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The Speakeasy Blog

If Medical Marijuana Patients Don't Exist, How Come They Keep Sending Us Letters?

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Our Executive Director David Borden and NORML's Senior Policy Analyst Paul Armentano have coauthored an updated version of Dave's DWC editorial, "Why Do People the Government Says Don't Exist Keep Writing Me?"

Check it out over at Huffington Post. It's quite good.

You know, it's funny how drug policy reformers keep getting accused of exploiting sick people in the medical marijuana debate, yet when patients write to us, it is always to thank us for our efforts. Somehow I doubt the Office of National Drug Control Policy gets many letters from medical marijuana users thanking them for opposing the evil marijuana lobby that tries to exploit them by making their medicine legal.

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Supporting One Lost War is Not Enough for John McCain

Note: DRCNet does not take a position on the war in Iraq. I do. Arizona Senator John McCain, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, has suffered mightily for his continuing support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That stance, I predict, will be a major contributor to his eventual failure to win the nomination. But over the weekend, McCain embraced yet another loser of a war--the war on drugs. Here's how the Associated Press reported his remarks in Iowa Sunday:
Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Sunday said the U.S. should step up its war on drugs as part of efforts to secure the country's borders. He said that's because Americans are to blame for "creating the demand" for illegal drugs that come into the country and give too much power to drug cartels that terrorize border areas. "We are creating the demand. We are creating the demand for these drugs coming across our border, which maybe means that we should go back more trying to make some progress and in telling Americans, particularly young Americans, that the use of drugs is a terrible thing for them to do," he said. The Arizona senator spoke during an appearance at a central Iowa farm where he devoted much of the conversation with a few dozen supporters to foreign relations and immigration.
Does John McCain really believe all our war on drugs needs is a little more effort (and, of course, a little more funding)? Does he think we (read: law enforcement) haven't been trying? I don't think so. McCain is from a border state; he should know better. While McCain spoke about demand reduction, it is unclear exactly what he means. If he's talking about prevention education, that's not a bad thing. But if he's talking about reducing demand by increasing already draconian penalties for drug offenders that's an entirely different matter. McCain's campaign web site does not mention drug policy, but he has consistently favored a tough law enforcement approach to the problem. This year, he wrapped his remarks about ramping up the war on drugs in the broader context of border security. But if McCain is concerned about the impact of the cross-national black market drug trade on border security, there is a real solution: end drug prohibition, regulate the cross-border drug trade like other commodities are regulated, and cut the legs out from under the violent cartels who grow more wealthy and powerful every day under prohibition. Instead, McCain, who made his political career on one lost war in Southeast Asia and stands to end it by supporting another one in the Middle East, embraces yet another lost war in a cheap bid to gain support. Let's hope appealing for an ever-expanding, ever-deepening war on drugs is an issue whose time, like McCain's, has come and gone.
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Just Because Criminals Use Drugs Doesn't Mean Drugs Cause Crime

ONDCP's latest blog post boldly proclaims that drugs cause crime because most people who get arrested test positive for drugs. As is their habit, ONDCP's post was created by taking a newspaper article, misunderstanding it, and then drawing exaggerated conclusions that are factually wrong:

The Drug-Crime Link: Most Adults Committing Crimes in San Diego High at Time of Arrest

A new report out of San Diego County illustrates the strong connection between using drugs and committing crime. The North County Times reports:

"While the number of adults that test positive for drugs when arrested dropped slightly in 2006 compared with the year before, narcotics use continues to show up in more than 70 percent of arrestees, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Diego Association of Governments...

The headline alone contains two wildly inaccurate claims. For starters, being arrested doesn't mean you've actually committed a crime. Duh. This may seem insignificant, since drug use rates are probably the same or higher among those convicted. Still, it's a reflection of ONDCP's mindset that arrestees are simply presumed guilty.

More to the point, testing positive for drugs absolutely doesn’t mean you're high. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remain detectable in your system for up to 4 days, while PCP and marijuana can linger for up to a month. We can identify these drugs in someone's body, but we cannot prove when the drugs were ingested or whether they were intoxicated at the time of arrest.

ONDCP's whole premise that drug use makes people go crazy and break the law is just not supported at all by this data. Addicted users frequently commit crimes precisely because they're no longer high, but they'd like to be. This link can be better addressed through maintenance programs and by eliminating the black market that inflates prices and forces addicts to steal.

Marijuana users, on the other hand, are unlikely to ever pass a drug test if they use more than twice a month. How many of these arrestees are just marijuana users who smoked days or weeks before an unrelated arrest? It's the most widely used and most detectable illicit drug, so its inclusion skews the entire picture.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's a huge drug war going on, which causes drug users to be arrested at alarming rates. It's the number one thing people get arrested for. If we stopped arresting people for having drugs, the percentage of arrestees who test positive for them would decrease substantially. Literally, the government is arresting people for drugs, then claiming that you shouldn’t do drugs because they'll cause you to get yourself arrested.

Don't get me wrong, there is a drug-crime link, but it's not the one you read about at It's a product of the great war we've declared on one another, and it will go away only when we admit our terrible mistake.

