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Feature: Reed College in the Crosshairs of Prosecutorial Drug Crackdown

While Oregon sees hundreds of drug overdose deaths a year -- from both illegal and prescription drugs -- a pair of publicity-seeking state and federal prosecutors have made a small Portland liberal arts college where two students have died of heroin overdoses in the past two years the public focus of their attack on the drug trade. Last week, Reed College President Colin Diver was summoned to the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, where he was warned that the school could face a cutoff of federal funds, including student loans, if it is not found to be taking "adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity," starting with this weekend's annual school year-end bash, Renn Fayre, which the prosecutors vowed will be filled with undercover police determined to quash drug use and sales.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/rennfayre.jpg
Renn Fayre (sarako on flickr.com)
According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, 119 people died from heroin overdoses in 2008 and 127 in 2009. Including prescription drug overdoses, 492 Oregonians died of ODs in 2008, 270 from prescription opiates. For some reason, the State Medical Examiner did not include prescription drug deaths in the 2009 figures.

In Multnomah County alone, where Reed is located, 63 people died of heroin overdoses in 2008 and 71 in 2009. That's more than one a week for both years. But no other single overdose or pair of overdose deaths has excited the reaction displayed by state and federal prosecutors who went after Reed last week.

Reed makes an excellent target for drug warriors. For decades, the academically rigorous school has had a reputation as a counterculture haven where drug use is accepted. While that reputation is overblown and outdated, students say, it makes the college a handy lightning rod for those engaged in the culture wars.

Enter US Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton and Multnomah County (Portland) District Attorney Michael Schrunk. In an email to Divers that they asked be forwarded to the Reed community, the prosecutorial pair used the deaths of the two students as a battle cry for a crackdown.

After lamenting the loss of the students, they wrote: "But while now may be a time for reflection and grief, it is also a time for action. It is now time for the Reed community to abandon the myth that drug use is a safe and acceptable form of exploration. It is time for Renn Fayre and Reed to adopt a zero tolerance policy prohibiting illegal drugs flat-out."

It isn't beatnik days anymore, prosecutors wrote, in a bid to appeal to Reed's countercultural heritage: "The illegal drug trade has changed radically since the days when giants like Alan (sic) Ginsberg and Gary Snyder '51 roamed campus here. The fact is that the drug trade is now fueled by one of the most potent forces in the West: greed."

The pair then explained at length how "drug cartels" are "targeting middle class and wealthier kids," then went on to say they made no distinction between non-lethal drug like marijuana and drugs like heroin. "Don't get sucked in by this bogus Siren call. The fact is that if the Reed community insists that this is 'not our problem' and tries to draw distinctions between 'hard' and other drugs, you will send the message that drug use can be safe... It is time for the Reed community to embrace the notion that drug use is not safe and it will not be tolerated -- without fine print, without provisos, and without conditions."

They then issued a blunt warning: "As the top federal prosecutor in Oregon and the Multnomah County District attorney, we have a responsibility to this community -- including you and your families. We cannot, and we will not stand by if drug use is tolerated on your campus. We cannot, and we will not stand by if Renn Fayre is a repeat of years past -- where even in the wake of Alejandro Lluch's death drug use and distribution were allegedly rampant."

Finally, the prosecutorial pair gallantly offered their assistance: "We stand ready to help in any way we can. If need be, we will use all the tools available to us in federal and state law enforcement. We owe that to the people of our community, including you."

A suitably cowed President Diver responded with his own email to the Reed community: "My message regarding drug use at Renn Fayre 2010 is very simple: Do not use illegal drugs. That means no marijuana, hallucinogens, designer drugs, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, or other illegal substances."

Diver said he got a forceful and direct message from the prosecutors: "Shut down illegal drug use and distribution at Reed College, starting with Renn Fayre. Based on ongoing criminal investigations, including conversations with current and former students and other sources, these officials have heard numerous allegations about drug use at Reed, and particularly at Renn Fayre."

Diver also mentioned the threats he received: "In the course of the conversation, the US Attorney pointedly referred to a federal statute that makes it a criminal and civil offense for anyone knowingly to operate any facility for the purpose of using illegal drugs. We were also reminded of federal legislation that allows all federal funding -- including student loans -- to be withdrawn from any college or university that fails to take adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity."

