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The Speakeasy Blog

In Lima, the Cocaine is Cheap, High Quality, and Easily Available

Well, that didn't take long. I arrived in Lima late last night and didn't clear customs and make my way to my very cheap ($10) hotel in the center of the city a few blocks off the Plaza de Armas, the main square at the heart of the city. But I went to the Plaza today, where I met some Canadians and Russians. As we sat drinking Inka -Cola, we were soon engaged in conversation by one of the numerout touts trying to make a living off the tourists. The young man wanted to sell bronzed llamas and stuff like that, but the Russians had more decadent pleasures in mind, and the young man disappeared and returned in a matter of minutes. An under the table transaction occurred, and our group adjourned to the Russian´s hotel, where they proceeded to put their contribution to the Peruvian economy right up their noses. They paid $40 for what was supposed to be a gram, but looked like maybe twice that. I ran into the tout again a few minutes ago. He wanted to know if I wanted some. When I said no, he dropped the price to $20. How low would he have gone? I don´t know because I wasn't haggling. From what I can tell, though, it was so pure that if I had snorted any it would have probably blown out my sinuses. A couple of points here: I don't really recommend buying cocaine off strangers in the main plaza of a strange city. There are plenty of stories here about people like that turning out to be cops. (Ah, the old reverse sting. It's particularly profitable for Third World cops working on gringo tourists. How much would you pay to make that sort of trouble go away?) In this case, however, my concerns were lessened somewhat because it wasn't the tout but the Russians who mentioned the stuff. In those stings, it´s usually the other way around. The second point has to do with coca. All the coca growers say they are only growing for the traditional markets, but that's clearly not the case. I don't think it serves their leaders well to pretend otherwise. I guess I'll see what they have to say about it when I talk to some of them next week.

Tom Riley Narcs On Ryan Grim

It all started when The Politico's Ryan Grim called ONDCP's Tom Riley for a quote to include in this story about Bush's attempt to increase funding for ONDCP's counterproductive National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

The story itself is definitely worth reading, but this side-column is priceless:

Ryan Grim, who wrote today's story on the anti-drug campaign program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), previously worked for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies to legalize marijuana. Grim worked at the project from June 2004 until May 2005, a fact that has been on his official bio since he joined

Grim called the ONDCP for comment for his story early Wednesday. Instead of returning Grim's call, Tom Riley, the agency's spokesman, called The Politico's senior publisher and editor, Martin Tolchin, to point out Grim's previous work with the Marijuana Policy Project. He then threatened to complain to Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz about a conflict of interest.

The ONDCP did not return Grim's call Wednesday.

This is a rare glimpse into the frustrated mind of a drug warrior scorned. In Riley's world, Ryan Grim's association with drug policy reform is some sort of dark secret; a mental defect that clouds his judgment, rendering him incapable of reasoned analysis. Grim's superiors should be warned, lest he should poison impressionable minds with his mischievous pen.

Riley's McCarthian finger-pointing is typical drug warrior subterfuge, but it's usually done publicly in an effort to discredit contradictory sources. In this case, however, Riley acted surreptitiously in what can only be described as an attempt to undermine an opponent's employment status.

The best part is that Riley obviously believed his ploy would work. That his complaint would provoke amusement and find its way into the paper never entered his mind.

Further hilarity will ensue when Riley tries to rat out those hippies at the GAO.

United States

The Drug War Chronicle Andean Coca Tour 2007 is about to get underway

Friday night, I will be bedding down in Peru, after a day-long flight from Sioux Falls to Denver to Houston to Lima. That will be the first of 21 nights in Peru and Bolivia as the Drug War Chronicle explores the coca industry and its unsavory relative, the cocaine industry, in the Andes. While the process of making connections is ongoing and always a little shaky in developing countries, things are falling into place. While I will spend most of that first weekend resting and getting oriented, it looks like I'll have lunch Monday with Peruvian psychologist and coca expert Baldomero Caceres and Anthony Henman. Henman is a legendary name when it comes to coca. The British anthropologist (since gone native) is the man who, under a pseudonym, wrote "Mama Coca" back in the 1970s. That was the first serious ethnographic study of coca's history and use in the Andes for lay readers in English. I look forward to seeing what Henman has to say about the current state of affairs. Later that day, I will go to the upscale suburb of Miraflores for dinner with Ricardo Soberon, a leading Peruvian drugs and security expert. He was an advisor to coca grower leader turned congresswoman Nancy Obregon, but has since departed over unspecified political differences. I'll be sure to query him (and Nancy) about the nature of those differences. Speaking of Nancy, she is currently back home in northern Peru, so I won't be able to talk to her during that first week. But she will be back in Lima at the end of the month, and I will do an interview with her then. (I have to be out of Bolivia by February 28 because their visa requirements kick in on March 1.) I think I will fly from Lima to Ayacucho next Wednesday. That ancient city high in the Andes is the historic heartland of Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist guerrillas who led an uprising in the 1980s where tens of thousands were killed. The Senderistas are still around, though much weakened, and they try to gain the support of coca growers by killing policemen and anti-government drug workers. But Ayacucho is also the home of national coca growers' union leader Nelson Palomino, whom I will interview. Palomino and his crew have also promised to show me the coca fields and let me talk to farmers, so that should be enlightening. After that, I'll take a couple of days for the mandatory tourist visit to Machu Picchu outside Cusco, then I'll bus it from Cusco across the altiplano to Bolivia. At least that's the plan right now; there are reports of severe flooding right where I'll be crossing the border. I'm still trying to set things up with the American embassy in Lima and with the big Peruvian drug bureaucracies, ENACO (the coca monopoly) and DEVIDA (the drug enforcement bureaucracy). I've been talking with the US press officer in Lima about getting a meeting, but because I don't represent established media, I can't get official press status with the embassy, which means the press officer won't officially deal with me, but may manage to hook me up with some of the drug people in the embassy. Similar plans are in the works for Bolivia. Stay tuned.
United States

Another Outrage: 13-Year Sentence for Medical Marijuana Grower

Dustin Costa, whose case we've discussed here and here, received a 13-year sentence in federal court today (sorry, no link).