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Feds Raid Wheelchair-bound Paraplegic For Medical Marijuana [Updated]

The federal government is so desperate to undermine New Mexico's new medical marijuana law, they've started arresting harassing handicapped people:
MALAGA, N.M. — Agents with a regional drug task force raided Leonard French’s home in southeastern New Mexico on Tuesday and seized several marijuana plants [Ed., it was actually just 6 seedlings]
But the wheelchair-bound man said he’s certified by the state Health Department to possess and smoke marijuana for medical reasons. The 44-year-old lost the use of his legs about 20 years ago as the result of a motorcycle crash and now suffers from chronic pain and muscle spasms. [Santa Fe New Mexican]
Normally, the DEA would avoid this kind of bad publicity. But since New Mexico's medical marijuana program just started, they're trying to intimidate patients and confuse legislators in other prospective medical marijuana states:
A press release jointly issued by the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force illustrates the political nature of the raid, reading in part, "Citizens of New Mexico need to be aware that they can still be prosecuted on the federal level even though New Mexico has a law permitting marijuana for medicinal use." [DPA]

Drug warriors keep arguing that medical marijuana laws create conflict between state and federal laws, but all they have to do is stop arresting threatening patients and there'd be no problem. They're creating confusion and then citing that confusion as an argument against state laws that protect patients. Meanwhile, sick people like Leonard French are caught in the crossfire, and countless other patients are afraid to try medicine that could help them.

Revealingly, Mr. French has not yet been charged with a crime. You see, DEA is tough enough to arrest wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients, and even boast about its authority to continue doing so. All of that serves their interest in scaring people and creating doubt as more and more states pass laws to protect their citizens from precisely this sort of foul treatment. But they won't actually try to put him in jail because that would be just hideous.

So the real message here, for those reading between the lines, is that the feds aren't always going to enforce federal law. And that tells you everything you need to know about the debate over medical marijuana. This is all a big stupid publicity stunt, and while there are casualties to be sure (getting arrested and losing your medicine does suck), the whole "conflict with federal law" argument is largely a hoax.

Regardless, we cannot tolerate any federal efforts to scare people out of treating their illnesses with doctor recommended medicine that is legal in their state. That is obscene, and it's no surprise presidential candidates are lining up in opposition to it.

Update: My mistake. Leonard French wasn't taken into custody, so "arrested" was the wrong way to describe what happened to him. I've updated the post accordingly. It's important, because patients in New Mexico should understand that you're not in any great danger if you choose to participate in the medical marijuana program. I should have been more careful about this, because I certainly don't want to perpetuate these intimidation tactics. The fact that he wasn't even arrested is significant.

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It's Time for Medical Marijuana "Plan B"

Did you know that along with raiding medical marijuana clinics and prosecuting people, the DEA is actually blocking research into medical marijuana too -- research that if allowed to take place could lead to marijuana's approval as a medicine through the FDA? Yet at the very same time, DEA hypocritically cites a lack of research as justification for keeping medical marijuana illegal! Most recently, DEA has stalled an application from the University of Massachusetts to grow research-grade marijuana in a secure facility for FDA- and DEA-approved medical studies. Though DEA's own Administrative Law Judge has said it should be approved, we expect them to show bad faith and reject it -- after waiting as long as they can -- unless they are pressured to do otherwise. A group of US Representatives is preparing to send a sign-on letter to the DEA, next month, for just that purpose. Please visit our web site to write your member of Congress asking him or her to sign on! We encourage you to personalize your email. When you're done, please forward this alert to everyone you know who might support it too. Thank you for your help on this -- and thanks to the thousands of you who used our site to lobby for the Hinchey medical marijuana amendment last fall too. With your help, we believe that this "Plan B" will help get us closer to the goal. (Click here to read the text of the Congressional sign-on letter on the MAPS web site, and click here to read the results of this summer's Hinchey medical marijuana vote on ours.)
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Obama: What New Orleans Needs is More Drug War

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When Barack Obama speaks of "change," he's not talking about the war on drugs. He likes it just fine the way it is. Obama's faith in the drug war is so strong, he even thinks it can help revitalize New Orleans:
If elected, Mr. Obama said he would establish a Drug Enforcement Agency office in New Orleans that would be dedicated to stopping drug gangs across the region. [NYTimes]

Mr. Senator, the drug war causes crime, it doesn't prevent it. The problem is not, and has never been, a lack of drug law enforcement. New Orleans already has a DEA office and it has not made life any easier for anyone. It should go without saying that increased drug activity in the region is a result of economic disorder, which inevitably empowers the black market. Bringing in the feds might disrupt local drug networks temporarily, but that would merely increase violence as new dealers take over for their fallen competitors.

As we've documented in the Drug War Chronicle, Katrina revealed the frailty of Louisiana's drug war-ravaged criminal justice system. It is precisely in the aftermath of a great catastrophe like Katrina that the ridiculous quest to stop people from getting high is revealed as utterly wasteful and counter-productive.

