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The Speakeasy Blog

U.S. Drug Czar Advises Canadian Officials On How To Destroy Canada

On the heels of reports that the U.S. is breaking its own incarceration records, The Vancouver Sun announces that Canadian officials are consulting with U.S. drug warriors in the hopes of revamping Canada's drug policy.

Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who apparently doesn't read U.S. newspapers, seems to think we've got all the answers:

The strategy will focus on "a few key priority areas that the current government could focus and build on," such as "clandestine labs, marihuana grow operations, synthetic drugs," the document states. "Another key element of the proposed national strategy is the national awareness campaign for youth."

Yeah nothing scares kids away from drugs like government-sponsored propaganda. Possible ONDCP recommendations for a youth awareness campaign:

1. Switch it up periodically. Spend a few years telling kids that pot will make you shoot your friends, run over toddlers and get pregnant at parties. Then nail 'em with a "couch" ad claiming marijuana is "the safest thing in the world."

2. Don't answer the phone. It could be other branches of government calling for an update on your performance measures. Never let anyone measure your performance except you.

3. Make desperate appeals to pop culture. Start a blog, podcasts, online magazines and youtube videos. Find the Canadian Al Roker and get him to talk to the kids. Encourage people to use these resources by claiming they are popular.

4. Say awesome stuff. If government reports show that the program isn't working, try to confuse everyone by saying this: "It’s very difficult to tell whether Britney Spears bopping around on some Coca-Cola ad actually sold a single bottle of Coca-Cola. The groups that promote marijuana wouldn’t be criticizing it so much if they didn’t think it was effective."

To clarify, I'm in favor of discouraging young people from using drugs. But if I were implementing such a program, John Walters is the very last person on Earth whose input I would solicit. He voluntarily limited his ability to prevent real-world harms by focusing on the least harmful drug. And he demonstrated a lack of interest when results showed that the ads were counterproductive.

But it gets worse:

Harper also called for mandatory minimum sentences and large fines for serious drug offenders, including marijuana growing operators and "producers and dealers of crystal meth and crack."

Mandatory minimums
!? Even Drug Czar speech-writer Kevin Sabet is coming around on that. Mandatory minimums have nearly destroyed our criminal justice system. They take away judicial discretion, making grave injustices commonplace. They bloat our prisons with non-violent offenders and burden tax-payers with the costs. They empower bullying prosecutors and encourage innocent people to accept plea-bargains. And you just don't need mandatory minimums to send scumbags to jail.

Stephen Harper needs to slow down and familiarize himself with the problems we're having here before asking for drug policy advice from some of the most callous and willfully ignorant people to ever contemplate the subject. The problem with a terrible drug policy is that it's really hard to turn back the clock. Ever susceptible to drug hysteria, American politicians have repeatedly succumbed to the temptation of quick-fix lock-em-up solutions. Once implemented, destructive policies are sustained by the knowledge that a "soft on crime" label may await any legislator brave enough to question the status quo. Meanwhile, the world's wealthiest nation functions at a shrinking fraction of its potential.

And where will the Canadian people turn if the nightmare of American drug war barbarism is unleashed in their communities? They already live in Canada.

United States

The Drug Czar Has Another Brilliant Idea

Afghanistan is in flames. The Taliban are resurgent. The opium economy provides livelihoods for millions of Afghans. And now, US drug czar John Walters announces over the weekend, that Afghanistan will begin spraying the poppy fields with glyphosate, the same stuff we've been using with such great success in Colombia against the coca crops. (After six years of Plan Colombia spraying, the coca crop in Colombia is about the same size it was when we started.) The government of President Hamid Karzai has resisted the resort to poisoning the crops, citing the risk of water contamination and the possible destruction of adjacent legal crops. What it doesn’t say out loud, but which must factor into its calculations, is the impact an aggressive poppy eradication campaign will have on the political loyalties of the millions who depend on the opium trade to feed their families. The Taliban are already scoring points and winning new recruits by offering to protect farmers from the government and the "infidels." I find it illuminating that it was Walters, the American drug proconsul—not Karzai, the nominal head of the Afghan government—who made the announcement. It demonstrates not only the Afghan government's hesitation to embrace the widely-feared herbicides, but also the extent to which Afghanistan remains an American fiefdom. In fact, the Afghan government has yet to announce that it has agreed to the use of herbicides. But that didn't stop Walters.
"I think the president has said yes, and I think some of the ministers have repeated yes," Walters said without specifying when spraying would start. "The particulars of the application have not been decided yet, but yes, the goal is to carry out ground spraying. We cannot fail in this mission," he said. "Proceeds from opium production feed the insurgency and burden Afghanistan's nascent political institutions with the scourge of corruption."
Funny, that. They grow opium in Australia and France and India and Turkey, but they don't have problems with black market proceeds fueling political violence or corrupting the authorities in those countries. Oh—that's because it's a legal, regulated market. Walters' planned herbicide war against the Afghan poppy will not do anything to address that dynamic. And to the degree that it is "successful," it will only increase the profits of the traffickers and increase the flow of money to the Taliban (and, apparently, half of the Afghan government). Mr. Walters, you can have your war on terror or you can have your war on drugs. You can't have both and hope to win either.

