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How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

South Dakota women's prison in Pierre (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Feinstein Cosponsors STATES Act, US Will Bar Canadian Pot People from Entry, More... (9/14/18)

Medical professionals are on board with marijuana legalization, and Diane Feinstein is getting there, too; the latest national drug use survey is out, US Customs talks tough about Canadians and marijuana, and more.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is coming around on marijuana policy. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Dianne Feinstein Signs On as Cosponsor of STATES Act. The STATES Act (S 3032) has picked up a somewhat surprising 10th cosponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would allow states that have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana to do so without federal interference. Feinstein has long been a foe of marijuana legalization, but she has been changing her tune lately, and this is the latest example of her shifting stance.

Poll Finds Medical Professionals Support Marijuana Legalization. A poll of medical professionals conducted by Medscape Medical News found majority support for marijuana legalization among doctors (54%), health administrators (72%), nurses (57%), pharmacists (54%), and psychologists (61%). Support was even higher for medical marijuana, with two-thirds (67%) of physicians and more than 80% among all other groups except pharmacists, who came in at 71%.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Issues Injunction to Keep A Hundred Dispensaries Open. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello on Thursday granted an injunction that blocks the state from shutting down some 98 dispensaries until they are approved for state licenses. These are dispensaries that are in the midst of applying for licenses. They will now get to stay open until December 15.

Drug Policy

National Drug Use Survey Finds Drop in New Heroin Users, But Meth, Marijuana Use Up. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health was released Friday. Among the significant findings: The initiation of heroin use is down dramatically, fewer young people are misusing prescription opioids (down from 8.5% to 7%), but more people are using marijuana and methamphetamine. 

US Customs Official Warns Canadians Who Smoke Legal Marijuana or Work or Invest in the Industry Will Be Banned from Entering US. US Customs and Border Patrol official Todd Owen said Thursday that any Canadians who admit to having used marijuana, work for the country's legal pot industry, or invest in it will be barred from entering the United States. Canadian legalization goes into effect October 17, but Own said the US doesn't plan to change its border policies because of that. "We don't recognize that as a legal business," Owen said. 

Europe's Top Five Cities for Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Speed Use

Do you want to know Europe's true party capitals? The European Monitoring Commission on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) is here to help. Last month it released its latest annual report on drug use levels in 56 European cities in 19 countries.

Raving in Vienna (Wikimedia)
The report relied not on survey results or extrapolations from drug seizures, but a much more direct method: an analysis of daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Researchers analyzed the wastewater from approximately 43 million people, looking for traces of four illicit drugs: amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

The epidemiological analysis of wastewater is "a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to real-time, population-driven trends in illicit drug use," the EMCDDA points out. Their researchers can now use it to estimate levels of drug use by measuring the levels of drugs and their metabolites excreted into the sewers by urine.

So, which cities are doing the most drugs? We'll give you the top five for each drug, as well as a bit of discussion below:

Amphetamines (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     271.7

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      268.8

Saarbrucken (Germany)        242.0

Oostende (Belgium)               236.4

Mainz (Germany)                    226.9

The loads of amphetamine detected varied considerably across study locations, with cities in the north and east of Europe reporting much higher levels than in the south. Amphetamine, a working man's drug, was also found more evenly throughout the week than the party drugs, which tend to show up more in weekend samples. Of the top 15 cities, nine were in Germany, three each in Belgium and the Netherlands, and one in Iceland. Berlin came in 10th, Amsterdam 11th.

Cocaine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Barcelona (Spain)                  965.2

Zurich (Switzerland)             934.4

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      822.9

St. Gallen Hofen (Switzerland)      821.7

Geneva (Switzerland)           794.8

Cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, but Switzerland, with three of the top five and five of the top 10 cokiest cities, certainly deserves mention. Year-to-year figures show that an upward trend first reported in 2016 continues.

