Environmental Harm

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Bogota Targets Europe in Cocaine-Awareness Drive

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Financial Times
URL: 
http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/provider/providerarticle.asp?feed=FT&Date=20061027&ID=6145224

Doing "Ant Work" on the Drug War With Mainstream Press Reporters

When I read the autobiography of 20th Century Salvadoran revolutionary leader Miguel Marmol some years ago, one phrase from the book stuck with me. When Marmol talked about the tedious, day-to-day organizing over the long-term to build a revolutionary movement, he called it "trabajo de hormigas," or "ant work." I thought the term was especially apt and evocative, suggesting the unglamorous, but necessary, laying the groundwork for change. I couldn’t help but think of the phrase again over the weekend as I read a story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mike Lee about marijuana growing in the national forests in California. "Forest Pot Farms A Menace to the Land," was the title of the story, and it is the latest published version of a now familiar trope: Those darned marijuana growers are wrecking our national forests with their weed crops.
“The whole process of these marijuana plantations brutalizes the landscape,” said David Graber, Pacific West regional science chief for the National Park Service. The outdoor growing season for marijuana is coming to a close for the year, but some scars left by clandestine pot farms will take months to heal. Anti-drug agencies must deal with tons of trash, human waste, erosion and other forms of soil disturbance, loss of vegetation and chemical pollution that kills marine life. The illegal plots also increase poaching of wildlife, raise the threat of wildfires started accidentally at campsites and put outdoor enthusiasts in harm's way. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service recently warned deer hunters to avoid two areas in Mendocino and Glenn counties until authorities could evict the marijuana growers. Marijuana production on public lands in the United States has risen as the nation moves to further secure its borders and slow the movement of marijuana from Mexico. Mexican organized crime is behind the surge in such illegal plantings, according to law enforcement agencies. Growers favor public property partly because if their plants are discovered, they can flee without leaving behind traceable evidence. But there are other reasons for the popularity of forests and parks. “The nation's public lands have become a haven for this illegal activity due to the relatively few law enforcement personnel and the vast and often remote tracks of sparsely or uninhabited lands,” said the U.S. Forest Service's 2005 marijuana report.
Lee talked to only National Forest and law enforcement sources, and even included a quote from drug czar John Walters, but failed to note the fundamental fact that is driving marijuana growers into the national forests: Marijuana prohibition. So I wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr. Lee: Interesting report on the damage done by illegal pot farming, although I’ve seen numerous variations of it before. But like most similar reports, your story begs a rather large question: Why are people growing pot in the forests in the first place? You alluded to increased border enforcement and a law enforcement learning curve, but again, that’s begging the question. Could it be because marijuana is ILLEGAL? Asking that questions sort of shifts one’s whole perspective: From the point of view of people who do not support marijuana prohibition—like me and nearly half of Californians, according to national polls—the environmental damage you describe is yet another unfortunate, unintended consequence of marijuana prohibition. When you write this story next year, I would respectfully suggest you include that perspective. I would be happy to provide you with contact information for California-based marijuana reform activists who are very informed and articulate on this issue. Thanks for your time. Phillip Smith Drug War Chronicle www.stopthedrugwar.org
To which Lee replied:
Phil... thanks for your comments... i'd suggest you consider writing a letter to the editor. Regards, mlee
Now, did I sway Mr. Lee? He gave no direct indication of that in his brief reply, but at least I was able to put the whole marijuana prohibition issue before him. He has been informed that at least one reader thinks he is missing part of the story. I guess we'll have to wait until next year, when he writes next year's version of this annual story. But in the meantime, the ants are working.
Location: 
CA
United States