We're told that the judge wasn't thrilled about the sentence. Unfortunately, even judges become helpless bystanders when the Justice Department uses federal law to target medical providers operating legally under California's Proposition 215.

Costa's prosecution signals a return to the Justice Department's controversial practice of lying to jurors and painting medical providers as common street dealers.

Are you watching this, Dennis Kucinich?

United States

Former DEA Agent: We'll Win If We Just Arrest Every Drug User

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Most people who notice that the drug war has failed eventually come to understand that we must stop wasting billions of dollars harming people who've used drugs.

But a select few propose escalation, and their ideas range from crazy to…well, crazier.

Expert: War on drugs should shift focus from the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, NY gives a voice to former DEA agent Michael Levine, who I don't think will be joining LEAP anytime soon. He's written a book called Fight Back that doesn't sound very good.

According to Levine, the reason the drug war is failing is because we've been wasting our time chasing the dealers when we should be trying to arrest all the users. He's serious:

It is the druggie who is victimizing us. It is he -- not the drug dealer, the smuggler, the Medellin Cartel, or all the Manuel Noriegas of this world -- who is responsible for the spread of drug abuse.

He thinks we should turn to China and Japan for guidance:

They succeeded in getting the situation under control because they targeted the users, forcing them into rehabilitation. They realized "that they did not have a drug epidemic; they had an epidemic of druggies."

For starters, we must begin teaching children the truth about drugs:

Levine says druggies should be depicted "convulsing and vomiting on themselves in detoxification wards; or staring vacant eyed on the benches of intake centers and emergency wards. That is what being a druggie is really all about, and that is what we should want our kids to see and understand."

Of course, no such rant would be complete without this:

Give me one community -- the worse the better -- where the citizens, the media and the police are willing to work together in following the step-by-step plan of Fight Back and I guarantee the end of the drug problem within one year."

I think the first step towards solving our drug problem is to be more selective in our use of the term "expert."

United States

More on the Meth Conference

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The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis wrapped up Saturday in Salt Lake. It was an amazing array of panels, plenaries, and presentations on dozens of topics related to methamphetamine policy, treatment, prevention, and education, and it's given me several story ideas: In a panel on the good, the bad, and the ugly in meth policy, Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women gave a powerful presentation on efforts to criminalize drug using pregnant women despite the lack of evidence that neonatal drug exposures result in damage to the fetus (or more damage than can result from non-criminalized exposures). In Arkansas last year, the legislature passed a law making a positive drug test in a newborn evidence of presumptive child abuse. Now, a report on how the law has worked has just been issued. Look for a story on this issue this week, as well as a heads up for activists in other states where similar measures are pending. I'll also be looking into stimulant substitution therapy. Although it was a disappointment that Dr. John Grabowski of the University of Texas at Houston, the leading American researcher on the topic, couldn't make it, there was a good panel discussion on the topic led by Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance. It's also timely, given that Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is seeking to embark on a massive, 700-person pilot program there. Look for an article on this soon, too. I also had a nice chat with Boston-based anthropologist Patricia Case, who gave a fascinating presentation on the history of amphetamines. When she heard that I live in an area with lots of meat-packers, she got very excited about doing some research on meth use in the industry. She and I will work on getting that done. She's interested in the anthropology of it; I'm interested in seeing if there is evidence of "normal" meth use, or meth users who are not totally deranged. It seems as if everyone assumes every who uses the drug is an insane tweaker, but I wonder about that. This will be a more long-term project, though.
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

The Salt Lake Methamphetamine Conference Gets Underway

EDITOR'S NOTE: I tried to post this Friday morning from the Hilton in Salt Lake City, but due to some mysterious problem with the internets, it didn't get through. The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis is now in its second day. The Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City is doing an admirable job of dealing with the influx of treatment providers, social service workers, needle exchangers, speed freaks, drug company representatives, academics, researchers, and politicos who have flooded into the hotel for three days of plenaries, panels, workshops, and breakout sessions on various aspects of the methamphetamine phenomenon. For me, a lot of the sessions and presentations are of limited interest, which is not to say they have no value, only that they are directed at people who are doing the hands-on work in the field. As someone interested in drug policy reform and, frankly, legalizing meth and everything else, the differences in behavior or susceptibility to treatment between gay urban speed freaks and rural hetero speed freaks is not really that important to me. Ditto for comparisons of different treatment modalities. Again, I'm not saying this stuff is unimportant, only that it's not what I'm about. I'm much more interested in the politics of meth, the methods of blunting repressive, reactionary responses from the state, and the ways of means of crafting more enlightened policies. For all the progress we have made in the drug reform arena in the past decade or so, it seems like all someone has to do is shout "Meth!" and we are once again in the realm of harsh sentencing, repressive new legislation, and drug war mania reminiscent of the crack days of the 1980s. That's why it's so heartening to see political figures like Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson stand front and center for enlightened responses to meth use and abuse. Of course, it isn't just Rocky. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, state and local officials from the governor on down are attempting a progressive response, whether it's the governor lobbying for more money for treatment or local prosecutors practicing restorative justice. And it's not just Utah. Cut across the Four Corners into New Mexico, and you find another state where officials are rejecting harsh, repressive measures and instead seeking to educate youth and adults alike with evidence-based curricula. As one measure of the changing status quo, the Drug Policy Alliance is getting involved in the Land of Enchantment. It has been selected by the state government to administer a $500,000 grant to develop prevention and education curricula. I find it just a little bit ironic that I'm sitting in Salt Lake at this major meth conference just as SAMSHA puts out an analysis of national survey data showing that meth use is declining after about a decade a stable usage patterns. There was a significant drop in the number of new meth users between 2004 and 2005 and a steady decline in past year meth users since 2002. Despite all the hoopla, meth users now account for only 8% of all drug treatment admissions. Meth crisis? While there is no denying the social and personal problems that can and do result from excessive resort to the stimulant, it seems like there is less to it than meets the eye. Still, it has the politicians and funding agencies riled up enough to cough up money for programs and conferences and the like. I guess we'll take what we can get.
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