MDMA (Ecstasy)(milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Amsterdam (Netherlands)    230.3

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     165.1

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      95.3

Zurich (Switzerland)             85.2

Utretcht (Netherlands)          59.8

The Dutch really love their E, taking three of the top five spots, and nearby Antwerp is really starting to look like an unsung drug hotspot, appearing in all three top fives so far. Berlin, Barcelona, Geneva, and Paris are all in the top 10, but at use levels only about one-fifth of Amsterdam.

Methamphetamine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Chemnitz (Germany)            240.6

Erfurt (Germany)                 211.2

Budweis (Czech Republic)      200.2

Brno (Czech Republic)            105.7

Dresden (Germany)              180.2

Like plain old amphetamine, meth use generally concentrated in northwest Europe, although the Czech Republic is certainly cranking, too, as it traditionally has. It is most popular in eastern Germany, Finland, and Norway.

One city worth mentioning is notable for its absence from these top fives: Lisbon. Portugal is the only country in Europe to have decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs, but its capital and largest city consistently ranked low-to-middling in drug use levels: The wastewater in Lisbon contained zero methamphetamine, came in 11th for Ecstasy use, 45th for amphetamine use, and 28th for cocaine use.

Those figures from Lisbon strongly suggest that other countries can decriminalize drug use and possession without seeing their populations turned into deranged party animals. In the meantime, the real party animals might want to head to Antwerp.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana, More... (1/4/18)

It took him a year, but Attorney General Sessions has now torn up the Cole memo, opening the way for a renewed federal war on marijuana. Vermont legislators are advancing a legalization bill anyway, New York's governor calls for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Is this what we have to look forward to? (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he had rescinded the Obama-era Cole memo, opening the way for federal prosecutors to go after marijuana in states where it is legal. The Cole memo, which directed prosecutors to take a laissez faire approach to state-legal marijuana except for specified circumstances (violence, diversion, use by children, etc.) undermines "the rule of law," Sessions said in a statement. "Today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all US attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country," he said.

New Hampshire Legislature Postpones Vote on Legalization Bill. The House voted Wednesday to postpone until the next calendar session a vote on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 656, because one of its chief proponents was out of the country. The bill would allow for personal possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as setting up a system of regulated and taxed sales.

Vermont Legalization Bill Moving Forward Fast. The House Judiciary Committee approved the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, and the House on Thursday rejected two attempts to slow passage. One Republican-led effort sought to delay a vote until mid-month, while the other sought to delay legalization until 2019. The House may well have passed the bill by the time you read these words; if so, it would then go back to the Senate for a final vote. The measure would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not retail sales.

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Attorney General Seeks Stiffer Sentences for Meth Sales. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) said Tuesday he intends to ask the legislature to impose tougher sentences for meth distribution, and he had a unique reason for doing so: He argued that it would lead to fewer people in prison because it would scare meth dealers away. He is proposing raising the maximum sentence for distribution from 10 to 15 years, among other enhanced penalties. Jackley is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed sweeping changes in the state's criminal justice system Thursday. Among them are: Eliminating cash bail for defendants facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges, speeding up trials by forcing prosecutors to share evidence before the trial date, and asset forfeiture reforms.

International

Mexico City Mayoral Candidate Calls for Personal Marijuana Cultivation. Mexico City residents should be able to grow their own marijuana, mayoral candidate Salomon Cherorivski said Wednesday. "My proposal is the legalization of private cultivation for personal consumption, not for sale, in homes in Mexico City," the center-left Chertorivski  told Reuters. Chertoriviski is seeking the nomination of a left-right coalition for the mayoral candidacy. That coalition is currently polling second to a left-wing party in the Mesoamerican megalopolis.

Australian Government Will Allow Medical Marijuana Exports. The federal government announced Thursday that it will allow the export of medical marijuana in a bid to boost opportunities for Australian producers. The proposal needs approval by the federal parliament, but the government is behind it, and the main opposition party has already signaled its support. Australian marijuana stocks surged on the news.

