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New Orleans Police Officer Indicted in Drug Raid Killing

In an unusual step, the New Orleans police officer who shot and killed an unarmed young man during a March drug raid aimed at small-time marijuana distribution has been indicted on manslaughter charges. Officer Joshua Colclough was indicted last Thursday and turned himself in for booking the following day.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wendell-allen-200px.jpg
Wendell Allen (family photo)
Colclough shot and killed Wendell Allen, 20, as he served a search warrant at Allen's Gentilly residence. Colclough encountered Allen at the top of a stairway in the house and shot him once in the chest. No weapon was found.

Allen was the 15th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. The death toll is now at 42 and will go to 43 later today when we post an article about the latest drug war killing, this one in an Iowa City drug raid late last week.

No officers have been indicted in any of those deaths. And despite drug war deaths at the rate of more than one a week in recent years, no police officers have been indicted in any of those incidents since an Ohio police officer was indicted in the killing of an unarmed woman and the wounding of the baby she was holding during a January 2008 SWAT raid. That officer was indicted on two misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and negligent injury, but later acquitted.

The unusual indictment in the Allen killing came after the shooting generated outrage in the city, including threats from the Louisiana Justice Institute to sue the city if it did not release information about the case and take it to a grand jury. It also comes at a police department that just last month agreed to comprehensive reforms under the eye of the US Justice Department as a result of a pattern of misconduct in the department.

Officer Colclough spent the weekend in jail under a $300,000 bond. A bail reduction hearing was set for Monday.

New Orleans, LA
United States

Lebanon Hashish Eradication Hits New Obstacle

Last week, we reported on armed resistance against Lebanese government marijuana plant eradication teams in the Bekaa Valley, one of the world's leading hashish-producing regions. The country's Internal Security Forces (ISF) aren't having much easier going this week, though at least no one is shooting at them.

A Lebanese marijuana plot before being burned by eradicators (wikimedia.org)
But if no one is shooting, no one is cooperating, either, according to the Daily Star. The Beirut newspaper reported that the ISF had to postpone operations to destroy marijuana fields in Hermel Tuesday after it was unable to hire enough bulldozers to plow the plants under.

The bulldozer owners in the area are refusing to rent out their machinery for eradication operations out of fear they will be targeted by the marijuana growers. They pointed to skirmishes on the outskirts of Baalbek last week that left one policeman wounded and two police vehicles damaged. Of more direct concern to the bulldozer owners, 15 tractors were attacked during that incident, and the drivers said they were warned against participating in the crackdown.

ISF units accompanied by the Central Office of Drug Control and the Lebanese Army headed to Hermel to begin eradication there Tuesday morning, but had to abort the operation when the bulldozers failed to arrive. The Daily Star also reported that the forces on the ground decided to delay the operation "to avoid confrontations between prominent families in the area."

Lebanon is one of the world's leading hash producers, and the Bekaa Valley has long been known as a site of cannabis production. During the Lebanese civil war, the trade blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business, but after the war, the government banned it in 1992, and has undertaken eradication operations with varying degrees of enthusiasm each year since.

Farmers in the Bekaa say their area has been poor and marginalized for decades and that attempts to come up with substitute crops have been ineffective. Efforts to get farmers to switch to crops like sunflowers, saffron, and tobacco have not gone well, with the crops proving unsuitable for the environment and not as profitable as marijuana, and support for crop substitution programs has been inconsistent.

The eradicators have about another month to get at the sticky cash crop before Lebanese harvest season begins in earnest.

Bekaa Valley
Lebanon

Lebanon Hash Farmers Attack Eradicators

hashish (wikimedia.org)
Lebanese security forces began eradicating cannabis fields in the Bekaa Valley Monday, but locals fought back with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, wounding one policeman and damaging two vehicles and forcing a temporary halt to the destruction of the crop, the Daily Star reported. The attack on the eradicators took place near the village of Boudai, on the outskirts of Baalbek.

