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Ethan Nadelmann Statement: Latin American Commission Co-Chaired by 3 Former Presidents Releases Report Calling Drug War Failure

For Immediate Release: February 11, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman (646)335-5384 The Latin-American Commission on Drugs and Democracy (co-chaired by former presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico)) Releases Groundbreaking Report: Says Drug War is a Failure and Calls for “Breaking the Taboo” on Open and Honest Debate Statement by Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Who Presented to the Commission’s Meeting in Bogota, Colombia in September 2008 “This report (www.drugsanddemocracy.org ) represents a major leap forward in the global drug policy debate. It’s not the first high-level commission to call the drug war a failure, nor is it the first time any Latin American leader has criticized the prohibitionist approach to global drug control. But it is the first time that such a distinguished group of Latin Americans, including three highly regarded ex-presidents, have gone so far in their critique of U.S. and global drug policy and recommendations for what needs to be done. This report breaks new ground in many ways, placing itself at the cutting edge of current debates on the future of global drug control policy. This is evident in its call for a “paradigm shift,” in its recognition of the important role of “harm reduction” precepts and policies, in its push for decriminalization of cannabis, in its critique of “the criminalization of consumption,” and, most importantly, in its conclusion that: ‘The deepening of the debate concerning the policies on drug consumption must be grounded on a rigorous evaluation of the impact of the diverse alternatives to the prohibitionist strategy that are being tested in different countries, focusing on the reduction of individual and social harm.’

Feature: Venezuela, US Governments Spar Over Drug Fighting

The tense relations between the Bush administration and Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez grew even more strained this week as Washington and Caracas traded charges and counter-charges over Venezuela's fight against cocaine trafficking. While it seems indisputable that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela has increased in recent years, the two governments are trading barbs over the extent of official Venezuelan complicity in the trade, whether Venezuela is doing enough to combat trafficking, and whether it needs to comply with US demands in order to effectively fight the drug trade.

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Venezuela (from the CIA World Factbook)
Venezuela does not grow coca or process cocaine, but like other countries in Latin America, it has been used as a conduit, especially by traffickers from neighboring Colombia, the region's largest coca and cocaine producer. The rise of the European cocaine market in recent years has undoubtedly made the country an attractive way station for cocaine headed east.

"The flow of cocaine through Venezuela -- both north particularly through the Dominican Republic and Haiti but also into Europe through Africa and other places -- has increased dramatically," US drug czar John Walters told the Associated Press in a recent interview. He said smuggling through Venezuela had quadrupled since 2004, to about 250 metric tons last year, or about one-quarter of total regional (and thus global) cocaine production.

The remarks come as the US is pressing Venezuela to renew cooperation with it on drug trafficking, and are probably laying the groundwork for a looming decertification of Venezuela's compliance with US drug war goals. Relations between the US DEA and the Venezuelan government have been almost nonexistent since Chávez expelled the DEA in 2005, charging that it was spying on his country. Only two DEA agents are currently stationed in Venezuela, and their activities are very circumscribed.

But Venezuela last weekend brusquely rejected renewed calls from Washington to accept a visit from Walters and resume cooperation on the drug front, saying it had made progress by itself and working with other countries. "The anti-drug fight in Venezuela has shown significant progress during recent years, especially since the government ended official cooperation programs with the DEA," Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement. Renewing talks on drugs would be "useless and inopportune," the statement said.

Walters had tried to "impose his visit as an obligation," the foreign ministry complained. "The government considers this kind of visit useless and ill-timed and feels that this official would better use his time to control the flourishing drug trafficking and abuse in his own country," the statement said. "Venezuela has become today a country free of drug farms, neither producing nor processing illicit drugs, and which has smashed records one year after another for seizing substances from neighboring countries," it added.
That statement came one day after US Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy ruffled feathers in Caracas by saying that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the US was leaving an opening for traffickers. "The drug traffickers are taking advantage of the gap that exists between the two governments," Duddy told reporters, citing the estimated fourfold rise in trafficking.

President Chávez responded to those remarks Sunday by calling them "stupid" and warning that Duddy would soon be "packing his bags" if he is not careful. Chávez also suggested that the US concentrate on its own drug use and marijuana production.