Four Reasons Black Incarceration Rates Are Going Down, While White Rates Are Going Up [FEATURE]

It's long been a given that tremendous racial disparities plague the nation's criminal justice system. That's still true -- blacks are incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites -- but the racial disparities are decreasing, and there are a number of interesting reasons behind the trend.

That's according to a report released this month by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the US criminal justice system. Researchers there reviewed annual reports from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system and found that between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate for black men dropped by nearly a quarter (24%). During the same period, the white male incarceration rate bumped up slightly, the BJS numbers indicate.

When it comes to women, the numbers are even more striking. While the black female incarceration rate plummeted by nearly 50% in the first 15 years of this century, the white rate jumped by a whopping 53%.

And make no mistake: Racial disparities in incarceration rates haven't gone away. As the NAACP notes, African Americans account for only 12 percent of the US population, but 34 percent of the population in jail or prison or on parole or probation. Similarly, black children account for 32 percent of all children who are arrested and more than 50 percent of children who are charged as adults.

In and of itself, increases in the white incarceration rate isn't a good thing. The world's leaders incarcerator state needs to reduce the number of prisoner it holds, especially for nonviolent, mostly low-level offenses such as drug crimes, not just shift who the people are that it incarcerates. Still, the reduction in disparities is at least an improvement, and has come with some reduction in the numbers of minorities being imprisoned.

When it comes to drugs, the NAACP reports, African Americans use drugs in proportion to their share of the population (12.5 percent), but account for 29 percent of all drug arrests and 33 percent of state drug prisoners. Black people still bear the heaviest burden of drug law enforcement.

Still, that that 5:1 ratio for black vs. white male incarceration rates in 2015, was an 8:1 ratio 15 years earlier. Likewise, that 2:1 ration for black vs. white female incarceration rates was a 6:1 ratio in 2000.

"It's definitely optimistic news," Fordham University law professor and imprisonment trends expert John Pfaff told the Marshall Project. "But the racial disparity remains so vast that it's pretty hard to celebrate. How, exactly, do you talk about 'less horrific?'"

So what the heck is going on? These numbers challenge the standard narrative around mass incarceration, if only partially. It behooves analysts and policymakers alike to try to make sense of the changing complexion of the prison population, but that's no easy task.

"Our inability to explains it suggest how poorly we understand the mechanics behind incarceration in general," Pfaff said.

Still, the Marshall Project wanted some answers, so it did more research and interviewed more prison system experts, and here are four theories, not mutually exclusive, that try to provide them:

Crime Has Been Declining Overall

Arrests for nearly all types of crime rose into the mid-1990s, then declined dramatically, affecting African-Americans more significantly than whites since they were (and are) more likely to be arrested by police in the first place. In the first decade of the new century, arrests of black people for violent offenses dropped 22%; for whites, the decline was 11%. Since those offenses are likely to result in substantial prison sentences, this shift has likely contributed to the changing racial makeup of the prison population.

White guys get busted for meth. (Wikimedia)
Shifting Drug War Demographics

The black vs. white disparity in the prosecution of the war on drugs is notorious, and a central tenet of drug reform advocacy. But even though blacks continue to suffer drug arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment at a far greater rate than whites, something has been happening: According to BJS statistics, the black incarceration rate for drug offenses fell by 16% between 2000 and 2009; at the same time, the number of whites going to prison for drugs jumped by nearly 27%.

This could be because the drug crises of the day, methamphetamines and heroin and prescription opioid addiction, are mainly white people drug problems. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the drug crisisdu jour was crack cocaine, and even though crack enjoyed popularity among all races, the war on crack was waged almost entirely in black communities. The war on crack drove black incarceration rates higher then, but now cops have other priorities.

The shift in drug war targeting could also explain the dramatic narrowing of the racial gap among women prisoners, because women prisoners are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes.

White People Blues

Declining socioeconomic prospects for white people may also be playing a role. Beginning around 2000, whites started going to prison more often for property offenses, with the rate jumping 21% by 2009. Meanwhile, the black incarceration rate for property crimes dropped 9%.

