The Speakeasy Blog

The Independent on Sunday Reverses Itself on Decrim, Warns of Killer Skunk, Reefer Madness

A decade ago, the British newspaper the Independent on Sunday made headlines itself when it came out strongly for the decriminalization of marijuana. Now, sad to say, it appears that the venerable newspaper has succumbed to Reefer Madness. In a front page editorial and series of related articles yesterday, the Independent reversed course:
Yes, our front page today is calculated to grab your attention. We do not really believe that The Independent on Sunday was wrong at the time, 10 years ago, when we called for cannabis to be decriminalized. As Rosie Boycott, who was the editor who ran the campaign, argues, the drug that she sought to decriminalize then was rather different from that which is available on the streets now. Indeed, this newspaper's campaign was less avant-garde than it seemed. Only four years later, The Daily Telegraph went farther, calling for cannabis to be legalized for a trial period. We were leading a consensus, which even this Government - often guilty of gesture-authoritarianism - could not resist, downgrading cannabis from class B to class C. At the same time, however, two things were happening. One was the shift towards more powerful forms of the drug, known as skunk. The other was the emerging evidence of the psychological harm caused to a minority of users, especially teenage boys and particularly associated with skunk. We report today that the number of cannabis users on drug treatment programs has risen 13-fold since our campaign was launched, and that nearly half of the 22,000 currently on such programs are under the age of 18. Of course, part of the explanation for this increase is that the provision of treatment is better than it was 10 years ago. But there is no question, as Robin Murray, one of the leading experts in this field, argues on these pages, that cannabis use is associated with growing mental health problems.
Ouch. This is really a shame, and it's even more shameful because the Independent on Sunday appears to have fallen prey to propaganda that could have come straight from the mouth of the American drug czar. This is not your father's marijuana, the newspaper argues with a straight face, this is the KILLER SKUNK! As one of the related articles puts it, "skunk - a form of cannabis so powerful that experts are warning it can be 25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations." What!? As far as I know, the most high-powered strains of marijuana are capable of THC yields of around 25% to 30%, with what is commonly known as "kind bud" having a yield of 10% to 15%. (These figures may be a bit off, but not much). Marijuana with 1% THC is about the equivalent of ditch weed. For the Independent's claims to be accurate, all those people smoking pot in Swinging London in the 1960s must have been smoking ditch weed and deceived into thinking they were getting high, while everyone in London now must be smoking the most exclusive buds in the world. This "25 times" figure is just plain bogus, and I don’t understand how the Independent fell for it. We've already debunked the American drug czar's version of this. Now are we going to have to do remedial work across the pond? Besides, skunk is but one variety of high-potency weed. What about AK-47 and White Widow? Singling out skunk as the culprit seems to be to be based on ignorance more than anything. I am also struck by the increasingly shrill claims of links between marijuana and madness. These seem to be especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. (While the UK frets about skunk, the Australians have their own idiosyncratic and equally scientifically indefensible bogeyman: HYDROPONIC! As if the growing medium used to produce marijuana were the determinant of its nature.) I'm not prepared to debunk the Independent on these claims today, but I do wonder about at least two things: Why isn’t this stuff driving us crazy over here, or, at least, why isn’t John Walters raising holy hell about the link between marijuana and madness? And if marijuana use has increased dramatically in the UK in past decades and if potency has indeed increased (which I don't doubt), then where is the accompanying spike in reported schizophrenia cases? I think I'm going to have to do a feature article on this important and disappointing turn of events. I'll use that to look more closely at the claims about marijuana and mental illness. I am starting to get worried, though; I've been smoking that stuff for 35 years, and now madness could be right around the corner. Who knew?
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London
United Kingdom

9th Circuit: Avoiding Certain Death No Excuse for Medical Marijuana Use

In what has otherwise been an exciting week of drug policy news, we're sad to report that the 9th circuit has rejected Angel Raich's "right to life" challenge against federal medical marijuana laws.

Basically, the court ruled that it would be legal for the government to cause her death by withholding her medicine. From The New York Times:
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen “uncontroverted evidence” that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.

The court “recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction,” the decision read. “But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is ‘fundamental.’ ”
I would argue that the right to not die for stupid political reasons is fundamental enough.

Really there are only like six people in Washington D.C. who are entirely responsible for the illegality of medical marijuana. Their continuing lies are instrumental in maintaining the broader but shrinking population of medical marijuana opponents. If no one falsely accused people like Angel Raich of lying about their medical needs, this perverse debate would be long dead and several nice people would still be alive.

So why is the 9th Circuit so afraid of this handful of sniveling, malicious bureaucrats? If they're trying to avoid being tagged as left-leaning judicial activists, someone should tell them it's already too late.

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United States

Think You Know Your Rights? Take The Quiz

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I wrote up a fun know-your-rights quiz for my dayjob over at Flex Your Rights. It's kinda hard, but if you've seen our video BUSTED, you should do ok.

Let's see whatcha got, hippies. Free unpaid internships if you get a perfect score.
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United States

New Mexico Set To Become 12th Medical Marijuana State

First it passed the Senate and died in the House. Then, at the urging of Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico's Senate folded medical marijuana into a related bill to permit topical use. Yesterday evening the bill passed the House 36-31. It must return to the Senate for consideration of a minor change that occured in the House, but given strong support there and the assurance of the Governor's signature, I believe it's safe to say we're looking at our 12th medical marijuana state.

Congratulations to our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance who've worked extremely hard to make this possible. Also worthy of recognition is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson himself, who pulled out the stops to protect patients in his state.

Of course, every step towards protecting medical marijuana patients is an important victory, but it is particularly notable that Richardson championed this bill while exploring a bid for the presidency. Richardson is a calculating politician who's not known for taking risky positions. Suffice to say, he ain't exactly Dennis Kucinich.

Richardson's willingness to stand up for patients at this time speaks volumes to the growing political viability of medical marijuana policy reform.

Update: Boston Globe looks at the political implications of Richardson's stance on medical marijuana and concludes that it's not a big deal.

"I don't see it as being a big issue," he said. "This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let's be reasonable," he said.

It shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. With so many problems here and abroad, our government still finds resources to generate controversy over this. It's obscene.

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United States

Ed Rosenthal Vindicated From Vindictive Charges

We all knew Ed Rosenthal was being vindictively prosecuted, but it's nice to a hear a federal judge say it. From The San Francisco Chronicle:
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco dismissed charges of tax evasion and money laundering against Ed Rosenthal, 62, an author and activist who has been dubbed the "Guru of Ganja."