DEA Found Guilty of Retaliating Against Whistleblower

The DEA has been found guilty of retaliating against an agent who exposed misconduct. Basically they committed a crime in order to send a message to their employees about not exposing their other crimes.


A federal jury in Miami found the Drug Enforcement Administration discriminated against Sandalio Gonzalez, the former second-in-command of the DEA's South Florida field office, by retaliating against him with a transfer to another job in Texas in 2001.

For Gonzalez -- who stirred controversy in 2000 when he blew the whistle on a Miami drug bust in which 10 kilos of cocaine went missing -- the court triumph was sweet vindication. He had stood up for not only himself, but also other Hispanic and black DEA agents in the Miami field office over issues of discrimination, his lawyers said.

But wait…that name sounds familiar. Isn't Sandalio Gonzalez the same DEA agent who was forced into early retirement after exposing DOJ culpability in the "House of Death" murders in Mexico? Apparently yes.

So as I understand it, Gonzalez first blew the whistle in Miami when his colleagues stole 10 kilos of cocaine and tried to cover it up. He was then involuntarily transferred to Texas, where he blew the whistle when his colleagues allowed a government informant to commit multiple gruesome murders in Mexico. Having had about enough of him, the DEA again retaliated, forcing Gonzalez into early retirement.

So either Sandalio Gonzalez just loves whistle-blowing, or he was the only person at DEA who much cares when government officials steal drugs and sanction murders on foreign soil. His treatment sends a message to current DEA staffers that exposing gratuitous misconduct will not be appreciated. Especially if you do it twice.

In our opinion, the DEA's activities range from foolish to immoral even when conducted in good faith. So when you mix in gross misconduct and retaliation against whistleblowers, you know you've got a mess on your hands. It's a shame that the mainstream media isn't more interested in this, because the novelty has worn off for us. We already know DEA is a rogue agency.

It's Congress that should be talking about this, not us. They're the ones who should be upset that DEA management tacitly endorses misconduct by discouraging its exposure. They're the ones who are charged with ensuring that tax-payer funded programs aren't wasteful and incompetent. If Congress believes in what DEA is supposed to be doing, it's time to demand accountability. If not, it's time to admit we've created a monster…and stop feeding it.

United States

Free Richard Paey!

Call Florida Governor Jeb Bush and urge him to pardon Richard Paey.

The number is 850-488-7146.

Paey just lost his appeal, which means he'll have to complete his 25-year sentence unless the Governor intervenes.

I just spoke with a nice lady at the Governor's office and informed her that Richard Paey is a paraplegic whose substantial need for pain medication resulted in a misguided conviction for drug dealing. I asked her to inform the Governor that I support the Florida Court of Appeals recommendation that he pardon Mr. Paey.

It only takes a minute and together we might be able to help make life a little more bearable for this most unfortunate man.

For a quick refresher on the case before you call, check out Maia Salavitz at The Huffington Post and Radley Balko's article in National Review Online.

Now put down your laptop and make the call. We'll still be here when you're done.


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Gateway Theory Debunked...Again

A 12 year study from the university of Pittsburgh pokes yet another whole in the wet paper napkin known as the "gateway theory."


Investigators said that environmental factors (e.g., a greater exposure to illegal drugs in their neighborhoods) as well as subjects' "proneness to deviancy" were the two characteristics that most commonly predicted substance abuse.

"This evidence supports what's known as the common liability model ... [which] states [that] the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug, but instead by the user's individual tendencies and environmental circumstances," investigators stated in a press release. They added, "The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person's behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs."

No kidding. It's such a perfectly logical conclusion, it's hard to understand why anyone thought otherwise. Especially since one study after another has shown the exact same thing.

It shouldn't take 12 years of research by respected social scientists to tell us that trying one drug can't possibly have the psycho-pharmacological effect of making you want some different drug you've never tried before. Marijuana grows on trees. It's ubiquitous. That's why people try it first.

As for the "environmental factors" that actually are useful in predicting behavior, much thanks is owed to drug prohibition for creating a criminal subculture through which illicit drugs are widely available to young people. As a high school student, I had potential access to a far greater variety of drugs than I do now as professional drug policy reform activist. Alcohol was the one thing you couldn't get easily.

Inevitably, the "gateway theory" will not die a sudden death today. It will live on in the form of anecdotal accounts from marijuana "victims" whose progression into addiction will be taken out of context. It's a shame that so many people who are genuinely concerned about the drug problems facing America's youth nonetheless insist on misunderstanding basic facts about drug use.

Imagine the progress that could be achieved overnight if research such the Pittsburgh study were used to make policy.

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Alert: CALL CONGRESS Today to Stop Dangerous Mycoherbicide Bill!