Lebanon is one of the world's leading has producers, and the Bekaa Valley has long been known as a site of cannabis production. During the Lebanese civil war, the trade blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business, but after the war, the government banned it in 1992, and has undertaken eradication operations with varying degrees of enthusiasm each year since.

Hash producers also fought back Monday morning by using burning tires to block roads in some neighborhoods in Baalbek and in the town of Boudai. Police managed to clear those blockages by midday Monday. And armed men also attacked tractors used to destroy the crop. The National News Agency reported that 15 tractors were attacked in Ain al-Sawda, with the drivers reporting that they were warned not to take part in the eradication effort.

The hash farmers accused the Lebanese government of depriving them of their main source of income and neglecting the area's development needs. They argued that the Valley has been poor and marginalized for decades, and repeated crop substitution efforts have been half-hearted at best.

But Colonel Adel Mashmoushi, head of the Lebanese anti-drug agency, defended the eradication effort. He called cannabis "a dangerous poison" and warned "drugs will spread in Lebanese society," if the crop is not destroyed.

"Everybody knows that if we do not destroy cannabis, this will tarnish Lebanon's reputation on the international level," he added. "These plants deprive the Bekaa of all legitimate sources of making a living. God willing, in the coming days will prove how serious the state is in this move, we will continue to destroy cannabis until the last plant is eradicated."

And so begins the harvest season in Lebanon.

Baalbek
Lebanon

NYPD Police Officer Indicted in Ramarley Graham Killing

Ramarley Graham
A New York City police officer has been indicted on manslaughter charges in the Bronx shooting death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. Graham, a young black man, was shot and killed in the bathroom of his own home after a team of NYPD narcotics officers followed him home, broke in, and confronted him.

When he was killed in February, Graham was the eighth person to die in drug law enforcement activities so far this year. That number is now up to 28. The indictment of NYPD Officer Richard Haste is the first of any officer in any of those deaths.

Although the indictment has not been officially unsealed, the New York Times reported that a grand jury has indicted Haste, 30, on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. More charges could be pending.

Graham was shot and killed after he and a pair of friends caught the attention of narcotics officers who had staked out a bodega on White Plains Road. They radioed their colleagues and said they believed he had a gun in his waistband as he walked toward his home. Officer Haste dashed to the scene, broke into Graham's apartment, and shot and killed him in his bathroom.

No weapon was found, but police did say they found marijuana in a plastic baggie in the toilet bowl, suggesting Graham may have been trying to get rid of the evidence to avoid becoming another New York City pot bust statistic.

The shooting has provoked anger in the community and led to numerous calls for justice for Graham and other victims of overzealous policing in the city. It has also focused attention on the aggressive tactics of the NYPD's Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, teams of officers who surreptitiously surveil the streets looking for drug deals before bursting in to bust dealers and customers.

The Graham shooting has focused attention on the aggressive tactics of the Police Department’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Units -- teams of six or seven officers who hide on rooftops or in parked cars as they scan the streetscape for drug transactions before swooping in to arrest dealers and customers. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered a review of the units' tactics, but the results of that review have not been released.

The last time NYPD officers were indicted for killing a resident was when three of them riddled Sean Bell's body with bullets as he attended his pre-wedding party in 2007. Those officers were eventually found not guilty.

New York, NY
United States

DEA Facing Fallout from Deadly Honduras Raid

In the Honduran village where four residents were killed last week by gunfire from a helicopter on a US-backed anti-drug operation complete with DEA agents on board the chopper, feelings continue to run high. On Monday, they told the Associated Press that DEA agents also accompanied Honduran commandos who stormed into homes and mistreated residents after the raid, but the agency denies that.

In the predawn hours of May 11, Honduran National Police and DEA agents were searching for a boat supposedly carrying a load of cocaine when they said they came under fire from the river. The Hondurans opened fire, but the boat they attacked was a small fishing vessel, not a smuggling craft, and the attack left two pregnant women and two others dead and four other people wounded.

The helicopter is owned by the US State Department and was one of four being used in the operation, which had already resulted in the seizure of cocaine from the banks of the river. Police on the ground and the door-gunner for one helicopter opened up on the boat.