The judge said he based his decision in part on the comments by prosecutor George Bevan during a hearing on the case. Bevan, according to transcripts, explained the decision to re-file charges, saying, "The purpose is this: Mr. Rosenthal, after the verdict, took to the microphone and said, 'I didn't get a fair trial.' ... So I'm saying, this time around, he wants the financial side reflected, fine, let's air this thing out. Let's have the whole conduct before the jury: Tax, money laundering, marijuana."
It's delightful to see the smug George Bevan held to account for his maliciousness, but frankly this only scratches the surface. Many have surmised that the targeting of Ed Rosenthal has always had everything to do with his notoriety as a cannabis cultivation expert. Considering what Rosenthal has been put through over the past several years, today's vindictive prosecution finding is long overdue.
He was first arrested after a federal raid in February 2002 at a West Oakland warehouse where Rosenthal was growing marijuana for what he said was medical use, with the support of Alameda County and Oakland officials. At trial in 2003, Breyer refused to let jurors learn about the intended medical use of the plants and excluded evidence about Proposition 215, California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative.

Rosenthal was convicted of violating federal drug laws, but seven of the 12 jurors said afterward that their verdict would have been different if they had been allowed to consider evidence about the medical use of the marijuana and Rosenthal's status as an agent in the Oakland program.
Breyer let Rosenthal off with a one-day sentence, humiliating federal prosecutors and sealing Ed's fate as a perpetual target.

The details of this ongoing legal saga are too numerous to list here, but the great irony of it all is worth fleshing out: after lying to the jury in order to convict him and being publicly humiliated when those same jurors turned against them, federal prosecutors responded to Rosenthal's appeal by piling on more charges in an attempt to punish him for challenging them. Today's vindictive prosecution finding not only exposes their malfeasance but also publicly reveals this tasty fact:
Breyer did not throw out the drug charges, but noted that "the government agreed at oral argument" that it will not seek more than the one-day sentence on those counts.

That's right, American taxpayers. Behold the glorious retribution of the principled and incorruptible federal prosecutors who've exhausted untold sums and incalculable man hours to protect you from a safe and effective medicine. Amidst Iraq, Katrina, Medicare, etc. the federal government was trying to save you from Ed Rosenthal by putting him in jail for one goddamn day. And they're still working on it, knowing as they have all along, that this is the best they can hope for.

There can be no redemption for the spiteful, treacherous cretins who label medical providers as drug dealers and seek to deceive Californian jurors about California's laws in order to imprison Californians. There can be no redemption for them, for they are the real criminals and the story of their shameful vendetta becomes more obscene with each attempt to rewrite it.

Still, the question remains: when is it not vindictive prosecution to launch a political war on medical providers as they carry out the will of the people?

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United States

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
A PRACTICAL AGENDA What would actual policies based on the forgoing facts and principles look like? Here is a “to do” list to get us started: Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. While prohibition clearly reduces drug abuse (otherwise there wouldn’t be several times as many abusers of alcohol as of all illicit drugs combined), and some level of enforcement is necessary to make prohibition a reality, increasing enforcement efforts against mass-marketed drugs cannot significantly raise the prices of those drugs or make them much harder to acquire. If we had only 200,000 dealers behind bars rather than 500,000, the drug markets would not be noticeably larger, and they might be less violent. Given the fiscal and human costs of incarceration, and the opportunity cost of locking up a drug dealer in a cell that might otherwise hold a burglar or a rapist, the current level of drug-related incarceration is hard to justify. We can reduce that level with arrest-minimizing enforcement strategies and by a discriminating moderation in drug sentencing. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. All drug dealers supply drugs; only some use violence, or operate flagrantly, or employ juveniles as apprentice dealers. The current system of enforcement, which bases targeting and sentencing primarily on drug volume, should be replaced with a system focused on conduct. If we target and severely sentence the nastiest dealers rather than the biggest ones, we can greatly reduce the amount of gunfire, the damage drug dealing does to the neighborhoods around it, and the attractive nuisance the drug trade offers to teenagers. As a practical matter, too, we cannot create adequate differential disincentives for the most destructive forms of dealing solely by ramping up sanctions for those who engage in them. If we’re already locking up ordinary drug dealers forever, locking up the nastier ones forever and a day won’t create much competitive disadvantage for violence-prone or juvenile-employing organizations. The base level of sanctions needs to be reduced to make differentiated sentencing effective. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. The relatively small number of offenders (no more than three million all together) who are frequent, high-dose users of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine accounts for a large proportion both of theft and of the money spent on illicit drugs. Getting a handle on their behavior is inseparable from getting a handle on street crime and the drug markets.
There is much, much more in the recommendations, from more frequent drug testing of offenders to breaking up drug markets without mass arrests to raising the tax on beer and eliminating the minimum drinking age (!) to letting pot-smokers grow their own but not completely legalizing the weed. And that's not all. Read it and come back and tell me, whaddya think?
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United States

Drug Czar Contracts Liar's-block

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Via DrugWarRant, John Walters had a tough time answering questions from the Dallas Morning News. Pete Guither already covered this effectively, but I can’t resist.
Q: It's interesting that you emphasize a public health approach, because there's a perception in the academic community that studies drug policy that there's too much emphasis on interdiction and not enough on treatment.

A: The academic community that works on drug policy is almost uniformly second rate. They're fighting battles over dogma that doesn't really exist anymore, that's in the past.
Walters is right, but for the wrong reason. As Pete analogizes perfectly, it's "the equivalent of an "F" student accusing a "C" student of being dumb." After all, if Walters was even familiar with or remotely capable of refuting these accusations, he'd have attempted to do so rather than categorically dismissing the notion that academics have anything to contribute to the discussion of drug policy.
Q: What about drugs coming out of South America, mostly heroin and cocaine? Figures from your office show a decrease in supply and purity, but other studies contradict that. Illegal drugs remain cheap and widely available.

A: I certainly recognize that there are particular places in the United States that won't see the same performance as the aggregate. That's true of education performance and crime and consumer prices. We're a big country, and there are variations. But we have seen declines, through a combination of eradication of both poppy and coca, and record seizures.
Hilariously, the Dallas Morning News links this story on the failure of cocaine eradication right next to his deliberately confusing (and utterly false) explanation.