The Chronicle plans a trip to the Andes

Snowflakes are falling in the Dakotas today. With winter coming to the High Plains, it's a good time to be thinking about heading south, and that's just what I intend to do in a few weeks, probably in early January. Thanks to a targeted gift from an individual donor (the same guy who financed my Afghanistan trip last year), I will be heading to Bolivia and Peru to report on the status of the Andean drug war. Colombia is currently the largest coca producer in the world, but Peru and Bolivia are second and third. They are also the historic heartland of traditional coca production by the indigenous people of the Andes, which makes them more interesting from the cultural perspective. With limited funds, I could not visit all three countries, and having already set foot in Colombia, this time I will focus on Peru and Bolivia. Thanks in part to our hemispheric anti-prohibitionist work around the Merida Out From the Shadows conference, DRCNet and the Chronicle are fairly well-connected already in both countries. One of friends, Peruvian coca grower leader Nancy Obregon, is now a member of the Peruvian congress. I hope to be able to visit Nancy's home and fields to see the coca crops first-hand. I've also been talking to a pair of Peruvian academics, Hugo Cabieses and Baldomero Caceres--more folks we know from that conference. In Bolivia, Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network has pledged to help out in setting up interviews and outings. I've also been in contact with the Bolivian Embassy in Washington and will be going over to talk to them when I'm in DC for the SSDP conference next month. The Bolivian Embassy is very friendly; maybe I can even wrangle an interview with President Morales himself. This will be a three-week trip. Right now, I'm thinking I'll fly to Lima, spend two weeks wandering around Peru, then go overland from Cuzco (I'm not going to Peru without seeing Macchu Picchu!) to Bolivia and spend a week there. If anyone has questions they want answered down south or has suggestions for people to talk to, comment here. I'll be checking back.
Location: 
United States

A Failure Cake with Poison Icing

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- With profits from this spring's record opium crop fueling a broad Taliban offensive, Afghan authorities say they are considering a once unthinkable way to deal with the scourge: spraying poppy fields with herbicide.

Apparently Karzai is opposed to the idea…

But U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington are pushing for it. And on Thursday the country's top drug enforcement official said he would contemplate spraying opium crops - even with airborne crop-dusters - if other efforts fail to cut the size of the coming year's crop.

So if these “other efforts” that have never worked in the history of the world don’t suddenly start working this year, we’ll be pouring poison on the problem. It’s an idea so bad it could cost us two wars at once.

But former Drug Czar and herbicide evangelist Barry McCaffrey is all for it:

We know exactly where these fields are. They're absolutely vulnerable to eradication. And it is immeasurably more effective to do it with an airplane," McCaffrey said by telephone from Virginia. "I've been telling the Pentagon, if you don't take on drug production you're going to get run out of Afghanistan."

But Lt. Gen. Mohammed Daoud Daoud points out that Afghanistan’s biggest opium producing region might be hard to hit:

"They have rockets," the bearded general said, fingering a string of prayer beads. "We can't spray there."

We’ll see about that. General Daoud might be underestimating us if he thinks our leaders are afraid to risk American lives in order to spray chemicals on poor farmers in a foreign country. We’ve done it before, and we seriously don’t care who gets hurt or whether it works at all.


Location: 
United States

Just Say No to Meth Registries

What sort of criminal offender merits the special distinction of being placed on a public registry? Only the most dangerous, or is it the most demonized? Registries of sex offenders began appearing a few years ago as part of the hysterical response to not an increase in sex crimes, but an increase in publicity about them, driven in part by information technologies that allow the whole country to almost instantaneously watch the latest local outrage with fascinated horror. Who besides baby-rapers is so heinous as to merit inclusion on a registry? Why, that would be tweakers, because we know that meth is nothing but poison and its users dangerous drug fiends deserving no less than the 21st Century version of public shaming that registries are. Beginning with Tennessee, states confronting methamphetamine use and production have begun treating meth cooks like sex offenders. Minnesota, Illinois, and Montana now have registries, too, and bills are pending in six other states, but it doesn’t look like the idea is going to fly in California. The Tri-Valley Herald was on the beat with its "Officials Decry Meth Registry, and staff writer Roman Gokhman deserves some kudos for teasing out the implications of meth registries and talking to officials who recognize them for the feel-good measures they are. The following quotes are taken from the article: "There's more effective ways to combat methamphetamine than public registries," said state Sen. Liz Figeroa, D-Fremont. "You need to go out and educate people. You have to encourage treatments." Figeroa said that taxpayers' money should be used to fight the supply and demand of meth and increase jail sentences, not tell people about former meth manufacturers. "You can't win a war on drugs without getting rid of the demand," she said. Livermore Police Chief Steve Krull said he has not done any research about the registries in other states, but that anything that could result in fewer meth crimes and labs should be looked at. But if the point behind the registry is simply to inform people about their neighbors, "I'm not sure what benefit that would be," Krull said. Critics said the registries serve no real purpose and violate civil rights by punishing a person twice for the same crime. "They served their time and are presumably not a danger to society," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocate against the country's "war on drugs." "The big drawback is that it makes it difficult for former meth offenders to get their lives back in order," Piper said. He said that money should be spent on treatment and that California is a national example of dealing with meth because of Proposition 36, which offers non-violent offenders a chance at treatment instead of jail time. San Ramon Police Chief Scott Holder agreed. "Why a meth registry?" he asked. "Why not a heroin registry? Why not an alcohol registry?" "That's taking government too far," he said.
Location: 
CA
United States