Analysts suggest that an overall decline in life prospects for white people in recent decades may have led to an increase in criminality among that population, especially for crimes of poverty, such as property crimes. A much discussed study by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that between 1998 and 2013, white Americans were experiencing spikes in rates of mortality, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse. That's precisely when these racial shifts in imprisonment were happening.

And while blacks also faced tough times, many whites were newer to the experience of poverty, which could explain why drug use rates, property crime, and incarceration rates are all up.

Reform is More Likely in the Cities, Where More Black People Live

Since the beginning of this century, criminal justice reform has begun to put the brakes on the mass incarceration engine, but reforms haven't been uniform. They are much more likely to have occurred in more liberal states and big cities than in conservative, rural areas.

In big cities such as Los Angeles and Brooklyn, new prison admissions have plummeted thanks largely to sentencing and other criminal justice reforms. But in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, the incarceration rate was going up even as crime went down. In fact, people from rural areas are 50% more likely to be sent to prison than city dwellers.

Even in liberal states, the impact of reforms vary geographically. After New York state repealed its draconian Rockefeller drug laws, the state reduced its prison population more than any other state in the country in the 2000s. But the shrinkage came almost entirely from heavily minority New York City, not the whiter, more rural areas of the state.

People in rural districts are now 50 percent more likely to be sent to prison than are city dwellers, as local prosecutors and judges there have largely avoided the current wave of reform. New York offers an illustrative example. It reduced its incarcerated population more than any other state during the 2000s -- but almost entirely through reductions in the far more diverse New York City, not in the whiter and more sparsely populated areas of the state.

Whatever the reason for the shrinking racial disparities in the prison population, there is a long way to go between here and a racially just criminal justice system. If current trends continue, it would still take decades for the disparities to disappear.

Is North Korea Peddling Dope to Get Around Sanctions?

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Faced with an ever tougher economic sanction regime aimed at forcing the Hermit Kingdom to end its nuclear and ICBM programs, there are increasing signs that North Korea is using drug dealing -- among other illicit activities -- to earn hard currency. Such moves call into question whether economic sanctions can cause enough pain to the regime to force it to modify its behavior since the country's illicit economy is estimated to be larger than its licit one.

North Korean leader Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
At a deeper level, they also shed light on one of the unintended consequences of drug prohibition. Criminalizing the drug trade means there are huge profits waiting for those willing to scoff at the drug laws, as North Korea has done for decades.

According to Deutsche Welle, which cites South Korean sources with covert contributors in the north, state-run trading companies have begun to manufacture and sell illicit drugs in a move to bust the sanctions regime. The companies have been "ordered to earn foreign currency" and, with legal means of doing so being constrained by United Nations export bans, they "are turning to drugs manufacturing on an industrial scale."

It wouldn't be the first time. The Kim dynasty ordered the production of opium poppies in the 1970s, with the harvest "sent to pharmaceutical plants" where it was "processed and refined into heroin… under the direct control and strict supervision of the central government," regime defectors reported. Drugs would be smuggled across the Yalu River into China, on commercial shipping bound for loosely guarded Southeast Asian ports, and inside the baggage of North Korean diplomats.

After 1998, as famine lingered and torrential rains ruined poppy fields, King Il Sung engineered a switchover of heroin labs to methamphetamine labs. Meth suited the regime both for domestic purposes -- it stimulated workers' energy while reducing their hunger -- and for its ability to generate hard currency.

Within a few short years, the value of North Korean drug production exploded, with the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission estimating that the country earned between $500 million and $1 billion from the drug trade in 2001 alone. A Congressional Research Service report seven years later concurred, also estimating the value of the trade at up to a billion dollars. By 2005, the Chinese were complaining about intercepted shipments of methamphetamine and MDMA being trafficked from North Korea.

Little has changed in the intervening years. North Korean meth is still making its way to China, according to journalist Brendan Hong.