The DEA said its agents did not open fire and did not participate in heavy-handed raids in the immediate aftermath. But villagers in the town of Ahuas said masked agents then landed in their community and broke down doors, looking for a trafficker they called "El Renco." The witnesses referred to some of the agents as "gringos" and said they were speaking English.

After the commandos left, angry villagers formed a machete-wielding mob and burned government installations and four homes belonging to families associated with El Renco. Police Chief Filiberto Pravia Rodriguez said he tried to stop the mob, but had to run for his life.

The incident comes as the US is ramping up its support of Honduran anti-drug efforts. The Obama administration is increasing the amount of anti-drug assistance and is working with the Honduran military to create forward operating bases to fight the cocaine traffic from Colombia en route to North America.

Human Rights watch has called for an investigation into the killings.

"It is critical that both Honduran and US authorities ensure that the killings are thoroughly investigated to determine whether the use of lethal force was justified," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the group. "If evidence demonstrates that security forces violated international standards, they must be held accountable."

At least one congressman, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) is calling for a review of US military assistance to Honduras, where the Honduran military took part in a coup in 2009 and where continuing human rights violations are alleged to be taking place.

"I have consistently expressed deep concerns regarding the danger of pouring US security assistance into a situation where Honduran security forces are involved in serious human rights violations," he told National Public Radio last week. "The problems are getting worse, not better, making such a review all the more urgent."

Local leaders aren't waiting for investigations or reviews. They want the DEA out now.

"For centuries we have been a peaceful people who live in harmony with nature, but today we declared these Americans to be persona non grata in our territory," the leaders of five indigenous groups said in a press statement last week picked up by the AP.

Ahuas
Honduras

Michigan Father Killed in Marijuana Child Removal Incident

A prosecutor in northern Michigan has cleared the police officer who shot and killed a Grayling man as police and Child Protective Services (CPS) employees attempted to seize his three-year-old. The attempted removal of the minor child came after a police officer who came to the scene on a call earlier that same day reported that he smelled marijuana and reported the incident to CPS authorities, who decided the child needed to be removed. The dead man, William Reddie, 32, becomes the 17th person killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

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William Reddie
[Editor's Note: This case illustrates the difficulties that arise in determining which deaths qualify as being a direct result of drug law enforcement. Police here were enforcing child protections laws, not drug laws, but the only reason CPS was called in was because of the allegation of marijuana use. There was no allegation of crazed behavior due to marijuana use; only the allegation of use. For Michigan CPS authorities, that was enough to remove the child. Bottom line: This guy died because the state tried to take his kid because he was accused of smoking pot, so he merits inclusion. That doesn't mean his own actions didn't contribute to his death.]

Reddie's killing took place on February 3, but we only became aware of it when news broke this week that prosecutors had decided that the police officer's use of deadly force in the incident was justified.

According to the Crawford County Avalanche, Grayling police Officer Alan Somero was called to Reddie's apartment for an alleged domestic disturbance. Somero made no arrests, but believed he smelled marijuana and reported it to CPS. Two CPS employees went to Reddie's apartment to check on the situation. They then got a court order to remove Reddie's 3-year-old son, Cameron, and asked police to escort them to the apartment to serve the court order.

The Gaylord Herald-Times, which obtained the CPS removal order, added more detail. It reported that Reddie had been accused of smoking marijuana in front of his son, and that Reddie had become "agitated" and threatened police when confronted by that accusation earlier in the day.

The court order gave the following reason for removing the child: "There are reasonable grounds for this court to remove the child(ren) from the parent... because conditions or surroundings of the child(ren), and is contrary to the welfare of the child(ren) to remain in the home because: It is alleged that the father used marijuana in the home in the presence of the child. In addition, there is concern for the safety of the child due to a domestic disturbance and threats made toward law enforcement by the father."

Returning to the Avalanche's narrative, when police and CPS workers arrived to seize the child, Reddie then reportedly displayed a pocketknife and lunged at them. Crawford County Deputy John Klepadlo shot and killed him. Police had been deploying Tasers, but holstered them and grabbed their guns when Reddie displayed the knife.