UPDATE ON VOTE RESULTS HERE Earlier this year, DRCNet reported on a push by the drug czar and drug warriors in Congress to pass a reckless bill to research the use of mycoherbicides -- toxic, fungal plant killers -- as a means of attacking illicit drug crops. Even government agencies are unenthusiastic about this one -- our article cited the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the CIA and even the DEA as agencies that have rejected the idea as dangerous for health and the environment as well as likely to meet with resistant strains of poppy and coca against which it would be ineffective. Unfortunately, some less prudent members of Congress -- Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) are attempting to pass the legislation by rushing it to the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy reauthorization bill this week. Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators today to urge them to vote NO on this dangerous bill! You can reach them (or find out who they are) by calling the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can also use the House and Senate web sites at and to look them up. Also suggest that they vote NO on reauthorizing ONDCP itself -- a useless, agency whose functioning has been highly warped by its placing ideology over facts. The ONDCP bill does not have a number yet. So, when you speak to the staffers in the offices of your Representative and your two Senators, you should ask them to oppose the ONDCP reauthorization bill, especially the mycoherbicide provision, which is part of section 1111. Thank you for taking action. Please send us a note using our contact web form at to let us know that you've taken action and what you learned about how your Rep. and Senators might vote.
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A Slippery Slope

Posted in:
Eric Sterling has another good rant on his Justice and Drugs blog. Sterling notes, among other things, that the rationale used to prohibit certain drugs could just as easily be applied to other recreational activities like skiing.

Just think of how many persons are killed and injured skiing and snow boarding each year nationwide – an average of more than 38 persons per year, according to National Ski Areas Association. One could ask, what does skiing accomplish? What good is skiing? Well, it is fun, it is exciting. Isn’t it exciting because the speed creates a sense of risk? If we focused our attention just on hospital emergency rooms, we might think that skiing ought to be outlawed.

It might be an interesting exercise to imagine what the world of skiing would look like if it were outlawed. Imagine who would make skis, how it would be taught, where it would be done. Does anyone doubt that while there would be much less skiing, it would be much more dangerous to those who do ski, than it is now?

I agree that the analogy is appropriate, and I therefore urge you Eric to shut up about the dangers of skiing, lest that too should be taken from us. Because you see, those who seek to save us from ourselves will not recognize the threat of black-market skiing. They will accept casualties as a necessary and temporary inevitability on the road to a world without skiing.

And when that doesn't work, they'll try to flatten out the mountains.

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Readers, Thanks for Your Help. Keep Those Corrupt Cop Story Tips Coming!

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On Friday, I blogged about how for the first time in years I hadn't run a "This Week's Corrupt Cops" piece because I couldn't find any stories. The response has been most gratifying, with several of you sending stories I hadn't seen my way via the blog. I'd like to encourage all of you to keep it up! The response to my last post demonstrates that even Google doesn't catch everything, so if you come across a corrupt cop story in your local rag, please send it to me. Don't post it as a response here; send it to me at [email protected]. Maybe I will have already seen it, maybe not. In any event, your efforts are much appreciated.
United States

Dawn of the Meth

Posted in:


Deadly meth marching toward New England: DEA battles Midwest scourge before it hits
The Hub is winning the war on crystal methamphetamine thanks to lessons learned from battles waged in the meth-gripped West and Midwest, a top federal drug official said yesterday, but she warned that the addictive drug is on a destructive march toward the East Coast.

Should I start putting sandbags around my house?

If I didn’t know better, I’d be bracing myself for a narcotic sandstorm of crystallized chaos. I’d be plugging my nostrils with cotton balls and spray-painting "stolen" on my valuables so I can’t pawn them.

But I’m not stupid. I know that meth doesn’t "march" anywhere, or make decisions of any kind. Meth doesn’t arrive at your doorstep like a military recruiter or Jehovah’s Witness and try to talk you into choosing a new direction in life.

The Herald makes it sound as if meth arrives arbitrarily and just finds its way into your nose or something. Like it instantly turns your life into a horrifying before & after shot, and the survivors can see the trail of debris winding its way back to Iowa as they escape by helicopter.

Fortunately, meth only goes where people take it and people only take it where it’s wanted. There’s actually plenty of it on the east coast already, it’s just not that popular here because it actually can’t just climb up your nose and drag your sorry ass kicking and screaming onto America’s Most Wanted.

But the boundless alarmism of The Herald even has an answer to that:

Conniving drug dealers have also been known to sell crystal meth to buyers while claiming that they are giving them cocaine or ecstasy in hopes of hooking them on another fix, Stansbury said. "Greedy drug traffickers try to make a market," Stansbury said. "It’s buyer beware. You never know what you are getting."

Maybe I should start drug testing myself. This could explain why I get the same thing for lunch everyday. Perhaps there’s drug dealers at Baja Fresh putting meth in my nachos. Mmmm, tastes like chicken.

Update: This post is a stab a just one of many absurd articles to emerge as a result of National Meth Awareness Day. Eric Sterling highlights a particularly disturbing  consequence of this peculiar celebration: the apparent practice of delaying meth lab raids for the purpose of conducting them on Meth Day.

