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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


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].

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
Thu, 06/11/2009 - 3:00pm
226 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
United States

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

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.


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.

Feature: DC Moves Toward Stricter Penalties for Khat

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, residents of the Horn of Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula have partaken of khat, an evergreen plant native to the region. When the fresh leaves of the plant are chewed, they produce a mild stimulating effect. Friends of the plant liken the high to the buzz achieved from drinking strong coffee; foes, typically in law enforcement, are more apt to liken it to an amphetamine high.

khat wrapped in banana leaves and smuggled in suitcase (usdoj.gov)
But with decades of war and internal strife in the late 20th Century, an East African diaspora occurred, with Ethiopians and Somalis scattering and creating new immigrant population centers across Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US. Not surprisingly, these emigrants brought with them their khat chewing habit.

Khat is not illegal under international law, although two of its active compounds are. Cathinone, the more powerful, is a Schedule I drug under the 1988 UN Convention on Psychotropic Drugs, while cathine, the less powerful, is Schedule IV. Cathinone is found only in fresh leaf, degrading rapidly once the plant is harvested.

With growing awareness of khat in recent years, a number of countries, including the US, have banned the plant. Here, fresh khat containing cathinone is a Schedule I controlled substance, the same schedule as heroin or LSD. Degraded khat containing only cathine is a Schedule IV controlled substance, like Valium, Librium, or Rohypnol.

Alongside the federal government, 28 states have criminalized khat. Washington, DC, home to one of the nation's largest East African communities, is not among them -- yet. Under current DC law, cathinone is not a controlled substance and people caught in possession of fresh khat face no local penalties. Oddly enough, the less powerful alkaloid cathine is a controlled substance under DC law, and possession with intent to manufacture or distribute carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Last fall, at the urging of DC US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) introduced a proposal to criminalize fresh khat as a Schedule I drug, as it is under federal law. The DC City council is currently considering the proposal as part of its 2009 Omnibus Crime Bill and is likely to act on the measure before its session ends July 15.

"It's sad that they want to put the resources of crime fighting against individuals from a different culture who don't have anybody except their community and try to punish them for doing what they have always done," said Abdul Aziz Kamus of the DC-based African Resource Center. "It seems like DC wants to punish hard-working immigrant taxi drivers who are law-abiding citizens."

Kamus related the tale of an immigrant taxi driver who sought help from his office a few months ago. "This guy was a father of four, and he was terrified because they caught him buying khat and he had to go to court," he said. "He said: 'I didn't commit any crime, I bought this leaf to chew while I work 16 hours to support my family.' Why should the government want to punish him?"

Good question. The answer appears to be a combination of reflexive prohibitionist responses to new drug challenges, concerns about the impact of khat use on family life among elements of the East African community, and so far unsubstantiated fears that profits from the khat trade may be flowing into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked Islamic radicals in Yemen and Somalia.

"Law enforcement has intercepted fresh khat coming into the city, and it made sense to change the statute to reflect the more serious drug," Assistant US Attorney Patricia Riley told the Washington Times when the measure was introduced last fall. District law should be consistent with federal law, she said, adding that the potency of cathinone warranted the schedule bump.

DC Metro Police Detective Lorenzo James, who works narcotics and special investigations, told the Times that while he had not been able to develop evidence of khat profits funding terrorists, he was still suspicious. Khat traders in DC are using hawalas, or informal money transfer systems common to South Asia and the Middle East that have been tied to terrorists in the past, James said. "The money is not being kept here," he said.

Detective James was all for toughening the khat laws. "Why lock them up when you get a slap on the wrist for a schedule IV that the attorney's office does not want to prosecute?" he said. "I can tell you when you get it to a Schedule I, a lot of things are going to change."

Those reasons are not good enough for opponents of the measure, who are mobilizing to block it. Various groups and individuals have submitted testimony in a bid to kill it in the council's Judiciary Committee.

"We've learned from past examples that prohibiting a drug doesn't necessarily change use patterns; it just ensures that more folks go to jail or prison," said Naomi Long of the Drug Policy Alliance DC Metro program. "The primary users of khat are the East African community, and the people who would be impacted would be people from the East African community, who used it in their home countries much as we consume coffee here," she added.

"There is no evidence that recreational use is spreading among non-East Africans," said Long. "The use is based in the East African culture, and the idea that we have to clamp down on it to prevent its spread when it's not spreading is just silly," she added, deflating one argument for increased criminalization of the plant.

Long also challenged the alleged terrorist connection. "I don't think there has been any documented direct link showing a connection between khat users in the US and funding terrorism," she said. "We need to take a thoughtful approach to how we criminalize drugs here, given past experience."