On Wednesday, Diver was forced to clarify. According to Inside Higher Education News, the US Attorney only cited the federal crack house statute, under which Reed could face large fines, not the Drug-Free Schools Act, which is the statute that could impact student loans, Diver said. While the US Attorney "referred to federal legislation that could be applied to the college if it failed to crack down more forcefully," he never cited the Drug-Free Schools Act, Diver conceded.

In his email to the Reed community, Diver also delivered a more immediate warning: "We have been told that, during next weekend's Renn Fayre celebration, undercover Portland police officers will be circulating on campus, uniformed Portland police officers will be on alert to respond immediately to calls, and prosecutors stand ready to process criminal charges."

The prosecutorial shakedown has stirred controversy both on campus and in the broader Portland community, with many defending Reed's students, while others say the "druggies" need to be brought under control. In any case, Reed's reputation has complicated its relations with law enforcement.

"There's always a market here for a 'Reed is strange and weird' story," Bear Wilner-Nugent, a Reed alumnus, one-time director of Renn Fayre, and Portland criminal lawyer told USA Today this week. "I think it's going to scare students using drugs to be more underground. I think it's going to discourage students from seeking help for drug problems. It's a waste of resources on what is a tiny fingernail clipping in the drug problem," he said. "It's showboating."

Wilner-Nugent will be attending Renn Fayre again this year, and he said it compares favorably with end-of-semester parties at other schools. "There's a less macho attitude to it, there is less drinking and so you don't see the sexual harassment compared to other institutions," he said. "They are busting one of the saner and healthier college parties in the nation."

"This is the first time any college president has been threatened with the loss of federal funding because of campus drug use, so that's pretty interesting," said Jon Perri, West Coast coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "We need to be criticizing those prosecutors, as well as law enforcement, for sending in undercover agents and spreading misinformation about drug dealers coming in to target rich white kids. And we need to keep after Reed President Divers, who after his sit-down with prosecutors, basically said don't do illegal drugs, then mentioned a long list of drugs that doesn't include alcohol, which does more harm," Perri pointed out.

"Our chapter there is actively participating in the planning for Renn Fayre, and they will be waging a Good Samaritan policy campaign, while the feds are coming in and trying to do the same old stuff," Perri. "Reed SSDP is trying to pitch it as instead of trying to increase penalties, try something that will save lives."

Perri said he worked with students at Reed to reactivate the Good Samaritan campaign after the second student death. Good Samaritan policies allow drug overdose victims or their friends to seek help without fear of arrest, or, in the case of colleges, academic discipline. "I encouraged them to get it back up and running," he said. "They were wary of starting a campaign because they didn't want to be seen as politicizing those kids' deaths, but that's what the prosecutors have now done."

While by all accounts there has been drug use at Renn Fayre in past years, it is a much milder, less raucous event than many end-of-year campus parties, with a penchant for hallucinogens -- not heroin -- and an abundance of weed. Renn Fayre also features full-body human chess, softball tournaments, a great feast, and lots of music. And alcohol for those over 21.

"Everyone here fears that come Saturday there could be mass arrests for marijuana possession and underage drinking," said Reed SSDP chapter head McKenzie Warren. "It some senses, it's not totally surprising because there has been a lot of local press aimed at Reed, but there is a lot of worry," she reported. "ODs happen all the time, but the homeless population isn't going to get the same focus as a well-known private liberal arts college," said Warren. "Over the years, Reed earned a reputation as a crazy drug-taking school. Maybe it once was, way back in the 1970s, but these days the reputation outstrips the reality."

Reed SSDP is working with other campus groups to protect students from the tender ministrations of law enforcement, Warren said. "We have a number of groups working on harm reduction this weekend, we've had a Reed alumni who is a lawyer come and give talks on how to deal with the police, especially with respect to dorm rooms, and we printed up 1,500 ACLU know your rights cards. We've also been putting up flyers and posters."

And it will push for a full-fledged Good Samaritan policy. "We have only half a Good Samaritan policy," said Warren. "The school just adopted a new implementation plan for our drug policy, and it differentiates pot and alcohol from harder drugs. There is a Good Samaritan policy for alcohol and marijuana, but not for harder drugs. The administration is trying to crack down."