Either there was a grave danger and DEA ignored that grave danger to the public in order to make a media splash, or DEA believes that the danger of explosion is greatly exaggerated but useful for snookering the news media.


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What Will a Democratic Congress Mean for Drug Reform?

One of the articles I'm working on this week will be called "Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress: What's Really Going to Happen?" I've already talked to a number of inside the beltway drug reform types--the folks who actually work the halls of Congress--and I've got feelers out to more, as well as to the offices of several of the congressional Democrats who will be chairing key committees. There are quite a few drug policy-related issues that could come before the Congress next year. You can find my initial list of them a couple of paragraphs below. Here's how the article is likely to begin: To hear the buzz in drug reform circles, Christmas came early this year. To be precise, it arrived on election day, when the Democrats took back control of the Congress after 12 long years out in the cold. There is a whole long list of drug reform-related issues that the Democratically-controlled Congress can address, and hopes are high that after a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, progress will come on at least some of them. But will the Democratic Congress really turn out to be Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on a movement long out in the cold, or will it turn out more like the Grinch, offering up goodies only to snatch them away? The Drug War Chronicle is trying to find out what's likely to happen, so we talked to a number of drug reform organizations, especially those with a strong federal lobbying presence and agenda, as well as with the offices of some of the representatives who will be playing key roles on Capitol Hill in the next Congress. The list of drug war issues where Congress could act next year is indeed lengthy: • Sentencing reform, whether addressing the crack-powder cocaine disparity or mandatory minimums or both; • Medical marijuana, either through the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment barring federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal or Barney Frank's states' rights to medical marijuana bill; • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office) is up for reauthorization; • The Higher Education Act (HEA) and its drug provision is up for reauthorization; • Removing drug offender restrictions from food stamp, public housing, and other social services; • The Washington, DC, appropriations bill, where Congress has barred the District from enacting needle exchange programs or a voter-approved medical marijuana law. • Plan Colombia; • The war in Afghanistan and US anti-opium policy; • The pain crisis and the war on pain doctors; • Police raids. While there is optimism in drug reform circles, it is tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The Congress is a place where it is notoriously difficult to make (or unmake) a law, and while some of the new Democratic leadership has made sympathetic noises on certain issues, drug reform is not exactly a high-profile issue. Whether congressional Democratic decision-makers will decide to use their political resources advancing an agenda that could be attacked as "soft on drugs" or "soft on crime" remains to be seen. But according to one of the movement's most astute Hill-watchers, some "low-hanging fruit" might be within reach next year. "Some of the easiest things to achieve in the new Congress will be the HEA ban on aid to students with drug violations, because the Democrats will have to deal with HEA reauthorization, and the ban on access to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) to public housing, because they will have to deal with welfare reform," said Bill Piper, director of government relations *** for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There is also a chance of repealing provisions in the DC appropriations bill that bar needle exchanges and medical marijuana. These are the low-hanging fruit." For Piper, there is also a chance to see movement on a second tier of issues, including medical marijuana, sentencing reform and Latin America policy. "Can we get the votes to pass Hinchey-Rohrabacher in the House and get it to the Senate?" he asked. "There is also a good chance of completely changing how we deal with Latin America. We could see a shift in funding from military to civil society-type programs and from eradication to crop substitution," he said. "Also, there is a good chance on sentencing reform. Can the Democrats strike a deal with Sen. Sessions (R-AL) and other Republicans on the crack-powder disparity, or will they try to play politics and paint the Democrats as soft on crime? Would Bush veto it if it passed?" Clearly, at this point, there are more questions than answers, and time will tell. But the political ground has shifted, Piper noted. "We are no longer playing defense," he argued. "Now we don't have to deal with folks like Souder and Sensenbrenner and all their stupid bills. This puts us in a really good position. For the first time in 12 years, we get to go on offense. And unlike a dozen years ago, the Democrats who will control the key committees are really, really good. This is probably the first time since the 1980s that drug policy reform has been in a position to go on the offensive." There will be much more on Friday...
United States

Readers, I need your help! Where are the corrupt cops?

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Some of you have undoubtedly noticed that the long-running "This Week's Corrupt Cops" feature was missing this week. That's because I didn't have any stories for it. Now, it may have been because there was no corrupt cop news in the past week, but I find that hard to believe given the outstanding record our police have built up over the years. Part of the problem is that one of my primary sources of corrupt cops stories, Bad Cop News seems to have gone silent. Whoever Bad Cop News is, he has only posted a couple of items in the past three weeks, as opposed to the dozen or so a day he used to post. I also rely on my Google searches. I have Google send me every story that has "marijuana," "heroin,", "cocaine," etc. in the text. Corrupt cop stories involving drugs typically show up that way. But not this week. So, dear readers, can you help me out? Can you send me any corrupt cop stories you come across? You may be duplicating Google or Bad Cop News, but you might not be, either. Also, if any of you know of sites similar to Bad Cop News that compile this kind of stuff, let me know. Maybe all the cops have decided to go straight. Somehow, I doubt it.
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How Did You Celebrate Meth Day?