Crawford County Sheriff Kirk Wakefield then asked the Michigan State Police to investigate his deputy's use of deadly force. The Michigan Attorney General's Office referred the case to the neighboring Roscommon County Prosecutor's Office. After receiving a report from the State Police, Roscommon County DA Mark Jernigan determined that the use of deadly force was justified and that Klepadlo would not be charged with any crime.

"The deceased was in possession of an edged weapon," Jernigan said. "The deceased pulled a knife and hid it behind his back. At the point where he pulls his hand forward and lunges at the officer, he is in such close proximity, and presents a clear danger of deadly force, the officer is left with no option other than to use deadly force to protect himself, the other officer and the three civilians that were present. The use of deadly force is completely justified and therefore, the homicide was justified."

Toxicology reports, which were included in the final investigation, showed there was no marijuana or alcohol in Reddie's system when he was killed.

Reddie had been seeking permanent custody of his son and was due in court for a hearing on that matter three days after he was killed.

"They took the only thing he ever loved," Reddie's mother, Michelle VanBuren, told the Avalanche after the prosecutor's announcement.

VanBuren said she was baffled by the conduct of authorities, especially since no evidence or alcohol or marijuana use was found. She said she had been in contact with her son throughout that day.

"I was on the phone with my son all day, and that cop was bullying him and harassing him so badly," she said. "Where was protect and serve?" VanBuren asked. "The officers always have to stick together and for them to do this is just totally uncalled for."

VanBuren said the family would continue to fight to ensure that CPS and law enforcement are held accountable for their actions. "They need to be held accountable and they will be held accountable, believe you me," she said.

Reddie's family is not alone in questioning police and CPS actions. "I can't believe they (police) could not subdue Will without killing him, and over what, marijuana," said Joanne Michal, who knew Reddie for half of his life. "Why didn't police just arrest him or cite him for marijuana instead of removing his child?" she told the Herald-Times.

"It is particularly sad that Will was shot to death right in front of his son," Michal continued. "Why not use a Taser? Even if he (Will) had a knife and lunged at police, they didn't have to kill him. Instead of using a Taser, you shoot him in front of his child. It is just totally unjustified. They didn't have to kill him. I think it's very sad that his life was taken during the removal of his son. And the smell of marijuana shouldn't have been a reason for an emergency order. Just a few days before he was killed, Will was visiting, and he was so excited because a hearing was coming up for custody. And it seemed to give him hope of getting permanent custody. His son was everything to him."

Crawford County Clerk Sandra Moore said she also knew Reddie. "It's truly a shame," Moore said. "He was a good guy and very fond of his son. He had been very excited just days before" about gaining permanent custody.

Cameron Reddie is now in foster care. His father's family is seeking visitation rights.

Meanwhile, Deputy Klepadlo, who had been on administrative leave after the shooting, is back on the job.

Grayling, MI
United States

Two More Drug Raids, Two More Deaths

Two drug raids last Wednesday, one in Miami Lakes, Florida, and one in New Orleans, have resulted in the deaths of two men, one in each raid. Michael Ray Santana, 26, of Miami Lakes and Wendell Allen, 20, of New Orleans become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Miami Lakes, according to police, Santana was shot and killed after he confronted members of the Miami-Dade police Special Response Team, a SWAT-style outfit, serving a "high risk narcotics search warrant" at his residence. Police said officers knocked, announced themselves, and then went inside, when they were confronted by a man armed with a firearm.

Santana was the subject of the police investigation, and police said they found numerous firearms and a substantial amount of unspecified "narcotics" in the residence.

In New Orleans, according to police, Allen was shot in the chest and killed by a police officer serving a search warrant at a home where he was present. Officers from both the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department took part in the raid, but the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shot has not been made public.

Police made no mention of any weapons found.

New Orleans Police Superintedant Ronal Serpas said the house in the Gentilly district had been under surveillance for several days.

"Today, multiple narcotics transactions of a distribution nature were observed," he said, adding that a person who left the house was later charged arrested for intent to distribute "narcotics."