Pete Guither suggests that Walters isn’t trying as hard anymore, which is interesting to consider. These are weak answers from Walters and the rest of the interview isn’t much smarter. Particularly to accuse the academic community of incompetence before launching into a comically unscientific discussion of "regional variations" is tragically ironic.

Still, this strikes me as the sort of incoherence that only a reasonably intelligent person can produce. Ultimately, the problem with Walters isn't that he doesn't try. It's that he's a flagrant liar who experiments with various ways of saying things that aren’t true.

I'd like to think that Walters is trying as hard as he can and that the reason he sounds exhausted is because he's running out of material.

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Why Aren't Police Videotaping SWAT Raids?

NorthJersey.com has an impressive piece on the overuse of SWAT teams to conduct routine drug raids in New Jersey. It's a thorough and informative discussion that includes law-enforcement perspectives as well as those of innocent citizens who've been targeted. There's a lot of revealing stuff here:
"The reporting back is on a case-by-case basis," said Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Dante Mongiardo. "Nobody is compiling any six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in 98 percent of them."

Capt. Robert Prause, commander of the Prosecutor's Office narcotics task force, stresses that officers are "not just randomly picking the house."

"A very large percentage of the time, we do find the contraband we're looking for," he said.
So they don't keep track, but if they did, the numbers would be impressive according to them. I think it's time for somebody to actually start compiling "six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in [X] percent of them." Then we'd have a better sense of how often things like this happen:
In December 2005, officers with the Paterson police narcotics bureau had a warrant to look for drugs in the brown house. But before dawn, they burst into the DeCree/Clancy house instead. DeCree, 37, said he heard officers outside his closed bedroom door tell him they'd shoot him and his barking dog.

"They was nasty, making comments like they're police, they can do whatever they want, go call your mayor, your councilman," said DeCree. "I felt violated because I wanted to protect my family. All I wanted to do was physically put them out of my house."
Contrast DeCree's claim with this statement from Sheriff's Department spokesman Bill Maer in regards to an excessive force allegation from a different raid:
"Those allegations are ridiculous," Maer said. "I think the report speaks for itself. There has been no official complaint regarding any incident that occurred to the Sheriff's Department, or to the best of my knowledge, any other agency. So we don't consider any complaints or even accounts of that story as credible."
So if you don't file a formal complaint, they don't consider you credible. But according to victims of these raids, they tell you it's pointless to complain!

I think this pretty much says it all:
Unlike in many states, in New Jersey, nearly every document generated by a raid -- from the testimony that officers present to a judge to obtain a search warrant, to search warrants themselves, to the police reports detailing whether police found illegal drugs or weapons – is not public, even after the raid is executed. Most of the two dozen people interviewed spoke only on the condition that they would not be named, saying they feared officers would retaliate against family members or simply return to harass them.
The increase in paramilitary policing excesses, coupled with excellent reporting from Radley Balko and a few local papers, is finally beginning to bring some light to this growing threat to public safety. Still, as long as citizens are too intimidated to come forward, it will remain difficult to articulate the magnitude of the problem.

My favorite among Balko's recommendations for reducing the harms associated with paramilitary police raids is that officers videotape all home invasions as a matter of routine. There's an obvious mutual benefit to this in that citizens would enjoy an added safeguard, while police would be shielded from erroneous complaints.

Unfortunately, since police never get in trouble for mistakes and misconduct during SWAT raids, they have no incentive to keep records whose most likely effect is to incriminate the officers themselves.

But hey, if they're not hiding anything, why should they worry?

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United States

Great 4th Amendment Ruling in Utah

The Utah Supreme Court just issued a surprisingly rational decision. From The Salt Lake Tribune:

The odor of burning marijuana is insufficient to allow police to enter a residence without a warrant, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In a 4-1 decision, the court said only a limited number of circumstances create an exception to the warrant requirement, such as preventing the imminent destruction of evidence. Smelling pot is not one of them, the ruling says.

"The aroma of marijuana must be accompanied by some evidence that the suspects are disposing of the evidence, as opposed to casually consuming it," Justice Ronald Nehring wrote for the majority.

With this finding, Utah rejects U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that the smell of burning marijuana justifies home searches without a warrant in order to prevent destruction of evidence.

It's truly one of the most insultingly absurd drug war exceptions to the constitution. People burn marijuana for fun and not to dispose of evidence. There's nothing more ridiculous than the notion that someone would burn marijuana for the sole purpose of destroying it, even though they don’t know there are police nearby. We know why people burn marijuana and every judge who has upheld this laughable precedent is a liar.

Of course, marijuana laws being what they are, no one reasonably expects police to ignore apparent criminal activity. If officers believe there's marijuana inside a residence, they may seek to obtain a warrant just as they would in any other situation. That's the whole point of the 4th Amendment's warrant clause.

For too long, marijuana smoking has triggered an exception to the warrant clause that doesn't arise with regards to far more severe crimes. It's true that marijuana smoking does inherently destroy evidence, but if there's nothing left by the time a warrant is obtained, it probably wasn't worth the trouble.

Utah's justices deserve credit for their integrity, but this is also an unpleasant reminder that judges around the country continue to regard marijuana smoke as an automatic 4th Amendment waiver.

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United States

Bobby Scott and Panel on Higher Education Act drug provision

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Visit http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/hellc030807.shtml and fast forward to 1:15:25 in the video to hear discussion of the HEA drug provision (also known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty"). According to SSDP's Tom Angell, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) raised the issue with panelists testifying before the committee, and got a strong response to the effect of how we are shooting ourselves in the foot by taking college aid away from these people.
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United States

Bitter, who's bitter? On the New Mexico medical marijuana vote.