A Good Samaritan policy for alcohol makes sense; for marijuana, the need for it is much less. But a Good Samaritan policy that excludes the drugs that are most likely to kill people doesn't make much sense. There is work to be done at Reed, and the Good Samaritan battle looks like a good way to counter the weight of the prosecutorial offensive.

Latin America: Mexico's Cartels Declare War on the Zetas

[Editor's Note: There is no Mexico Drug War Update this week. It will be back next week.]

With the prohibition-related bloodshed in Mexico continuing apace, Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- are engaged not only in brutal conflict but also in shifting alliances. According to reports from Mother Jones and Al Jazeera, three rival cartels have joined forces in a battle to the death with the Zetas, the former soldiers turned Gulf cartel hit-men who eventually turned on their own employers.

Citing sources from the Mexican police and the DEA, Al Jazeera reported that the Gulf, La Familia, and Sinaloa cartels had formed an alliance to fight the Zetas in the border state of Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. Mother Jones reported that the alliance is known as the New Federation and has put out YouTube videos threatening the Zetas.

In one video directed to the Mexican public, the New Federation said: "Without the 'Z' you will live without fear... If you are a Zeta, run because the MONSTER is coming... the new alliance has raised its weapons to fuck the Zetas because they have undermined the drug trafficking business with their kidnappings, extortions, etc. To sum it up, they don't give a shit about the freedom and tranquility of the Mexican people."

"It's an issue of a common enemy," Will Glaspy, the head of the DEA's office in McAllen, told Al Jazeera. "The Zetas have been trying to wage war on everybody for a while," he said. "It's been well-documented that the Gulf cartel has formed alliances with the Sinaloa cartel and La Familia to wage war against the Zetas."

The Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has also been busy in Ciudad Juarez, where the Associated Press reported last Friday that the cartel had defeated the Juarez cartel in a bloody battle to control the lucrative "franchise" for smuggling drugs across the river into El Paso and beyond. The AP cited US intelligence sources and the FBI.

That sounded about right to Mexican Federal Police Chief Facundo Rosas, who said that while Mexican authorities are still working to confirm the US assessment, "These are valid theories. If you control the city, you control the drugs. And it appears to be Chapo."

"The onslaught against the Juarez cartel has been very brutal, not only by the Chapo Guzman cartel but also the military," said Tony Payan, an expert on the Juarez drug war at the University of Texas-El Paso. "I don't think by any means the Juarez cartel is done, but it's a shadow of its former self."

If true, a Sinaloa cartel victory in Ciudad Juarez could augur a decline in violence there. Some 5,000 people have been killed in the city since Guzman's gang moved in on Ciudad Juarez in 2008. Now, with the Sinaloa cartel in control of smuggling into and out of the city, the violence may be limited to local gang turf wars over retail drug sales in the city.

According to Payan, much of the recent violence in Juarez has been Guzman's men finishing off Juarez cartel "stragglers" who continued to deal drugs on city streets. The retail level violence has pitted Juarez cartel-aligned street gangs the Aztecas and La Linea against gangs affiliated with Guzman, including the Mexicles and the Killer Clowns.

"The killings, they are mostly small retail people," Payan said. "I think they are Aztecas, falling like flies all over the city."

And so it goes with Mexico's prohibition-related violence. Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in late 2006, deploying up to 50,000 military troops, several key cartel figures have been killed or arrested, but the cartels themselves always reconstitute, and the drug trade continues. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to climb, past 19,000 by the Chronicle's count, but now past 22,000 according to a Mexican government report released this week.

Feature: Drug Czar Gets Grilled on "New Directions in Drug Policy" By Skeptical Solons, Activists, and Academics

Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the Obama administration is seeking "a new direction in drug policy," but was challenged both by lawmakers and by a panel of academics and activists on the point during the same hearing. The action took place at a hearing of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee in which the ONDCP drug budget and the forthcoming 2010 National Drug Strategy were the topics at hand.

The hearing comes in the wake of various drug policy reforms enacted by the Obama administration, including a Justice Department policy memo directing US attorneys and the DEA to lay off medical marijuana in states where it is legal, the removal of the federal ban on needle exchange funding, and administration support for ending or reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders.