Obama's drug war revitalization plan for New Orleans is the latest step in his successful bid to be the worst on drug policy among the democratic presidential contenders. He's lamented the "political capital" required to repair the despicable crack/powder sentencing disparity, a no-brainer racial justice issue that even drug war hall-of-famer Joe Biden wants to fix. At Howard University's Democratic Debate on minority issues, he stood there like an idiot while every other candidate managed to address some type of criminal justice reform. He was also the last democratic candidate to pledge an end to federal medical marijuana raids, and not because they're heartless and evil, but because they're "not a good use of resources."

Well, Barack Obama, you know what else is a poor use of resources? Creating a second DEA office in New Orleans when people still have holes in their roofs and mud in their basements.

(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.)
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Drug War Chronicle #500 Will Come Next Week, Not This One, Here's a Preview

The Drug War Chronicle's next issue will be #500. Given that Labor Day weekend is coming up and given that the Chronicle arrives in people's e-mailboxes on Friday morning, we've decided to postpone our milestone issue until next week, when we hope people will actually be around to read it. Meanwhile, I'm working on some story ideas for the issue:
Afghanistan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime made it official on Monday: The Afghan opium crop this year is another record-breaker, despite $600 million in US anti-drug assistance. What to do,what to do? I'll be asking some experts about where we go from here. Oregon Medical Marijuana. It looks like there will be two ballot initiatives dealing with medical marijuana in Oregon next year. One, put together by a veteran conservative crime-fighter, is really a sort of omnibus "tough on crime" initiative. It would undo the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA), recriminalize medical marijuana, and make the state of Oregon instead provide synthetic Marinol to patients free of charge. The other, put together by the same folks that sponsored the OMMA initiative, would bring dispensaries to Oregon. Ironically, Oregon activists seem to be devoting more energy to sniping at the dispensary initiative than opposing the crime-fighting initiative. Go figure. Marijuana in Denver. Mason Tvert and his friends at SAFER have been tying the Denver political establishment in knots with their push to effectively legalize the weed there. Now, I think, the council has approved sending a "lowest law enforcement priority" initiative to the voters. But I'm confused by all the political maneuvering and feel a need to talk to folks there to get a handle on all this.
I'm sure there will be more stories as the next few days go by.
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Don't Smoke Pot in Your Car

Listen up hippies: smoking pot in your car is for jerks. Here's what will eventually happen to you if you insist on doing this:

An off-duty Sioux Falls police officer called other officers Thursday after he pulled up next to a car in which a man was smoking a marijuana pipe while driving, police spokesman Loren McManus said.

"As a matter of fact, (the pipe) was still warm when they found it," he said. [Argus-Leader]
Marijuana enthusiasts are fond of claiming that the drug doesn't actually impact your driving ability to any significant extent. I think it depends on your experience level, but literally getting high behind the wheel is just stupid no matter who you are. For one thing, the more comfortable you are with marijuana, the more you'll hate having to pee in a cup every 30 days for a year (or worse).

In my work with Flex Your Rights, I've heard so many horror stories about people getting arrested this way that I could never count them. For anyone who doesn’t already know this, the smell of marijuana automatically gives police probable cause to search your vehicle. You will be arrested for anything and everything that might be in your car.

So, whether you're Willie Nelson or my friend Peter, just wait 'til you get where you're going (depending, of course, where that is).*

*This public service announcement has been brought to you by, a division of the international conspiracy to legalize drugs.

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FOX News Discusses Drug Legalization

Those liberal hippies at FOX News are at it again. This segment featuring DPA's Ethan Nadelmann confronts drug prohibition head on.

It's a great clip with solid soundbites from Ethan and a neutral, almost vaguely sympathetic-sounding tone from the FOX correspondents (surely baked after a lunchbreak at the CNN offices). Bonus points go to ONDCP's David Murray for calling Ethan Nadelmann a "good friend," even though Murray keeps a collage of Nadelmann photos by his bedside with the words "Die Hippie" smeared across it in pig's blood.

August has been a strong month for the legalization argument. Cliff Shaffer's "Marijuana Dealers Offer Schwarzenegger One Billion Dollars" story took over the web, crashing our servers and generating national headlines. Misha Glenny's "The Lost War" from The Washington Post excited bloggers and even prompted an incredulous response from former ONDCP mouthpiece Robert Weiner. Now Ethan Nadelmann's cover story in Foreign Policy magazine is keeping the conversation going.

Earlier this week, Pete Guither and I lamented the difficulty of taking the reform argument to a mainstream audience. It's a challenge we'll continue to face, but the longer this brutal war continues without results, the better our chances get of being called on if we keep raising our hand. Our opposition is forever stuck claiming that drugs are the most destructive thing in the world, while also arguing that their brilliant drug control strategies are highly effective. It sounds sillier every time, and David Murray's recent decision to start calling himself a "scientist" is just one example of his office's deteriorating credibility. Discussion of drug legalization on FOX News is another.

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Democratic Presidential Candidates All Support Medical Marijuana

It's about time Barack Obama took the right position on a drug policy issue. Last night he concurred with the other democratic presidential hopefuls that the federal medical marijuana raids must stop:
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In his first public statement on the subject, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to end medical marijuana raids in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws Tuesday at a campaign event during a Nashua Pride minor league baseball game.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources." [MPP]
I remain unimpressed with Obama, however. He promises "change" yet openly laments the "political capital" it would cost to repair a no-brainer racial justice issue like the crack powder sentencing disparity. Arguably the worst on drug policy among the democratic contenders, Obama's stance on medical marijuana could easily be dismissed as a political rather than a compassionate stance.