"The federal government is talking about whether terrorist organizations are using the khat trade for cash money," noted Kamus. "If they are really worried about that, they should make it legal and regulate it and tax the people who sell it."

Kamus added another point. "It is the terrorist link they are talking about. They are not trying to say it causes crime or violence. It doesn't."

But that's not stopping the push to more deeply criminalize the plant. Taxi drivers' wake-me-up or terrorist drug threat? If we leave it up to the law enforcers and their cronies in government, we know what the answer will be.

Law Enforcement: Supreme Court Holds Drug Purchasers Can't Be Charged With "Facilitation" Felonies for Calling Drug Dealers

The US Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that a law making it a felony to use a communication device in "committing or in causing or in facilitating" a drug deal cannot be used against drug purchasers who use their phones to calls their dealers. The unanimous ruling came in Abuelhawa v. US.

US Supreme Court
In that case, federal agents had wiretapped a drug dealer's phone. Among the calls they intercepted were six calls between Abuelhawa and the dealer in which Abuelhawa twice arranged to purchase single grams of cocaine, a misdemeanor offense under federal law. But federal prosecutors in the case charged Abuelhawa with six felony counts of using a communications device to facilitate a drug deal, one for each phone call.

Abuelhawa was convicted at trial. He appealed to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction, and then to the US Supreme Court, which has now overruled it and sent the case back to district court.

"The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) makes it a felony 'to use any communication facility in committing or in causing or facilitating' certain felonies prohibited by the statute," wrote Justice David Souter in the opinion. "The question here is whether someone violates §843(b) in making a misdemeanor drug purchase because his phone call to the dealer can be said to facilitate the felony of drug distribution. The answer is no," he wrote.

"Where a transaction like a sale necessarily presupposes two parties with specific roles, it would be odd to speak of one party as facilitating the conduct of the other," Souter elaborated. "A buyer does not just make a sale easier; he makes the sale possible. No buyer, no sale; the buyer's part is already implied by the term 'sale,' and the word 'facilitate' adds nothing."

Souter noted that Congress had amended the CSA in 1970 to make simple cocaine possession a misdemeanor, not a felony, and limited the communications offense by changing the words "drug offense" to "drug felony." "Congress meant to treat purchasing drugs for personal use more leniently than felony distribution, and to narrow the scope of the communications provision to cover only those who facilitate a felony," he wrote.

Medical Marijuana: Eddy Lepp Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison

California medical marijuana grower, spiritualist, and activist Eddy Lepp was sentenced Monday to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence on federal marijuana cultivation charges in a case where he grew more than 20,000 pot plants in plain view of a state highway in Northern California's Lake County. US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel also sentenced him to five years probation. He must report to federal authorities by July 6.

Eddy Lepp (courtesy cannabisculture.com)
Lepp contended that the plants were a medical marijuana grow for members of the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari and legal under California law. But during his trial, he was not allowed to introduce medical marijuana or religious defenses. He was found guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 pot plants and of cultivating more than 1,000 plants, which carries a maximum life sentence.

According to California NORML (CANORML) and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, there were gasps and sobs from Lepp supporters in the courtroom as Patel passed sentence. The sentence was "extreme," Patel conceded, but said her hands were tied by federal law.

In a nod toward the current turmoil over the status of federal prosecutions of medical marijuana providers, Judge Patel said Lepp could apply for a rehearing if the laws changed. Lepp and his attorneys plan to appeal the verdict and the sentence.

Lepp attorney Michael Hall told Patel the sentence was "incredible."

"Incredible is what the law requires," Patel responded, adding that legalizing marijuana appeared to be Lepp's driving passion. "Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause," she said.

Sentencing Lepp, a 56-year-old veteran in ill health, to prison is a travesty and a waste, said supporters. "This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws," said CANORML's Dale Geiringer. "The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his sentence."

"Locking up Eddy Lepp serves no purpose and is a huge waste of life and scarce prison space," said Aaron Smith, California policy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The community would be a lot better served if we taxed and regulated California's $14 billion marijuana industry rather than continuing to incarcerate nonviolent people like Eddy, who are clearly of no danger to society."

Feature: Supreme Court Rejects Counties' Challenge to California's Medical Marijuana Law

The last serious challenge to California's medical marijuana law died an anticlimactic death Monday as the US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from two California counties that rejected the law and argued it should be struck down as violating federal drug laws. The court rejected the appeals without comment.

US Supreme Court
San Diego and San Bernardino counties had challenged the legality of Proposition 215 and the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act implementing it, which required counties to issue identification cards to qualified patients. The two counties refused to issue the cards, arguing that to do so would place them in conflict with federal law. (Eight other California counties have also failed to issue ID cards, but did not join in the legal challenge.)