Meth is the worst drug since marijuana, a fact worth considering on National Methamphetamine Awareness Day, which we’ll be celebrating every November 30th until everyone is aware, or we find something else to be hugely concerned about.

Meth was invented during the summer of 2004 by Al Qaeda bio-terrorists and quickly made headlines nationwide, mainly because it was cynically designed to only affect white people. When the Office of National Drug Control Policy got wind of the problem in 2005, they launched a three-prong strategy of creating a national holiday, arresting convenience store clerks who sell "cooking" materials, and campaigning against ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana, which causes meth use in children.

Bill Piper at the Drug Policy Alliance celebrated Meth Day with a great editorial. It’s kinda long though, so you might wanna pop an Adderall before attempting to read the whole thing.


United States

Seven Million -- and Counting

The Bureau of Justice Statistics annual report on use of the criminal justice system has come out, and there is landmark grim news: There are now seven million people under criminal justice control -- in prison or jail, on probation, or or parole -- in the United States. I am having trouble finding a link to the report -- maybe it's not posted yet -- but Phil will be covering this in Drug War Chronicle tonight. So check back for more details on the bad news...
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Police Looking Worse and Worse in Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing

Now it seems that one of the officers involved in the deadly "drug raid" in Atlanta last week previously lied about an incident in which he caused a head-on car crash. Yet the Atlanta police kept him on the force, and his "credibility" was good enough to get a no-knock warrant to break down someone's door. Also, the confidential informant is no longer confidential, somehow. But why? Read Radley Balko's analysis in The Agitator.
Atlanta, GA
United States

UNODC Director Insults Entire World With Absurd Declaration

The discussion surrounding opium cultivation in Afghanistan has spiraled out of control as public officials who've accomplished nothing attempt to update us on their progress.

From the Washington Post:

"History teaches us that it will take a generation to render Afghanistan opium-free," UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa said in a statement.

What the hell is he talking about? The history of what? I’m not aware of any historical event that demonstrates the effectiveness of drug eradication, yet Costa is offering us a time-table. Pete Guither says it’s pathetic and I agree. But it’s also insulting to anyone who has better things to do than read made-up nonsense in the newspaper.

Apparently, the surprising news that Afghanistan is on the way to being free of opium emerged from a UNODC and World Bank study, which has been widely covered in the press this week. Yet it remains unclear what on earth they were studying.

Meanwhile, Costa has more to say:
"I ... propose that development support to farmers, the arrest of corrupt officials and eradication measures be concentrated in half a dozen provinces with low cultivation in 2006 so as to free them from the scourge of opium."

He said this would help double the number of provinces free of the opium poppy, the raw material for heroin, next year.

Again, I’m utterly confused. He wants to focus on areas where the problem is small in order to increase the number of places where there isn’t a problem? How is he going to eradicate opium from Afghanistan by focusing on regions with low cultivation?

Fortunately, their strategy is multidimensional:

The U.N.-World Bank report also called for a "smart and effective" strategy to curb demand in consuming countries, mainly in the West.

Basically they’re saying, "we’ll implement the world’s first effective program for substituting crops and eradicating widespread corruption, while you guys focus on developing the world’s first effective strategy for convincing people to completely stop doing heroin."

It’s a 210-page report and these, I assume, are the highlights.

United States

Press Release: Salt Lake City Conference Confronts the Meth Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2006 PRESS CONTACT: Luciano Colonna, 801-635-7736 SALT LAKE CITY CONFERENCE CONFRONTS THE METH CRISIS: National Conference brings all sides together to address the realities of methamphetamine use in America SALT LAKE CITY: In conjunction with National Methamphetamine Awareness Day and in response to the public’s demand for solutions to the dangers of meth use, the Harm Reduction Project announces the 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 1-3, 2007. “We congratulate our nation’s forward thinking leaders for recognizing that methamphetamine is impacting our families and communities”, says Luciano Colanna Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Project. “We encourage them to attend the conference and bring their perspective to the table.” The Conference introduces the latest in meth research and response and addresses the complex issues surrounding methamphetamine use in America. Experts from prevention, treatment, public health, social services, law enforcement, and government will discuss topics, such as meth’s affect on child welfare, new treatment research and programs, innovations in criminal justice, and how rural communities are responding to methamphetamine. The 2nd National Conference draws on the expertise of people from small and large communities working in the U.S., as well as the international community. Participants come from as far away as Nepal, and speakers represent the best and latest research in their fields. “By presenting a wide spectrum of responses to methamphetamine use, the Conference provides a unique venue for creating solutions to one of America’s most pressing issues. “If we are going to bring about real change and help families, and communities dealing with meth, we have to have everyone at the table. We can’t afford to rely on one way of thinking to deal with a drug like meth. It simply won’t work.” The Harm Reduction Project is based in Salt Lake City, Utah with offices in Denver, CO and Washington, DC. HRP provides critical health and self-care services to drug using populations, and uses research developed from client interactions to inform public policy. More information on methamphetamine and the 2nd National Conference can be found at ###
United States

The War on Medical Marijuana Patients Continues...But Why?

