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The Speakeasy Blog

US Prison Population in First Decline Since 1972

The number of people in prison in the US has dropped for the first time since 1972, and the number of people under correctional supervision has declined for the second year in a row. Is a sea change at hand? Chronicle story here.

Congress Votes to Restore Needle Exchange Funding Ban

Two years ago this week, after years of advocacy by public health and harm reduction advocates, the long-standing ban on federal funding for needle exchanges was repealed. On Saturday, it was restored as the Senate took the final votes to approve the 2012 federal omnibus spending bill. Chronicle story here.

Amnesty International Condemns Iran Drug Executions

Amnesty International has called on Iran to stop executing people for drug offenses, saying the Islamic Republic has embarked on "a killing spree of staggering proportions." Chronicle story here.

Breaking: Congress Votes to Kill People

Earlier this week we alerted our email subscribers and web site readers that Republicans in Congress were pushing to reinstate the only recently repealed syringe exchange funding ban. Lifted two years ago as part of the FY 2010 budget bill, the ban had prevented states from making their own decisions as to whether to use federal AIDS grant funding to support needle exchange programs. As most if not all aspects of the drug issue demonstrate, when Republicans talk about state and local control, they don't sincerely mean it, at least not as a group. (The libertarian-minded Ron Paul initially supported the ban, but changed his view and helped repeal it years later.)

Not that the ban's reinstatement can be blamed solely on Republicans, certainly not in the Democratically-controlled Senate. It happened in part because Democrats did not make it a priority to keep it from happening.

Congress's action this week means misery and death for large numbers of people. As the eight federal reviews of the research on this issue demonstrate, needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV without increasing the use of drugs. According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, needle sharing by injection drug users accounts for 8,000 new cases of HIV and 15,000 new cases of Hepatitis C each year. Of course the diseases spread from them to other people on occasion, including people who have no involvement in illegal drug use. As HRC points out, New York City has seen a 75% reduction in new HIV cases as a result of instituting such programs, according to a 2005 study.

So let's be clear; the evidence is overwhelming. In fact, even the studies cited by opponents of needle exchange actually support needle exchange, if you take the time to read them. Reinstituting the federal ban will have the effect of defunding many programs, and the science is clear that this means more infections and more needless of life. It won't save the federal government any money, because it doesn't affect the total amount of funding in the Ryan White program. All it does is make the program less effective at accomplishing its goals. And of course, health care costs will only grow because expensive AIDS and Hepatitis treatments will be needed for more people. Sadly, expressing the drug war ideology through deadly legislating seems to be more important for certain members of Congress than any of that. On the bright side, at least they didn't reinstate the old ban on the District of Columbia spending its own funds on needle exchange programs.

Don't give up and don't think that it's over. The ban got repealed once, and it will get repealed again. In the meanwhile, here are a few of the statements about the event that have come to my attention since yesterday. (Feel free to link more in the comments section.)

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy, busy. Here's this week's medical marijuana news digest. Chronicle story here.

US House Votes to Ban New Synthetic Drugs

As expected, the House of Representatives has passed a bill banning synthetic stimulants and cannabinoids. On the positive side, 98 members voted against responding to the drugs with a new prohibition. Chronicle story here.

Teens Rejecting Alcohol, Tobacco, Selecting Marijuana [FEATURE]

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of high school students find cigarette and alcohol use down, but marijuana use up. Chronicle story here.

Obama's Drug Czar Blames YOU for Increased Teen Marijuana Use
Just when you thought the medical marijuana debate couldn’t get any uglier, the Drug Czar shows up at your doorstep demanding to know why you want to drug the children.

One out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis, a figure that has reached a 30-year peak even as use of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine among teenagers continues a slow decline, according to a new government report.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, the federal drug czar, said he believed the increasing prevalence of medicinal marijuana was a factor in the uptick. “These last couple years, the amount of attention that’s been given to medical marijuana has been huge,” he said. [NYT]

If you're one of the 4 out of 5 Americans who supports medical marijuana, then he's talking about you. Something teens have been doing for decades suddenly became your fault the instant you expressed sympathy for people who use marijuana to treat illnesses. Your efforts to provide friends and neighbors with fact-based information about marijuana have made the Drug Czar's job very difficult indeed.