Still, Obama's gutlessness would hardly alienate him from a Democratic Congress that remains enslaved by the drug war status quo. Really, if all democratic candidates agree with ending the medical marijuana raids, why the hell are democrats continually blocking the Hinchey Amendment, which does exactly that?

I just asked MPP's Aaron Houston this question, and he says it's a lot easier for the President to define DOJ's priorities than it is to get every single Democrat to sign onto something that many believe could hurt them politically. This may explain why Hinchey didn't do better this year under a democratically-controlled Congress. Since the democrats see a strong chance of reclaiming the White House, they have little incentive to take even minor political risks over an issue that could be resolved administratively in January '09.

That's a long wait for patients and providers that continue to live in fear of the DEA, but with Hinchey on pace to pass in 2027, January '09 feels like a fine time to bring this madness to an end.

(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.)
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Bush Makes Lengthy Incoherent Statement About Plan Mexico

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Via DrugWarRant, President Bush was asked about Plan Mexico yesterday at a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon:
Q Good afternoon, President Bush and Prime Minister. And I thought that this summit would be the -- actually Plan Mexico would come out of this, the combination of three governments to combat the effects of drug trafficking. What is the obstacle? What is causing the delay? Why don't the societies of each country know what this plan is about? And can you actually confirm the support of the United States to Mexico? Apparently it will increase tenfold, and the levels will be similar to Colombia. We hear very often the United States wants to take part in this situation against drugs, this war on drugs, and we see it very clearly in Mexico. Now, what is it all about? Could you tell us?
Oh boy, a rare opportunity to hear the President talk about drug policy. You know this is going to be…vague.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Man! Hombre! (Laughter.) We discussed a common strategy to deal with a common problem, and that is narco-trafficking and violence on our border. First, let me say that in order to develop an effective common strategy there needs to be serious consultations between our respective governments. It's one thing to say, we're interested in working together; it's another thing to develop a package on both sides of the border that will be effective in dealing with the problem. That's what our people expect us to do. They expect us to see a problem and to develop an effective strategy to deal with that problem.

President Calderon and I met in Mexico, and we had a serious discussion to get this initiative on the table. This is an interim meeting, a meeting for us to make sure that the strategy that's being developed is -- will be effective. So we reviewed where we are in the process.

The United States is committed to this joint strategy to deal with a joint problem. I would not be committed to dealing with this if I wasn't convinced that President Calderon had the will and the desire to protect his people from narco-traffickers. He has shown great leadership and great strength of character, which gives me good confidence that the plan we'll develop will be effective. And the fundamental question is, what can we do together to make sure that the common strategy works? And that's where we are in the discussions right now.

There's all kinds of speculation about the size of the package, this, that and the other. All I can tell you is the package, when it's developed, will be robust enough to achieve a common objective, which is less violence on both sides of the border, and to deal with narco-trafficking. And we both have responsibilities. And that's what the package is entailed to develop. It's to develop how do we share our joint responsibilities.

It's in our interests that this program go forward. You mentioned Plan Colombia-- this is not like Plan Colombia. This is different from Plan Colombia. This is a plan that says we've got an issue on our own border. We share a border and, therefore, it's a joint program that will mean -- that won't mean U.S. armed presence in your country. Mexico is plenty capable of handling the problem. And the question is, is there any way for us to help strengthen the effort? And so that's what we're studying.

And I can't give you a definitive moment when the plan will be ready, but we're working hard to get a plan ready. And it's a plan that, once it's proposed and out there, I strongly urge the United States Congress to support. It's in our interests, it's in the U.S. interests that we get this issue solved.
Any questions?
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Supporting Medical Marijuana Is Smart Politics

This exchange between Bill Richardson and Stuart Cooper of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana shows the political wisdom of supporting compassionate policies. Richardson discusses his efforts to protect patients in New Mexico, and describes the broader drug war as a failure, then appeals to Cooper for support:

Richardson: By the way, I hope you can get me some votes. I haven't won too many votes with that one. You should see the letter I got from the Sheriff's Association, but sometimes you gotta do the right thing. It's the right thing.

Cooper: Sir, 80% of New Hampshire voters agree with you.

Richardson: Do they?

Cooper: Yes sir.

Richardson: Will you tell them?

Already on the presidential campaign trail, Richardson was nonetheless surprised to learn that his support for medical marijuana would resonate with a huge majority of voters.

That was July 16. By August 17, Richardson had sent a letter to President Bush demanding that ONDCP stop threatening his state's new medical marijuana program. He also ordered the NM Dept. of Health to move forward despite federal intimidation. All of this is displayed proudly on his presidential campaign site.

The point here isn’t that Richardson is trying to win the favor of voters. He already supported medical marijuana, but stepped up his efforts after learning that it was safe and, in fact, smart to do so. By taking this message to the other candidates, we might get more than just a promise to end the federal raids.

