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Feature: The Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy -- More, Better Drug War?

The Obama administration last Friday unveiled its Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy to deal with the unremitting prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico, and especially its border cities. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon enlisted the military in his offensive against the so-called cartels in December 2006, some 11,000 people have died in the violence, and the streets of Mexican border towns have at times resembled battlefields.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borderpatrol.jpg
US Border Patrol
In recognition of the continuing violence and heedful of Mexican criticism that the US is not doing enough on its end to undercut the cartels, the administration responded first with increased funding for border law enforcement in March and now with the new counternarcotics strategy. The new strategy will emphasize reducing demand in the US and targeting the flow of money and weapons south. It includes:

  • Building visual shields near border-crossing points so drug cartel spotters can't alert approaching motorists about inspections.
  • Improving non-lethal weapons technology to help officers incapacitate suspects and disable motor vehicles and boats used by traffickers.
  • Reviving an interagency working group to coordinate intelligence.
  • Using more intelligence analysts to uncover drug-dealing networks.
  • Helping Mexico bolster its judicial system through training in the United States.
  • Focusing on combating corruption among US law enforcement and elected officials.
  • Delivering an additional $60 million to border law enforcement agencies.

"This new plan, combined with the dedicated efforts of the government of Mexico, creates a unique opportunity to make real headway on the drug threat," said Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), at an Albuquerque press conference unveiling the new strategy.

"International cooperation is very, very key," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, taking time to praise Calderon for his efforts. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to work on drug trafficking on both sides of the border," she said. "We should not let this opportunity go by."

According to the Justice Department, Mexican and other South American drug trafficking organizations are laundering between $18 billion and $39 billion a year in drug profits in the US. Some of that money then goes to purchase weapons in the lightly-controlled US gun market. Traffickers use those weapons against each other, as well as Mexican police and soldiers, as evidenced dramatically last weekend in the Acapulco shootout that left 18 people dead, including two soldiers, and the killings of 13 people in Ciudad Juarez last Friday despite the presence of more than 5,000 soldiers patrolling the city.

Reducing demand in the US is a key part of the struggle, said Napolitano. "We can't just fight drugs at the border. We can't just fight drugs by fighting traffickers. We must fight drugs in the United States," Napolitano said.

"This strategy is tough, it's strong, and it's balanced," said Attorney General Eric Holder, adding that it will be "an effective way forward that will crack down on cartels and make our country safer."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tunnel3.jpg
cross-border smuggling tunnel
Others weren't so sure that would be the case. "The new plan simply calls for rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The plan ignores the central problem, which is that our policy of marijuana prohibition has handed the Mexican cartels a massive market that keeps them rolling in cash, not just in Mexico, but according to the Department of Justice, in 230 American cities."

"Rather than trying to make America's 15 million monthly marijuana consumers go away, we need to gain control of this market by regulating marijuana like we do beer, wine and liquor," Houston continued. "Any anti-drug effort that leaves the marijuana trade in the hands of the cartels is nothing but a full-employment plan for professional drug warriors and cartel bosses alike, not a serious proposal to address the problem," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was a bit more diplomatic. "The violence on the US and Mexico border is spiraling out of control because of the Mexican drug war. We are hopeful that Obama's new strategy will bring real change, and not more of the same policies that are failing our nation and communities," said Julie Roberts, acting director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. "It is disappointing that our federal officials today remained focused on targeting the supply side of the Mexican drug war. Of course we need solutions that improve public safety and keep our country safe, but we also need to develop a public health plan for safely reducing drug demand in this country."

"The time has surely come to give serious consideration to taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol," added DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "That wouldn't solve all of Mexico's and America's prohibition-related problems, but it would prove invaluable in breaking the taboo on open debate and honest policy analysis, without which there can be no long term solutions to today's challenges."

While the criticism from drug reformers was blunt, some Latin Americanists had a more nuanced response. "This is the Obama administration's response to Mexico's criticism about the US not doing enough on arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug consumption," said Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America. "The idea of enhanced cooperation among the different US agencies involved is an important step forward, and enhanced cooperation with Mexico is also important."