Medical marijuana activist Dustin Costa was convicted in federal court last week and could now spend the rest of his life in prison. Costa’s was the first federal trial of a medical marijuana patient in three years, demonstrating that the feds remain willing to pervert justice and lie to jurors in order to undermine California’s medical marijuana law.

The defense was prohibited from informing jurors that Costa is president of the Merced Patients Group and that his 908 plants were unquestionably intended for medical use.

Meanwhile, further north, the Washington State Supreme Court recently upheld the conviction of medical marijuana patient Sharon Lee Tracy.

From Northwest Public Radio:

Even the majority justices say Sharon Lee Tracy is exactly the kind of person Washington voters intended to help when they passed a medical marijuana initiative back in 1998. She suffers from a hip deformity, migraine headaches and endured eight surgeries to repair a ruptured bowel and colon condition. So why was she arrested and convicted of growing marijuana back in 2003? Because Tracy had permission to use marijuana from a California doctor, but not a Washington doctor as required by law.

As I understand it, the decision is legally sound in that Washington’s medical marijuana law does require an in-state recommendation. Dissenting Justices argued that other medicines are available with out-of-state prescriptions, but to no avail.

Either way, there’s no excuse for sending this feeble woman to prison. I can forgive these judges for upholding the law as it’s written, but the prosecutors who fought this all the way to the State Supreme Court should be ashamed. Tracy should never have been charged in the first place.

I shudder to think that some smug DA walked out of court grinning after successfully convicting a woman with chronic migraines, a deformed hip, and a ruptured bowel simply because she tried to relieve her pain. Let’s hope the State Legislature moves to close this loophole forthwith. And if she’s sentenced to even a day in prison, let’s make some noise.

I understand that local officials are still coming to terms with the reality of medical marijuana. I understand that federal officials have painted themselves into a corner and will not now admit that they've acted in bad faith. I understand that people who've had the fortune of good health are sometimes challenged by the notion that a popular recreational drug also has unique medicinal properties. But I do not understand why resources are still being used to bring criminal charges against sick people. I just don't get it.

Can anyone explain why this is still happening?

United States

Latest on Atlanta Police Killing of Elderly Woman in Drug Raid

The killing of an elderly Atlanta woman after she shot and wounded three undercover policemen during a nighttime drug raid just might end up shedding some much needed light on the sordid business that is drug law enforcement in these United States. What we're seeing so far is not exactly a shining endorsement of the Atlanta Police Department's REDDOG (Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia) drug squad or what looks to be the mindless search warrant machinery of the Fulton County courts. Just today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which deserves kudos for being all over this travesty, reported that the snitch on whose word the warrant was based now says he never bought drugs at Johnston's address, and the narcs involved in the raid asked him to lie about it after the fact. The Journal-Constitution also provides a copy of the search warrant, which Fulton County officials originally refused to release. The warrant is clearly marked as a "no-knock" warrant, putting the lie to initial police reports that police had knocked and announced, as required by regular search warrants. The affidavit for the warrant is a banal portrait of the day-to-day grinding of the drug war: The narc describes how he points an informant at the address, gives him $50, he comes back with two bags of crack he bought from a man known only as "Sam"…and that's that. Rubberstamp, please. Interestingly, there is no recording of the alleged transaction, and the affidavit is written to suggest that police surveilled the transaction, but does not actually say that they did. The seven narcs involved in this little shindig are now on suspension. Now, again according to the Journal-Constitution, Police Chief Richard Pennington says the department will review its "no-knock" policy, which would be good news. "No-knock" raids are a well-documented clear and present danger to police, innocent civilians, and yes, even people actually selling banned substances. You don't deserve summary execution for slinging some bags of crack. Meanwhile, in a Monday night update on the case, CNN reported that the killing of Kathryn Johnston will be the subject of a federal investigation. That, too, is good news. It means the heat is on, but as anyone who has watched these stories play out in the past knows, justice for the victims of these out-of-control, heavy-handed police raids is hard to come by. At the least, we hope the cops will be a little less hesitant to risk life and death—their own and others—over a couple of rocks of crack.
Atlanta, GA
United States

Joe Biden: We Don't Like Him Either

Delaware Senator Joseph Biden Jr. wants to be President too. You may remember Joe Biden from the horrible RAVE Act he sponsored, which subjects business owners to federal prosecution if they fail to prevent drug use on the premises. Worse yet, Biden actually wrote the law that gives us a Drug Czar. Seriously. Al Gore invented the internet or whatever. Joe Biden invented ONDCP.

I wonder what he was thinking. Was Biden concerned that the drug war was all injury and no insults? If so, he certainly succeeded in making prohibition more annoying, what with the terrorism ads, the interference in local politics, the podcasts, the blog, Andrea Barthwell…the list goes on.

Either way, Biden can now take some credit for ONDCP’s numerous contributions to the drug war status quo, and should either be very proud or ashamed depending who you ask. It would be unfair not to mention that Joe Biden doesn’t like John Walters, who he says runs ONDCP "like an ivory tower." One might credit Biden with taking a stand for accountability, but you’d have to ignore the irony of his complaints that the "Drug Czar" position he created seems to lend itself to tyranny.