(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.)
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"Marijuana Signature Project" Not as Cool as it Sounds

Watch out folks, the Marijuana Signature Project is not a legalization initiative. It's something far more sinister.

ONDCP's latest blog post, delightfully titled "Relying on Science to Craft Drug Policy," boasts of using our tax dollars to a finance a series of science experiments aimed at figuring out where marijuana is grown:
The drug control policy office is betting on stable isotopes to identify unique markers in marijuana, distinguishing it not just by geography but also by its cultivation method — for example, indoor versus outdoor.

"It’s an epidemiological and forensic public health investigation," said David Murray, chief scientist at the agency and director of its Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center. [NYTimes]
It is just hilarious that ONDCP is spending government funds to find out information that pot growers would gladly share if it wouldn't get them arrested. Dr. Murray, I know people that could tell you for free if your marijuana was grown indoors or out.

For an added touch of cuteness, here's the scientist behind the project feigning agnosticism about the marijuana debate:
Dr. West said his involvement in the project was not tied to any particular policy judgment. "I strongly believe that part of the picture in any policy development has to be the best possible science, and in cases where my work can contribute to that, I think that’s great," he wrote in an e-mail message.
Dr. West, you gullible dork, the point isn't to determine what our marijuana policy should be. They're trying to identify cultivation hotspots and send heavily armed narc-soldiers in there to slash and burn everything. If you're not trying to advance any "particular policy judgment," get the hell away from David Murray and stop collecting research grants from ONDCP.

Honestly, I'm hugely in favor of the feds wasting drug war dollars to discover that marijuana is grown basically anywhere you could think of. This ain't exactly drilling for oil. People grow pot wherever there aren’t a lot of drug cops around and make adjustments as necessary. It shouldn't take a laboratory in Salt Lake City to tell you this.

It is typical drug war hypocrisy that ONDCP sits around conducting forensic research, while they can't find so much as a gram to enable meaningful research into the drug's hotly contested medical applications.

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Why Isn't the Drug War a Mainstream Political Issue?

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Pete Guither has a typically observant post noting the lack of serious drug policy discussion among top-tier political bloggers:
Obviously, to drug policy reformers, the war on drugs is one of the critical issues of our time -- it affects everything, from criminal justice and fundamental Constitutional rights to education to foreign policy to poverty and the inner cities, and on and on.

So it can be baffling to note the degree to which serious discussions about the drug war tend to be missing from the major political blogs on the right and the left.
Worse yet, the reluctance of established political blogs to enter the drug policy debate is dwarfed by the longstanding refusal of mainstream journalists and politicians to do so. Drug reporting in the mainstream press is an ongoing abomination, with exceptions so rare that they provoke widespread fascination when they occur.

Why then is America's political culture so desperate to avoid discussing this issue? Pete argues correctly that both parties have been so consistently bad on drug policy that neither side has moral standing to condemn the other. He's talking about bloggers, but this idea has broad implications. So long as both parties remain essentially comfortable wasting billions in tax dollars on a failed drug control strategy, there is no incentive to exhaust political capital challenging the status quo.

D.C. radio personality Kojo Nnamdi offered a complementary theory this morning on NPR, which I find equally helpful. Referencing the same excellent Washington Post story mentioned in Pete's post, Nnamdi suggested that politicians realize something is wrong, but are unsure what else to propose. There's a lot to this when you consider how ignorant most politicians are about the finer points of the war on drugs. As obvious as it is to many of us that progress can't occur until the drug war ends, this conversation is dark territory for a politician with aggressive enemies and a flimsy grip on the subject matter. Nor are they eager to familiarize themselves with an issue that lacks apparent traction and is perceived (often erroneously, but still) as politically suicidal.

Reformers struggle to explain how we'll overcome these obstacles, and I'm skeptical of anyone who thinks they've figured it out. Our watershed moment will arrive, I believe, through events beyond our control. Recent discussion of the drug war's role in financing terror provides just one example of how new priorities can raise doubts about the old ones.

The future will bring many unexpected changes, but it will never redeem drug prohibition and its infinitely corrupting, ruinous legacy. I don't know what it will take to finally put this horrible war on trial, but I'm certain we'll find out.

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Pain News

Pain Relief Network's Siobhan Reynolds and son are slated to appear on The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet --- tomorrow morning, I think, Tuesday -- a Fox network talk program that airs at 9:00am in the New York area and on various Fox stations around the country. Dr. William Mangino is out on bail and able to work on his own appeal as was hoped. Richard Paey's clemency petition has been granted expedited consideration by Gov. Crist and the Florida Board of Clemency. Visit Alex DeLuca/PRN's War on Doctors / Pain Crisis blog for info. (See our pain archive here. Subscribe to our pain feed via RSS here.
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New Mexico Medical Marijuana Update -- Richardson Says Full Steam Ahead Despite Attorney General's "Prank"