Latin America: Colombia's FARC Guerrillas Say End Drug Prohibition

In a communiqué sent this week to the New Colombia News Agency (ANNCOL), Colombia's leftist rebels the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) called for the worldwide legalization of the drug trade to put an end to black market drug trafficking and its associated profits. The unusual communiqué also carried a FARC denial that it owned coca fields in the southern Colombia's Macarena Mountains.

"FARC neither sows, nor owns, nor processes, nor transports nor commercializes any kind of narcotic substance or psychotropic product," said the communiqué from the guerrillas' highest decision-making body, the Secretariat.

The Colombian and US governments have accused the FARC of profiting from the coca and cocaine trade, but it is unclear what this means in practice. Some reports have said that the FARC's involvement is limited to taxing the crops and the trade.

Colombian media had recently alleged that the FARC owned some 7,000 acres of coca fields in the Macarena National Park, thus apparently sparking the FARC's denial. According to the long-lived guerrilla group, the coca fields are owned and worked by thousands of peasants who have no other way of making a living.

While the FARC has called for sustainable coca eradication programs in the past, it seemed to be singing a different tune this week. "We are convinced that the battle against the cancer of narco-trafficking con only be won definitively by elaborating a global strategy that includes the legalization of these products, because this will put an end to fabulous profits that they generate," the statement said.

Retired Sheriff's Deputy Jay Fleming of LEAP Joins DRCNet Blogging Team -- Drugs, Crime and Conservation First Topic

DRCNet is pleased to welcome Jay Fleming to the Speakeasy. Fleming was for many years a deputy sheriff and narcotics officer in Washington, Montana & Idaho. He is now retired in the US southwest (Arizona) and is a speaker with the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Fleming has graciously agreed to serve as a regular, featured guest blogger here in the Speakeasy, focusing on the impact of drug prohibition on the western United States. The war on drugs affects our world's environment and threatens conservation efforts, far more than most of us realize. A recent article from NewScientist, Drugs, crime and a conservation crisis, pointed out some of the problems as they are manifested in western states:
New Scientist's inquiries suggest that the narcotics trade is a serious but largely neglected impediment to conservation efforts.
The drug war runs on money, and money depends on arrests and forfeitures. Because of this, the manpower for drug enforcement is concentrated in populated areas. Remote areas in the west have always been a hide out for outlaws. The combination of remoteness and lack of law enforcement, make these areas as popular with outlaws today, as they were in the 1800's. I live in Mohave County Arizona where, as New Scientist points out:
Remote biodiversity hotspots make ideal bases for narcotics production and trafficking.
As a resident deputy I lived in a remote town 50 miles from the sheriff office; I covered the south end of the county along with one other deputy. There was never time to go to the remote areas of my area. I was responsible for a large chunk of wilderness area; it could only be accessed by horse back or on foot. Since the sheriff's office didn't have horses, if I had a call in the wilderness area, I had to borrow a horse from the Forest Service. I understand why law enforcement doesn't have the manpower to patrol some of the remote areas. What I don't understand is why someone doesn't figure out that drug prohibition is the direct cause of the damage done to these fragile areas. P.S. DEA = Department of Evil Agriculture, the plant police? Click here to submit a letter to the editor to New Scientist or here to share your thoughts with their Online News desk. E. Jay Fleming Speaker Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [email protected] Mohave Valley, AZ www.leap.cc LEAP Introduction Video http://www.leap.cc/audiovideo/LEAPpromo.htm Trust in our country is disappearing, parents can’t trust children, husbands can’t trust wives, and people can’t trust their government. Some how our country has lost site of some of the basic principles it was founded on. Those who are to protect us have gone from Peace Officer, to Law Enforcement Officer. Men in black uniforms with hoods over their faces break down doors, in the name of the law, many times killing innocent citizens. Criminals charged with major drug crimes who turn in several others for minor drug crimes, spend little or no time in jail. Undercover cops infiltrate and seize our homes and assets, take children from parents, over a plant that has never killed anyone. E. Jay Fleming 2004
Location: 
AZ
United States

