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The Border: US Begins Turning Busted Smugglers Over to Mexico for Prosecution

For years, getting caught trying to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexican border meant being handed over to US authorities for prosecution. Problem was, US Attorneys on the border were so swamped with marijuana smuggling cases, the general rule was they wouldn't prosecute for less than 500 pounds. Instead, local prosecutors got those cases, but they were swamped, too. As a result, thousands of Mexican marijuana smugglers never faced prosecution in the US -- they were simply deported back over the border to Mexico.

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Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
But now, according to the New York Times, under an agreement reached last month, US authorities have begun returning captured Mexican pot smugglers to Mexico for prosecution by Mexican authorities. Late last month, Sonora, Mexico, resident Eleazar Gonzalez-Sanchez won the dubious distinction of being the first person turned over to Mexican authorities after he was popped with 44 pounds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Nogales, Arizona, border crossing.

The border agreement is a sign of "our effort to enhance cooperation between the US and Mexico on prosecuting drug trafficking cases," said Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke.

There is plenty of work to do. In the past year, ICE opened 646 smuggling cases out of busts at the Nogales port of entry. In the fiscal year ending in October 2008, ICE busted 71,000 pounds of pot on the Arizona border.

The program is a pilot program currently operating in Arizona. US officials will be monitoring the cases returned to Mexico, and if satisfied with the results, may extend it all along the border.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

Law Enforcement: Veteran Activist Dana Beal Busted for 150 Pounds of Pot in Nebraska

Long-time marijuana legalization activist Dana Beal was one of three men arrested October 1 in Ashland, Nebraska, after they were pulled over in a traffic stop and police seized 150 pounds of marijuana. He and the other two men, Christopher Ryan of Ohio and James Statzer of Michigan, are being held in the Saunders County Jail, with bail set at $500,000 for Beal and $100,000 for Ryan and Statzer. Beal, an erstwhile Yippie activist from the 1970s and permanent fixture on the counterculture scene, heads the New York City-based organization Cures Not Wars, which advocates for the use of ibogaine as a treatment for drug dependence. But he is more widely known for acting as an information clearing house for the annual legalization rallies held each May in more than 200 cities around the planet known as the Global Marijuana March or Million Marijuana March. The men were traveling from California, where they had attended the annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) the previous week. According to local media reports, police stopped the van in which they were riding for "driving erratically," and when the police officer approached the vehicle, he saw "several bags of marijuana in plain view." He then called for assistance, and police then found multiple duffel bags of marijuana, totaling 150 pounds, throughout the vehicle. Last year, Beal was arrested in Illinois on money-laundering charges after police there seized $150,000 in cash and a small amount of marijuana from his vehicle. The money-laundering charges were later dropped, and Beal pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession. The state of Illinois kept the money. Beal's supporters have begun a fund-raising drive to raise the $50,000 cash bail needed to free him and to pay his legal expenses. See the Free Dana Beal Facebook page, web page, or blog for information on how you can help.
Location: 
Ashland, NE
United States

Press Release: New FBI numbers show failure of prohibition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 14, 2009 CONTACT: Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or [email protected] ONE DRUG ARREST EVERY 18 SECONDS IN THE U.S. NEW FBI NUMBERS SHOW FAILURE OF "WAR ON DRUGS" WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A group of police and judges who want to legalize drugs pointed to new FBI numbers released today as evidence that the "war on drugs" is a failure that can never be won. The data, from the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report, shows that in 2008 there were 1,702,537 arrests for drug law violations, or one drug arrest every 18 seconds. "In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed 'war on drugs,'" said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics detective who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we'd save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users." Last December, LEAP commissioned a report by a Harvard University economist which found that legalizing and regulating drugs would inject $77 billion a year into the struggling U.S. economy. Today's FBI report, which can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/arrests/index.html, shows that 82.3 percent of all drug arrests in 2008 were for possession only, and 44.3 percent of drug arrests were for possession of marijuana. Pointing to the collateral consequences that often follow drug arrests, LEAP's Cole continued, "You can get get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction." Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a 13,000-member organization representing cops, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens and others who now want to legalize and regulate all drugs after witnessing horrors and injustices fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs." More info online at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com. # # #