Late Thursday night we reported in the Chronicle that New Mexico's Dept. of Health had balked at supplying medical marijuana to patients following a warning from state Attorney General Gary King that he wouldn't defend state workers if the feds prosecuted them. Gov. Richardson, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has ordered the Health Dept. to comply with the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions. I'm not surprised by Richardson's stance, given how hard he fought to rescue the bill last spring when its demise had already been pronounced. Looking at the text of the law, I really have to say I think King is full of it. The law does not tell the Health Dept. to have its own employees grow or distribute marijuana; it tells the department to license people to grow it. Then those licensees will be taking their chances with the feds, for their own individual reasons. But that's not the same thing as state employees being subject to federal prosecution themselves. There have certainly been federal raids of medical marijuana providers in states that have licensed them, but not of the state agencies who have issued them licenses to protect them from state prosecution. Good for Bill Richardson, shame on Gary King, did he really think he could put that one over?
Santa Fe, NM
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Anti-Drug Researchers Claim That All High Schools are Either "Drug Infested" or "Drug Free"

Anti-drug activists are so desperate to infect society with their fears and anxieties that they routinely make up statistics designed to terrify parents and policy-makers. Such is the case with Joseph Califano of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) who announced today that 80% of high schools are "drug-infested."

Only a moment's inspection is required to discover that the people behind this research are insane. They begin by defining two types of schools:

Drug Infested: Schools at which the students surveyed had witnessed some form of drug activity

Drug Free: Schools at which the students surveyed had not witnessed drug activity

It is just so obvious that most schools are neither infested with, nor entirely free of drugs. Everything in this report is based on a false dichotomy that prevents any meaningful analysis. Califano argues that parents should remove their children from drug infested schools; a surprising declaration given that he puts 80% of schools in this category.

Jacob Sullum offers a typically superb refutation of the finer points of the study, but I want to emphasize one additional important point: the reason groups like CASA can do crazy things like claim that all schools are either drug infested or drug free is because the media never holds them accountable. The entire premise of this study is ridiculous on its face, and there is no excuse for the failure of the press to readily observe that something is wrong with this report.

Protecting children from drugs and other safety threats is an important discussion. Yet, this conversation goes nowhere when it is based on transparently nonsensical propaganda from hardcore anti-drug extremists. If Califano were correct that 4 out of 5 schools were really this dangerous, we'd already know about it.

It is also strange that Joseph Califano, who thinks the drug problem is worse than ever, advocates the continuation of the exact policies that got us here. He's a psycho, but he's right about one thing: something's got to change.

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New Afghanistan Strategy is Exactly the Same as the Old One That Didn’t Work

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When I heard the White House was creating a new strategy for countering opium cultivation in Afghanistan, I was curious. See, the U.S. government only has one counter-narcotics strategy, which is to slash and burn everything, arrest lots of people, and tell poor folks to stop being so greedy. How could they create a new strategy if they only have one idea?

Apparently, the new strategy it to try the old one again, in case it works this time:
At the roll-out, the architects of the administration's revised policy -- John Walters, U.S. director of national drug control policy, and Thomas A. Schweich, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs -- argued that the main principles underpinning the five-pillar Afghan counternarcotics strategy, announced two years ago, remained essentially correct. [World Politics Review]
It's not the strategy's fault the strategy didn't work. It's these stubborn farmers and drug lords that won't cooperate with the damn strategy:
Preliminary assessments of the data the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime plans to release next month indicate that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 15 percent during the past year, making the country responsible for approximately 95 percent of the world's total production. Although acknowledging their disappointment, U.S. officials argued this staggering figure actually presented an opportunity since any reductions in Afghan opium would make a major contribution to reducing global supplies.

Yeah, the worse things get, the more progress we could theoretically make! Just look how much room there is for improvement! Now all we need is the right strategy. Hmm, let's convene all of the eradication experts to decide how much eradication we'll need. Probably a lot.

Seriously, nothing could ever happen to make these people lose faith in drug eradication. It is their religion, and if you suggest to them that it doesn’t work, they will just look at you like you're speaking Chinese. They claim to promote crop substitution, even though they also want to spray poisons everywhere that would destroy the fields. And they still don’t get it that if any of this works, people will just grow opium somewhere else.

Only by claiming repeatedly that their ideas are "new" can the drug war geniuses in Washington, D.C. inspire any curiosity about whether their plans will succeed. They are putting lipstick on a pig, and it is an indictment of our press that such announcements are met with anything other than a yawn.

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Who's Planting All That Pot in the Woods?

Long before the Drug Czar raised eyebrows by calling pot growers "violent criminal terrorists," police in California were blaming Mexican drug cartels for increased outdoor marijuana cultivation throughout the Golden State:
…these aren't flower-power farmers growing a few stalks hydroponically for personal toking. They're organized criminal gangs — some with deep roots in Mexico — and pot helps fund their violence. [Merced Sun-Star]
There's no limit to how far they'll go to promote this idea:
"Ninety-nine percent of the plants seized in the national forests," [Special Agent] Stokes said, "were planted by members of the Mexican National Cartel which has a huge network throughout California and the west.

"We've actually tracked the dollars back to Mexico," Stokes concluded. [Mountain News]

Something doesn’t add up here. For starters, the Mexican National Cartel doesn't seem to exist. And I don’t know how you'd track dollars from a marijuana crop that was eradicated and never sold.