"China has a major meth problem," he wrote last year. "It mostly comes from North Korea and it's been flooding northeastern China for years. I have seen workers abuse meth in Chinese electronics factories so they can stay awake when trudging through unending shifts. Cam girls (models who perform or strip online for a fee) and karaoke hostesses smoke it with their clients, who call the practice, "ice-skating.'"

"The North has a long track record of manufacturing and selling drugs overseas and it is a convenient fallback for the regime to ratchet up production when sanctions are stepped up and it is harder for them to export legitimate goods," said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo's International Christian University. "It is clear that they need hard cash for their new military gadgets and they know there is a big cash market for illegal drugs," he told Deutsche Welle.

North Korea appears bound and determined to become a nuclear state complete with the means to deliver atomic death and destruction across thousands of miles. And if it's got an illicit drug industry as big as its legal economy, sanctions aimed at legal sectors of the economy aren't going to rein in the regime. The primary result of increased sanctions may turn out to be making Kim Jung Un the Walter White of Northeast Asia.

Trump BS Alert: The Border Wall Won't Stop Drug Smuggling [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The president doesn't let reality get in the way of rhetoric. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
President Trump sure loves his border wall. It was a staple of his campaign rhetoric, and despite Mexico's firm insistence that there is no way it's ever going to pay for it, Trump's desire for it is unabated. Now, he's threatening to shut down the government unless he can persuade the Congress to make American taxpayers pay for it.

Last week, Trump claimed that "building the wall will stop much of the drugs coming into the county." That claim is yet another example of what CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria pungently referred to as Trump's primary political product: bullshit.

Here's what Trump claimed during his joint press conference last Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto:

"The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth. So we need the wall. It's imperative… The wall is needed from the standpoint of drug -- tremendous, the drug scourge, what's coming through the areas that we're talking about… So we will build the wall, and we will stop a lot of things, including the drug -- the drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen. We'll be able to stop them once the wall is up."

And here's the reality: Trump's own DEA and outside experts agree that building a wall along the 1,700 mile land border with Mexico will have little impact on the drug trade. Not only do drugs from Latin America enter America by sea and air as well as across the Mexican border, but the vast majority of drugs crossing the land border do so not in unfenced desert expanses, but through official ports of entry.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations "transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers," the DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. "The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers."

Here's how the DEA detailed trafficking methods for various drugs:

Methamphetamine: "Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.

Heroin: "Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas."

Cocaine: "Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles are frequently used to transport multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine. Cocaine is hidden amongst legitimate cargo or secreted inside of intricate hidden compartments built within passenger vehicles."

Marijuana: "Large quantities of marijuana are smuggled through subterranean tunnels."

A May 2017 DEA intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy echoed the 2015 assessment. It, too, found that drugs coming from Mexico went indeed cross the border, but they mainly do so concealed in vehicles using ports of entry -- not those unfenced expanses. That report also noted that drugs headed for the Northeast United States, especially from Colombia -- the world's leading cocaine producer, as well as source of opium and heroin second only to Mexico in the US market -- come more often by plane and boat.

Drug traffickers "generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo," the report found. "In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport."

That report did not address the border wall, but its examples of how and where drugs enter the country show that in many cases, building a wall wouldn't make a scintilla of difference: "According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport," the report found.

The report concluded with recommendations for reducing the drug trade, but none of them were about building a border wall. Instead, targeting foreign drug trafficking networks within the US "would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis."

It's not just his own DEA that is giving the lie to Trump's bullshit. His own chief of staff, John Kelly contradicted the president's position at a congressional hearing in April. Illegal drugs from Mexico "mostly come through the ports of entry," he said. "We know they come in in relatively small amounts, 10, 15 kilos at a time in automobiles and those kinds of conveyances."

Drug trafficking experts agreed with Kelly and the DEA -- not Trump.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and long-time analyst of drug production and trafficking Vanda Felbab-Brown summed things up bluntly in an essay earlier this month: "A barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally."

"The wall won't stop the flow of drugs into the United States," she told Fact Check last week.