They Only Have One Argument Against Hemp…And Its Wrong

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The Columbia Tribune reports on the ongoing challenges faced by North Dakota farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp. Though the state of North Dakota has passed legislation authorizing hemp cultivation, farmers must obtain approval from DEA, which isn't exactly fast-tracking this.

Monson plans to raise hemp on only 10 acres at first, a demonstration crop, but under federal regulations, the acreage still must be completely fenced and reported by GPS coordinates. All hemp sales also must be reported.

"That’s a per-acre cost of about $400, and that would be prohibitive," Monson said.

So basically the DEA hasn't decided for sure, but in case they do allow hemp cultivation, they've created roadblocks to make it unprofitable.

Here's ONDCP's Tom Riley explaining the logic of this:

Growers could hide pot plants in hemp fields, complicating agents’ efforts to find them, said Tom Riley, of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy.

"You have legitimate farmers who want to experiment with a new crop," Riley said. "But you have another group, very enthusiastic, who want to allow cultivation of hemp because they believe it will lead to a de facto legalization of marijuana.

"The last thing law enforcement people need is for the cultivation of marijuana-looking plants to spread," he said. "Are we going to ask them to go through row by row, field by field, to distinguish between legal hemp and marijuana?"

After being humiliated in The New York Times, it's impressive that they still have the nerve to raise this backwards argument. Cross-pollination would decimate any commercial marijuana in proximity to a hemp field. You can't mix them, Tom Riley. Stop saying that. Seriously, stop.

For a period of time, I assumed that they were simply ignorant of the cross-pollination issue. Perhaps upon coming to understand it, they would endorse hemp cultivation, which more or less ensures the absence of commercial marijuana growing in its vicinity. But now that this issue has been exposed in The Times, it seems much more likely that they're willfully ignoring it and proceeding with their usual nonsense.

The question, therefore, is why? They have one argument against industrial hemp, and it makes absolutely no sense. It's been proven to be comically wrong, and they have no other anti-hemp talking points to fall back on. When legitimate farmers with no interest in the drug culture ask for permission to grow hemp as an agricultural commodity, why do ONDCP and DEA grasp in desperation for even the most pitiful justifications to oppose them?

The answer is that for decades they've arbitrarily denied American farmers the right to participate in a multi-billion dollar industry. They are drug warriors waging battle against economic activities over which they hold no constitutional authority. As with so many other colossal drug war errors, to stop now would be to acknowledge the childish stubbornness and rank incompetance that have motivated their actions from the beginning.

Just another thing we shouldn't even be arguing about. It's not even a goddamn drug.

United States

Parents Say The Darndest Things

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Here's ONDCP's Bertha Madras from an online debate over student drug testing:

Newsweek: Is there a risk that kids who test positive for drugs will be stigmatized?

Madras: The thing that I have heard is that everyone knows who's using drugs; there are no surprises amongst the kids. Kids know who are the users, their friends know, so when a kid is not engaged in sports for one game, nobody is surprised. I've been a parent all my life, and I knew which one of the kids I didn't want my kids near.

This level of incoherence is an ONDCP specialty. Leaving aside the matter of whether Madras already had kids when she was born, there's still a lot of good stuff here.

Madras claims to know which kids use drugs, which basically undermines her whole point throughout the debate. If this information is widely available, who needs a urine collection program? Why waste precious educational resources to confirm what super-mom Bertha Madras already knows?

Obviously, she delights in stigma rather than refuting it. She admits to having a very negative impression of certain kids, and encourages her children to avoid them rather than offer support. Her statement is an endorsement of stigma and an unambiguous admission that singling out students is part of her agenda.

What a coward. Bertha Madras is as yellow as the urine she wants to collect from innocent children.

United States

Winning at Whack-A-Mole

Here's Robert J. Caldwell at Human Events gloating over our extradition of 11 major drug traffickers from Mexico:

A counter-narcotics war popularly disparaged as a chronic loser, yet vital to the national interests of both Mexico and the United States, is producing its biggest victories ever.

Heck, let's give it to him. Biggest drug war victory ever! If there's such a thing, this has got to be it. We've made "an enormous leap forward" Karen Tandy proudly exclaimed from atop the first rung of her towering ladder to the moon.