“And when I’ve done focus groups with high school students in states where medical marijuana is legal, they say, ‘Well, if its called medicine and it’s given to patients by caregivers, then that’s really the wrong message for us as high school students.’”

That's priceless. I'm sure that's exactly what they said to him. Well yes, Mr. Kerlikowske, sir, ever since Proposition 215 passed when I was 11 months old, I've been struggling to understand the concept of the patient-caregiver relationship in the context of medical cannabis. How can a drug be medicine? Confusion about the matter has forced myself and several classmates to smoke joints after school each day behind the dumpster at Jack-in-the-Box. I can feel it impairing my motor skills, but I'm too addicted to stop.

Seriously, if there's anything confusing young people about this, it's probably the fact that there's a government stooge called the Drug Czar whose job it is to go around refuting common knowledge about marijuana and replacing it with a bunch of dumb propaganda. Ironically, it's the Drug Czar himself who's been telling everyone that marijuana is for partying instead of medical use, so maybe it's his fault when teenagers use pot at parties.

In all likelihood, the situation would improve dramatically if the Drug Czar would shut up and let young people think for themselves. Remember when Bush's Drug Czar was making anti-drug ads that were so bad they caused more teens to try marijuana? Congress pulled the funding for the program and probably saved some people's lives from the sort of dangerous idiocy that anti-drug fanatics will engage in when they think they can do no wrong.

In any case, blaming the medical marijuana debate for anything at all is supremely absurd considering that this debate wouldn’t even exist if the federal government had never waged war on medical marijuana in the first place. Yes, this debate is hot right now. Yes, young people are likely aware of it. But that isn't the fault of patients who need marijuana or the 80% of Americans who support those patients. It's the fault of the lying, intransigent imbeciles who pretended marijuana wasn't medicine and forced the nation to spend decades arguing about one simple irrefutable fact, when we could have spent that time on any number of other things, including designing better drug education for our kids.

Obama's Attack on Medical Marijuana Wins Endorsement from Crazy Person

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Last month, I questioned an absurd claim from the White House that President Obama has been "clear and consistent" in his approach to medical marijuana, rather than erratic and hostile. The facts of the matter are so plain that it feels silly to even debate it further, but this quote from anti-marijuana zealot and youth drug testing cheerleader David Evans of the Drug-Free Schools Coalition got my attention:

The Obama administration’s recent crackdown on growers and sellers of medical marijuana is totally justified. The federal government is trying to protect vulnerable people from the use of marijuana as medicine, since the drug is not proved safe or effective.

It's really pretty hard for the Obama administration to claim they're not suddenly cracking down on medical marijuana when the president is getting praised by David Evans for protecting patients from themselves and their doctors. This is the guy you don't want complimenting you in public when you're busy trying to convince everyone else that your drug policy isn't a draconian death march.

A little heads up to Obama's re-election team: when both sides of the medical marijuana debate are in agreement that you've launched some kind of major crackdown, you do not get to pretend that there was no crackdown.

The tough question facing candidate Obama will be why he took no action to prevent egregious violations of his campaign promises on this issue, not whether such events ever occurred. A consensus exists in the press and the public that Obama backed away rather blatantly from his widely-understood assurance that state medical marijuana programs wouldn't face an existential threat from the federal government under his watch. Those threats emerged from numerous agencies this year and have scarcely been acknowledged by the White House, let alone addressed to anyone's satisfaction.

Rather than endeavoring to further duck or distract us, the president needs to say something smart about this. He'll have to do better than saying it's a poor use of resources to bust pot patients, because the propriety of arresting sick people and their caregivers is not a question that ought to hinge on the availability of funds with which to do so. It would also be a poor use of resources to kick glaucoma patients down the stairs, but that isn't the reason we don't do it.

It's time for the president to admit that medical marijuana is a actually a good thing, that we're lucky to have this helpful option available for those who need it, and that people like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are at odds with 80% of Americans when they dare to suggest otherwise.

(This article 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.)

Sheriff Will Pay You $100 to Wear a Wire and Ask People to Sell You Drugs
Stupid silver-bullet strategies to win the war on drugs are as common as the reckless zealots who dream them up, but rarely does one find an example so deeply absurd and irresponsible as this.