And then there's this from the Merced Sun-Star:

…it's extremely rare and difficult for law enforcement to bust the drug lords responsible for funding the large growing operations. Often, even the growers themselves do not know who is funding an illegal cultivation.

So really, no one has any idea who's behind this. Arrests for outdoor cultivation are extremely rare, and yet local papers throughout California eagerly and repeatedly quote law-enforcement officials who blame the problem on Mexicans.

Appeals to racial prejudice and hysteria have always been a primary propaganda tool in the drug war. Exaggerating the involvement of violent drug cartels glamorizes the process of looking for pot in the woods and casts marijuana users as funders of violence. Such claims also facilitate the Drug Czar's desperate attempt to link marijuana prohibition to the more-popular war on terror.

Whether they're Mexican gangsters or white college kids, the people planting pot in the woods are a product of marijuana prohibition. They'll never stop growing pot in the woods because it's valuable and they never get in trouble for it. The only way to stop people from planting drugs in the forest is to let them do it somewhere else.

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Police Often Lack Basic Knowledge About Marijuana

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Every year at this time, police around the country start excitedly notifying local papers that they're getting better and better at finding pot in the woods. It's a tiresome ritual, but reporters just love it, and it would never occur to them that the police sometimes don’t have a clue what they're talking about:
[Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force Commander] Compston said more growers are cloning female plants, which produce the valuable buds with higher THC levels, in order to yield a product that will be more profitable on the street. "They are basically making hybrid plants," Compston said. [Merced Sun-Star]
Maybe I'm being picky, but I think it's rather telling that a regional task force commander fundamentally misunderstands how marijuana works. All commercial marijuana is female. Male plants aren't just less profitable, they're worthless and not available for sale. So to suggest that cloning females is some sort of new trade secret is just ridiculous.

Even more amusing is the claim that these plants are hybrids. Clones, by definition, are not hybrids. They are clones, which means they're genetically identical to the mother plant. If the plants are all female, as Compston says, there can be no cross-pollination and therefore no hybrids. It sure is fun to call them "hybrids" though. How scary that sounds.

Of course, the most popular marijuana myth continues to be the pound-per-plant estimate:
Most marijuana plants are valued at $1,000 to $3,000 per plant, based on the measurement that an average plant will yield one pound of finished product per season, according to Merced County Sheriff's Detective Scott Dover. With the newer varieties' higher THC content, however, Dover said it's not uncommon to find a single plant priced up to $5,000.
Dover's right about one thing: it's not uncommon to find police estimating the value of marijuana plants at $5,000. But a marijuana plant capable of actually yielding a pound is hardly the norm. An average plant yields ¼ pound, far less than the standard one pound estimate by which police determine the supposed street value of every crop they eradicate.

The point here isn’t just that police are often ignorant about marijuana. That has been obvious for a long time. What's notable is that reporters continue to regurgitate factually incorrect statements from law-enforcement with no effort to verify the accuracy of their claims. This behavior is critical to maintaining support for marijuana prohibition, not only by reinforcing myths about the drug, but also by falsely portraying the effectiveness of efforts to eradicate it.
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Plan Mexico: The Right Name for the Wrong Idea

Architects of a new plan to subsidize Mexico's brutal drug war with U.S. tax dollars are trying to avoid the name Plan Mexico. Obviously they don't want to invite the comparison to our disastrous Plan Colombia, even though a few desperate drug warriors are still calling it a success. The refusal to name anything after it might be the closest they'll come to admitting that Plan Colombia is widely – and justly – viewed as an utter failure.

As Pete Guither notes, journalists and bloggers alike have already named the program Plan Mexico. So while the details remain to be announced, the stigma of our previous and continuing failures in this area will inevitably haunt any effort to expand our destructive drug war diplomacy.

Although Plan Mexico will surely prioritize scorched-earth drug war demolition tactics, The New Republic notes the bizarre possibility that some funding will be directed towards drug prevention:

One element of that aid package is likely to be funding for drug-use prevention, according to Luis Astorga, a drug policy expert at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. This is a strange new twist in the complex partnership between the U.S. and Mexico to fight drugs. And the U.S. isn't in much of a position to tell anyone how to prevent drug use.

Damn straight. Gosh, if we knew anything about drug prevention, these bloody wars over who gets to sell drugs to us wouldn’t be such a mind-bending crisis in the first place. The irony is just staggering:

When the U.S. cracked down on domestic meth production early this decade, Mexican cartels adept in trafficking cocaine and marijuana jumped at the chance to supply a new product.

The drug has traveled south, and is now available in every major city.

"Mexico's market is not big, but it has grown, mostly in urban zones," said Jorge Chabat, a crime and security expert at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City. "Availability has certainly contributed to consumption now that meth is produced in Mexico."

Let me get this straight. The U.S. banned pseudo-ephedrine-based cold medicines, and domestic meth production declined. Mexican cartels stepped in to fill the void, resulting in increased availability and use of meth in Mexico. Now the U.S. is poised to give drug prevention funding to Mexico due in part to a meth problem that didn’t even exist before we essentially exported our meth manufacturing problem to that country. Wow. Just wow.