But it also comes in the wake of the announcement of the ONDCP 2011 drug budget, which at $15.5 billion is up more than $500 million from this year. While treatment and prevention programs got a 6.5% funding increase, supply reduction (law enforcement, interdiction, and eradication) continues to account for almost exactly the same percentage of the overall budget -- 64%--as it did in the Bush administration. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction (prevention and treatment).

Citing health care costs from drug use and rising drug overdose death figures, the nation "needs to discard the idea that enforcement alone can eliminate our nation's drug problem," Kerlikowske said. "Only through a comprehensive and balanced approach -- combining tough, but fair, enforcement with robust prevention and treatment efforts -- will we be successful in stemming both the demand for and supply of illegal drugs in our country."

So far, at least, when it comes to reconfiguring US drug control efforts, Kerlikowske and the Obama administration are talking the talk, but they're not walking the walk. That was the contention of subcommittee chair Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and several of the session's panelists.

"Supply side spending has not been effective," said Kucinich, challenging the budget breakdown.

"Supply side spending is important for a host of reasons, whether we're talking about eradication or our international partners where drugs are flowing," replied the drug czar.

"Where's the evidence?" Kucinich demanded. "Describe with statistics what evidence you have that this approach is effective."

Kerlikowske was reduced to citing the case of Colombia, where security and safety of the citizenry has increased. But he failed to mention that despite about $4 billion in US anti-drug aid in the past decade, Colombian coca and cocaine production remain at high levels.

"What parts of your budget are most effective?" asked Kucinich.

"The most cost-effective approaches would be prevention and treatment," said Kerlikowske.

"What percentage is supply and what percentage is demand oriented?" asked Rep. Jim Jordan (D-OH).

"It leans much more toward supply, toward interdiction and enforcement," Kerlikowske conceded.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) was more old school, demanding a tougher response to Mexico's wave of prohibition-related violence and questioning the decision not to eradicate opium in Afghanistan. "The Southwest border is critical. I would hope the administration would give you the resources you need for a Plan Colombia on steroids," said Issa.

"There is no eradication program in Afghanistan," Issa complained. "I was in areas we did control and we did nothing about eradication."

"I don't think anyone is comfortable seeing US forces among the poppy fields," Kerlikowske replied. "Ambassador Holbrooke has taken great pains to explain the rationale for that," he added, alluding to Holbrooke's winning argument that eradication would push poppy farming peasants into the hands of the Taliban.

"The effectiveness of eradication seems to be near zero, which is very interesting from a policy point of view," interjected Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL).

Kucinich challenged Kerlikowske about harm reduction. "At the UN, you said the US supported many interventions, but you said that, 'We do not use the phrase harm reduction.' You are silent on both syringe exchange programs and the issue of harm reduction interventions generally," he noted. "Do you acknowledge that these interventions can be effective in reducing death and disease, does your budget proposed to fund intervention programs that have demonstrated positive results in drug overdose deaths, and what is the basis of your belief that the term harm reduction implies promotion of drug use?"

Kerlikowske barely responded. "We don't use the term harm reduction because it is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "People talk about it as if it were legalization, but personally, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about whether to put a definition on it."

When challenged by Kucinich specifically about needle exchange programs, Kerlikowske conceded that they can be effective. "If they are part of a comprehensive drug reduction effort, they make a lot of sense," he said.

The grilling of Kerlikowske took up the first hour of the two-hour session. The second hour consisted of testimony from Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann, Brookings Institute foreign policy fellow and drugs and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown, former ONDCP employee and drug policy analyst John Carnevale, and University of Maryland drug policy expert Peter Reuter. It didn't get any better for drug policy orthodoxy.

"Let me be frank," said Nadelmann as he began his testimony. "We regard US drug policy as a colossal failure, a gross violation of human rights and common sense," he said, citing the all too familiar statistics about arrests, incarceration, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and drug overdose deaths. "All of these are an egregious violation of fundamental American values."

"Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Nadelmann. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition."

Nadelmann identified four problems with current drug strategy:

  • The drug war's flawed performance measures;
  • The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget;
  • The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies;
  • The administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies.