On Monday, Venezuelan Vice-President Ramón Carrizales echoed his chief, telling reporters in Caracas that Venezuela was cooperating internationally, just not on US terms. "The DEA asks for freedom to fly over our territory indiscriminately," Carrizales said. "Well, they aren't going to have that freedom. We are a sovereign country."

Venezuela has seized tons of cocaine in recent years and has some 4,000 people behind bars on trafficking charges, he added. Most US-bound cocaine moves north by sea, he said, largely along Colombia's Pacific Coast.

But the Bush administration wasn't backing down. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said: "Our officials, including Ambassador Duddy, are going to continue to speak out on the state of US-Venezuelan relations... (and) what we see happening inside Venezuela. That does not foreclose the possibility of a better relationship... and certainly we're prepared to have a better relationship," he added, saying Washington first needed to see some unspecified actions by the Venezuelan government.

Good luck with that, said a trio of analysts consulted by the Chronicle. "There is little chance of increased cooperation," said Ian Vasquez, director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, who cited corruption within the Venezuelan government.

Prospects for a rapprochement on drug policy are low, said Adam Isaacson of the Washington-based Center for International Policy. "There is so much distrust between the two governments," he said. "Chávez's threat scenario is a US invasion, and a US military, security, or even police presence would be seen as probing for weaknesses. On the other hand, the US thinks Venezuela is on a campaign to bring Iran and Russia into the region, and Walters is an ideologue who thinks Venezuela is doing this to destabilize the region, you know, the idea of a leftist leader making common cause with drug traffickers. There is no trust, and there's not going to be any trust. The drug war stuff is really only one aspect of that larger context," he said.

"The Venezuelans have repeatedly stated they want to cooperate with the US on drugs, but Chávez deeply distrusts the US government," said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "He has had a terrible time with activist US ambassadors and he feels they have intervened repeatedly in Venezuela's sovereign affairs, but this could be a propitious moment. The Bush administration will get nowhere with any new anti-Chávez initiatives, so they just might be interested in taking some steps toward normalizing relations with Venezuela simply to show that the US is capable of using diplomacy."

Still, said Birns, don't look for any dramatic breakthroughs. "There won't be any effective agreement on drug trafficking unless it's part of a larger mix of confidence-building measures," he said. "Hugo Chávez has a confrontational, combative personality, but he's relatively clean when it comes to human rights violations or other derelictions, and that's very frustrating for Washington. There will not be any comprehensive agreement on this issue, just some de facto improvements on a graduated basis because the necessary confidence between the two governments just doesn't exist."

All three agreed that cocaine trafficking through Venezuela is increasing, but none thought it was a matter of official policy. "It's true there is now a lot of cocaine going through Venezuela," said Isaacson. "While I don't think that Chávez is actively trying to turn the country into a narco playground, I haven't seen any major effort to root out drug-related corruption. Chávez also has problems controlling his national territory; there are security and public security problems, common crime is a serious problem, and organized crime is growing."

"Venezuela has an income of $100 billion a year from oil revenues, why would they be interested in drug revenues?" Birns asked. "I'm sure there are some rogue elements in the government, but this is not a matter of state policy," he said. "You can't deny there is drug trafficking in Venezuela, but I can't imagine that Chávez has anything to do with or gain from it. After all, he's giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year around the world, including the US, in oil and heating oil, so this just doesn't seem like an income opportunity he would be interested in."

The war on drugs is just a waste of time and resources, said Vasquez. "Asking countries to enforce US drug prohibition is asking them to do the impossible," said Vasquez. "It hasn't succeeded in Colombia, Mexico, or anywhere in the Andes. You see some ephemeral victories -- you might kill a drug lord or shut down a cartel, but this is a multi-billion dollar multinational industry that can easily adapt to whatever is thrown at it."

Asking for more enforcement is only asking for trouble, said Vasquez. "The more prohibition, the more law enforcement, the more violent it becomes," he said. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel. To the extent that the drug war is more aggressively pursued, we can expect more violence and corruption."

Still, there are things Venezuela could do to ease tensions, said Isaacson. "Venezuela could be more cooperative in monitoring its airspace, sharing radar information, even allowing occasional US verification flights like the other Latin American countries do," he said. "And as Fidel Castro has done, they need to take a hard line against drug corruption in the state -- it can eat a state from the inside out."

