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Latin America: New Report Says Colombian Cocaine Production Seriously Underestimated

"For a long time, the statistics on eradication of illicit crops have been mistaken. It's incredible that nobody has realized that Colombia produces much more cocaine than the reports say," said Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos back in June.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication.jpg
eradication: much pain, no gain
He was responding to the release of report on his country's cocaine production conducted by US, UN, and Colombian experts at the request of the Colombian government. Now, the Colombian newsweekly Cambio has published an article based on that report, and the rest of us get to understand what Santos was talking about.

According to the report, the UN, the US, and the Colombian National Police have all seriously underestimated total cocaine production in the country, currently the world's leading cocaine producer. The Colombian police estimate was 497 tons in 2005, while the US estimated 545 tons, and the UN estimated 640 tons. But the authors of this most recent report estimate that cocaine production last year was actually a staggering 776 tons, or nearly half again as much as the US or Colombian police estimates.

The Colombians undertook the new survey after noticing that despite massive seizures of tons of cocaine, the price of the drug stayed stable. Investigators visited 1,400 coca growers and ran tests at more than 400 plantations. They found that growers had improved their growing techniques and were now able to produce not four harvests per year, but six.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cocainebricks.jpg
cocaine bricks (source: US DEA)
According to Cambio, "That explained why the strategies designed to confront the phenomenon have not produced the expected results and the drug trade is flourishing as much or more than before."

The research results raised questions about the effectiveness of the much-criticized aerial fumigation program financed by the United States. Colombian and US officials had suggested the lack of results from spraying herbicides was because traffickers had large stocks of cocaine warehoused. "Without a doubt, that's a big mistake," Colombian anti-drug police subdirector Carlos Medina told Cambio. "The narcos don’t need to store cocaine because the market demands coca and more coca."

The US has about $5 billion invested in this farce so far. One can't help but wonder when the politicians in Washington will notice all those tax dollars going down the rat hole.

Drug Trade Hurting Mexican Environmental Efforts -- Prohibition to Blame

A piece in Mexico's El Universal called illegal drugs the "root of evil for conservationists." From deforestation in Chihuahua's Copper Canyon by marijuana and opium growers to make way for their crops, to cocaine dumping near the fragile reef nurseries in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico by traffickers, writer Talli Nauman laments:
The black market in narcotics wreaks havoc with the ecosystem. This happens wherever illegal substances are produced, where they are processed, along their shipping routes, in the drug-money laundering process, and in the operations to squelch the underground economy. Not to mention the establishment of furtive channels for species trafficking along the way.
Drug traffickers are even diversifying into the illegal wildlife trade in protected species, and using legally traded animals to hide opium and cocaine, sometimes resulting in the animal's death. You think I'm about to complain that the article made no mention of the idea that legalization could end these problems or at least seriously mitigate them by subjecting the trade to regulation. The growers cut down forests because they've been chased away from other places by the authorities. Shippers dump cocaine, presumably, because they are about to get caught and imprisoned if they don't. Drug traffickers have the money to invest in other businesses like wildlife trafficking because they made so much money selling drugs. These are all consequences of prohibition and the war on drugs in its current form. I'm not going to complain, though, because Nauman actually raised the issue, albeit briefly near the end:
If narcotics are decriminalized, then the black market might cave in, and along with it the smuggling relationships that undermine conservation efforts.
She then goes on to make some suggestions about things to do in the meanwhile. But she mentioned the idea. Perhaps it's because she is Mexican and Latin America has far more people who are rational about the drug issue and willing to speak publicly about legalization. See our Out from the Shadows conference archive for reporting, interviews and video from some of them. How especially embarassing, then, the reaction in the US to Mexico's attempt to do so low-level decriminalization of drug use earlier this year, that President Fox was going to sign until the US pressured him not to. US cable mouthpieces like Lou Dobbs ridiculed the move as outrageous and actually seemed to believe what they were saying -- how very, very embarassing.
Location: 
Mexico

Mother Nature Implicated in Massive Marijuana Grow-Op

Your tax dollars at work:

From the The Norman Transcript
A call from a concerned farmer in southeast Norman led Cleveland County Sheriff's Department deputies and Norman police officers to a field of 8,889 "wild" marijuana plants growing on private property early Monday morning. The plants ranged in size from 3 feet to 9 feet tall and would have a street value of up to $1,000 each, or around $8 million total, if allowed to grow and be harvested in the coming months, said Captain Doug Blaine, of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department.

Now I’m not surprised about the plants. Feral hemp, also known as ditchweed, is indigenous to the region. The shocker here is that these officers, in a fit of unbelievable idiocy, actually attempted to place a street value on it. Ditchweed doesn’t get you high! It’s as worthless as the dirt it was yanked from.