But while the administration is talking a good game, said Meyer, a look at the federal drug budget reveals a drug policy on cruise control. "The ONDCP drug control budget is a continuation of the same focus in US drug policy, with its objectives focusing a lot on interdiction and law enforcement, and not so much on arms trafficking. There is a slight increase in funding for treatment programs, but a reduction in funding for prevention. I don't see any shift in the balance," she said.

"When it comes to Mexico, what we need to see is a larger focus on some of the structural issues, such as reforming the police and the judicial system," Meyer said. "That is going to have more of a long-term impact than just providing more equipment for the police and the military."

For Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the new strategy appeared mostly symbolic. "I think the announcement of this strategy is way to put drug issues on the back burner for awhile while the administration deals with more pressing issues, like health care," he said. "The administration is trying to inoculate itself from criticism rather than undertaking an effort to effectively deal with drugs, which would involve the thornier border issues of immigration reform and the NAFTA traffic."

The border is a complicated place, affected not only by the drug trade but by licit trade, human migration, and weapons, among other issues. The drug trade in turn is driven by demand. Unfortunately, the Obama administration's Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy is largely more of the same old drug war, the critics suggest. Perhaps all the other issues would be better dealt without that drug war.

Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Charles Lynch Sentenced to a Year and a Day, Remains Free Pending Appeal

A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary operator Charles Lynch to a year and a day in federal prison Thursday in one of the first sentences to be handed down since the Obama administration said it was adjusting federal policy on medical marijuana. Lynch was scheduled to be sentenced earlier this year, but US District Judge George Wu postponed that hearing with federal medical marijuana policy up in the air.

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Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
Lynch was convicted of five marijuana-related offenses last year for operating his dispensary in Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County even though the dispensary was licensed and operated with the approval of local authorities -- except for the sheriff, who turned to the feds after being frustrated in his efforts to shut down the operation of which he did not approve, but which operated in accordance with state law.

Judge Wu showed some leniency in sentencing. Under federal law, Lynch faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, but Wu said Lynch merited an exception. He also allowed Lynch to remain free on bail while pursuing an appeal.

That wasn't enough for drug reform advocates. "For Charlie Lynch to spend one night in federal prison, let alone a year, is a travesty," said Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This dispensary operator followed all state and local rules and has been dragged into a legal nightmare right out of Kafka. He is caught between California's voter-approved medical marijuana system and the Bush administration's single-minded effort to smother it. That Attorney General Holder changed federal policy three months ago only makes this miscarriage of justice all the more disturbing. Charlie is like a forgotten prisoner of war, abandoned after a truce was declared."

"Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. Mr. Lynch and his attorneys say they plan to appeal, and we hope they succeed. With federal law enforcement at the Mexican border so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more penny spent persecuting a man who is not a criminal in any rational sense of the word is an outrageous waste of resources."

Harm Reduction: Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced, Study Released

In response to a rapid increase in the number of drug overdose fatalities -- doubling from 11,000 in 1999 to 22,000 in 2005 -- US Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) Wednesday introduced the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, which would allocate $27 million a year to cities, states, tribal governments, and nonprofits to implement overdose reduction strategies. Accidental drug overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental deaths, second only to auto accidents.

Edwards introduced the bill in conjunction with a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives: Strategies for Combating a National Crisis, which lays out a number of ways in which the overdose toll can be reduced:

  1. Enhance overdose prevention education.
  2. Improve monitoring, research, outreach and coordination to build awareness of the overdose crisis, its ramifications and public health approaches to reducing it.
  3. Remove barriers to naloxone (Narcan) access.
  4. Promote 911 Good Samaritan immunity law reform.
  5. Establish trial supervised injection facilities.

"We've got the science, we've got the technology and the medicine to do this," said Dr. Donald Kurth, head of the American Society of Addiction Medicine during a Wednesday conference call. Yet despite a national overdose death toll "like a jumbo jetliner crashing every three days," the US "as a nation hasn't had the political will to let physicians use what's already available."

Charlie Lynch Sentenced to Jail for Medical Marijuana

Today, Charlie Lynch was sentenced to one year and one day in jail for operating a medical marijuana clinic that was legal under California state law. U.S. District Court Judge George Wu declined to impose the 5-year mandatory minimum that federal prosecutors deemed appropriate and I've been informed that the U.S. attorney was visibly upset with this outcome. In contrast, Reason reports that Lynch's attorneys "seem extremely happy and relieved with the sentence and are convinced they will knock it down much lower and that Lynch will not be in prison anytime soon."