Other experts contacted by Fact Check concurred. University of Maryland criminal justice professor and founder of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center Peter Reuter pronounced himself skeptical that a wall would have any impact on the drug trade.

"The history is that smugglers eventually figure a workaround," he said. "There have been many promising interdiction interventions -- none of them have made more than a temporary dent."

And Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Stephen D. Morris, whose research has largely focused on Mexico, came up with two reasons the border wall would not stop drugs.

"First, as you say, most drug shipments come disguised as commerce and are crossing the border by truck or in cargo containers. Human mules, to my knowledge, bring in a small fraction," he said. "Second, smugglers adapt. Whether it is tunnels, submarines, mules, drones, etc., they are good at figuring out new ways to get drugs to those in the US who will buy them."

It is a shame that Donald Trump's ascendency has so coarsened and vulgarized our national political discourse. But his lies demand a forthright response. Bullshit is bullshit.

Chronicle AM: Federal MJ Banking Bill Filed, More Workers Test Positive for Drugs, More... (5/18/17)

Marijuana policy continues to motivate members of Congress, a leading drug testing firm reports that positive worker drug tests are on the rise, Maryland's first medical marijuana cultivator gets final approval to grow, and more.

Racially charged cartoon from Philippines newspaper attacking Dr. Carl Hart, who criticized the Philippines drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Senate Bill to End Federal Marijuana Banking Ban Filed. Eight US senators running the gamut from Rand Paul (R-KY) on the right to Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the left filed a bill to block federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for doing business with state-legal marijuana-related businesses. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Lawmakers Push Federal Legalization Bill. US Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA) and allies held a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to try to gain some momentum for Garrett's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (Senate Bill 1227), which was introduced in February but has gone nowhere so far. Garrett said that he had enthusiastically prosecuted marijuana offenders, but grew tired of "creating criminals out of people who otherwise follow the law." Joining Garrett was another of the bill's 11 cosponsors, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who said "the question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Grant First Medical Marijuana Grow License. More than four years after the state approved medical marijuana, the state Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant final approval to the first firm licensed to grow medical marijuana, ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County. "A new industry in Maryland has been launched," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. "They can start to grow immediately." Fifteen companies were granted preliminary licenses last year, but none of the others have been granted final approval yet.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Firm Reports Workers' Positive Tests at 12-Year High. Drug testing firm Quest Diagnostics reported Wednesday that 4.2% of drug tests among the US workforce came back positive, the highest rate since 2004, when it hit 4.5%. The firm reported increases in positive results for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but heroin remained unchanged. "This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostic Employer Solutions.

International

DPA's Dr. Carl Hart Gets Death Threats, Insults for Speaking Out Against Duterte's Drug War.Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart cut short a visit to the Philippines last week after his remarks challenging Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, his assertion that methamphetamine use "shrinks the brains," and his openness about his own drug use resulted in hostile ridicule from the president, a racist cartoon in a Manila-based newspaper, and death threats on social media.

Chronicle AM: MA Init Gets Big Bucks, Chicago's West Side is Heroin "Epicenter", More... (9/12/16)

The California legalization campaign heats up, the Massachusetts legalization campaign is sitting pretty with lots of cash, a North Carolina town becomes the first in the South to adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) for drug users, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Supporters File Complaint Against Opposition Committee. Diane Goldstein, one of the proponents for the Prop 64 legalization initiative, filed a complaint last Friday against Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the prohibitionist Project SAM. The complaint claims the committee misreported donations, failed to file contribution reports, and left some contribution reports incomplete, including one for Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer, who gave $1.3 million the opposition.