"They want to move toward a public health model that focuses on reducing demand for drugs, but no drug policy will succeed unless there are the resources to implement it," said Carnevale. "Past budgets emphasizing supply reduction failed to produce results, and our drug policy stalled -- there has been no change in overall drug use in this decade."

Carnevale noted that the 2011 ONDCP budget gave the largest percentage increase to prevention and treatment, but that its priorities were still skewed toward supply reduction. "The budget continues to over-allocate funds where they are least effective, in interdiction and source country programs."

"The drug trade poses multiple and serious threats, ranging from threats to security and the legal economy to threats to legality and political processes," said Felbab-Brown, "but millions of people depend on the illegal drug trade for a livelihood. There is no hope supply-side policies can disrupt the global drug trade."

Felbab-Brown said she was "encouraged" that the Obama administration had shifted toward a state-building approach in Afghanistan, but that she had concerns about how policy is being operationalized there. "We need to adopt the right approach to sequencing eradication in Afghanistan," she said. "Alternative livelihoods and state-building need to be comprehensive, well-funded, and long-lasting, and not focused on replacing the poppy crop."

"Eradication in Afghanistan has little effect on domestic supply and reduction," said Kucinich. "Should these kinds of programs be funded?"

"I am quite convinced that spending money for eradication, especially aerial eradication, is not effective," replied Carnevale. "The point of eradication in Colombia was to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the US, but I see no such effect."

"We're dealing with global commodity markets," said Nadelmann. "If one source is knocked out, someone else will pop up. What's missing is any sort of strategic analysis or planning. If you accept that these drugs are going to be produced, you need to manage it to reduce the harms."

"The history of the last 20 years of the cocaine and heroin trade shows how much mobility there is in cultivation and trafficking," said Reuter. "What we do has a predictable effect. When we pushed down on trafficking in Florida, that lead to increases in Mexico. The evidence is striking that all we are doing is moving the trade."

Times are changing in Washington. What was once unassailable drug war orthodoxy is not under direct assault, and not just from activists and academics, but among members of Congress itself. But while the drug czar talks the happy talk about "new directions in drug policy," the Obama administration -- with some notable exceptions -- looks to still have a drug policy on cruise control.

Congressional Hearing: ONDCP's Fiscal Year 2011 National Drug Control Budget: Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?

This Congressional hearing looks at the Obama Administration's drug war policies. The U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), will hold a hearing on the White House's drug war budget and forthcoming 2010 National Drug Control Strategy. The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the drug czar), Gil Kerlikowske, and the executive director of the anti-drug-war Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, will both be testifying. Mr. Nadelmann testimony will focus on: * The drug war's flawed performance measures; * The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget; * The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies; * The Administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies. The hearing comes in the wake of significant drug policy reforms under the Obama Administration, including a directive urging federal law enforcement agencies to stop arresting medical marijuana patients and caregivers in compliance with their state's medical marijuana law, and the repeal of the two decade old federal syringe funding ban, which prohibited states from funding syringe exchange programs with federal money to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Additionally, a few weeks ago a White House backed bi-partisan bill reforming the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. The Administration's drug war budget, however, is still focused overwhelmingly on failed supply side policies and ignores important harm reduction measures. Director Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn't like to use the term "war on drugs" because "[w]e're not at war with people in this country." Yet 64% of their budget - virtually the same as under the Bush Administration - focuses on largely futile interdiction efforts as well as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating extraordinary numbers of people. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction. The budget also ignores life-saving harm reduction measures such as naloxone-distribution and heroin assisted treatment, widely viewed around the world as a necessary part of any balanced, evidenced based drug strategy. "Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition."
Date: 
Wed, 04/14/2010 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Location: 
Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20003
United States

Press Release: Drug Czar and DPA's Ethan Nadelmann Testify on Obama's Drug War Policies