In that respect, today's outcome brings back memories of the government's epic campaign against Ed Rosenthal, in which federal prosecutors exhausted phenomenal resources, drew virulent public criticism, frustrated the trial judge, and ultimately walked away disappointed. Rosenthal's persecution and ultimate vindication galvanized national support for medical marijuana, thus the Lynch trial feels very much like a parting shot from an entrenched clan of desperate drug war demagogues who've all but expended their legal and political resources while alienating the American public at every turn.

The fatal flaw in the federal war on medical marijuana has always been that if you try hard enough to put people in jail for it, you'll lend urgency and credibility to the movement for reform.

MPP Condemns Prison Sentence for Medical Marijuana Defendant Charles C. Lynch

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
JUNE 11, 2009

MPP Condemns Prison Sentence for Medical Marijuana Defendant Charles C. Lynch

Law-Abiding Medical Marijuana Collective Was Licensed by City

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications, 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205
                   Aaron Smith, MPP California policy director, 707-575-9870

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA —The Marijuana Policy Project strongly condemned today's federal sentencing of Charles C. Lynch, a California medical marijuana provider who worked scrupulously to follow state and local laws but now faces one year and one day in federal prison.

    "Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. Mr. Lynch and his attorneys say they plan to appeal, and we hope they succeed. With federal law enforcement at the Mexican border so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more penny spent persecuting a man who is not a criminal in any rational sense of the word is an outrageous waste of resources."

    In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that henceforth the Drug Enforcement Administration would only conduct enforcement actions against medical marijuana defendants who were violating both state and federal law, reversing the Bush administration's policy of ignoring state medical marijuana laws.

    Lynch's medical marijuana collective was licensed by the city of Morro Bay, and officials routinely inspected the facility to monitor compliance with state and local laws. But because federal law makes no statutory allowance for medical marijuana, all evidence related to California's medical marijuana law was barred from his trial.

    With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

FedCURE NEWS: NCJCA ~ LIVE WEBCAST: 3:00PM, THURSDAY -- Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Scheduled on Webb Bill to Overhaul America’s Criminal Justice System


Media Advisory for:                          Contact: Jessica Smith – 202-228-5185

Thursday, June 11, 2007, 3:00pm                        Kimberly Hunter – 202-228-5258

*** LIVE WEBCAST: 3:00PM, THURSDAY ***

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Scheduled on

Webb Bill to Overhaul America’s Criminal Justice System

National Criminal Justice Commission Act charges comprehensive

 review of system, concrete solutions for reform

Washington, DC – On Thursday, June 11, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs will hold a hearing on Senator Webb’s legislation to comprehensively review and reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The hearing entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will host a number of experts in the field to discuss the need for such legislation. Senator Webb will participate in the hearing.

On March 26, Webb introduced S.714 to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The legislation has received widespread bipartisan support and has 29 cosponsors in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Judiciary Committee member Senator Orrin G Hatch (R-UT).

In the 110th Congress, Webb chaired two hearings of the Joint Economic Committee that examined various aspects of the criminal justice system. In October of 2008, he conducted a symposium on drugs in America at George Mason University Law Center.

The hearing will be webcast online at the Senate Judiciary Committee website. The watch live, please go to: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906

WHAT:                       Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Hearing: “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009”

WHEN:                       Thursday, June 11th, at 3:00pm

WHERE:                    226 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC

                                    Or online at: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906

WITNESSES:            Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law School

Brian W. Walsh, Senior Legal Research Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation

For background materials on Senator Webb’s legislation, please visit:  http://webb.senate.gov/email/criminaljusticereform.html

For  additional materials or to RSVP, please contact Kimberly Hunter at: [email protected].