Sheriff Price believes there are still many dealers on the streets. He is now asking for the public's help to catch them.

"Basically what we need from the public to help combat this, is we need some informants. Without community involvement, there is no way we can combat these drugs. We have to have community involvement," said Sheriff Price.

The sheriff will pay people up to $100 to tell him who is dealing drugs and then possibly help with undercover work.

"If you know someone that sells drugs and you feel like you can put a stop to it by wearing a wire, at least come in. It doesn't cost you anything to come in and talk to us and we'll explain the process to you," said Sheriff Price.  []

It’s fun and easy! Just use common sense. If someone tries to blow your head off, duck. If they set your house on fire, stop, drop and roll. After all, if teams of highly-trained, heavily-armed narco-cops can pull off these kinds of operations, what's your excuse? Certainly, you aren't afraid of a few ill-tempered drug dealers.

"Don't let people scare you. A lot of people are afraid they will get burnt out or beat up. I've done this for 25 years and got nobody hurt yet," said Sheriff Price.

Really, one can scarcely find words to describe the sickening irony of police suddenly claiming that drug enforcement is so safe a civilian could do it. 

Frightened police officers routinely panic and unload their weapons on innocent people and pets when entering the homes of drug suspects. When that happens, we're reminded by them that this work is dangerous, that drug dealers are bloodthirsty killers, and that it's necessary we arm our police to the teeth and forgive any fatal errors they may make with their machine guns, because failing to do so could result police being shot at or bitten by dogs when they smash down people's doors looking for drugs.

Meanwhile, police want to pay random people $100 each to approach these same deadly criminals with no training or protective gear? The whole thing just makes a mockery of everything police ever said about the dangers of drug enforcement, and yet it does so for the purpose of persuading naive people to do something that really is incredibly risky. Drug informants are routinely identified and targeted for harassment and even death. The murder of Rachel Hoffman, who was arrested for marijuana and agreed to wear a wire, is a well-known example, but Google finds many more

The whole idea is just idiotic on its face, and in ways that I would have thought obvious. The drug war isn't some action comedy on afternoon cable, and when you start screwing around with slippery BS like this, anything and everything could go horribly wrong. The fact that the war on drugs creates a temptation to enforce the law this way is a good example of why we'd be better off without it.

Fixing Our Drug Policy Will Require a Hatchet, Not a Scalpel

I have a new piece at Huffington Post discussing recent claims from the Drug Czar's office that the Obama Administration is working hard to "reform" our drug policy. We've reached an interesting moment in the debate when both sides are wrapping themselves in the flag of reform. 

US House Set to Pass Bad Drug Bills [FEATURE]

Going in the face of an ever-increasing clamor to reform decades of failed drug policies, the US House of Representatives is poised to pass two bills that promise more of the same. Chronicle story here.

New Canadian Drug Reform Coalition Emerges [FEATURE]

Even as the Canadian federal government presses ahead with its draconian crime and drugs bill, a new coalition for Canadian drug reform has emerged. Chronicle story here.

This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past. In the Chronicle, here.

Mexico Drug War Update

Some congressional Republicans want to know why the DEA is laundering money for drug cartels. Meanwhile, the killings continue. Chronicle story here.

Dallas Narc Kills Man in Amtrak Train Shootout

An undercover Dallas narcotics officer shot and killed a man who opened fire on him as he and other officers swept an idling Amtrak train for drugs. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 47th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. Chronicle story here.

Drug Crop-Killing Fungi Too Risky, Scientists Say

No "Frankenfungi" for the drug warriors just yet -- we don't know enough about the dangers of using mycoherbicides to eradicate drug crops to be doing that, a panel of scientists from the National Research Council says. Chronicle story here.

NY Marijuana Smoker Dies in Confrontation with Cop

A College of Staten Island employee died November 29 in a confrontation with an NYPD officer after he was caught smoking marijuana in a campus bathroom. Chronicle story here.

NY Times: DEA Launders Mexico Drug Cartel Profits

American undercover agents, primarily with the DEA, have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds from Mexican drug trafficking organizations as part of their investigations into how the cartels operate, the New York Times reported Sunday. Chronicle story here.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy! Quite a crew of miscreants this week, including a former national Sheriff of the Year. Chronicle story here.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Slams the War on Drugs

Last week’s joint statement from two state governors calling for the rescheduling of marijuana overshadowed another big story: NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s call for an end to the War on Drugs.