For Immediate Release: April 13, 2010 Contact: Tony Newman, tel: 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper, tel: 202-669-6430 Wednesday: Congressional Hearing Looks at Obama Administration's Drug War Policies Both Nation's Drug Czar, Gil Kerkikowske, and Nation's Leading Critic of Drug War, Ethan Nadelmann, to Testify Despite Significant Reforms, Administration's 2011 Budget Criticized for Mirroring Bush's Emphasis on Arrests and Incarceration over Treatment The U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on the White House's drug war budget and forthcoming 2010 National Drug Control Strategy. The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the drug czar), Gil Kerlikowske, and the executive director of the anti-drug-war Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, will both be testifying. Mr. Nadelmann testimony will focus on: * The drug war's flawed performance measures; * The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget; * The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies; * The Administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies. The hearing comes in the wake of significant drug policy reforms under the Obama Administration, including a directive urging federal law enforcement agencies to stop arresting medical marijuana patients and caregivers in compliance with their state's medical marijuana law, and the repeal of the two decade old federal syringe funding ban, which prohibited states from funding syringe exchange programs with federal money to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Additionally, a few weeks ago a White House backed bi-partisan bill reforming the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. The Administration's drug war budget, however, is still focused overwhelmingly on failed supply side policies and ignores important harm reduction measures. Director Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn't like to use the term "war on drugs" because "[w]e're not at war with people in this country." Yet 64% of their budget - virtually the same as under the Bush Administration - focuses on largely futile interdiction efforts as well as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating extraordinary numbers of people. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction. The budget also ignores life-saving harm reduction measures such as naloxone-distribution and heroin assisted treatment, widely viewed around the world as a necessary part of any balanced, evidenced based drug strategy. "Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition." What: Congressional hearing titled, "ONDCP's Fiscal Year 2011 National Drug Control Budget: Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?" When: 10:00AM, Wednesday, April 14th. Where: 2154 Rayburn HOB ###
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Feature: The Clock is Ticking on Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery's Extradition

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery's battle to avoid being extradited to the US to serve a five-year federal prison sentence for selling pot seeds over the Internet continues as the clock ticks down toward May 10 -- the date by which Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is to decide whether to okay his extradition or not. Emery and his supporters are fighting to the bitter end, and they're picking up some significant support along the way.

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Marc and Jodie Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture)
Last month, members of all three major English speaking political parties, including the ruling Conservatives, handed in 12,000 signatures on petitions to parliament demanding he not be extradited and addressed the House of Commons on the issue. Shortly thereafter, the French speaking Bloc Quebecois announced it, too, was joining the cause of keeping Emery in Canada.

Emery was Canada's best known marijuana legalization advocate and a leading funder of marijuana reform groups there and in other countries when he was arrested in Vancouver on a US warrant for marijuana seed-selling after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle. He faced up to life in prison under the US charges.

Emery, his supporters, and other marijuana reformers have argued that he was arrested for political reasons -- for his support of the legalization cause -- and the gleeful words of then DEA administrator Karen Tandy provided valuable ammunition for the claim. Emery's arrest was "a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement," Tandy said in a statement the day of the bust.

"His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated nearly $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on," Tandy gloated.

For four years, he and his employees and fellow indictees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, negotiated with federal prosecutors, before Rainey and Williams struck plea deals that allowed them to simply remain in Canada. Then, last September, Emery himself agreed to a plea bargain that would see him serve five years in US prison.

Emery was detained in Canada on September 28 and was jailed until mid-November before he was released pending the justice minister's decision on whether to approve his removal to the United States. Since then, the campaign to block his extradition has gone all out. Even in prison, Emery did podcasts -- "potcasts," the magazine calls them -- and since his release, he has been as media-friendly as ever. He has used his Cannabis Culture magazine as a bully pulpit and established a No Extradition! web site to further the cause.

The high point of the campaign so far came on March 12 when three members of parliament, Conservative MP Scott Reid, New Democratic MP Libby Davies, and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood before parliament in Ottawa to deliver the petitions. All three told the Commons that extraditing Emery for what is considered a non-serious offense in Canada was unfair.

MP Reid, a Conservative leader in the House, reminded the Commons that the Extradition Act specifies that the justice minister "shall refuse to surrender a person when that surrender could involve unjust or undue or oppressive actions by the country to which he is being extradited."

Reid pointed out that Health Canada used to refer medical marijuana patients to Emery's seed bank. He also noted that Canadian courts had found that $200 fines were appropriate for seed sellers, while Emery faced up to life for the same offense in the US.

"It appears to me that we have assisted a foreign government arresting a man for doing something that we wouldn't arrest him for doing in Canada," said MP Dosanjh. "As a former premier and a former attorney-general, I sense a certain degree of unfairness in the process. Countries don't usually extradite people to countries where they could face inordinate penalties."