Europe: Londoners Fined For Marijuana Possession Are Tearing Up Their Tickets

Since the British Labor government's rescheduling of cannabis as a more serious drug went into effect in January, police have undertaken a three-pronged strategy to deal with pot smokers. A first offense garners a written warning, a second offense garners a $128 fine, and a third offense earns prosecution. But second-time cannabis offenders, those who face the fine, are not lining up to pay those fines.

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UK Parliament building, London
According to the London Standard, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the data, only 42% of those ticketed had paid their fines within the regulation 21 days they are allowed. The courts will have to pursue each individual to collect the fine, a process the courts already have problems with in regard to collecting fines in general.

Of the 565 ticketed pot possessors who have failed to pay, only 13 are described by the Metropolitan Police as subject to prosecution with a court hearing pending. Another 470 are marked merely as "fine registered," with the pursuit of payment being delegated to magistrates. And 82 cases are simply marked "unpaid," although officials told the Standard those, too, would be pursued.

As interesting as the non-payment rate, however, is the window the data open on the level of cannabis enforcement in London. In the fourth period from January through April, police issued warnings to 12,482 people, issued fines to 977 second-offenders, and sent 530 third-offenders off to court.

At that rate, London police will warn, fine, or arrest about 42,000 people a year for minor cannabis infractions. Those kinds of numbers put London in the same league as New York City at the height of the Giuliani crackdown when New York City accounted for roughly 10% of all pot arrests in the United States.

Feature: America's War in Afghanistan Becomes America's Drug War in Afghanistan

As summer arrives in Afghanistan, it's not just the temperature that is heating up. Nearly 20,000 additional US troops are joining American and NATO forces on the ground, bringing foreign troop totals to nearly 90,000, and an insurgency grown wealthy off the opium and heroin trade is engaging them with dozens of attacks a day across the country. But this year, something different is going on: For the first time, the West is taking direct aim at the drug trafficking networks that deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the insurgents.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Last week, hundreds of British and Afghan troops backed by US and Canadian helicopters and US jets engaged in a series of raids in southern Helmand province, the country's largest opium producing and heroin refining region, seizing 5,500 kilograms of opium paste, 220 kilos of morphine, more than 100 kilos of heroin, and 148 kilos of hashish. They also uncovered and destroyed heroin labs and weapons caches, fending off Taliban machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade attacks as they did so.

"This has been an important operation against the illegal narcotics industry and represents a significant setback for the insurgency in Helmand Province," said Lt. Col. Stephen Cartwright, commanding officer of some of the British troops. "The link between the insurgents and the narcotics industry is proven as militants use the money derived from the drug trade as a principle source of funding to arm themselves with weapons and conduct their campaign of intimidation and violence. By destroying this opium and the drug making facilities we are directly target their fighting capability. The operation has been well received by the Afghan people."

It wasn't the first Western attack on the Afghan drug trade this year, and it certainly won't be the last. Operating since last fall on new marching orders, Western troops and their Afghan allies are for the first time engaging in serious drug war as part of their seemingly endless counterinsurgency. And they are drawing a sharp response from the Taliban, which must be seen not so much as a monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement, but as an ever-shifting amalgam of jihadis, home-grown and foreign, competing warlords, including the titular head of the movement, Mullah Omar, disenchanted tribesmen, and purely criminal drug trafficking organizations collectively called "the Taliban."

So far this year, 142 NATO and US troops have been killed in the fighting, putting 2009 on a pace to be the bloodiest year yet for the West in the now nearly eight-year-old invasion, occupation, and counterinsurgency aimed at uprooting the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies. Also dead are hundreds, if not more, Taliban fighters, and an unknown number of Afghan civilians, victims of Western air strikes, twitchy trigger fingers, and unending Taliban attacks on security forces and public places.

