no such distinction. Obviously, this informal policy is driven not by compassion for the sick, but rather an acceptance of the political reality that the public won't tolerate continued assaults on patient access itself.

Unfortunately, DEA's willful ignorance of the nuances of legitimate medical marijuana use continues to undermine the value of this apparent compromise. Here's a quote from the SFGate.com article linked by ONDCP, which ironically undermines their whole point:

In the Hayward case, an FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit that officers staked out the Foothill Boulevard location five times in October and November and saw healthy-looking men entering and leaving the building each time, carrying bags the officers believed contained marijuana.
The only other evidence the agent cited to show that the dispensary was selling drugs to non-medical patients was a newspaper article saying police had found 10 times as much marijuana on the premises as the city's rules allowed.

That LPC's customers appeared "healthy looking" is a red herring. Most of the people in any medical setting appear healthy and California allows caretakers to obtain medicine on behalf of sick relatives. Furthermore, the apparent "health" of certain patients could as easily be attributed to their access to effective medicine. Hayward area patients with limited mobility might not be looking so good today.

LPC's excessive supply appears to be the only legitimate issue here and even that falls far short of justifying the conclusion that extra-medical sales were being conducted. Friends at Americans for Safe Access have explained to me that recent DEA activity has resulted more from poorly drafted or non-existent local regulations than from gratuitous improprieties on the part of dispensary owners.

With that in mind, consider what patient and activist Angel Raich had to say in an email:

"I can tell you that Local Patients Group was a really good co-op,
they served a high number of patients, they gave back to the patient
community, and the City of Hayward. This was the first medical cannabis co-op as you come into the SF Bay Area and many patients from the Central Valley and surrounding areas would travel for hours to get their medicine there and this raid has created a hardship for hundreds of patients. They will be missed."

Thank you Angel. If LPC's substantial supply reflects the needs of patients in the region, rather than profiteering by the club's operators, then the effect of the raid is to dramatically undermine legitimate patient access. Morally, there's a big difference between exceeding supply limits for the purpose of supplying patients, as opposed to engaging in recreational sales surreptitiously. Yet LPC's conduct was presumed to indicate the later and not the former.

In sum, federal authorities are admitting a distinction between medical and recreational sales, which shows that their position has been weakened. But they're failing to draw this distinction accurately and their newfound enthusiasm for busting "illegal" dispensaries has led to a recent increase in raids.

Federal charges mean that dispensary operators will have no opportunity to defend their adherence to state and local laws anyway, so the DEA's public justification for the raid becomes irrelevant after the fact. Meanwhile, reduced patient access shifts the burden to the remaining dispensaries, increasing their chances of running afoul of local ordinances and becoming the next target.

Ironically, Congressional debate over the Hinchey Amendment, which would solve this problem entirely, still focuses on whether marijuana is medicine; a fact that the DEA has already tacitly admitted.

Location: 
United States

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