That drug war cheerleaders so often prove to have high political ambitions is probably no coincidence. From Harry Anslinger’s race-baiting demagoguery to Karen Tandy’s campaign against Tommy Chong (which swept her into the top office at DEA), drug war grandstanding is one way to get your name in the paper. Running for President is another.

Electioneering laws prevent us from opining on the merits (or lack thereof) of various presidential candidates. So I’ll just say this: if the 2008 presidential election comes down to a contest between Rudy Giuliani and Joe Biden, the prison industrial complex can’t lose.

(This blog post was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)


United States

Rudy Giuliani: We Don't Like Him

It became clear last week that Rudy Giuliani intends to be our next president. Notwithstanding the possibility that a pro-gay rights, pro-choice Republican might not do so well in the primaries, it's worth noting that Giuliani is an absolute horror show with regards to crime and drug policy.

An adherent to the controversial "broken windows" theory of policing, Giuliani believes that aggressively targeting minor offenders will have a trickle-up effect in reducing the overall crime rate. He’s widely credited with reducing crime in New York City by half during the 1990’s, and many people consider him an expert on the subject.

Yet Giuliani’s seemingly successful experiment with 'zero tolerance' coincided with similar drops in crime across the country that began prior to his taking office. Other cities achieved similar outcomes without mass arrests, and experts have attributed the big crime drop of the 1990’s to a broad range of external factors such as increased economic opportunity and even 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

from Wikipedia

But while Giuliani probably doesn’t deserve much credit for reducing crime in New York, he certainly does deserve credit for this:

As the get-tough policy began to warm up, the stats soared. In 1993, there were 3,400 complaints of police brutality brought before the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York. In 1994, 4,900. In 1995, 5,612. In 1996, 5,592. That's a 60 percent increase in those years.

Giuliani’s brand of 'zero tolerance' devastated race relations in New York. As NYPD excesses such as the sodomization of Abner Louima and the killing of Amadou Diallo began to occur with increased frequency, the Mayor remained smug and unyielding. Giuliani’s notoriety as an apologist for police homicide reached new heights when he released the sealed juvenile records of Patrick Dorismond, an innocent man killed by undercover officers, in a blatant attempt to discredit the victim only days after his tragic death.

Of course, the only thing worse than a Mayor who blames police brutality on the victim would be a President who does so. If George Bush hates black people, Rudy Giuliani dances on their graves for the cameras. And there are probably all sorts of horrible things he'd like to do that weren't possible as Mayor of New York City.

For starters, here’s Giuliani’s idea for an international drug control strategy:

We need to call on the on the federal government after having done our job effectively [on crime reduction] to make [drug reduction] an important part of our foreign policy, rather than a secondary part. After all it has to do with the future of our children and it is just important as international trade. And it’s just as important as wars that may be going on in different parts of the world, because it has to do with how productive America is going to be into the next generation.

Sounds like a prescription for worldwide bloodshed and wasted billions to me.

United States

Another Raid Gone Wrong: 92-Year-Old Woman Killed, 3 Officers Injured

Again and again, it just keeps happening. This time a 92-year-old woman was killed after shooting three officers in a no-knock drug raid on her home. Officers claim that drugs were purchased at the home, but from a man who remains unidentified at this time.

More importantly, a 92-year-old woman named Kathryn Johnston died defending her home against intruders who broke in without announcing themselves. She lived quite a long life only to die an innocent death at the hands of public servants.

Radley Balko sums it up best:

Paramilitary tactics don't defuse violent situations, as police groups and their supporters sometimes claim. They create them. They make things more volatile for everyone -- cops, suspects, and bystanders. Does anyone honestly believe that Ms. Johnson would have opened fire had a couple of uniformed officers politely knocked on her door, showed her a warrant, and asked if they could come inside?

Violating the sanctity of the home with a violent, forced entry -- all to enforce laws against consensual acts -- simply isn't compatible with any honest notion of a free society.

Police can have their submachine guns and bulletproof vests. They can have their blast shields and helmets. They may surround homes in order to prevent the escape of suspects, and if they have a warrant supported by probable cause to believe criminal activity is taking place inside, they may initiate contact. What more do they need? Why must they invade homes anonymously like burglars or rapists? Why, after so many innocent people have died, does this recklessness continue?

The sad answer is that the drug war accepts the death of innocent people as a necessary casualty. The drug war turns police into soldiers whose lives are valued above those of the innocent people they fight to protect.

It’s time to bring home the troops.

United States

I Met Pete Guither!

Posted in:
One of many highlights at the SSDP Conference was finally meeting DrugWarRant blogger Pete Guither. Here I am with three of my favorite writers:
Scott Morgan, Radley Balko, Nick Gillespie, Peter Guither Pete’s got some excellent coverage of the conference (scroll down to Saturday and Sunday’s posts).

United States

Is It Time for Direct Action to Shut Down DEA Headquarters?