There will be "tough fighting" this summer and beyond in Afghanistan, top US commander Gen. David Petraeus said Wednesday in remarks to reporters in Tampa. As US and NATO troops go on the offensive "to take back from the Taliban areas that they have been able to control, there will be tough fighting," he said. "Certainly that tough fighting will not be concluded just this year. Certainly there will be tough periods beyond this year," he added, noting that the Taliban insurgency is at its bloodiest levels since 2001.

That rising insurgency, financed in large part by drug trade profits, has sparked a rethinking of Western anti-drug strategy, as well as the deployment of nearly 20,000 additional troops, with some 7,000 of them headed for Helmand, which, if it were a country, would be the world's largest opium producer.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out the new thinking in testimony to the Senate last month. The West is losing the battle against opium production, he said, so instead of merely going after Taliban militants it is time to "go after" the powerful drug lords who control the trafficking and smuggling networks in Afghanistan.

"With respect to the narcotics -- the threat that is there -- it is very clearly funding the insurgency. We know that, and strategically, my view is that it has to be eliminated," Mullen said. "We have had almost no success in the last seven or eight years doing that, including this year's efforts, because we are unable to put viable livelihood in behind any kind of eradication."

While the new approach -- de-emphasized eradication of farmers' fields and targeting the drug trade, especially when linked to the insurgency -- is better than the approach of the Bush years, it is still rife with problems, obstacles, and uncertainties, said a trio of experts consulted by the Chronicle.

"We are seeing a clear shift away from eradication being the dominant focus and a clear emphasis on rural development as a way to proceed, and that is a major positive development," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a scholar of drugs and insurgency at the Brookings Institution. "Interdiction was always nominally part of the package, but there is now a new mandate. Since October, NATO countries can participate in the interdiction of Taliban-linked traffickers. Certainly, the US and the UK are planning to vastly engage in this mission."

"The whole policy has changed," agreed Raheem Yaseer, assistant director of the Afghanistan Studies Center at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "There was lots of criticism about the troops not going after the drug leaders and the trafficking. They were concentrating on the terrorists, but now they realize the opium traffic has actually been used to finance their activities, so now they are trying to eliminate the traffickers and promoters of the trade," he explained.

"There is more emphasis on reconstruction," said Yaseer. "There will be some compensation for people who are giving up the poppy, and shifting from poppy to saffron, things like that. Still, security is key, and there are some problems with security," he added in a masterful use of understatement.

"The administration appears at least to understand that eradication should target cartels rather than poor local farmers," said Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst with the libertarian leaning Cato Institute. "I hope they continue down that path; it's the best of many horrible options. The best policy would be legalization," she said, adding wistfully that she would prefer a more sensible drug policy.

"I have a feeling this is going to be a very bloody summer," said Malou. "There will be more violence because of the Afghan elections this August, as well as the Taliban's annual spring and summer offensive, which this year is going to be a sort of counteroffensive to the Western surge."

What the new emphasis on going after traffickers will accomplish remains to be seen, said Felbab-Brown. "Interdiction could provide a good reason for the Taliban to insert itself more deeply into the drug trade, or it could encourage traffickers to join the Karzai government," she said.

The effect of the new campaign on security in the countryside also remains to be seen, Felbab-Brown said. "Our reconstruction capacity is so weak after decades of neglect and a systematic effort to destroy those projects," she noted. "At bottom, though, the effectiveness of rural development programs depends on security. Without security, there is no effective program."

Western military forces also have some image-building to do, said Yaseer. "Because of wrong policies of the past and high civilian casualties, the original favorable perception of the foreign troops has changed from favorable to antagonistic. It will take some time to get back the good image."

Yaseer also had doubts about the utility of the massive foreign, mainly US, troop increase now underway. "Unless the sources of the problem, which lie in Pakistan, are attacked, adding more troops will not be very useful," he said. "They will just make the region more volatile and create more resentment, and they will provide the insurgents with a larger target than before," he said.