This glowing triumph will provide a great opportunity to see if the drug war actually works. Maybe the Biggest Victory Ever will lead to a rock shortage down on crack street. But if it doesn't (and it so totally won't), then this grand achievement will serve only to illustrate that top priorities of the international drug war still don't bring us a day closer to the fairytale ending our drug warriors daydream about.

Indeed, the black market is a dragon with a thousand heads that regenerate if you cut one off. We can battle it for generations, but the beast will only grow stronger until we stop feeding it.

United States

I'm hitting the road, heading for Salt Lake City

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I'll pull out of South Dakota just after dawn, headed across the Northern Plains to Denver tonight, then over the high passes of the Rockies and on to Salt Lake City Wednesday night, so I can get up bright and early Thursday morning to attend the opening session of the Harm Reduction Project's 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatis. This is a big deal. If you click on the link above and start perusing all that's going to be on offer for the three-day confab, you'll find a stellar selection of cutting edge scientific research, clinical results, and therapeutic best practices. I'm particularly interested in amphetamine replacement therapy, or treating speed freaks with speed. The mayor of Vancouver wants to start up a stimulant replacement therapy pilot project there, and there is some research suggesting it could work. Look for a feature article on the latest on this topic, probably not this week, but next. I'm going over the high passes en route not just for the scenic beauty, but also as a bit of a training exercise for my next trip, now set for February 9. I figure having a little recent experience sucking for air going over 12,000-foot passes in Colorado should be good practice for heading to the high Andes, which I will do shortly after arriving in Lima on that date. From Lima, it's on to Ayacucho (historic heartland of the Shining Path) to meet with coca grower leader Nelson Palomino, then on to Cusco for a little obligatory touristing at nearby Machu Picchu before heading across the altiplano to 13,000-foot La Paz, Bolivia. I'll be blogging daily on that little adventure, so stay tuned. But first, it's Salt Lake and the meth conference. Look for some blogging from the capital of Utah first. Hmmm, I wonder what Park City is looking like this season..
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

The War on Neighbors of Drug Dealers Continues

81-year-old Isaac Singletary was gunned down in his yard by police who were investigating someone else.

Singletary was known for chasing drug dealers off his property, but when he emerged with a gun and threatened two undercover officers lurking in his yard, they promptly took him down. It was Jacksonville, Florida's third fatal police shooting in 3 weeks.

An investigation is pending, but the police chief sounds confident (predictably) that the shooting was justified. From

"You don't expect somebody to come pointing a gun at you, and once they do that, the officers will tell them to drop the gun," JSO Chief Dwain Senterfitt said. "We're still investigating what statements were made, but obviously, at that point, the officers' lives were in danger."

I fail to understand what's so surprising about someone defending their property from unknown trespassers in a high-crime neighborhood. If the officers were surprised to be confronted, they shouldn't have been. They were out of uniform on private property.

It seems likely that both parties involved in this tragedy could have handled it better. Hindsight is 20/20. But the drug war is blind. Prohibition would still be a nightmare if police could enforce it without killing innocent people. Unfortunately, they can't.

Rest in peace, Isaac Singletary. And all the others.
Isaac Singletary
United States

Open Source Becomes Open Sore For NIDA

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Wikipedia has accused the National Institute on Drug Abuse of "vandalism" following repeated attempts by NIDA staff to alter the organization's wikipedia entry.

As with any controversial subject, NIDA's wikipedia page has frequently included links to sources that expose NIDA's penchant for quackery and junk science. Of course, wikipedia is a user-maintained encyclopedia that permits readers to add relevant information at their discretion. NIDA's attempted censorship reveals a failure to comprehend the spirit of wikipedia or the tenacity of its users.

DrugWarRant has links to the various disputed wiki pages. And my terrifying encounter with NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow is detailed here.

Ultimately, this is just another case of bizarre drug warrior behavior that, though vexing, is preferable to what they'd otherwise be doing with their time. Indeed, I'd rather they occupy themselves vandalizing wikipedia than vandalizing the scientific method.

Predictably, this latest attempt at drug war censorship has utterly backfired.