Home Town Bust

Huron, South Dakota, is nothing special. It's a town of about 12,000 people on the plains of Eastern South Dakota. The biggest employers are the meat packing houses, the railroad, and the hospital. It's nothing special, but it's my home town--as much as anyplace is. I grew up there, I have family there, I own property nearby. I don't spend a lot of time there, bu it's where I register to vote and where I register my vehicle. It's where I was sent to prison for nearly three years over a quarter-pound of marijuana. It holds a special place in my heart.

There was some grim court news out of Huron this week. The local newspaper, the Daily Plainsman, headlined its story Two Found Guilty in Drug Case, but the real story is the absolutely horrendous sentences facing the pair in question. The two got busted for cooking meth in a local residence and were hit with multiple felony counts: possession of meth, manufacture of meth, conspiracy to manufacture meth, as well as a marijuana possession charge thrown in for good measure. One now faces up to 45 years in prison, the other life because of previous offenses. A third woman arrested in the same raids was found guilty last week and faces 55 years. They will undoubtedly be sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

That's the way it happens in Huron. I know one Huron resident who is currently doing a five-year sentence? Was he selling meth? No. Cooking it? No. Conspiring to do the above? No. Holding some in his pocket? No. High on it? No. This guy is sitting in prison for five years because he happened to be in an apartment when it was raided, he was forced to submit a urine sample, and when it came back positive for traces of methamphetamine, he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced for "internal possession."

Meanwhile, the Daily Plainsman regularly runs the outcomes of magistrate court proceedings, where the bad check writers, the drunk drives, and the pot possessors go. I am struck when reading the court cases by the contrast in what happens to drunk drivers and pot smokers. Bizarrely, first time drunk drivers are likely to get 30 days suspended, while pot smokers are likely to get 30 days in jail. Where are the priorities here?This is one small town in the heartland. It's pretty damned harsh on its residents with drug problems, but I fear it is not that unusual. They've been fighting the war on drugs for more than three decades there now. They haven't stopped drug use, of course, but it certainly looks like a nice jobs program for cops, prosecutors, and prison guards.

 