"The new administration's desire to change the policy makes one a bit optimistic, but again, time will tell whether the West is serious about them," Yaseer continued. Progress will depend on the nature of the operations and whether the new policies are actually implemented, whether this is real."

For Malou, the clock is ticking, and Western soldiers have no good reason to be remaining in Afghanistan for much longer. "We haven't found bin Laden in eight years, and most of the high-level Al Qaeda we've captured have been the result of police detective work, not military force. The foreign military presence in Afghanistan is perceived as a foreign occupation by many people in the region on both sides of the border, and that's poisoning the well even further," she said.

The US needs to be planning an exit strategy, said Malou. "When you look strategically and economically, the US just doesn't have a vital interest impelling us to stay in the region indefinitely," she said. "We need a timeframe for withdrawal within the next several years. We need to narrow our objectives to training security forces. I don't see any reason why we need to stay in this region any longer."

Editorial: The Coca Wars are Futile, Whereas Drug Legalization is a Win-Win

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
An August 5 article in Time Magazine, "Bolivia's Surprising Anti-Drug Success," observed that legal coca cultivation and the illicit cocaine trade are not the same thing. Despite increased tolerance for coca growing by the Bolivian government under President Evo Morales -- who came up through the ranks of the coca grower community himself to become Bolivia's first indigenous chief executive -- reporter Jean Friedman-Rudovsky notes that interceptions of illicitly grown coca destined for cocaine labs are up by 30% from 2007, and 11 tons of coca paste have been intercepted this first part of the year alone, more than in all of 2005 (the year before Morales took office), according to the country's Anti-Narcotics Special Forces (FELCN).

The point is an important one. Coca is a crop grown for generations in Bolivia and other Andean nations, and it is one that is economically needed. Cocalero leaders from Bolivia and Peru spoke eloquently to their situation, their needs -- and their rights -- at our Latin America conference convened in Mexico in 2003. Coca-based tea and candies and even soap given out by conference attendees made the point directly -- coca is not cocaine, cocaine's origin in the coca leaf notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, the article stopped there, and didn't ask the logical next question: Will Bolivia's increased drug control achievements actually reduce the global supply of cocaine?

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2007)
If history and economics are guides, the answer is "no." From 1995 to 2000, for example, Bolivian coca cultivation declined from 51,000 hectares to only 8,000, according to State Dept. estimates. Growing went from 117,000 to 41,000 in neighboring Peru at the same time. But Colombian coca growing rose from 54,000 to 139,000 hectares -- not completely erasing the Bolivian and Peruvian reductions, but mostly erasing them. Meanwhile, US retail cocaine prices, adjusted for purity and inflation, are just a fifth of what they were in 1981, the year the DEA's price-tracking program started.

For the shift in coca growing from country to country to be so much greater than the overall change can only mean that demand is the dominant factor at work, not enforcement. For cocaine prices to drop so incredibly too, shows that eradication, interdiction and domestic policing all combined aren't even making a dent -- suppliers simply anticipate the losses by sending more, and they can afford it.

Bolivian farmers deserve better than harassment over a traditional crop they economically need, making the Morales administration's tolerance of coca growing just. But supply-side anti-drug efforts are futile in term of the ultimate goal, and people around the world affected by cocaine and the illegal trade deserve better too. Only global legalization can stop the violence and corruption that characterize the illegal drug trade. Addicted users will also feel freer to seek help when they are not considered criminals, and will be less likely to do harm to themselves or others in the meanwhile. Ending drug prohibition is a win-win proposition.

World Record Marijuana Crop Gets Blown Up By Fighter Jets

What do you do if you find the world's largest marijuana stash? Call in the airforce!


The crack teams discovered 236.8 tons of cannabis buried in vast trenches in the desert. The drugs had a minimum street value of £225 million, and weighed more than 30 double-decker buses, officials said.