United States

My Letter to a Crime-Beat Reporter

I've been brooding about an article in the Gary (Indiana) Post-Tribune about a drug raid where a police SWAT team badly burned a drug suspect when they tossed a flash-bang grenade into his home. I felt the opening sentence was entirely inappropriate and that the reporter was remiss in merely taking the police version of events and not asking the police some serious questions. Here are the opening paragraphs of the article:
Flash-bang burns drug raid suspect January 24, 2007 By LORI CALDWELL Post-Tribune With a little help from the Gary police S.W.A.T. team, Darrell Newburn had a most appropriate name Monday. Newburn, 31, is hospitalized with a new, serious burn on his back caused by a flash-bang that hit his back before officers stormed his Glen Park home Monday afternoon. "How it happened, I'm not certain," Sgt. John Jelks, drug unit commander said a day later. "It's normal practice for them to throw the distraction device in first." Detectives from the Narcotics-Vice Unit obtained a search warrant for Newburn's home at 4433 Delaware St. after making a series of undercover buys from him there. Police surrounded the house and a member of the S.W.A.T. team, led by Cmdr. Anthony Stanley, tossed in the grenade-like device that explodes with a loud bang and bright light. Newburn was hit in the back and suffered a burn about 12 inches in diameter. He is being held under police guard at Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus.
A few minutes ago I sent a letter to the reporter. I'll let you know if I get any response. Here's the letter:
Dear Ms. Caldwell: I write to protest the flippancy of your lead sentence in the January 24 story, “Flash-Bang Burns Drug Suspect.” Let me get this straight: A man, who is presumed innocent, is severely burned in an unprovoked assault during a drug raid, and you lead with an unfunny pun on his name? Instead of looking for cheap yuks, a good reporter might be asking the police some questions, such as: Why is it standard procedure to use paramilitary SWAT-style teams on small-time drug raids? Why is it standard procedure to throw military-style explosives into the homes of suspects? SWAT teams were originally designed to be used in hostage and other extremely dangerous situations, but there aren’t really that many of those. Give the police a SWAT team, and they will find a way to use it. But is it really appropriate for police to treat a small-time criminal infraction as if they were raiding an insurgent stronghold in Baghdad? I refer you to a recent report about the massive increase in the use of SWAT-style teams, especially in policing the drug war, by Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko. It’s called “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America.” Here’s the link: In it, you will find incident after incident of raids gone bad, innocent people killed, and police endangering themselves and others. It’s worth a look. A good reporter might also want to ask the police just what they have accomplished with 40 years of drug raids, and whether there might be another, more reasonable way to deal with drug use. I don’t mean to attack you, only to suggest that there are stories left undiscovered if you rely merely on police and their press releases and don’t ask them the hard questions. I do hope you’ll keep this letter in mind next time you write one of those drug raid stories. Sincerely, Phillip Smith Editor, Drug War Chronicle P.S. If you have any interest in pursuing this, I can put you in touch with a number of current and former police officers (including former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper) who are harshly critical of this gung-ho, paramilitary-style drug war policing and who challenge the whole notion of drug prohibition altogether.
Gary, IN
United States

This Judge Is An Idiot

At the end of a Michigan murder case in which the victim was a marijuana dealer gunned down during a home invasion robbery, the judge railed against the "urban myth" that marijuana is harmless. Here is some of what Muskegon County 14th Circuit Judge Timothy Hicks had to say (read the article about the trial's conclusion here):
Before sentencing Weissert [the convicted murderer], Hicks addressed what he called a series of "urban myths." "Urban myth number one" is that "drug use is a victimless crime," Hicks said from the bench. "Here we have orphaned children, devastated families." Myth number two: " 'It's only marijuana,' " Hicks said. "Marijuana is as evil as the rest of this stuff. ... Marijuana indirectly caused all the carnage." The third myth is that drugs are only a "downtown" problem. "It's a problem everywhere -- in the suburbs, in rural areas," the judge said. And fourth: "The urban myth that you can stay in control of this." Although Sibson never intended it, his drug dealing "exposed his family to danger," Hicks said.
Let's take these one by one. Judge Hicks claims that this murder disproves the notion that "drug use is a victimless crime." Of course, it does nothing of the sort. The murder had nothing to do with drug use, but was the result of an attempted armed robbery, plain and simple. The robbers went after the marijuana dealer because there were valuable items they could take. Would the judge have railed against alcohol if someone had been murdered in a liquor store robbery? Next, Judge Hicks derides the notion that marijuana is a soft drug, not as dangerous as other drugs like cocaine, speed, or heroin. Marijuana is "as evil" as those other drugs and "indirectly caused all that carnage." Sorry, judge, pot is not "evil," nor are other drugs. Evilness does not inhere to plants or chemical compounds, but to human behavior. What is evil is breaking into someone's home and killing them because they have something valuable you want. I wonder if the judge would call cold, hard cash "evil" because someone robbed an armored car to steal some. Next, Judge Hicks decries the myth that drugs are only a "downtown" (read: black) problem, saying that "it's a problem everywhere." Well, yes, drug use knows no geographic boundaries, and the problems associated with drug use don't, either. But I suspect that the judge is thinking about the crime and violence associated with drug use and sales under prohibition, like, for instance, the murder case in front of him. To blame that killing on drugs in general and marijuana in particular is just plain stupid. The judge might want to get his head out of his ass and look around at what drug prohibition—not drugs—has wrought. He doubtless sees it every day in his courtroom. Finally, Judge Hicks attacks the victim. The dead man "exposed his family to danger" because he dealt in valuable marijuana. If I'm out riding in my new Cadillac with my family and we get carjacked by some envious punk, does that mean I exposed my family to danger by having something valuable that some criminal wants? It was not the murder victim but the prohibition laws routinely applied by Judge Hicks and his criminal justice system colleagues that created the situation where a bunch of dead plant material is assigned so much value that people are willing to rob and kill for it. It must be nice for armed robbers to know their victims are unlikely to seek protection from the police. Justice may be blind, but judges shouldn't be. Judge Hicks has clearly shown that he has an extreme case of tunnel vision. This guy doesn’t deserve to sit on the bench.
Muskegon, MI
United States

Pee For Recreation, Not For Education

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ONDCP's abhorrent traveling drug testing show made its first stop of the year in Charleston, SC this week. As usual, the push to implement student drug testing in schools around the country was met with serious opposition from drug policy reformers.

Still, no matter how logical and scientific our arguments may be, there are always those who fail to recognize what's at stake. From The Charleston Post and Courier:

Senior Antwan Edwards plays four sports at North Charleston High and is captain of the football and wrestling teams. Random testing would be a good way to keep some students from using drugs, he said.

It also would prepare students for life after high school by starting those tests now, he said.

If life after high school means having your urine collected by agents of the state and inspected for molecular evidence of unapproved conduct, who wants to grow up? The idea of drug testing as a form of socialization reeks of dystopian fascism. But you can't blame Antwan Edwards, who was probably off giving urine samples when the 4th Amendment was being taught.