The New Mexico House killed the medical marijuana bill there today on a vote of 36-33. The debate was filled with the usual bigotry, hypocrisy, and ignorance parading as expertise. I'm particularly irritated with Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), who, because he works as a pharmacist, apparently thinks he is an expert on medical marijuana. Here's what he had to say as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Opponents disputed that marijuana was an effective medicine. "Medically it just really has no value. For us to approve a drug like this tells our children and tells the rest of the people in this state that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug," said Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad and a pharmacist. "That is absolutely wrong for us to do." He described marijuana as "the No. 1 gateway drug to abusing other drugs in our society."
Heaton, who makes a living pushing pills, tells us authoritatively that marijuana has no medical value. Does he cite the scientific literature? No. Has he ever read the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics? Not as far as we can tell. What is the basis for his claim of no medicinal value? There is none, except for his appeal to authority as a pharmacist, and therefore, someone who presumably knows about such things. Heaton also argues that approving the medicinal use of marijuana "tells the children…that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug." Oh, really? Does that mean when he is dispensing prescription opiates like Oxycontin he is giving "tacit approval" of their recreational use? Or does he mean that his opposition to medical marijuana is so ideologically driven that he would rather forego its healing and ameloriating effects than risk having young people know it can be used medicinally? If it's the former case, Heaton is a hypocrite of the highest order. If it's the later, he is a demagogue pretending to be an expert. Take your pick. The New Mexican also noted another argument often trotted out in opposition to state medical marijuana laws:
Opponents of the bill said marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and patients in New Mexico could be subject to potential federal prosecution.
I really don’t understand why this argument should sway anyone. My response is, "Okay, let the DEA come in and start arresting patients, then." My second response is to wonder incredulously at the concern displayed by people who make this argument. Let me get this straight: They are so concerned that patients could be arrested under federal law that they would rather have them be arrested under state law? Gee, thanks for all that concern. If I sound just a bit grumpy, it's because I am. I spend my working life trying to end this stupid drug war. Every week, I write stories like the following about a Brazilian governor who wants to legalize drugs to fight crime, a high-level British panel calling for a complete rewriting of the drug laws, or a Scottish politician calling for the decriminalization of drugs. There are also similar stories from the US (although not this week)—a politician or an academic or an ex-cop calling for the end of the drug war. Yet although our anti-prohibitionist position is well justified both pragmatically (in terms of policy results) and philosophically (in terms of morality and ethics), not only do we seem not to be progressing toward our goal of a sensible and compassionate policy surrounding the use of drugs, we can't even get a goddamned measly little medical marijuana bill passed in a state where the public says it wants it, the governor says he wants it, and the state Senate voted for it. Sometimes I just want to chuck it all and move to my own sovereign island republic. But since there don’t seem to be too many of those available right now, I guess I'll keep slogging away. Today, however, I remind myself of Woody Harrelson's Woody the Bartender character in the 1980s sit-com "Cheers." At one point, when Woody is feeling betrayed by his rich girlfriend, Kelly, Sam accuses him of being bitter. "I'm not bitter, Sam," Woody replies. "I'm just consumed by a gnawing hate that's eating away at my gut until I can taste the bile in my mouth."
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United States

Cory Maye Catastrophe Copied in Canada

Basile Parasiris is the latest seemingly innocent person to fire on police who he mistook for burglars during a drug raid on his home. He's now charged with 1st degree murder among other things, for the apparent act of attempting to defend his family. From The Montreal Gazette:
Lawyer Frank Pappas said his client was trying to defend himself and his family when he grabbed a loaded gun and shot Laval Constable Daniel Tessier - whom Parasiris mistook for a crazed thief.

"If he would've believed it was the police, do you think he would have taken them on?" Pappas said in an interview. "They have more firepower than him."

According to Pappas, police didn't find anything in the Parasiris home.

"There was no body, no drugs, no large quantities of firearms," he said. "They may have found one or two pills of Viagra that he didn't have a prescription for.

According to Pappas, the son called 911 after the police barged into the family home and bullets started flying.

"Do you think that if they knew they were police officers, they'd call 911?" Pappas said.
Much remains unknown at this point. But the apparent absence of drugs and the 911 call sound like strong indications that we're looking at another terribly misguided prosecution. Unfortunately, as we've learned from the Cory Maye case, there seems to be a mental block that prevents police, prosecutors, and judges from understanding that normal people are prone to shoot at intruders who burst into their homes.

The otherwise forgivable instinct to defend one's property becomes totally unacceptable when the intruders turn out to be police who mistakenly believe you've got drugs in there. It's mind-boggling that despite all the evidence to the contrary, police continue to insist that they must raid homes suddenly and unexpectedly…because doing otherwise would be dangerous.

How many innocent people must be tricked into shooting police officers before law-enforcement figures out that behaving like burglars is not a safe way to initiate contact with citizens?

As Radley Balko has often pointed out, these deaths occur in the course of a completely unsuccessful effort to stop people from getting high. As the frequency of these raids-gone-wrong increases, it's chilling to think that this ongoing theater of unnecessary death and destruction won't stop until the pile of bodies is too tall to ignore.


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United States

University of Maryland Students Get Support from State Rep for Campus Drug Reform Effort (plus some DRCNet strategy thoughts)

Our friends at the University of Maryland's (UMD) SSDP chapter have been working on a campus drug policy reform measure, seeking to have marijuana's classification in the school's disciplinary code downgraded to a less serious level than its current status. A campus-wide referendum was passed, and now a resolution by the RHA Student Senate. Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate with whom we are working on trying to fix the state financial aid/drug conviction problem, has provided a letter of support for the measure, sent to the school's Director of Residence Life. Click here to read it in PDF form. This seems like a good time to talk a little bit about a part of DRCNet's "big-picture" strategy and strategic thinking. Last year we published a report, under the auspices of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, on the issue of state financial aid bureaucracies denying college assistance to students who have lost their eligibility for financial aid because of drug convictions -- not because the states have their own laws saying to do so (extremely few states do), but only because the federal government is denying them aid, and the states have chosen to make use of the federal financial aid processing system (FAFSA), to be able to do less work themselves or out of habit or mistaken assumptions about their obligations or for other reasons. It is this report that led to the Maryland financial aid bill that has been discussed in other posts here. For a lot of our members, restoring college aid to students with drug convictions is an issue that is good but in the grand scheme of things small -- we're StoptheDrugwar.org, our goal is to end the war on drugs, the financial aid work is worthy but what about sentencing, police raids, forfeiture, ending prohibition itself? The smaller chunk of college aid provided by the states, or for that matter by any one state, is a smaller issue than that, and with fewer people being affected now that the federal law affects fewer people, the numbers make it even smaller. Still a good thing if we can do it, but end the whole drug war and these smaller problems will be fixed in the process too. All true. That said, however, politics is a process, and the steps we take today can enable further steps later. For example, if we had not issued that report, the issue would never have come to Del. Gutierrez's attention, and we would never have met her. If we had not supported her efforts in the state house last year and again this year, Stacia Cosner at UMD and Kris Krane at SSDP National would never have met or gotten to work with her either. And with that relationship never having been established, Gutierrez's letter to the official at UMD would never have been written, one less piece of support provided for an effort to make marijuana policy at a major state school less harsh. Will the letter make the difference? That sort of question is usually impossible to definitely answer, but possibly. What new reforms may be made possible if this one happens, and what effect might a victory for the chapter have on its ability to mobilize students to support our issue? There is probably no issue out there for which it is easier to build bridges like that than the financial aid/drug convictions issue; it's almost embarrassing how easy it is to bring allies in with that issue. It's also time to branch out, to be sure. Over the next two years or so it is our goal to do coalition-building -- with organizations, legislators and other supportive individuals -- on a range of drug war issues. The welfare and public housing drug provisions are one logical next step (see our Chronicle review of the topic here), because many of the 300+ organizations we are in contact with who have support the financial aid efforts will also be willing to help us with those. But it won't stop there. Eventually we will have a network of thousands of organizations around the country, all of them helping to chip away at the drug war in whichever aspects of it they are individually willing and able. This model has already succeeded in getting one federal law (financial aid) scaled back significantly, and that happened when Congress was still controlled by the Republicans! What will having thousands of them accomplish? If you like this vision -- and if you like the fact that we do so much to promote and support the work of our allies in the cause like SSDP -- for that matter if you like our newsletter and this blog -- I hope you'll support those efforts with a generous donation, which can be done online here. - Dave
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Drug War: The Ride