Lieutenant General Abdul Hadi Khalid, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, said: "This is a new world record in the global war on drugs."


British fighter jets were called in from nearby Kandahar Airfield to smash open the underground stores. A Nato spokesman said the planes dropped three 1,000lb bombs on the trenches, before troops from the commando unit known as 333 doused the wreckage with petrol and set them alight. [scotsman.com]

There's something tragically ironic about using fighter jets to launch air strikes on a plant that's never killed anyone in the history of the world. Are you having fun yet, brave desert drug soldiers? Someone get these guys some volleyball nets before they nuke a poppy field.

News Release: Will SDSU Drug Bust Coverage Raise the Critical Questions?

Will SDSU's Drug Bust Reduce Drug Availability on Campus in the Future? Advocates Urge Media to Look Beyond the Surface, Ask Critical Questions About Raid's Long-Term Implications for Drug Trade (or Lack Thereof) In the wake of a major drug bust at San Diego State University, in which 96 people including 75 students were arrested on drug charges as part of "Operation Sudden Fall," advocates are asking media outlets to go beyond the surface to probe whether drug laws and enforcement actually reduce the availability of drugs. "Cocaine was banned in 1914, and marijuana in 1937," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, "and yet these drugs are so widely available almost a century later that college students can be hauled away 75 at a time for them. That is the very definition of policy failure." Borden, who is also executive editor of Drug War Chronicle, a major weekly online publication, continued: "Since 1980, when the drug war really started escalating under the Reagan administration, the average street price of cocaine has dropped by a factor of five, when adjusted for purity and inflation. (1) Given that the strategy was to increase drug prices, in order to then reduce the demand, that failure has to be called spectacular." Drug arrests in the US number close to 1.5 million per year, but to little evident effect as such data suggests. Ironically, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis painted a compelling picture of the drug war's failure in her own quote given to the Los Angeles Times: "This operation shows how accessible and pervasive illegal drugs continue to be on our college campuses and how common it is for students to be selling to other students." "While SDSU's future drug sellers will probably avoid sending such explicit text messages as the accused in this case did, it's doubtful that they will avoid the campus for very long," Borden said. "In fact the replacements are undoubtedly already preparing to take up the slack. By September if not sooner, the only remaining evidence that 'Operation Sudden Fall' ever happened will be the court cases and the absence of certain people from the campus." "Instead of throwing away money and law enforcement time on a policy that doesn't work, ruining lives in the process, Congress should repeal drug prohibition and allow states to create sensible regulations to govern drugs' lawful distribution and use. At a minimum, the focus should be taken off enforcement," said Borden. — END — 1. Data from DEA STRIDE drug price collection program, adjusted for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index figures. Further information is available upon request.

Africa: Marijuana "Tries to Destroy Our Society," Nigerian Head Narc Says

Ahmadu Giade, head of Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), used a ceremony where seized marijuana was burned last weekend to declare war on pot as part of his agency's effort to "provide a drug-free society for all." His comments came as 100,000 pounds of what Nigerians commonly refer to as Indian hemp went up in smoke. The ceremonial burning would "spite drug barons" and demonstrate the superiority of law enforcement over drug dealers, he said.

While the Lagos newspaper The Day, which reported on the event, described the drugs as "narcotics" and "hard drugs," it appears that it was really describing Nigerian-grown marijuana.

Head narc Giade suffered from the same terminological confusion. "The threat of narcotic drugs is palpable," he said. "It is difficult to ignore this peril staring at us in the face. Cannabis control constitutes the biggest drug challenge in Nigeria and Africa. This is because it grows effortlessly in the country. This drug has the propensity to destroy our society but we equally have the capacity to subdue it."

Well, not so far, anyway. According to the US State Department's 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, "Sale and local consumption of marijuana is on the increase. The rise in marijuana use domestically in Nigeria is evinced by the increased quantities seized, the number and size of illicit plots discovered and destroyed, and numbers of arrests made."

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