"If you don't have anything to hide, why not take the test?" he said.

Oh, there are so many answers to this question. In Antwan Edwards' case, I'd worry that a false positive drug test could be exactly what it takes to ruin his otherwise promising future. And there are plenty of easy ways to get a false positive. They don't happen a lot, but when they do, no one believes you except your mom.

Some students don't care about their privacy, or having newer books instead of urine collection programs, or being presumed innocent, or the fact that their peers may switch to more-dangerous less-detectible drugs, or the evidence that these programs don't work.

Sadly, some students don’t care about these things. But they should care about false positives. They should be terrified. The companies that manufacture these tests claim that there are no false positives, so imagine trying to convince them that there's been a mistake.

If you don't have anything to gain, why take the test?

United States

Georgia Police Chief: We're Gonna Stop Shooting So Many People

DeKalb County Georgia, which borders Atlanta, endured 12 fatal police shootings last year. Now their new Police Chief Terrell Bolton is promising to do something. From Daily Report:

Bolton, who was hired last month, said his department has nothing to hide, and that the new initiative is meant to encourage transparency and make citizens feel more comfortable.

GBI and DEA agents will respond to police-involved shootings as they happen, working as monitors and reporting inappropriate behavior to DeKalb superior officers.

It's exciting to see police getting serious about not shooting citizens. The initiative includes improved training procedures, but there's a clear emphasis on standardizing the response when a shooting occurs. No doubt, this is a reaction to the Kathryn Johnston fiasco in nearby Atlanta, where officers attempted a cover-up after shooting an innocent suspect.

Radley Balko's research demonstrates the importance of adequately investigating police shootings, which so rarely result in criminal charges even when obvious injustices occur. I'm not sure the DEA are the right people to investigate this, but anything that distracts them from their other duties is a big win for public safety in itself.

Still, there's only so much that training and accountability can do to prevent drug war violence. So long as police conduct no-knock raids on the homes of non-violent suspects, warrants are issued based on the testimony of criminal informants in exchange for compensation, police enter the wrong homes with alarming frequency, and innocent people reach for weapons when their doors are kicked in unexpectedly, the killings will continue.

If these public officials are serious about preventing unnecessary police shootings, it's time to discuss the unnecessary war that demands them.

United States

Is the Bush Administration Getting Nervous About Afghan Opium Licensing Schemes?

When the European drug policy and defense think-tank the Senlis Council in late 2005 unveiled its proposal to deal with illicit Afghan opium by licensing growers and diverting production to the global legal medicinal market for opioid pain medications, just about nobody thought the idea had a chance of going anywhere. Since then, as opium production there has continued to increase—Afghanistan now accounts for 90% of the global illicit opium supply—and Taliban insurgents have gathered strength, the licensing scheme has picked up support from politicians in Canada, England, and Italy, but still remains a long-shot. This week, as I will report in the Chronicle on Friday, the licensing notion gained new support, as the British Medical Association is suggesting that Afghan opium be used to produce medicinal diamorphine (heroin) for use in the National Health Service. The licensing idea also made it to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post last week, when columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece, "Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom, arguing that the US should do in Afghanistan now what it did so successfully in Turkey under President Nixon. Then, faced with an influx of Turkish heroin (the stuff of the infamous French Connection), the US worked with the Turkish government and farmers to regulate poppy production. Now, Turkey is the main supplier of medicinal narcotics to the US. The current US administration, however, is adamantly opposed to any such effort in Afghanistan. Instead, drug war extremists in Washington are pushing the Afghans to make stronger efforts to eradicate the poppy crop and are even trying to push herbicidal eradication down the throat of the Karzai government. That idea has little support in Afghanistan or even among our NATO allies. Both groups fear a sustained attack on the country's economic mainstay will lead to political upheaval and end up benefiting the Taliban, a not unreasonable worry. But it seems like the Bush administration is starting to worry that the licensing scheme is gaining too much ground. Or, at least, it has bestirred itself to attack the notion. In a letter from James O'Gara, the drug czars deputy for supply reduction in today's Washington Post, the administration tried to fight back:
The Wrong Plan for Afghanistan's Opium Anne Applebaum's proposal to foster legal Afghan opium ["Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom," op-ed, Jan. 16] is based on a misdiagnosis of the problem. First, there is no licit demand for Afghanistan's enormous supply of opium, currently more than 90 percent of the world's illicit market and almost double the world's entire licit production requirement. The United Nations reports a current global oversupply of opium-based products from existing licit producers. Pouring vastly more legal opium into the world system would cause prices to plummet, making the illicit trade that much more attractive to farmers. Second, Afghanistan produces opium because some regions remain under attack and lack security, to say nothing of the controls that are a prerequisite for any legal trade in narcotics. In the absence of such institutional controls, the distinction between legal and illicit opium is meaningless. Afghanistan needs peace, a flourishing economy and the rule of law. Each of these conditions is undone by narcotics production. Nowhere in the world do narco-warlords willingly relinquish their stranglehold on poor opium farmers, and nowhere in the world do such farmers become rich. The opium trade must be broken, not fostered, before it undoes the rest of Afghanistan.
O'Gara first claims there is no global need for more opioid pain relievers, citing the International Narcotics Control Board. That claim is debatable. In its proposal, the Senlis Council begged to differ, citing serious undersupplies, especially in the underdeveloped world. Second, O'Gara suggests that opium is being grown in Afghanistan only because of a lack of security and an effective national state. But the US government's insistence on attacking the poppy crop is precisely what contributes greatly to continued insecurity and political conflict within the country. Does he really think an all-out assault on the poppies is going to bring peace and tranquility? Whether the idea of licensing Afghan opium production is a good idea is open for debate. It is certainly as reasonable a response to the problem as heavy-handed repression efforts, and is much less likely to incite peasant resistance and support for the Taliban. But what is really interesting about all this is the fact that the drug czar's office feels a need to attack supporters of the idea. That suggests the idea is getting enough traction to pose a threat to the drug war as usual. We'll be staying tuned to this debate.
United States