Posted in:
One of the nice things about coming to Washington is more stimulating dinner discussions than I'm accustomed to out in the boondocks. Last night, I had the chance to have dinner with a couple very well-versed in both drug policy reform and mass protests agitating. As conversation turned to what can be done about the drug war, one of them suggested it was time to crank it up a bit, and he had a very concrete suggestion: a direction action protest to surround and shut down DEA headquarters in suburban Arlington, Virginia. It would certainly be an appropriate target. Along with the White House Office of National Drug Control policy—the drug czar's office—the DEA is the ugly face of the federal drug war. And while the drug czar's role is largely one of proselytizing for the continued existence of prohibition, the DEA is the agency that is waging the federal drug war on a day-to-day basis. These are the guys who run who kick in doors for a living, who bully their way into medical marijuana dispensaries and grows, who make the busts that send black and brown kids to prison for years for small-time drug sales, who go after the doctors who are trying to treat pain patients, who corrode our social solidarity with their snitches, either paid or coerced. The DEA is the federal government's drug war goon squad. Isn't it about time to take concrete action against these latter day buccaneers? My activist friend suggested a national mobilization designed to bring thousands of people to DC to literally shut it down by blockading the entrances of DEA headquarters. Now, of course, such an action wouldn't actually disrupt the agency's business for more than a short period of time, but it would disrupt it. I'm for that. Personally, I'm tired of protest actions that don't actually do anything. A weekend march through an empty downtown may feel good and empowering and all that, but what does it really accomplish? You may get 30 seconds on the news—if you're lucky and Tomkat didn't get married or OJ didn't write a book that day. A mass direct action at DEA would actually do something: First, it would actually disrupt the workings of the agency to the extent that employees are prevented from getting to their work spaces. Second, it would generate arrests, scenes of police dragging American citizens off the streets and into paddy wagons in a political protest, and, given the tenor of the times, quite possibly descending into police brutality by beating, macing, or tasering them. Third, one would hope that angry clashes at the DEA would generate some media coverage. Last, and not least, it would put the agency and its employees on notice that there is a sizeable portion of the population that wants to drive them out of business. Sure, we can continue to work the halls of power, and maybe, just maybe, we could win some victories on the margins. If the Democrats in Congress are courageous—and I see little sign of that—we might be able to convince them to legislate a slightly kinder, gentler drug war, maybe reducing the crack/powder cocaine disparity slightly or making some mandatory minimum sentences only advisory. But it seems to me that lobbying politicians will not be sufficient; we need to make this a multi-modal struggle and take this war to the DEA on its home turf. I, for one, would rather take the fight to their house than have them take the fight to my house. And so would my well-placed activist friend. He's mentioned it to some of the leading drug reform organizations, but they seem luke-warm at best. My activist friend, who knows about such things, says $100,000 would make it happen in a big way. Well, if the big boys don’t want to pay for this, 10,000 people committed to ending the drug war could chip in $10 each. Is anyone else up for this? If so, where do we go from here?
Arlington, VA
United States

SSDP Conference Invigorates and Educates Students and Non-Students Alike

Posted in:
The Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) conference in Washington, DC saw its third and final day, and it was a rousing weekend for drug reformers. About 300 student activists from around the country showed up for a weekend of lobbying, strategizing, and setting the direction of the organization for the near term. The students had the opportunity to hear from many of the most prominent leaders of the drug reform movement, including Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Steph Sherer of the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, and representatives of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Sadly, MPP executive director Rob Kampia, the man behind the Nevada marijuana tax and regulate initiative, was taken ill and unable to attend. Media figures Bill Press, an MSNBC commentator, and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Clarence Page also packed the auditorium for their Saturday discussion of the role of the media in perpetuating prohibition. Yours truly participated in a panel on international dimensions of US drug policy. With rigorous academics like UCLA professor Mark Kleiman and the University of Maryland's Peter Reuter joining me and Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, one would have thought that some sparks would have flown, but that was not the case. After I critiqued US policy in Afghanistan -- you can have your war on terror or you can have your war on drugs, but you can't have both -- and Tree described in grim detail the horrendous results of US coca eradication efforts in the Andes, Kleiman and Reuter both concurred that US efforts to ameloriate its "drug problem" by taking action overseas is an exercise in futility. As Kleiman put it, if you have to choose between the continued survival of the Karzai government in Afghanistan and ignoring the UN conventions on drug trafficking, the answer is easy. A somewhat surprising consensus, that. Much more happened at the conference, of course, and we will be covering it in some detail in this week's Drug War Chronicle.
Washington, DC
United States

Thank You Milton Friedman

Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman passed away today at the age of 94. Friedman was a brilliant and tireless advocate for civil liberties and personal freedom, which he viewed as essential to ensuring the long-term economic health of our society.

His Open Letter to Bill Bennett could easily be one of the best arguments ever written against the drug war:

This plea comes from the bottom of my heart. Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence. A country in which shooting down unidentified planes "on suspicion" can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations.

Hopefully, Friedman’s passing will provide an opportunity for many to reflect on his words.

United States

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