But if Chávez can be accused of playing politics with the drug issue, so can the US, said Isaacson. "US anti-drug goals look even more politicized. I'm sure Venezuela will be decertified, and people will fairly say they're singling out Venezuela because they're leftists and say bad things about the US. Meanwhile, Colombia, with the world's largest coca crop, and Mexico, which has a huge drug trafficking industry, will get a pass because they're pro-US."

"The US certification process on drugs is very tarnished," agreed Birns. "All of these annual mandates from Congress on drugs and terrorism and the like have been carried out in an archly political manner. The US minimizes the sins of its friends and maximizes those of its enemies."

Washington's problems with Venezuela are just part of an overall decline in US influence in the region, said Birns. "With countries like Peru having high growth rates because of the increased valuation of natural resources across the board and new resource discoveries, with Brazil on the verge of becoming a superpower, with various new organizations of which the US is not a part, like the Rio Group and the South American security zone, our leverage over Latin America is waning. The only way to achieve real results on any of these issues is earnest negotiation where real concessions are made."

Press Release: US Conference of Mayors Passes Resolution Calling for City-Coordinated Drug Overdose Prevention Efforts

   [Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2008

CONTACT: Daniel Robelo at (510) 229-5211 or Reena Szczepanski at (505) 983-3277

  United States Conference of Mayors Unanimously Passes Resolution Calling for City-Coordinated Drug Overdose Prevention Efforts

Nation’s Mayors Seek Policy Reforms that Will Save Both Lives and Dollars by Preventing Unnecessary Overdose Deaths 
Mayors Support Increased Access to Opioid Antagonist Medications and Adoption of Good Samaritan Immunity Policies that Shield Individuals Who Report Opioid-Related Health Emergencies from Prosecution

  WASHINGTON - June 25 - On Saturday, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) unanimously adopted a resolution supporting policies that could save thousands of lives by treating drug overdoses before they become fatal. “Last year, our nation’s mayors agreed that we must address the problems of substance use and abuse with a public health approach. This year we have continued that work by calling for policies that increase public safety by preventing unnecessary deaths. These policies have saved lives in Santa Fe and will work in other cities,” said Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, who sponsored the resolution at the 76th USCM Annual Meeting in Miami, Florida.

Adopted resolutions become the official policy of the USCM, which speaks as one voice to promote best practices and the most pressing priorities of our nation’s cities. The USCM last year declared the war on drugs a failure and called for a “New Bottom Line” in U.S. drug policy, which should be measured by the number of lives saved rather than the number of people imprisoned. This year’s resolution sets forth a comprehensive strategy for cities and states to reduce overdose morbidity and mortality by:

  • Supporting local programs that distribute naloxone – an opiate antagonist medication effective in reversing the respiratory failure that typically causes death from opioid overdose – directly to drug users, their friends, families and communities;
  • Urging state governments to adopt emergency “Good Samaritan” immunity policies that shield from prosecution people who are experiencing or have witnessed an accidental or intentional drug overdose and who have contacted 911 to request emergency medical treatment for the victim of drug toxicity or overdose;
  • Calling on the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to urgently fund research to evaluate scientifically the effectiveness of overdose prevention interventions and develop model programs; and
  • Calling on the Food and Drug Administration to take all necessary and reasonable steps to facilitate the testing and approval of nasal and/or over-the-counter formulations of naloxone and to consider recommending prescription naloxone concurrent with prescribing strong opioid analgesics.

The mayors’ action responds to the facts that drug overdose is the second leading cause of injury death in the United States and that many overdose fatalities occur because peers delay or forego calling 911 for fear of arrest or police involvement – continually identified by researchers as the most significant barrier to the ideal first response of calling emergency services.

Nearly one hundred colleges and universities have adopted Good Samaritan immunity policies that have proven effective in encouraging students to seek help in the event of an alcohol or other drug overdose. New Mexico recently enacted the first such law in the country – the 911 Good Samaritan Act of 2007 – and similar life-saving legislation is pending in several states across the country, including California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington.