While medical marijuana patients are not required to have the state-issued cards, they are seen as a means of protecting patients, doctors, and providers from arbitrary arrest under state drug laws. Local activists, frustrated with the recalcitrant stands of their elected officials, threatened to sue San Diego County, but instead of responding to the demands of the citizenry, officials there and in San Bernardino County filed suit themselves, seeking a declaration that federal drug laws preempted California's medical marijuana laws.

The counties lost in California district court in San Diego and appealed to the state appeals courts. They lost there, too, with the California 4th District Court of Appeal ruling unanimously against them. "Congress does not have the authority to compel the states to direct their law enforcement to enforce federal laws," the appeals court opinion noted, ruling that the state medical marijuana law was not voided by federal drug laws.

The counties then went to the California Supreme Court, which refused to hear their appeal. Now, the US Supreme Court has followed suit.

This same US Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in Gonzalez v. Raich that the federal government did have authority over even the non-commercial personal use of medical marijuana, but it did not rule on whether state laws allowing for medical marijuana are void because they conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act. It still hasn't, but its refusal to hear the counties appeal clears the way forward both in California and nationwide.

"No longer will local officials be able to hide behind federal law and resist upholding California's medical marijuana law," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a national medical marijuana advocacy group, which represented patients in the county's lawsuit against the state. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt California's medical marijuana law and that local officials must comply with that law."

"The Supreme Court's order marks a significant victory for medical marijuana patients and advocates nationwide," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which also represented San Diego patients in the case. "This case struck at the core of the contentious intersection between state and federal medical marijuana policy, and, once again, it is clear that state medical marijuana laws are fully valid. Coupled with the Department of Justice's recent pronouncements that the agency will respect state medical marijuana laws, the Court's order leaves ample room for states to move forward with enacting and implementing independent medical marijuana policies."

"There is no longer any question that California officials must comply with state medical marijuana laws, that they can't use federal law as an excuse to subvert the will of the voters and the legislature," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "As a result, stonewalling by a handful of hold-out counties will end, and medical marijuana patients statewide will receive the protections they are entitled to."

"The Supreme Court and the lower courts in California have blown away the myth that federal law somehow prevents states from legalizing medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) executive director Rob Kampia. "Opponents can no longer hide behind federal law in order to excuse their war on medical marijuana patients."

DPA's California state director, Stephen Gutwillig, took it a bit further. "The US Supreme court is reaffirming a basic principle of our democracy that states can establish and enforce drug laws that don't conform to federal law," he said. "The Supreme Court's action sets the stage for California to end decades of wasteful and ineffective marijuana laws that ensnare tens of thousands of people every year. Federal prohibition is no obstacle to eliminating California's arcane pot laws."

California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
"The court has flattened the last faint justification for counties refusing to issue ID cards to legally qualified medical marijuana patients," said California policy director Aaron Smith. "We expect all counties that have delayed issuing cards to start following the law immediately and stop putting patients at needless risk. It's time for San Diego and San Bernardino Counties to end their war on the sick and obey the law," Smith said. "And taxpayers should hold to account the irresponsible officials who wasted their tax dollars on frivolous litigation."

County supervisors in both counties signaled this week that even if they weren't prepared to follow the will of the voters, they will heed the direction of the courts. "The case is officially over," San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price told the San Diego Union-Tribune Tuesday. "It is incumbent on us now to proceed with issuing medical marijuana ID cards, after we hear from our staff on appropriate guidelines."

Slater-Price had joined supervisors Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn in voting not to issue ID cards and again to pursue the case to the US Supreme Court after it lost in the state courts. The other two were still grumbling.

"I am disappointed the court did not take our case, but I am respectful of the court's decision," said Jacob. "We were seeking a definitive ruling, in writing, that would resolve the conflict between state and federal law. In my opinion, there remains a gray area that will continue to pose challenges for law enforcement and users."

Horn said he would abide by court rulings, but complained that the high court refused to hear the case. "It's still an issue I wish they would have heard," he said.

Meanwhile, in San Bernardino County, Supervisor Josie Gonzales told a group of medical marijuana supporters she is ready to support the issuing of ID cards now. "I've long been a supporter of medical marijuana," she said.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug," by Paul Gootenberg (2008, University of North Carolina Press, 442 pp, $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Regardless of what you may think about cocaine -- party favor or demon drug -- one thing is clear: Cocaine is big business. These days, the illicit cocaine industry generates dozens of billions of dollars in profits annually and, in addition to the millions of peasant families earning a living growing coca, employs hundreds of thousands of people in its Andean homeland and across Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more in trafficking and distribution networks across the globe.