At the end of the day, it is and always has been the massive drug consumption of U.S. citizens that fuels violence and instability throughout Mexico, Colombia, and beyond. We could spend every dollar we have bribing foreigners to stop selling us drugs and it wouldn’t make a difference. We could hire every man woman and child in these countries to help stop us from getting high, and they would just laugh all the way to the bank.

Too many American drug users are already sending their paychecks to Mexico. It is sheer idiocy to suggest that we send our tax-dollars there as well.

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Calling All Facebook Members…

Students for Sensible Drug Policy needs your help. Facebook has a cool contest where non-profits can win a $1,000 grant just by collecting votes. All you have to do is vote for them before tomorrow. If SSDP gets the most votes, they win $1,000 to help provide materials for their chapters this Fall.

Click "read full post" to see the instructions. It's really easy.

Help SSDP win $1,000 without donating anything!


If it took just one minute to help Students for Sensible Drug Policy win a $1,000 grant, and you didn't have to donate a single penny out of your own pocket, wouldn't you do it?

Well, now you can! Facebook has a new Speed Granting application that allows organizations to win grants based solely on how many votes they get. And over the past week, SSDP has garnered nearly 700 votes, slipping in and out of first place in an exciting neck-and-neck competition with another organization. As I write this, we are a mere 20 votes behind them, so your vote can make a big difference!

If you help us win, the money will go directly to supplying materials to our chapters for a national Day of Action to repeal the law that takes away financial aid from students with drug convictions.

Here's what you can do to help:

1) Visit

2) Allow the application to install itself in your Facebook profile (don't worry, this won't install anything on your computer, and you can remove the application from your profile after the contest is over on Wednesday).

3) Click the "Vote for this" link on the right side of the page and confirm your vote.

Thank you! Since we are so close to winning, your vote helps a lot. However, if you have a little more time to help out today or tomorrow (the contest ends at midnight on Tuesday, August 14th), here are some ways you can ensure that SSDP wins...

4) Click the "Share+" button to post it to your profile.

5) Invite your friends to vote for SSDP! Just RSVP for this Facebook "event," then click "Invite Friends to Come," and start checking the boxes next to each of your friends:

6) Spread the word however you can (forward this e-mail, share the link on instant messenger, post on friends' Facebook walls, etc)!

Thanks so much. Remember, with your help, we will soon have $1,000 that will go directly toward repealing the law that has taken away financial aid from nearly 200,000 people with drug convictions.

Cast your vote for education today!

Have a great day,

Micah Daigle, Field Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

P.S. Are you a student, but not a member of an SSDP chapter yet? Start one at your school this semester by visiting

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drug war killings

One of the articles we published in the Chronicle this morning is a newsbrief about investigations starting in Thailand about the 2,500 extra-judicial drug war killings. User "eco" has posted a couple of pictures in the comment section at the bottom of the page, with a link to a web site that has more. If you have the heart for it, you can see them here.

Cocaine Shortages Don't Prevent Violence, They Cause It

The best thing you can ever hope for in the drug war is a statistical anomaly. That's why this summer's temporary cocaine shortages have prompted multiple gleeful posts at ONDCP's blog. Courtesy of a commenter on Phil's recent post on this topic, here's a great example of how little the drug czar actually knows about the relationship between drugs and crime:
In the past, Walters said a shortage of drugs has led to a decrease in violence. "The vast majority of the violence is committed by the user under the influence of drugs," Walters said. "When there's a contraction in the market, there isn't as much violence. There's more likelihood that individuals who can't get the drug will seek detoxification, will seek treatment." [Indianapolis Star]
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Planet Walters, a magical world where all your wishes come true. Oh wait, darn, we're on Earth:
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson believes that the shortage in cocaine could be to blame for a spike in certain violent crimes close to home.

Jackson said that federal indictments that have yanked dozens of suspected dope dealers off the streets in recent months have increased competition - and violence - in the drug trade. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

So in the short-term, violence goes up, not down. And in the long-term cocaine prices go down, not up. That is just Drug Enforcement 101, and it has been perfectly documented and understood for a very long time.

Let's play a game. Pretend you're the Mayor of Cleveland. Disruptions in the local drug market have produced a rash of brutal summer violence. Then you read the newspaper to find the Drug Czar declaring that disrupted drug markets lead to order and tranquility because everyone just gives up and goes to rehab. As the sirens blare outside your office, it must be just galling to watch the genius drug war experts in Washington, D.C. predicting an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.

It gets tiresome trying to think of new ways to explain how odd it is that there's a whole White House office dedicated to making up fictitious criminal justice theories. You could fill a book with what they don’t know about drug enforcement and, in fact, many have.

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and yet another letter from a medical marijuana patient that the feds claim don't exist...

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We received this message earlier in the week:
I have had to move back home to a state that does not allow the medical use of marijuana -- the state I was in before, Maine, allowed it -- and it is very hard for me to find relief from my pain now. My doctor has increased my medications twofold, and I do not get the pain control I had on 1/2 the narcotics with the smoke. I just hope some day the government will stop demonizing a very useful tool, and allow us who really get relief from it without abuse of the drug.
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