“Life-saving medications exist and must be made more widely available in the event of an overdose. At the same time, a victim or witness must not be afraid to ask emergency personnel for assistance. It should never be a crime to save someone’s life. The true crime is condoning policies that prevent victims from receiving that medication,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Naloxone can be safely administered by non-medical professionals intravenously, intramuscularly and intranasally. Programs that provide overdose prevention education, rescue breathing training and take-home naloxone have been developed in New Mexico, Connecticut, Northern California, and the cities of Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

In 2000, drug overdoses resulted in $2.24 billion worth of direct medical costs and an estimated $23.7 billion in lost productivity. Naloxone distribution pilot programs are inexpensive and have been added to existing services without the need for increased staff or space. These programs have been shown to save cities money by averting significant health care costs and have already saved several thousand lives.

The resolution is available here.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Latin America: Argentine Court Decriminalizes Drug Possession in Buenos Aires

A federal court in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires Tuesday decriminalized drug possession in the capital in a ruling that could be altered by the country's high court, but which is in line with the position of the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In issuing its ruling, the federal court threw out thousands of drug possession cases pending in the federal district.

The ruling from the federal court of appeals came in the case of two young people arrested for possession of marijuana joints and ecstasy tablets at an electronic music concert in 2007. In those cases, the court held that the 1989 drug law that punished simple drug possession or consumption is unconstitutional .

Under that law, drug users were seen as the base of a chain that led directly to drug traffickers. But the appeals court held that that law generated "an avalanche of cases against users without managing to ascend the links of the chain to the drug traffickers."

The current government is in favor of reforming drug laws. During a recent UN session, Argentine Justice and Security Minister Aníbal Fernández called the policy of punishing drug users "an absolute failure."

Now, a federal appeals court has ratified that opinion.

Asia: Beijing Police Begin Pre-Olympics Drug Crackdown

Public security officials in Beijing, the Chinese capital and host city for this year's summer Olympics, announced a pre-Olympic drug crackdown Wednesday, according to Chinese state media. Beijing police will secretly search bars for drug traffickers and "addicts" in the run-up to the games, officials declared in a statement.

The two-month campaign will apparently target bars and clubs popular with young people and foreigners, which police complain are becoming a popular venue for drug use and trafficking. If bar-goers or owners are found to be involved in drug-related activities, they will be investigated, said Zhao Wenzhong, head of the Beijing Municipal Security Bureau's drug control department.

The Chinese aim to create a "drug-free" environment for the August Olympics, Zhao said.

The crackdown has been underway for some time, but is being ramped up for the Olympics. According to Fu Zhenghua, deputy head of the bureau, more than 20 Beijing bars and clubs have been closed after being found to be involved in drug use or trafficking.

Less than two weeks ago, Beijing police raided two bars in the Sanlitun night-life district, detaining scores of young people, including numerous foreigners, covering their heads with bags, and taking them to police stations for drug tests. That led to complaints by the foreigners' parents of "Chinese torturing foreign teens in drugs bust." Chinese authorities reported they had arrested 20 people, including eight foreigners, for possession of drugs including ecstasy, marijuana, and unspecified "other drugs."

Politics: New York Governor Admits Past Cocaine, Marijuana Use, Few Are Bothered

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David Paterson
New York Gov. David Paterson unapologetically admitted to having used cocaine and marijuana in a television interview on NY1 News over the weekend, and for the most part, the revelation was greeted with a collective yawn. A handful of professional anti-drug advocates could be found to express their dismay, but otherwise, it appeared as if admissions of past drug use by politicians don't carry much negative weight anymore.

In his first TV interview since becoming governor in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal and subsequent resignation, Paterson was asked by host Dominic Carter if he had ever used illicit drugs. Paterson responded that he had spoken publicly about the issue during the 2006 campaign:

Dominic Carter: You have?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: Marijuana?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: Cocaine?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: You used cocaine, governor?

David Paterson: I'd say I was 22 or 23, I tried it a couple of times, yes.

Dominic Carter: When is the last time that -- is that the only time you've tried cocaine, governor?

David Paterson: Yeah, around that time, a couple of times and marijuana, probably, when I was about 20. I don't think I've touched marijuana since the late 70s.

Such admissions once marked a death knell for public office, as attorney Douglas Ginsburg found out early in the Reagan administration, when his admission of previous pot-smoking saw his nomination to the Supreme Court go up in smoke. But in recent years, politicians including former New York Gov. George Pataki, current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and, of course, former President Bill Clinton have all admitted to past marijuana use, with no apparent impact on their political viability. More recently, Sen. Barack Obama's admission of youthful cocaine and marijuana use does not seem to be dragging him down.