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Webcast: U.S. Senate Hearing -- Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009

On Thursday, June 11, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs will hold a hearing on Senator Webb’s legislation to comprehensively review and reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The hearing entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will host a number of experts in the field to discuss the need for such legislation. Senator Webb will participate in the hearing. On March 26, Webb introduced S.714 to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The legislation has received widespread bipartisan support and has 29 cosponsors in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Judiciary Committee member Senator Orrin G Hatch (R-UT). In the 110th Congress, Webb chaired two hearings of the Joint Economic Committee that examined various aspects of the criminal justice system. In October of 2008, he conducted a symposium on drugs in America at George Mason University Law Center. To watch live, please go to: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906 or , Washington, DC For additional materials or to RSVP, please contact Kimberly Hunter at: [email protected]. Witnesses include: Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law School Brian W. Walsh, Senior Legal Research Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
Date: 
Thu, 06/11/2009 - 3:00pm
Location: 
226 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
JUNE 9, 2009   

House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy
Amendment Seeks Explanation in Light of Attorney General Holder's Recent Statements

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 202-215-4205 or 415-585-6404

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In light of recent statements by Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the Obama administration would not pursue prosecutions of individuals involved in medical marijuana activities sanctioned by state law, the House Appropriations Committee has added language seeking clarification of the new policy to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

     The language, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), states, "There have been conflicting public reports about the Department's enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department's policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities."

     In past years, Hinchey and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) have sponsored an amendment aimed at ending Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers. But in recent months, Attorney General Eric Holder has disavowed any intent to pursue such attacks. Last week, Holder told KOB-TV in Albuquerque, "For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law and do it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration. ... Medicinal marijuana ... that is something for the states to decide."

     "We are glad to see the federal government finally moving toward sanity on medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project director of government relations Aaron Houston. "No one battling serious illness and following their state's laws should live in fear of our federal government, and we look forward to clear assurances that suffering patients will be left alone."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Holder Renews Pledge to Respect Medical Marijuana Laws

In case anyone forgot, the new administration promises to be nicer about medical marijuana:

ALBUQUERQUE — The nation’s top cop said Friday that marijuana dispensaries participating in New Mexico’s fledgling medical marijuana program shouldn’t fear Drug Enforcement Agency raids, a staple of the Bush administration.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking in Albuquerque during a meeting focused on border issues, including drug trafficking, said his department is focused "on large traffickers," not on growers who have a state’s imprimatur to dispense marijuana for medical reasons.

"For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law, and doing it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration," Holder said. [New Mexico Independent]

Notwithstanding a couple of questionable raids that have taken place since Holder took office, it's good to hear him keep repeating this. The more he says it, the more scrutiny he'll be subjected to if DEA continues to push its luck. Personally, I'm not expecting the complete elimination of federal interference with state medical marijuana laws, but I think it will become clear over time that the situation has improved.

Still, Holder and Obama shouldn't get a pass on this ridiculous "limited resources" excuse for respecting state medical marijuana laws. The issue enjoys tremendous public support and there's no reason the new administration can’t come right out and acknowledge that the Bush policy was just cruel. Pretending it's about money is disgusting and wrong. Note to reporters: next time someone in the administration tries to portray the new medical marijuana policy as a matter of conserving law enforcement resources, ask whether they'd continue the raids if their budget was bigger.

Furthermore, the feds are still trying to put Charlie Lynch in prison for operating a perfectly legal dispensary in California. His sentencing will take place this Thursday, assuming it doesn’t get postponed yet again. Click here to email the Dept. of Justice and tell them to let Charlie go.

If these guys are sick of answering questions about marijuana policy, freeing Charlie Lynch is by far their best move.

Medical Marijuana: Veterans Administration Says Positive Marijuana Drug Screening Will Not Void Pain Contracts for Vets with Doctors' Recommendations

The Veterans Affairs watchdog group VA Watchdog reported last week that the VA will not remove veterans with medical marijuana recommendations who test positive for pot from its pain management programs. Just don't bring your medicine to a VA facility.

In recent years, vets who use marijuana medicinally have been thrown out of VA pain management programs as "drug abusers" after testing positive for marijuana. This policy shift will provide some solace, but only to those vets residing in states where medical marijuana is an option.

The VA has clarified its policy. While restating that it remains illegal to use or possess marijuana at VA facilities because of federal law, the agency will now accept medical marijuana use in states where it is legal:

"[I]t is acknowledged that testing positive for marijuana in a patient, based upon a random drug screening, will not serve as a breach of the current pain management agreement if the patient submits documentation in support of the marijuana being prescribed and dispensed in conformity with Michigan law," wrote Gabriel Perez, director of the Lutz Veterans Affairs Center in Saginaw, Michigan.

According to VA Watchdog, the policy appears to be the same in all states where medical marijuana is allowed under state law. But the VA has not released an official policy statement on the matter.

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