Location: 
Huron, SD
United States

Don't Blame Medical Marijuana for State Park/Wildlife Harm from Illegal Grow-Ops

Earlier this month Mexico's El Universal paper reported on the <?php print l('drug trade harming Mexican environmental efforts', 'speakeasy/prohibition/posts/2006/aug/02/drug_trade_hurting_mexic', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?>. An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle made the same lament about Bay Area marijuana growing in state parks. Henry Coe State Park supervising ranger Mike Ferry told the Chronicle:
"At these gardens, we've found dead animals and birds, ammonia sulfate, pesticides and herbicides, ponds and creeks lined with plastics, and garbage all over the place," he said. "The environmental damage is huge."
El Universal's article made the key point, that the Chronicle article and few articles in US media yet make:
If narcotics are decriminalized, then the black market might cave in, and along with it the smuggling relationships that undermine conservation efforts.
So it would. And that's what has to happen here too. There is nothing intrinsic to marijuana growing that it should have this kind of effect on our national parks -- if people were illegally growing broccoli or tomatoes in the parks for the mass commercial market they would undoubtedly create the same kind of pollution that is hurting the animals. The problem is prohibition. The solution is: legalization. Unfortunately, while Mr. Ferry certainly seems to care about the environment and to be working hard on its behalf, he also has some ideas about drug policy that don't seem well thought out:
One dilemma "that is really throwing us," Ferry said, is the wide-scale acceptance of medical marijuana and the perception that casual marijuana use hurts nothing. But if marijuana smokers saw the carcasses of deer, squirrels, songbirds, owls and other wildlife shot or poisoned at the illegal groves, as Ferry has, perhaps they would understand the price wildlife pays for their next toke.
Blaming it on medical marijuana?!?!?!?!? No. Never mind that federal surveys found no increase in marijuana use in states that passed medical marijuana initiatives. (Could someone send in a link for this? I am having trouble finding it. I think it was part of a Monitoring the Future study one year.) Tell the feds and their ideological allies in certain cities and counties to stop shutting down coops who are in a position to contract with responsible growers. Hmm, I didn't set out to pick two SF Chronicle stories two days in a row. Maybe that's good. Again, here is their letter to the editor information. And again, please send us copies of your letters through our <?php print l('contact form', 'contact', NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL, TRUE); ?> -- select the "Copies of Letter You've Sent" option -- or post a copy in the comments here below.
Location: 
CA
United States

Methamphetamine: One Month in One Texas County Courthouse Opens a Window on the Drug War Version 2.006

If you want a snapshot of the current state of the drug war in the American heartland, Grayson County, Texas, is as good a place as any. Grayson County lies about an hour north of Dallas on US Highway 75 just south of the Oklahoma border. According to the US Census of 2000, the county has a population of 110,000, with some 35,000 people in Sherman, the county seat and largest town. The local economy is dependent on agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly, the county's role as a drug distribution hub for the Texoma border region of which it is a part. And if last month's 336th District Court case dispositions are any indication, it either has a big methamphetamine problem or a law enforcement apparatus obsessed with finding one.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/graysoncourthouse.jpg
quiet street but busy courthouse, thanks to the drug war
According to a list of case dispositions for the month of July compiled by Grayson County Attorney Joe Brown and published in the Sherman Herald-Democrat, 15 of the 31 defendants whose cases were resolved during that period faced methamphetamine charges. One case was a marijuana case, while three others involved cocaine possession or distribution. Of the methamphetamine cases, 11 were for simple possession, three for possession or transport of chemicals used in the manufacture of meth, and one for meth manufacture itself. Of all 19 drug cases, none was for drug sales and only one was for possession with intent to distribute.

336th District Court judges generally came down hard on meth offenders. Of the 11 simple meth possession cases, four got probated prison sentences, three got state jail time (up to two years), and four got sent to prison for sentences ranging from thee to six years and averaging 4 ½ years. The courts were especially tough on people seeking to buy chemicals to home-cook meth, handing out sentences of four, seven, and 10 years. The sole meth manufacturer got only 10 years probation, but he also got a two-year prison sentence for child endangerment.

The judges were also fairly tough on other drug offenders. The one gentlemen charged with marijuana possession in a drug free zone got two years in state jail, while one person convicted of cocaine possession got six years and the other got probation. The sole case of cocaine possession with intent to distribute garnered 10 years for the defendant.

The non-drug cases were a motley crew: One aggravated sexual assault of a child (15 years), one burglary of a habitation (nine years), one boating while intoxicated (three years), one credit card abuse (16 months), one endangering a child (two years), three evading arrest with a motor vehicle (two got two years each, one got probation), one failure to appear (three years), one forgery (two years), one retaliation (probation), and one theft over $1500 (15 months).

Without all those meth cases, the Grayson County Courthouse would be a lot quieter. In 13 of the 15 meth-related cases, there were no other non-drug-related charges, just people choosing an unpopular drug to ingest or try to make at home. Likewise with the other drug cases. Like good burghers everyone in America, the citizens of Grayson County are paying a lot of money to arrest, jail, convict, and imprison a lot of people who weren't doing anything to anybody.

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