But that didn't stop Calvina Fay, director of the Drug Free America Foundation, from worrying that admissions like Paterson's "send the wrong message" to America's youth. Politicians need to accompany such admissions with anti-drug propaganda, she suggested in an interview with the New York Sun. "It's really their responsibility to take that extra step and to talk about how it's not something they are proud of. It's not something that is smart, that they were literally risking their life, and risking their future, so that our children don't get the idea that you can just do drugs and someday be governor," she said.

Joe Califano, head of the Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, echoed the thought. "I think they ought to be honest but I think they also have to say this is not something you should do," he said. "That other piece is very important."

But in an interview with Newsday columnist Ellis Hennican, Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said the number of drug users in America had reached critical mass and it was time for "a more realistic" discussion of drug use.

"With numbers like these, the notion that someone has to lie is ludicrous at this point," said Nadelmann. "Look at the cohort of people age 30 to 60," he said. "A pretty substantial minority has done cocaine. Despite all the drug-war rhetoric, the vast majority of people who used cocaine did not go on to develop a coke habit or end up in terrible states. Some did. But the addiction rate was probably similar to that of alcohol."

One more politician has come out of the closet. Not only is Gov. Paterson an example to other elected officials, he is also in a position to do something about New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Let's see if he can offer up something other than mere memories.

Press Conference: Highlighting Pew Report on Prisons

1 in 9 African American Males, 1 in 100 Adults in Prisons and Jails Highlights Need for Criminal Justice Reform Now! Please join Congressman Danny K. Davis and other members of Congress, TASC's Center for Justice, Open Society Policy Center Legal Action Center, Sentencing Project, Council for State Governments and others at this national press conference to highlight the recently released Pew Charitable Trust report and its implications for criminal justice reform. Members of the media may conference into the press conference by dialing 712-432-3900. Please RSVP and call 773-533-7520 for the access code. For more information, contact Tumia Romero at 773-533-7520 or 773-343-0006 (cell) or [email protected].
Date: 
Thu, 03/13/2008 - 1:00pm
Location: 
529 14th St., NW, 13th Floor Zenger Room
Washington, DC 20045
United States

Racial Profiling and Driving While Black: An Evening with the CBC

Please join us for "An Evening with the Congressional Black Caucus," a briefing and Q on A on racial profiling and driving while black. Panelists include: Gregory Carr, PhD, Howard University Alexander Williams, Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland Garrine Laney, Analyst, Congressional Research Service Wilmer Leon, PhD, Talk Show Host on XM Satellite Radio Moderated by: Lorenzo Morris, PhD, Chair, Department of Political Science, Howard University For more information, please contact: [email protected].
Date: 
Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:00pm - 7:30pm
Location: 
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2154
Washington, DC
United States

Latin America: Ecuador President Wants to Pardon Drug "Mules"

In his weekly radio address last Saturday, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed pardoning low-level drug couriers, commonly known as "mules." Correa also called for drafting new drug laws that more accurately reflect the severity of various drug crimes.

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Rafael Correa
Correa said he would ask a special assembly drafting a new constitution to pardon the mules. The assembly has taken on legislative powers since the country's congress was suspended last month, and Correa and his political allies control 60% of the assembly.

Under current Ecuadorian drug laws, which Correa complained were drafted under pressure from Washington, people caught with as little as 3 1/2 ounces of cocaine can be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, a situation Correa called "absurd." The current law "treats as the same the boss of the Cali cartel and a poor unemployed single mother who dared to carry 300 grams of drugs," Correa said. "It's a barbarity."

While Ecuador produces almost no coca, the key ingredient in cocaine, it is frequently used as a transit country for drugs coming from neighboring Colombia and Peru, the world's top two coca producers, to the United States.

Since his election earlier this year, Correa has been a critic of the US drug war in Latin America. He has refused to extend the lease on the US airbase at Manta, and has buddied up with Washington's bête noire, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. When it comes to the drug war, Correa also has some personal experience. Earlier this year, he acknowledged that his father, who died when he was nine, served three years in prison in the US for carrying drugs.

Statement of Fernando Gabeira, Parliament of Brazil, "Out from the Shadows" Drug Legalization Summit

Brazilian activist Luis Paulo Guanabara emcees and reads statement from Fernando Gabeira, Member of Parliament, Brazil, opening session of Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century, February 2003, via YouTube:

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