Word for word, this is hardly the most scathing indictment of the drug war we’ve ever heard. But it’s big news nevertheless, and for a few different reasons.

Christie is a highly-regarded politician that a quite a few people desperately wanted to see in the republican race for the presidency. He instantly climbs towards the top of any current list of prominent republican political figures favoring drug policy reform. He’s taken seriously in the press, and would have made big headlines with this announcement, were it not for the unfortunate timing.

Moreover, Christie uploaded this statement to YouTube himself. It’s got his name on it, which means the Governor’s office is proud of the position he’s taking and wants the public to know exactly what Chris Christie thinks about the drug war. He understands the broad and growing public support for drug policy reform, and he’s ready to play a role. That’s a promising perspective from a politician who many people think is a potential future republican president.

It’s a shame his comments didn’t get more play, but I have a feeling Chris Christie’s frustration with the War on Drugs will remain on display in the years to come, and as our political culture increasingly comes to grips with evolving public attitudes, he surely will not be the only big name joining the debate.

New Jersey Pharmacy Needle Sales Bill Passes

A bill that would allow for the sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription has cleared the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support and awaits the governor's signature. Chronicle story here.

You Can’t Fire Cops for Supporting Drug Legalization

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New York Times has a fantastic story on the fate of a few law enforcement officials who’ve been fired for questioning the wisdom of the war on drugs, and are now likely to win big settlements from their former employers. How ironic that the attempt to silence their ideas has resulted in high-profile media coverage that will surely create new LEAP members all over the country.

This kind of story is a perfect nightmare for the drug war’s defenders, as it explains A) that lots of people in the law enforcement profession privately think the war on drugs is utterly stupid and wrong, and B) that you cannot legally fire people on the basis of their personal feelings about our drug laws. That second part is particularly damaging, because once police get the message that they are free to speak their minds and that they can even win money if you punish them, the frequency with which frustrated cops come out swinging against our disastrous approach to drugs has the potential to increase dramatically.

A story like this would never have been possible without the years of hard and dedicated work by our friends at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. It seems like every time we turn on our computers, those guys are making huge headlines in new and exciting ways. Somebody should give them a million dollars.

Czechs Decriminalize Peyote, Magic Mushroom Growing

Czechs will be able to grow peyote and magic mushrooms under reforms in the drug laws approved by the Cabinet this week. Chronicle story here.

Bill O’Reilly Thinks Medical Marijuana is a Sneaky Plot to Give People Medicine, Or Something

On the eve of their cable TV debut, Steve and Andrew DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center appeared on O’Reilly. He wasn’t very nice to them.

Bill O’Reilly’s indignant posturing is typical of the contemporary medical marijuana skeptic: I have no problem with medical use, but any plan for supplying patients is a fraud and anyone who grows or sells marijuana is a scumbag.

Apparently, it’s some sort of grand travesty that medical marijuana is widely available to many people with less-than-deadly diseases and disorders, but Bill forgot to explain why anyone should care if people with anxiety get to have marijuana. They shouldn’t have marijuana? I don’t understand what you want, sir.

Of course, O’Reilly is also impressed and/or incredulous about Harborside’s $20 million annual gross revenue, and he’s not alone in that regard unfortunately. But what, other than a towering exhibit in the efficacy of regulated cannabis commerce, are we supposed to see when we look at this? A whole hell of a lot of people have died in the drug trade over a whole hell of a lot less money and marijuana than this.

What we have here is the safest and most accountable kind of cannabis distribution that’s ever existed on the planet. Every day Harborside opens its doors, they’re keeping dozens of dealers off the street and stopping an incalculable amount of stupid crap from happening. The same can be said for many others in the medical cannabis industry as well, and if Bill O’Reilly is looking for villains in all of this, he won’t find them behind the counters of clean, regulated businesses.

Next time, instead of asking why people with anxiety can get cannabis in California, Bill O’Reilly should explore why federal law still treats cancer and AIDS patients as criminals. 

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