"Many dedicated individuals have collected approximately 12,000 petitions reflecting a strong belief that Mr. Emery or any Canadian should not face harsh punishment in the US for selling cannabis seeds on the Internet when it is not worthy of prosecution in Canada," said MP Davies. "The petitioners call on Parliament to make it clear to the Minister of Justice that such an extradition should be opposed. I am very pleased to present this; I think it is a very strong reflection of Canadians' views on this matter and we hope that the Parliament of Canada will act on this, and certainly the Minister of Justice will take this into account."

"My prospects are getting better," said an ever optimistic Emery. "There have been more than 50,000 communications -- phone calls, letters, emails -- to the justice minister, and we have members of all four major political parties, including the governing party, presenting petitions urging the minister not to extradite. We also have the last three mayors of Vancouver agreeing to sign a statement urging the government not to extradite."

Support is palpable in his adopted hometown, Emery said. "I can't go 50 feet in this city without people stopping me on the street," he said from his downtown Vancouver building. "I have lots of support in this province and throughout the country. I enjoy a lot of positive affirmation. For me, this has been excellent -- I've been giving interviews all over the world, and the movie 'Prince of Pot' is being translated into Mongolian! The national TV network there has permission to do two documentaries on pot, and I'm in both of them."

Now, all eyes turn toward Justice Minister Nicholson. A month from now, he will decide whether to extradite Emery or not -- or he may punt. The minister has the option of applying for an extension on his decision.

There is precedent for the minister to seek an extension, said attorney Kirk Tousaw, who has worked on Emery's case. "Renee Boje was committed for extradition, and the decision sat on the desk of three different justice ministers for five years," he pointed out. "Renee was a US citizen who committed offenses in America, so she seemed like a much more reasonable prospect for extradition than Marc, who has never gone to America or committed any crimes there."

In the meantime, the campaign to keep Emery in Canada continues to gather support and argue the position that his was a politically motivated prosecution. "If the minister believes the prosecution to be politically motivated, he is prohibited from extraditing," said attorney Kirk Tousaw, who has worked on Emery's case. "I don't know if he will take that position. The minister may need a lot of time to consider his options."

The calculations may be as much political as legal, Tousaw said. "This is a minority Conservative government that is attempting to pass unpopular mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and there will be an election sometime this year or early next year," he argued. "I think that extraditing Marc Emery will be politically costly to the Conservative Party. I'm not sure they can afford to do it if they want to form a majority government."

"The government does want to extradite me," said Emery, "but the public pressure not to do it is substantial. There is nothing to be gaining by extraditing me, and it will piss off a couple of million voters in the next election."

A month from now, we will know whether the Conservative government is willing to sacrifice the gadfly Emery on the altar of the drug war, or whether it is too concerned about the potential backlash to either reject extradition or postpone the decision.

Legalization: Drug Czar Avoids Answering Question on Fed Response to California Initiative

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske declined to directly answer a question about how the federal government would respond if California voters passed the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act, the marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oaksterdam entrepreneur Richard Lee. Kerlikowske's no comment came in a Thursday webcast on ABC News' Top Line program.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/gilkerlikowske.jpg
Gil Kerlikowske in his Seattle days
Kerlikowske said he wouldn't speculate on how the Obama administration would respond to a legalization victory in November. "Since it hasn't passed -- right now it would be improper to speculate on what the federal government's role is," he said.

The Obama administration has made it clear it would respect the rights of medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it would respond in the same way to legalization for personal use.

When prodded, Kerlikowske said the federal government could respond in a variety of ways, including filing lawsuits to litigate differences between state and federal drug laws. "You can envision a lot of different things," he said.

Let's hope that come November, the question is no longer hypothetical and the administration will be forced to grapple with the question of how to deal with Californians having voted to free the weed. Then things could get really interesting.

Feds: National Drug Intelligence Center Predicts Continued Failure in Drug War

In a report released Thursday, the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) said that overall, the availability of illegal drugs is increasing and that "the overall threat posed by illicit drugs will not diminish in the near term." The announcement comes after more than four decades of harsh state and federal policies designed to curb the supply of illicit drugs.