While Karen Tandy touts triumphs against traffickers, taxi drivers are treating drug-trade terrorism like a tourist attraction. From Reuters:
Streetwise cabbies in northern Mexico are cashing in on the chaos of a violent drug war by whisking wide-eyed visitors about town in macabre tours of seized narco properties and famous murder scenes, Mexico City's Reforma newspaper reported on Sunday.

Taxi drivers in the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan satisfy tourists' ghoulish fascination with a battle between cartels that killed 2,000 people last year, for about 200 pesos ($18) a trip, the newspaper said.
This is great. But we must extend these tours to more fully represent the worldwide horrors of the drug war. From the overflowing prisons in Texas to the barren fumigated hillsides of Colombia, the drug war touches everything and infects everything it touches with hopelessness and decay. Spring for the deluxe package and you can see a drug addict get executed in Thailand.

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Obligatory Comment on the Toddlers-Smoking-Pot Video

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I'd just as soon not touch this with a 10-foot pole, but I fear that ignoring it could make us look scared. We're not.

The highly publicized video of toddlers being forced to smoke marijuana is disgusting. It's child abuse, and when confronted by such provocative images it's important for reformers to remember that we're the only people with a plan for protecting children from drugs. After all, the drug war certainly didn’t protect these children.

There's nothing the drug war can do to prevent outrages like this, but there are a few ways in which it makes them more likely to occur. The drug war eliminates age requirements for drug purchases by creating a black market. The drug war has incentivized drug dealers to actually employ children, and it creates new job opportunities with each arrest.

More importantly perhaps, the drug war has broken up families at alarming rates, creating vast opportunities for events like this to occur. Perhaps widespread media coverage of this story will reveal more about the circumstances surrounding it. We've heard from a grandparent, but we don’t yet know anything about the parents. Whether incarceration plays a role here remains to be seen, but the odds of that are unfortunately quite good.

Still, for all its failings, the drug war provides no excuse for the conduct of the teenagers depicted in this video. They're criminals and they're exactly the sort of people we want police going after. Now if we could somehow manage to stop arresting so many people who don't deserve it, perhaps we could better attend to creeps like these.

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ONDCP Gloats Over Ken Gorman's Death

The New York Times reports on the death of Ken Gorman, a Colorado medical marijuana provider who was murdered by thieves. It's a fair story, though NORML's Allen St. Pierre is misquoted as saying that 20 medical marijuana providers have been killed in robberies (the correct figure is an unfortunate but much smaller 6).

Shamefully, the ONDCP blog blames Gorman's death on medical marijuana laws:
Drug Violence: State Medical Marijuana Laws Creating More Confusion and Abuse

Today's New York Times covers the latest murder generated by the passage of State-based "medical" marijuana laws. For years, marijuana legalization groups have worked to bypass the Supreme Court's decision, the FDA's official Interagency Advisory, and Federal law regarding medical marijuana. Symbolic medical marijuana laws which have been passed in some U.S. states have given too many citizens the false impression that growing and distributing marijuana is safe and legal.
One cannot possibly overstate the appalling falsity of ONDCP's attempt to paint the medical marijuana industry as inherently violent and chaotic, particularly in light of ONDCP's ongoing commitment to undermining the safety of medical marijuana patients. The rank dishonesty of this notion even compares unfavorably to the typical bile churned out by this organization on a daily basis.

Fortunately, widespread public support for medical marijuana ensures that concern over such violence will often tip in favor of regulation. The safeguards necessary to prevent deaths like Gorman's will be viewed by many as the responsibility of government; a responsibility the government continues to reject at every turn.

Persecuted and abandoned, patients have instead turned to the democratic process for relief, mobilizing state legislatures and millions of voters to their aid. They have built and now operate their own institutions, withstanding remarkable pressure as they push away the recreational marijuana economy with one hand and fight off the DEA with the other. Problems with medical marijuana laws are both wildly exaggerated and entirely attributable to interference and false propaganda from government officials whose utter lack of credibility necessitates the celebration of murder.

Ken Gorman's blood now stains the hands of the liars and quacks whose belligerent resistance to medical marijuana is truly the primary destructive force at work here.

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Two Bolivia Reports from Phil

Phil is en route back home. Read two major Bolivia reports he wrote in the latest issue of the Chronicle here. More will be posted over the coming weeks.
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CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen on Afghan Opium Conundrum

Last week I promised to post comments by Peter Bergen (CNN terrorism analyst) responding to a question I asked of him last week about the Afghan opium conundrum. Following is a transcript, prepared with great labor by DRCNet's Tom Klun. (Tom was working from online video of the forum, which took place at the New America Foundation. The forum was devoted to the presenters' findings in a new report on the relationship of the Iraq War to jihadist terrorism -- an issue on which DRCNet as a drug policy organization has no position.)

David Borden, Drug War Chronicle: A number of scholars and NGOs have pointed out that both the opium economy and campaigns against opium growing in Afghanistan are helping the Taliban -- the former through funding, the latter by alienating people from the government and driving farmers to them. Our editor met some of these farmers about a year and a half ago. My question is, how do you see both the opium economy and opium eradication playing into the situation with Al Qaeda; and short of outright legalization (which might not happen in 2007 [editor's note: understatement]), how do you feel the opium issue ought to be handled?
 