California Highway Patrol Says It Is Neutral on Legalization Initiative. The state Highway Patrol last Friday clarified that it has not taken a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative. The move comes after the head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen criticized the measure for not setting a legal driving limit for the amount of THC in drivers' blood. CHP provided technical assistance to the measure's authors and is involved in implementing medical marijuana regulations signed into law last year.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Getting Big Bucks Backing. Supporters of the Question 4 legalization initiative have taken in more than $2.4 million since January, most of it from the New Approach PAC, a group based in Washington, DC, that is led by Graham Boyd. Groups opposing Question 4 have only raised less than $400,000, giving supporters a six-to-one funding advantage.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Report Names Chicago's West Side as "Epicenter" of State's Heroin Crisis. A new report from Roosevelt University, Hidden in Plain Sight, examines heroin arrests, hospitalizations, and deaths on the city's West Side and finds that the area accounts for one out of four hospitalizations for overdoses in the entire state. The response to rising heroin use has focused on enforcement, not treatment, said report coauthor Kathy Kane Willis. "Incarceration or arrest is an extremely ineffective and expensive way to treat a health crisis like this. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," she said. In response to the report, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) has launched the West Side Heroin Task Force to help find evidence-based solutions to the problem.

Law Enforcement

Fayetteville, NC, Starts First Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in the South. This month the Fayetteville Police Department and a number of partners, including the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), are launching a new program to divert low-level drug and sex work (prostitution) offenders to treatment instead of jail. Currently, Fayetteville faces one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the nation. Last year alone over 500 people were arrested for drug possession in the city. Under the new law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD) launched this month, police officers will be able to divert eligible citizens (people with under 4 grams of drugs, no violent record, etc) to treatment providers and social services instead of funneling them through the criminal justice system, where often the cases are thrown out or people serve minimal jail time and wind up back on the streets.

International

Rampant Meth Use is Driving Asia's Drug War. The Philippines isn't the only country in the region waging a deadly "war on drugs." In Thailand and Myanmar, drug users are sentenced to long prison terms, while Indonesia has declared a "narcotics emergency" and resumed the execution of drug convicts. But that tough response is only likely to make things worse, experts said.

Chronicle AM: DEA to Make Kratom Schedule I, Thailand to Downschedule Meth, More... (8/30/16)

The DEA announces it will make the active ingredients in kratom Schedule I substances, marijuana legalization initiatives in Arizona and Michigan go to court, the Thai government is moving to reform the way it deals with meth, and more.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Sues Over Ballot Description. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit Monday asking the state Supreme Court to fix what is says is inaccurate language in the ballot description of Prop 205 that will be presented to voters. The description written by Secretary of State Michele Reagan left out information that the campaign says is important, such as noting that a new 15% marijuana tax would go mainly to schools. The Supreme Court is also hearing a challenge from opponents of Prop 205. It needs to finalize the ballot language today.

Michigan Legalization Campaign Asks State Supreme Court to Put Initiative on Ballot. In a last ditch bid to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot, MI Legalize has filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking it to overturn a lower court's ruling that the state had no obligation to include signatures gathered outside a 180-day window. MI Legalize gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were deemed too old to be counted.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

Drug Policy

DEA to Place Kratom on Schedule I. The DEA announced Wednesday that it is moving to place the active materials in the kratom plant on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That schedule is reserved for drugs that have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. The scheduled substances are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is a tropical tree indigenous to Southeast Asia. It produces opioid-like effects and has been marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances. Not anymore, though.

International

Hundreds of Argentine Judges, Lawyers Call for End to Drug War. Some 500 magistrates, lawyers, and other legal figures used the 30th anniversary of key Supreme Court decision to call for an end to the war on drugs. In 1986, in the "Bazterrica" ruling, the nation's high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute people for simple drug possession. Yet Argentine law still allows such prosecutions. The legal figures are demanding that the law be changed to be in compliance with the Bazterrica ruling.

Thailand Takes Another Step Toward Moving Meth off Dangerous Drugs List. The Justice Ministry is set to remove methamphetamine from its list of dangerous drugs, which would allow health authorities to use it for medical reasons. The move is part of a larger shift in how the country deals with drug use, and is part of a bill that will emphasize treatment for drug users, including substituting prescription stimulants such as Modafinil for meth. The government has given no time line for when the bill will move.

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