There is a flip-side: The cocaine industry has also resulted in the creation of an anti-cocaine enterprise, also global in scope, but centered in the United States. It, too, employs tens of thousands of people -- from UN anti-drug bureaucrats to DEA agents to prison guards hired to watch over America's imprisoned street-level crack dealers -- and generates billions of dollars of governmental spending.

It wasn't always this way, and, with "Andean Cocaine," commodity historian Paul Gootenberg of SUNY Stony Brook has made a magnificent contribution in explaining how in just under a century and a half cocaine went from unknown (discovered in 1860) to licit global commodity (1880s-1920s), to illicit but dormant commodity (1920s-1950s) to the multi-billion dollar illicit commodity of today.

In a work the author himself describes as "glocal," Gootenberg used previously untapped archival sources, primarily from Peru and the US, to combine finely-detailed analysis of key personages and events in the evolution of the trade in its Peruvian hearth with a global narrative of "commodity chains," a sociological concept that ties together all elements in a commodity, from local producers and processors to national and international distribution networks and, ultimately, consumers.

The "commodity chain" concept works remarkably well in illuminating the murky story that is modern cocaine. How else do you explain the connection between a Peruvian peasant in the remote Upper Huallaga and a street-corner crack peddler in the Bronx or between entrepreneurial Colombian cocaine traffickers, weak governments in West Africa, and coke-sniffing bankers in the city of London?

Still, Gootenburg is a historian, and his story ends -- not begins -- with the arrival of the modern illicit cocaine trade. He applies the commodity chain concept to cocaine from the beginning, the 1860 isolation of the cocaine alkaloid by a Francophile Peruvian pharmacist, who, Gootenburg notes, worked within an international milieu of late 19th Century European scientific thought and exchange.

Within a few short years, cocaine had become a medical miracle (the first step on the now all-too-familiar path of currently demonized drugs) and a nascent international trade in cocaine sulphate (basically what we now refer to as cocaine paste), primarily to German and Dutch pharmaceutical houses. At the same time, just before the dawn of the 20th Century, the dangers of cocaine were becoming apparent, and moves to restrict its use got underway.

The key player in last century's cocaine panic was the United States -- ironically, the world's number one consumer of cocaine's precursor, coca. US patent medicines of the ear featured numerous coca-based tonics and concoctions, the granddaddy of them all being Coca-Cola, whose monopoly on legal (if denatured) coca leaf imports played a shadowy role in US coca and cocaine policies well into the 1950s. But some of those patent medicines also contained cocaine, and more was leaking out of medicinal markets. By the first decade of the last century, cocaine was under attack in the US.

Cocaine was banned in the US before World War I, and by the 1920s, blues singers were singing sad songs about its absence. With use levels dropping close to absolute zero, cocaine use was largely a non-issue for the US for the next 50 years. But, Gootenburg strongly suggests that the US obsession with stifling cocaine production and use sowed the seeds of the drug's stupendous expansion in the decades since the 1970s.

A particularly fascinating section revolves around the social construction of the "illicit" cocaine trade in Peru during World War II. At that point, cocaine was still a legal and treasured, if slightly over-the-hill, commodity in Peru. But some of cocaine's most lucrative customers were in Germany and Japan, the Axis foes of the US and its Latin American allies. Peruvian producers, desperate to retain their markets, sold to their traditional clientele regardless of US wishes, becoming the first "illicit" Peruvian cocaine traffickers and paving the way for the reemergence of cocaine as a black market commodity.

For someone like me, who has more than a passing familiarity with the Andean coca and cocaine trades, "Andean Cocaine" is especially fruitful for deepening my historical understanding. Peruvian family surnames prominent in coca and/or cocaine decades ago -- Durand, Malpartida, Soberon -- continue to play prominent roles in Peruvian coca politics today.

There is much, much more to this book -- suffice it to say it could be the basis of a post-graduate seminar or two -- but one lasting lesson Gootenburg seems to draw from his research is the futility, if not downright counterproductiveness, of the efforts to suppress cocaine and the cocaine trade. From the original "illicit" cocaine sales during World War II, which generated nascent trafficking networks to the crop eradications in the 1970s and 1980s in Peru and Bolivia, which turned Colombia, where indigenous coca production was almost nonexistent, into the world's leading coca and cocaine producer, every effort to stifle the trade has perversely only strengthened it. Perhaps someday we will learn a lesson here.

"Andean Cocaine" is an academic work written by an historian. It's not light reading, and, by the author's own admission, it concentrates on the Peruvian producer end of the commodity chain, not the US -- and increasingly, global -- consumer end of the chain. Nonetheless, it is a sterling contribution to the literature of cocaine, and should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand cocaine in context.

Drug War Issues

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