Peter Bergen: Well, eradication doesn't work, I mean, there's a vast amount of academic literature showing that it just pushes the growers into the arms of the insurgents, and it is very unpopular in Afghanistan. In fact, Karzai has basically rejected US efforts to get ground spraying, he's pushed that back to 2008. He's saying we're going to just do eradication by hand or by tractor. One of the reasons the US military didn't really get involved in the whole drug issue is that they had bigger fish to fry, which is going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, clearly the Taliban is benefitting from this, as are people in the south.
 
Afghanistan is by the way the 5th poorest country in the world. It would be like saying we're basically going to take away the only way you can make a living, by eradicating your fields. So we have to come up with something a little more creative than just saying we're going to eradicate. That would be bad for counterinsurgency policy, and I don't think it will work. So what are the two options? One is, if you're going to do crop substitution you have to subsidize the crops that are being substituted. You can't get people to grow cotton unless they can make roughly what they would be making growing poppy. Now we do this all the time with our farmers, the EU does it all the time with its farmers, paying people to grow things or not to grow things. We're spending $750 million dollars a year on drug eradications in Afghanistan, the farmers are making $750 million dollars, so we've got a fair amount of money to play with, roughly the same amount of money they are benefiting. We can use that for, you know, to prop up the price, give them money to grow crops like cotton, nuts and fruits.
 
And also we should consider that the legalized opiate trade is dominated by Turkey and India, which basically have a lock. Eight percent of the world has almost no morphine, so there's this huge pain crisis in the developing world. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where we have a huge national security interest. Why not amend the law that is now in place, where Turkey and India are basically mandated to get 80% of the legal opiate trade from US manufacturers? Why not have a pilot project in a province in Afghanistan where there is reasonable security and just see if this idea -- you don't have to do the legalized opiate trade for the whole country, just see in one province if this would work and subsidize farmers so that they can grow poppy for the legalized opiate trade. That's an idea, but either way we're going to have to do crop substitution with subsidies. Nothing else is going to work, we can't just eradicate.
 

Bergen was presumably referring to a proposal floated by the Senlis Council, a European drug policy and development think tank. (It was the 2005 Senlis conference in Kabul that took Phil to the troubled fourth world country.) It's good to see such a high-profile US-based expert raising the possibility.

I actually encountered skepticism about the idea from some of my European colleagues (as well as support for it) when I traveled to Brussels last fall for a conference at the European Parliament. One of them, while expressing admiration for the beautiful execution of the campaign by the Senlis people, pointed out that as long as opiates are illegal for non-medical use, someone is going to supply them, which potentially means that Afghanistan could just have more opium growing in total, the licensed market and the black market -- Ahmed might switch to growing for the licit supply, but that doesn't mean his brother or uncle will. I largely agree with that point.

The other argument is one to which I am instinctively less sympathetic, but which came from someone I respect and for which I don't have sufficient information to evaluate. This other colleague said that the poor countries where the new supply of opiate pain relievers would go to, countries in Africa and so forth, don't have the infrastructure to control them -- they would be a target for organized crime, the drugs might not even get to the patients, and there would be a new organized crime problem of a type that those countries don't have now.

After thinking about this for awhile, I came to the tentative conclusion that we should at least be calling for a pilot project. (It was gratifying to see Peter Bergen say the same thing.) This is why: It's true that new growers of black market opium for the non-medical market should be expected to take the place of any growers who switch to the licensed medical market, or the same growers will just grow more -- supply fills demand, and neither eradication nor substitution nor licensing for a market that's already legal will reduce it. But that doesn't mean all the new growing will be in Afghanistan. Some of it might crop up elsewhere, and there are less destructive places for it to happen than in that unstable country that harbors people who want to kill us. And why shouldn't Afghan farmers have the right to participate in the legal economy? They certainly need the work as much as anyone does. Lastly, patients in severe, chronic pain deserve medication, even if there is a risk of diversion of the supply causing crime, even if in fact it's an inevitability. Let the pilot growing project in Afghanistan be accompanied by pilot opiate pain management projects in the destination countries, with the security issues on both ends getting thought through at the same time.

Time for a drug policy reform/global security campaign?

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Afghanistan

The drug war is everywhere, even in my mailbox...

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Today our new federal and DC labor law posters showed up in the mail -- there are a lot of different posting requirements, and it's easier to just order a set, as opposed to figuring everything you need and taping it all together on the wall -- plus we have three organizations in the office and we can split the bill. None of that is very interesting for a drug policy blog, in and of itself. But stuffed inside the poster tube was a flyer advertising some additional posters they have for sale, including a "THIS IS A DRUG FREE WORKPLACE" poster. The poster, if we displayed it, would proclaim DRCNet to be a "DRUG FREE WORK ZONE" and explain that "Tests for use of illegal drugs and/or alcohol may be required prior to hiring and periodically during your employment." The blurb accompanying the poster graphic reads as follows:

DRUG FREE WORKPLACE All employers should provide a Drug-Free Workplace program including a written policy statement. If an employee receives a positive confirmed drug test for illegal use of drugs or alcohol, or refuses to submit to drug or alcohol test, then the burden of proof is shifted to the employee. Substance abusing workers are:
  • Five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim;
  • 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents; and
  • Late for work three times as often.
  • Absenteeism: Substance abusers are 2.5 times more likely to be absent 8 or more days a year.
  • Lost Productivity: Substance abusers are one-third less productive.
This "data," if you can call it that, is problematic in a number of ways. First, there is no differentiation of use from abuse, no explanation of what exactly is meant by abuse, no clarity as to whether the numbers refer only to illegal drugs or if they also include alcohol. If they do include alcohol, is there some distinction between casual use and heavier use that can affect work performance? Presumably the alcohol tests they mention would not have the same kinds of standards as illegal drug tests, since there is no legal or prevailing cultural standard calling for teetotalism (abstention from alcohol use). It is really hard to say exactly what they are saying. What we do know, however, is that drug testing isn't worth the money or the collateral costs. According to the 1994 National Academy of Sciences report "Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Work Force" (as summarized by the ACLU):
  • Research results indicate that drug use does not pose significant productivity or safety problems in the work force. In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences published results from a three year research effort compiling research resulting from all major studies of drug testing program effectiveness. The report concluded, "the data... do not provide clear evidence of the deleterious effects of drugs other than alcohol on safety and other job performance indicators."
  • Though frequently inaccurate and ineffective, drug testing is extremely expensive. Texas Intruments reports that their drug testing program costs $100 per employee. Drug testing products and services are a multi-billion dollar industry. But the incidence of drug use in the workforce is very low. The federal government reported in 1990 that only 0.5% of tested employees tested positive. The same year, the government spent $11.7 million on its drug testing program. That works out to $77,000 per identified drug user.
  • The NAS looked for and was unable to find evidence of drug testing programs' deterrent effects. Studies which appear to show a decrease in positive test rates since the implementation of drug testing programs usually don't adjust for the expansion of such programs' testing groups to include not only for-cause drug tests but also suspicionless drug tests. That is, as drug-testing programs have expanded, they have tested more and more people who aren't suspected of drug use, improving their numbers and subjecting thousands of non-users to invasive testing procedures.
Needless to say, at DRCNet we consider our staff's personal choices about substances to be their personal choices, and we have no intention of instituting such a program -- our people know that if they show up to work sober, get their work done and don't create risk for the organization by carrying contraband into the office, they'll be okay. Isn't that the way it should be, anywhere? This company is called The Labor Law Poster Service, located in Lansing, Michigan. I don't think we'll be ordering from them again. If there are any employers out there reading this who can point us to another such outfit, one that has the labor law posters we need but does not attempt to profit from the drug testing scam, please drop me a line before next year. Otherwise, we may just have to find all the different forms we need separately and cobble them together here ourselves. The drug war is everywhere...