Things We Shouldn't Even Be Debating

Via The Houston Chronicle, here's what happens when the wrong people notice that the drug war is failing:

Frustrated by the nonstop flow of cocaine and heroin into the United States, some American lawmakers are promoting mycoherbicides, weed killers made from toxic, mold-like fungi that they believe could be used to eliminate illegal drug crops for good.

For years, mycoherbicides had been largely written off by many U.S. officials. They were concerned the fungi could mutate to kill legitimate crops and that their use overseas would violate the United Nations' 31-year-old Biological Weapons Convention and other treaties.

The whole "biological warfare is bad" argument is pretty strong, but there's more. The consensus against mycoherbicides includes some people who've never been correct about drug policy before:

U.S. Drug Czar John Walters voiced skepticism when questioned by [Rep. Dan] Burton at a congressional hearing about using Fusarium oxysporum on Colombia's coca fields.

"If you were to (use) it and it is not specific to coca, it could cause considerable damage to the environment, which in Colombia is very delicate," Walters said.

"Our judgement at the moment is that the case for mycoherbicides is not proven," said David Murray, a scientist* and one of Walters's deputies. "If there is a change in the evidence, we might revisit the issue."

But Dan Burton isn't listening, even though Walters and Murray are right for the first time ever:

"I'm telling you, the war on drugs ain't working," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., in a telephone interview from Washington. "And if it ain't working, you don't sit around doing the same thing over and over again.

"We have to use whatever tools that we think will work and that are safe," he said, "and mycoherbicides fit that bill."

This is really something. Dan Burton sees that the drug war is failing, but he'd rather try every stupid idea on earth than admit that war can't solve the drug problem. As his frustration grows, it's frightening to think what else he might bring to the table.

Still, it's troubling that John Walters is against mycoherbicide. We've never known him to question the efficacy of various insane drug war strategies, and seeing him interpret science correctly makes me wonder if I fully understand the issue. Perhaps he merely objects to the premise that other eradication efforts have been an obvious failure.

If nothing else, this ridiculous conversation demonstrates that drug warriors like Dan Burton and Joe Biden are sick of erroneously claiming progress in the drug war. Let's hope their candor inspires others in Congress to propose real solutions.

*David Murray is a scientist now? He usually claims to be a doctor. I guess for his purposes, the two are interchangeable. At least he's citing his scientific credentials in opposition of biological warfare.
United States

If You Smoke Pot, An Alien Could Steal Your Girlfriend

That's the central message of this new Above The Influence ad. There's another new one about how smoking pot is the same as putting leeches all over yourself.

Well shucks, it was fun while it lasted. See you all at Marijuana Anonymous.

United States

Tyrone Brown is one step from freedom, and you can help today!

Last month, the Chronicle featured the story of Tyrone Brown, the Texas black man doing life in prison for testing positive for marijuana while on probation for participating in a penny-ante armed robbery back in 1990. He's been languishing in prison ever since, but in the past year, a movement to free Tyrone Brown has really taken off, thanks to a pair of ABC News 20-20 reports that featured his sad story. Now, Tyrone Brown is one step away from freedom. The Dallas county sheriff, the prosecutor, and Brown's sentencing judge have all called for him to be released. The state parole board last week approved their request for clemency or a commutation of sentence. Now, it's up to Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry to approve a commutation, a decision he will reportedly take up this week. Here's where you come in. Brown's supporters are urging people to call the governor's office TODAY to urge him to commute Brown's sentence. Here's what they said in an email today:
1. Continue sending and faxing letters. The address is on the main page of the website - . Fax: (512) 463-1849 2. Today we want everyone to call the Governor's office. It will take about 30 sec., but this is very important. Please call in and try to get others to call in and let's keep their phone ringing ALL DAY. Here is what to say when you call in: "I am calling to thank Governor Perry in advance for releasing Tyrone Brown. My name is 'XXXXXXXXX' and I want to let the Governor know that I support Tyrone's commutation." Please call several time throughtout the day and let keep the governor's phone ringing. Here are the numbers (cycle through and call all of them if you can !!): (512) 463-1782, 1-800-252-9600, (800) 843-5789, (512) 463-2000
For more information, sample letters, etc., visit the web site linked above. Now let's hit those phones!
Austin, TX
United States

Instead Of Drug Offender Registries Try Legalizing Drugs

Posted in:
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the latest to propose giving drug dealers free advertising. From the Las Cruces Sun-News:

The proposed drug-dealer registry would be modeled after a national bill that has been introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.

Pearce said he held 39 town hall meetings throughout New Mexico dealing with methamphetamine usage, and heard the same story everywhere he went.

"It is a catastrophe that is already happening, and we're not responding," Pearce said. "I think if the neighbors knew there was someone dealing drugs in their neighborhood, then parents would be able to say to their kids, 'stay away from that house.'"