And so it appears we may have stumbled upon the most absurd over-estimation of a marijuana crop’s value in the whole stupid history of bored police officers over-estimating the value of marijuana crops.

But you can’t fault the “concerned farmer” who called it in. With Captain Doug Blaine calling the shots, I’d kill every plant in my yard just to be on the safe side.

Yet despite its abundance of ill-informed sensationalism, this article ironically fails to mention the real danger posed by the feral hemp plant. Any commercial marijuana growing in proximity to such a sizable crop of ditchweed stands a strong chance of becoming pollinated by its impotent cousin. The result would be hybridized marijuana of extremely poor quality.

Thankfully, marijuana enthusiasts and bored Oklahoma police can agree on one thing: the ditchweed’s gotta go.

Location: 
United States

Push Down, Pop Up Even Worse

An article this morning in the Daily Journal in northeast Mississippi reports that efforts to restrict purchase of the chemical components of methamphetamine have caused a reduction in the number of meth labs in Lee County. But don't get too excited: there's just as much meth available in the county now as before. Now, though, it's imported, and the stuff is worse -- it's crystal meth, also known as ice, and according to Sheriff Jim Johnson it's a lot more potent than the stuff people are making locally. Push Down, Pop Up -- as long as there's demand for the drugs, someone will figure out how to supply it, and you may wish for the old supply instead. Prohibition is the cause both of the meth labs and the popularization of more potent and damaging forms of drugs. The only way to get rid of the meth labs is through legalization, and regulation has a much better chance of shifting people away from the hardest stuff like ice than the drug war, which seems to be promoting it. Daily Journal letter to the editor information is online .
Location: 
Tupelo, MS
United States

Marijuana Grow Outside Santa Cruz -- Could Have Been Dangerous, But Why?

NBC11 in the Bay Area reported that thousands of marijuana plants, valued at $40 million according to authorities had been spotted near Mount Umunhum, in a remote part of the Santa Cruz mountains in south Santa Clara County. They needed helicopters to remove the 10,000-15,000 plants estimated to be there. There's a cool slideshow on the site. My first reaction was, is it just ditchweed? An old report by the Vermont State Auditor found that almost all the "marijuana" destroyed by the government is mere ditchweed -- wild hemp, grows in lots of places, the government subsidized it during WWII. Then I thought, well, Santa Cruz? I'll give the government the benefit of the doubt that this time it's really marijuana. :) Further down in the story police explained that these plants -- which by themselves are unable to move from place to place, being plants -- bring danger with them:
"These operations can be dangerous," Palanov said. "Last year down this canyon a couple miles away from here, a fish and game warden was shot during a marijuana raid." The officer survived. Agents shot and killed the gunman, while another suspect escaped, Garza reported. "Our deputies, and fish and game and everybody else that's involved are hiking into area where the growers have orders to protect their groves at all costs. They have weapons," Palanov said. "You have a lot of environmental damage -- the marijuana goes out on the street, which fuels other criminal activity."
But why is it dangerous? Is the danger intrinsic to the marijuana? No, it is because marijuana is illegal. With marijuana legalization, no one would want to shoot people over the legally grown crop -- even bad people wouldn't shoot people over it, because it would in no way be worth the risk of going to prison for homicide -- because the value just wouldn't be what it is now and one could go to the police for help if one's crop were threatened. The environmental damage -- assuming that's for real, which certainly seems possible -- could also be reduced if not eliminated through agricultural regulation and inspection. Save Mount Umunhum -- end prohibition! Click here to write to NBC11.
Location: 
Santa Cruz, CA
United States

Drug Czar: "We're winning"

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Oregonian
URL: 
http://www.oregonlive.com/special/oregonian/meth/stories/index.ssf?/base/news/1153450631218210.xml&coll=7

Editorial: Do We Really Want to Help Kids Find the Drug Dealers?

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden's usual Thursday evening editing session
One of this week's drug war news items is a legislative effort in the state of Maine to create a committee to study the possibility of a registry, accessible to the general public, of people who have been convicted repeatedly of drug offenses. Supporters have portrayed the idea as a way to help families protect their children from people in Maine who may want to provide drugs to them.

Even using drug war logic (generally a bad idea), this idea fails pretty decisively. Most kids don't start using drugs because they are offered them by professional dealers. Most kids start using drugs because they are offered them by other kids -- kids who are providing either for social reasons or because they have gotten involved in the criminal enterprise, but in either case not the repeatedly convicted adults who would pop up on the state's web site. It's also important to remember that most drug dealers never get caught, hence will never appear in the registry for that reason.