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Treating Drug Addiction With Addictive Drugs

Jacob Sullum at Reason is incredulous over a new Vancouver program that administers maintenance doses to stimulant addicts:
The government drives [stimulants] into the black market and then allows the select few who are sufficiently f#@ked up to get oral stimulants at taxpayers' expense. Meanwhile, doctors commonly prescribe stimulants to people who have trouble focusing and paying attention, a condition that used to be self-treated but nowadays is recognized as a disease requiring professional diagnosis. If you take these drugs without that diagnosis, you also have a disease—drug dependence—that one day, if we're lucky, may be treated by giving you the drugs.
The whole thing is mind-numbingly absurd. Try as we might to rein them in, drug policies continue to boldly defy the boundaries of logic at every turn. Still, Sullum's assessment of government sponsored maintenance programs gives me pause.
This strikes me as exactly the wrong way to achieve drug policy reform, guaranteed to alienate people who might be willing to let others use drugs but don't want to pick up the tab for it. The message should be freedom coupled with responsibility, not government-subsidized drug addiction.
I'm not saying he's wrong, but I sure hope he is. Though ideal, the freedom/responsibility model isn't exactly resonating either. To whatever extent such programs are bad because they piss off taxpayers, one hopes they'll earn their keep by mitigating the destructive conditions that necessitate counterintuitive ideas like stimulant maintenance in the first place. Demonstrating that such programs actually save money while reducing harm should eventually placate reasonable skeptics.

As long as legalization is out of the picture, taxpayers must choose between subsidizing the addictions of sometimes unsympathetic characters, or subsidizing by default the black market profiteers who would otherwise provide for them.

Anyone who can’t come to terms with this will love Joe Biden's hilariously unworkable plan to eradicate drugs from the earth with biological weapons.

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many pictures from the Chapare...

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US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors Site of major landslide produced by massive rainstorms. Buses and trucks by the dozens were backed up here. We had to leave the jeep on the near side, walk across the landslide, hire motorcyclists to carry us about a mile to where taxis were waiting, then hire a taxi for the afternoon in the Chapare. Click the "read full post" link or here for 20 more pictures chronicling Phil's visit to the Chapare coca-growing region. People carrying their stuff along a mile-long trail above the landslide to get to buses on the other side. We cheated. My guide, Godofredo Reinecke, the former human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") in the Chapare, convinced soldiers I was a photojournalist, so we were able to walk along the washed out roadway; much shorter than the hike on the path, but very muddy. Godofredo in the lead more Godofredo Motorcyclists for hire for hikers trying to get to cabs and buses further down the road coca leaves drying by side of highway FELCN checkpoint, outside Villa Tunari US-funded army base outside Villa Tunari army base, inside looking out Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard. She says there is peace now in the Chapare, but no prosperity. Her kids don't want to go to school because they have no money; instead, they want to leave and work in the city. Vitalia's house -- no narco-palace, as the cocaleros like to point out Walking to the coca patch. It was several miles from Vitalia's house, down a half-mile trail off a dirt road. The patch was hidden in the jungle to avoid detection during eradication times. Forced eradication is over, but the cocal doesn't move. Vitalia in her cocal. She will earn about $75 a month off coca leaves. Vitalia's daughter Vitalia and her daughter in the cocal The town of Shinahota, the Wild West of the Bolivian cocaine business during the "Cocaine Coup" years of the 1980s. Then, you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury goods downstairs, while prostitutes waited above. It's much quieter (and poorer) now. The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads "Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08" sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela Plant under construction -- some of the coca product will go to Venezuela. View of La Paz from El Alto, a lower-class suburb which is itself one of the world's highest cities.
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Vermont Mayor Says Execute Drug Dealers, Legalize Marijuana

The increasingly obvious failure of the drug war is spawning some odd discussions this year. There's Joe Biden and Dan Burton calling for biological warfare in South America. There's a crazy former DEA agent promising a one-year turnaround if we bust all the "druggies" and force them to stop partying. Lou Dobbs is really frustrated too, and someone should talk to him before he starts racially profiling people and asking for consent to search.

But the prize might go to Barre, VT Mayor Thomas Lauzon who wants to try some of everything. From The Times Argus:
BARRE – Mayor Thomas Lauzon on Saturday said he hoped the Legislature would consider imposing the death penalty on convicted crack and heroin dealers, and to legalize marijuana.

Failing that, the mayor said, he would call for a public forum in Barre to kick off a statewide discussion about the growing drug problem in Vermont and steps – including the death penalty and legalization — to control the situation.
Sounds like an episode of South Park. If the citizens of Vermont indulge him, this could be a highly entertaining public forum. For my money, Vermont is much more likely to legalize marijuana than execute anyone (they haven’t imposed the death penalty in 50 years).

Expect to hear plenty more crazy talk of executing drug dealers and such this year. And don't be surprised to see more politicians calling for marijuana policy reform. The failure of the drug war is all around us and people are talking about it, for better or worse.

The drug war isn’t going to start working one day. Inevitably, the road to reform will be paved with crazy idiots. If they want to legalize marijuana and execute crack dealers, we'll help with the former and talk them out of killing people later.