The report, the National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, also once again identified Mexico's so-called drug cartels as the "single greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States." It blamed the cartels, or DTOs (drug trafficking organizations), as it more accurately but less catchily refers to them, for much of the increase in illegal drug availability.

The NDIC noted that the prevalence of four out of five of the major drugs of concern -- heroin, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamine -- was "widespread and increasing in some areas." Only cocaine availability was down, with NDIC reporting persistent shortages.

Heroin availability was up, and NDIC said that was "partly attributable to increased production in Mexico," where opium production more than doubled between 2007 and 2008. Meth availability was up "as the result of higher production in Mexico," and "sustained" US domestic production. Also, "marijuana production increased in Mexico." Only with MDMA did NDIC point the finger at anyone else -- in this case, Asian DTOs who produce it in Canada.

"Mexican DTOs, already the predominant wholesale suppliers of illicit drugs in the United States, are gaining even greater strength in eastern drug markets where Colombian DTO strength is diminishing," NDIC said as it pronounced them the greatest drug trafficking threat. It included the following bullet points making the case:

  • Mexican DTOs were the only DTOs operating in every region of the country.
  • Mexican DTOs increased their cooperation with US-based street and prison gangs to distribute drugs. In many areas, these gangs were using their alliances with Mexican DTOs to facilitate an expansion of their midlevel and retail drug distribution operations into more rural and suburban areas.
  • In 2009, midlevel and retail drug distribution in the United States was dominated by more than 900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities.
  • Mexican DTOs increased the flow of severaldrugs (heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana) into the United States, primarily because they increased production of those drugs in Mexico.
  • Drugs smuggled into the United States by Mexican DTOs usually are transported in private or commercial vehicles; however, Mexican DTOs also use cross-border tunnels, subterranean passageways, and low-flying small or ultra-light aircraft to move drugs from Mexico into the United States.
  • Mexican DTOs smuggled bulk cash drug proceeds totaling tens of billions of dollars from the United States through the Southwest Border and into Mexico. Much of the bulk cash (millions each week) was consolidated by the DTOs in several key areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and North Carolina, where it was prepared for transport to the US-Mexico border and then smuggled into Mexico.
  • According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Mexican DTO members or associates acquire thousands of weapons each year in Arizona, California, and Texas and smuggle them across the border to Mexico.

The report came as a senior US delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returns from Mexico City, where it spent two days in talks with Mexican officials about increasing cooperation in their joint struggle against the drug traffic.

The DEA is Going Rogue!

You Can Make a Difference

 

Dear friends,

Donate today and help us end DEA abuses. 


Donate Now

Even a directive from the president hasn’t stopped the DEA from bullying the medical marijuana community.  Help us hold the DEA accountable by donating today.

Last month, DEA agents raided the home of a Colorado medical marijuana supplier who was providing sick people with the medicine they need.  The raid came months after President Obama told federal law enforcement to stop arresting people who grow or supply medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.

We’re determined to end the harassment of medical marijuana patients and providers.  By making a donation today, you can help hold the DEA responsible for its abuses. 

The DEA is defying the president’s directive on medical marijuana under the watchful eye of acting director Michele Leonhart, a Bush administration holdover and drug war zealot.  We're mounting a campaign to block her from becoming the permanent head of the DEA.

With your generous support, we can take the power to halt progress out of Michele Leonhart's hands.  Donate today and help us demand an appointee who will approach our nation’s drug issues with reason, science and compassion.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

 

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Do you agree?

 

Dear friends,

Following recent DEA medical marijuana raids in Colorado, US Representative Jared Polis (CO-2) made a statement online calling on the DEA to "stop their rogue agents from harassing and raiding our medical marijuana dispensaries."

Rep. Polis also sent a formal letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, asking about a DEA agent's comments that the DEA will "arrest everybody." Rep. Polis asked whether this is in fact U.S. policy.

Please email U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today.  Tell the Attorney General that you agree with Rep. Polis.  Tell the Attorney General that you want him to end all DEA medical marijuana raids, once and for all.

Click here to take action:

http://www.americansforsafeaccess.org/iagree

Thanks -

Sanjeev, ASA Field Director

Americans for Safe Access

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