So while a registry would enable parents to be aware of some fraction of the serious drug dealers out there, it will miss (and perhaps divert attention from) the more common pathways through which drugs might get into the hands of their children. Furthermore, the same unstoppable economic process that turns any bust of a dealer into a job opportunity for new dealers, must also apply, at least partly, to any repeat dealers who lose business because some parents were able to keep their children clear of any given dealer -- if the kids are determined or even just willing, they'll wind up getting their drugs from someone else.

Most glaring, however, is an argument that was pointed out in a "practice" blog post by a member of our staff, Scott Morgan, on our soon-to-be-released new web site. Scott used a similar registry in Tennessee, limited to methamphetamine offenders, to show how usable it would be (perhaps is) to any young people, in any given county in the state, wishing to find leads on people in their county who might be able to sell them meth or other drugs -- an outcome exactly the opposite of what the registry purports to want to prevent.

The main difference (no pun intended) between Tennessee's registry and Maine's proposed registry, other than Maine's including all illegal drugs, is that Maine's is to be limited to "habitual" drug offenders, people who have been convicted of drug dealing multiple times. But repeat offenders are exactly the people who are the most likely to offend yet again -- the most usable listings for kids or others wanting to locate drug sellers conveniently narrowed down. But widening the registry to include all drug offenders won't help either -- because increasing the number of listings would also increase the registry's usability to kids wanting to find dealers. Either way you can't get around the idea that a drug offender registry is effectively a taxpayer-subsidized advertising campaign supporting drug dealing.

In the end, we must return to the issue that the primary way young people start to get involved in drug use is through the influence of other kids -- in many instances buying the drugs from other kids, in the schools. This is one of the factors that has led to an increased prevalence of handguns in schools -- where the underground market goes, so also tend to go weapons.

But it need not be that way. While use of alcohol by minors is a big issue (alcohol is just as much of a drug as any of the others, and a rather destructive one), at least kids are not buying it from other kids, in the school, from people who carry guns. That situation exists with the illegal drugs precisely because we have banned them. With drug legalization, the criminal problems associated with the trade in drugs would largely vanish -- no more armed drug trade in the schools, no more turf wars or open air markets.

And while the harm from the use of the drugs themselves will not simply disappear when prohibition is ended, the sheer level of destructiveness currently associated with addiction in particular would also drop substantially, as users would no longer be subject to the random impurities, and fluctuations in purity, that currently lead to poisonings and overdoses; and the high street prices drugs currently have would also drop, enabling many if not most addicts who are now driven to extreme behaviors like theft and prostitution to get the money to buy drugs to at least afford the habit through legal means of earning. Escalating the failed policy of prohibition won't accomplish this.

In the meanwhile let's at least cool it with these hare-brained ideas like drug offender registries. The continued stigmatization of people who have already been punished ought to be enough reason. But if it's not, the incredibly poor logic behind this idea ought to be. Do we really want to help kids find the drug dealers? I don't.

LA-Area Methamphetamine Lab Illustrates Need for Legalization

CBS channel 2 in Los Angeles reported that the LAPD had arrested five people for operating a methamphetamine lab in Sylmar. A haz-mat crew was sent out to start the cleanup, and police officers have alleged that the operators dumped their chemicals on the outside instead of using the trash and that the property is therefore highly contaminated. If meth were legal, it would be manufactured by licensed pharmaceutical corporations that know how to properly handle chemicals. Inspectors could monitor the operations to ensure compliance with the applicable regulations. And there wouldn't be the occasional gunfire between rival manufacturers or between suspects and police who are trying to arrest them (not that that happened in this case). Whatever one thinks about meth and its effects on people, at a minimum everyone should admit that we wouldn't have meth labs -- a consequences of prohibition, therefore a reason to enact drug legalization. Visit the CBS2 "contact us" page and select "News Department" and "Suggestion" in the web form to send the station your thoughts on the matter, or use other contact information appearing on the page.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

NACO Again Plays the Meth Card in Bid for More Funding

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
National Association of Counties
URL: 
http://www.naco.org/PrinterTemplate.cfm?Section=Publications&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=20738

Methamphetamine Sold Openly In Stores

This is the kind of mundane story that doesn't make it into the Chronicle, but it is an example of the misreporting that plagues drug policy journalism. Meth isn't being sold in drugs stores, but that's what the misleading headline in a story about the availability of ephedrine says. Bad, bad, bad headline writing. http://www.abcnews4.com/news/stories/0706/343456.html
Location: 
United States

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