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Back from the Chapare

I'm now back from the coca producing region of the Chapare. Yesterday was a real grind: Get up very early, fly from La Paz to Cochabamba, take a taxi to the Andean Information Network office where I met up with AIN's Kathryn Ledebur and her husband, former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo) Gotofredo Reinecke, hopped in his jeep with him, stopped for gas and coca leaves (it's a tiring journey), then drove about two hours over an 11,000-foot mountain pass and down into the jungly Chapare.

The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. But first, we had to traverse a major landslide on the highway caused by incessant rains. (We were extremely fortunate to have a mostly sunny day, a rarity this rainy season). At the landslide, buses and cargo trucks were backed up by the dozens, as they had been for days. The smell of rotting fruit in the trucks was pervasive. Bus passengers had to gather their bags and make a mile-long trek over a muddy path to get to buses waiting on the other side, but we left the jeep on the near side and walked right down the roadway itself—a shortcut—after Godofredo explained to the soldiers that I was a photojournalist shooting the "derrumbe." My sandals, socks, and jeans were covered with mud (which made quite an impression at the Cochabamba airport this morning). Once across the washed out area, it was onto the backs of small motorcycles for hire for another half-mile to where the buses and taxis were waiting for travelers trying to continue their journey, and then we hired a taxi for the tour of the Chapare. In the miserably hot and humid lowlands, we stopped for lunch, where Godofredo spotted veteran newspaper vendor and scene-observer Don Jaime Balderrama, with whom we had an interesting chat. Then it was on to the local military base for a talk with the comandante, which proved absolutely fruitless. He refused to say a word of substance, saying it all had to be cleared with the military high command. Sadly, this seems to be the attitude throughout the Morales government when it comes to coca matters, and as a result, I am not making much progress in getting interviews with government officials (although I still have some feelers out and some hopes, fading as they may be). The army fort, bought and paid for by US tax dollars was nicely constructed, and the colonel's office featured the only air conditioning I ran across on the whole trip. Sweet for him. Sweet for us, too. I didn’t want to leave, even though we were getting nothing from him.

former cocalero leader Vitalia Merida with her daughter, in their coca field

Then it was on to visit Vitalia Merida, a former coca grower union leader (and current member), who has a coca field way out in the middle of nowhere. After her family suffered during the repression of the forced eradication years, she now reports that there is peace, if not prosperity. I'll be writing about what she had to say in a feature article this week. I have to say that is was an absolutely brutal hike in the mid-day sun to her coca patch. When I complained, Vitalia said, "You see how we suffer," although she sweated not a drop. Next was Shinahota, a small town that was the center of the Chapare cocaine economy during the Wild West days of the "cocaine coup" back in the early 1980s. Main street there features a bunch of two-story buildings erected at that time. Downstairs you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury items; upstairs you rented prostitutes. It's much quieter these days, and much less profitable. Just outside Shinahota, we stopped at a coca leaf warehouse operated by the local growers' union and had a nice chat with some Six Federation leaders who, sadly, were camera shy, and just a little bit suspicious of this wild-looking gringo. (I was indeed wild-looking by then: mud-splattered, sweat-drenched, my hair blown into knots as I hung my head out the window of the taxi seeking relief). We had an interesting conversation, though, and I will report on that in the Chronicle, too. Between Shinahota and Villa Tunari, we stopped briefly at a new coca leaf processing plant, which is being financed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He has promised to import coca products to Venezuela, which would violate the UN Single Convention, but as AIN's Kathy Ledebur noted, "Who's going to stop him?" No one there but construction workers, though. Shortly past the new coca plant, in Villa Tunari, is a municipal hospital staffed primarily by dozens of Cuban doctors and nurses. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast: The US builds forts and supplies the military, Venezuela helps Bolivia industrialize coca, and the Cubans heal the sick. So it goes. That's my report for today. I now have in essence a day and half left in Bolivia. I'm attempting to line up some last interviews, but I'm a little depressed by my lack of success with government functionaries, and just bad luck with some other people I hoped to talk to. But I still have 36 hours... More pictures will be posted here later today.
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COC
Bolivia

"Billion Dollar Bong" Becomes Buzzkill For Pfizer

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Leave it to a major pharmaceutical company to completely forget about the drug war. From Brandweek Magazine:

NEW YORK -- Last year, Pfizer paid Sanofi-Aventis $1.4 billion for Exubera, a new inhaled insulin product for diabetics that Pfizer forecast would produce $2 billion in sales every year.

What Pfizer got for its cash was a device that looks a lot like a marijuana bong—and a brand that analysts, doctors, drug sales reps and some patients believe is a struggle to sell because it is so inconvenient to use.

Yeah I can see it now: a diabetes sufferer, visibly disoriented from low blood sugar, fumbles with an awkward tubular device in a parking lot before huffing its fumes and breathing a sigh of relief. It's actually not that inconvenient…unless you get detained and searched by police in the middle of a medical emergency.

[Diabetes blogger Amy Tenderich] noticed a Pfizer instructional video on the Exubera Web site. It shows a man huffing on his Exubera tube at a restaurant table. The man “must live in a city as tolerant or as jaded as San Francisco or New York because not one patron even glanced over as he cocked and sucked on his medicinal bong,” she wrote. Exubera “really is as bad as it looks in the pictures.”

On the other hand, Pfizer could contact law-enforcement agencies across the country and convince them not to take action when they see people sucking on small bong-like devices. Surely that would solve the problem.

In fact, that would solve all sorts of problems.

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United States

Phil is on the way to the Chapare...

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Phil wrote me this morning that he was heading out to the Bolivian city of Cochabamba and the Chapare region of which it is part. The Chapare is one of the major coca-growing regions in the country. It is unclear whether he will be able to post to the blog today -- Phil will be out in the fields -- or if that will have to wait until he returns to La Paz. The Andean Information Network is an organization that monitors and reports on developments in Bolivia in general and the Chapare in particular, and they are helping Phil with this leg of his trip. I have met current and past AIN staff during their not-infrequent visits to Washington. The AIN web site is a great resource for people wanting to learn more about the relevant issues as well as keep up with the latest developments. Among other things, I just noticed that they have published a curriculum to help schoolteachers deal with US and Andean drug control issues in their courses. Of course the site discusses the state of the coca issue in the administration of Bolivian cocalero leader turned president Evo Morales.
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United States

Drug War Issues

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