This argument assumes that the registry will be a useful indicator of where drugs are being sold. If so, the registry will have tremendous potential to facilitate criminal liaisons. Mightn't some people turn to the list if they can't find the drugs they want? It's impressive that Pearce has managed to get so excited about the idea without worrying about this.

Of course, the smarter drug dealers won't operate at the address listed on the Internet. Ultimately, the registry would provide a false sense of security in that avoiding the grey house down the street isn't really the key to keeping your kids off drugs.

Still, I agree with Pearce that it would be ideal if concerned parents knew exactly where the drugs were being sold. Legalization is the only way to achieve this.

United States

Feds Congratulate Themselves For Persecuting Sick People

From the Fresno Bee:

In a ceremony today, the White House drug czar is honoring the state, local and federal officers who took down Modesto's California Healthcare Collective. Officials charge the ostensibly nonprofit collective with fronting for big-time marijuana dealers.

Walters' grandstanding is particularly galling in light of widespread public condemnation of the DEA's recent activity in California. Indeed, raiding dispensaries that openly provide medicine to sick people in accordance with state law is one of the lamest and least helpful things police can possibly do with our tax dollars.

Every problem associated with medical marijuana distribution could be solved if the federal government rescheduled the drug and brought it inside the law where it belongs.

Instead, the Drug Czar and his army of federally-subsidized task forces continue to gorge themselves on confiscated proceeds and negative publicity. Perhaps recognizing the absurdity of it all, they bend over backwards to paint their targets as gangsters and criminals:

"Most health-care providers wear white coats and carry stethoscopes," said Bill Ruzzamenti, director of the Fresno-based Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "In this particular case, they wore bulletproof vests [and] carried a gun."

Of course, it's actually the police who are playing doctor at gunpoint. And you can't blame dispensary owners for arming themselves when they have nowhere to turn for protection. The suggestion that these people are dangerous is a joke and should serve to remind us that truly dangerous people are the beneficiaries when police resources are wasted in a fraudulent political war against medical marijuana.

Are you watching this, Dennis Kucinich?

United States

Tony Serra Letter from Prison Camp

Tony Serra, a prominent defense attorney whose name comes up frequently in drug law reform, writes a revealing critique of the criminal justice system, based on his experiences in federal prison camp in Lompoc, California for tax resistance -- in the '70s and again for a few more months this year. The text of his letter, which was originally published in California Lawyer, was published online at the web site. Serra writes that while the camp environment, which is low security, on its surface is far more humane than an all-out prison -- "In 1976 inmates, as a generality, felt graced and privileged by their placement in the Camp" -- things have changed for the worse:
Not one prisoner whom I have talked to-and I have talked to hundreds-believes he has been treated fairly by the judicial system. Many young men, who in a past generation would have received probation, have had their youth taken from them-10, 15, 20 years of incarceration, with no parole, no conjugals, no furloughs, no real job training or education. They are harsh and bitter. Their attitude is contagious in prison subculture. Prisoners nowadays uniformly hate the U.S. government. And we sit around and ask why recidivism is on the rise!
Read the full letter here.
Lompoc, CA
United States

Huge News: Dennis Kucinich To Chair Subcommittee Overseeing ONDCP

It ain't Ethan Nadelmann as Drug Czar, but I'll take it.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been named chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, giving him jurisdiction over the Drug Czar's office. Oversight of ONDCP was previously conducted by the non-defunct Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources Subcommittee, chaired by rabid drug warrior Mark Souder.

In short, the responsibility of overseeing ONDCP has effectively been transferred from Congress' most reckless drug warrior to its most outspoken drug policy reformer.

Kucinich's agenda remains unknown at this point, but it's clear that he sought this particular appointment deliberately. From

As the [National Security] panel's presumed chairman in the Democratic-led 110th Congress, he had a ready platform to advance his antiwar agenda.

But Kucinich said in a brief interview that he might wield more influence as chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which will have jurisdiction over all domestic issues and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

If Drug Czar John Walters is now wondering what's in store for him, he might begin by reading what Kucinich has to say about the war on drugs:

I have studied the issue for decades and recognize that our "War on Drugs" has failed. In fact, because our War on Drugs drives up the price, it encourages violence. Prohibition simply doesn't work. It only creates thousands and thousands of Al Capones. Prison should be for people who hurt other people, not themselves. We don't jail people for merely drinking. We jail people when they drink and drive or hurt another human.

The supporters of the drug war have only one solution to this debacle -- more money for law enforcement, more people, more power, more prisons -- with no end in sight. Of course, these happy drug warriors who justify their living hunting down drug users come on TV and promise us that they see light at the end of the tunnel. They promised us a drug-free America by 1995, and instead we see new and more exotic drugs constantly being added to the mix.

The shredding of our rights to privacy and property promoted by the Drug War is inconsistent with a free society. Criminalization of private or self-destructive behavior is not acceptable in a free nation.

The racism evident in the Drug War, and the clearly preferential treatment for offenders with connections, undermine our concept of a just society. Draconian prison sentences that dwarf those for violent crimes, like murder and rape, destroy respect for our laws.

It is time for an honest dialogue on this issue. Time to stop the documented lies, half-truths, and propaganda that got us into this mess in the first place. It is time to face the facts.

With due caution, I must say this is a great day for reform. That the man who spoke these words could even be considered for such a position is a tremendously positive sign. Dennis Kucinich is on our side. He showed up at an SSDP awards dinner for starters.

Stay tuned. This is going to be interesting to say the least.

Dennis Kucinich with SSDP staff, 2004
United States

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