Serpa did not identify either the shooter or the dead man, and he didn't take questions during a brief press conference.

But a distraught woman at the scene of the shooting told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he was her grandson, Wendell Allen.

Allen's shooting was the second fatal police shooting in the NOPD's 3rd District in less than a week.

As people milled around the scene of the shooting, one woman screamed, "Lord have mercy! Why does this stuff keep happening?" Another shouted, "The policeman killed him. They killed my baby."

Allen had one arrest on his record, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was one year into a five-year suspended sentence when he was shot and killed.

In the days since Allen's death last week, a growing clamor has arisen.The Louisiana Justice Institute is threatening to sue the city unless it releases more information on the killing. Police have yet to supply a narrative of what happened, and the officer who pulled the trigger has yet to be interviewed. Family members and community activists demonstrated last Friday and again on Tuesday to keep up the pressure.

What is clear is that the raid was aimed at small-time marijuana dealing, and Allen wasn't the subject of the raid.

 

Bronx Narc Kills Unarmed Teen

A NYPD narcotics officer shot and killed a Bronx 18-year-old Thursday as the teen was allegedly trying to flush drugs down a toilet in his own home. Ramarley Graham becomes the eighth person to die in US drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and it appears to have been over a small amount of marijuana.

Police told the Wall Street Journal the undercover narcs had already arrested two other men they watched allegedly selling drugs Thursday afternoon when they approached Graham. He ran to his home nearby, followed by police, and into a second-floor bathroom, where he was possibly trying to flush drugs, police said.

When an unidentified officer confronted him in the bathroom, Graham spun around, and, according to police, there was a struggle, and the officer then shot him in the chest. It wasn't clear what caused the officer to fire. Graham was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A small amount of pot was floating in the toilet bowl.

An earlier report from PIX-11 TV, however, had police telling local media Graham "made a motion near his waist leading them to believe he was armed" when he was still on the street. He wasn't, police have conceded.

Police were quick to tell local media about Graham's arrest record, which included busts for burglary, robbery, dealing marijuana, and other offenses. But they didn't say how those cases had been resolved or whether they were even aware of his identity when they shot him.

After the shooting, PIX-11 TV reported that "Graham's parents were at the White Plains Road intersection visibly agitated and a crowd of approximately 80 people were openly hostile towards police, berating officers lined up along the crime scene tape."

Graham's mother, Constance Malcolm, 39, told the Wall Street Journal, a neighbor had called her at work to tell her her son had been killed. Malcolm said her mother and her six-year-old son were also in the apartment during the shooting.

"The cops told me they were chasing him. He had weed, and that's it," Ms. Malcolm said. "Nobody deserves to be shot like that in their own house."

Bronx, NY
United States

At Year's End, Five More US Drug War Deaths

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We're doing it again this year, too. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at [email protected].]

Slain officer Arnulfo Crispin
Five people, including a Florida police officer, have died in recent days in incidents related to domestic drug law enforcement. They become the 49th through 54th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations in 2011. Of those 54, three were law enforcement officers.

In North Charleston, South Carolina Wayne Mitchell, 20, died on November 30 after eating an ounce of cocaine while he and his brother, Deangelo, 23, were detained in the back seat of a police car after they were pulled over by police. According to local media citing police sources, police car video showed the brothers discussing their situation, and Deangelo was seen removing cocaine from his pants and giving it to his brother. Deangelo, who has a record of previous cocaine arrests is heard saying he can't afford another strike and "one of us gotta do it." Wayne Mitchell swallowed the cocaine and later died at a hospital. It was only three weeks later, after toxicology tests came back, that police announced the death and said they planned to charge Deangelo Mitchell with manslaughter.

In Lakeland, Florida, Lakeland police Officer Arnulfo Crispin was shot in the head on the night of December 18 as he attempted to frisk five men for guns and drugs in a local park. He died of his wounds three days later. According to police, Crispin radioed in that he was getting out of his patrol car to talk with "suspicious subjects." Two of the men present told police Crispin asked the men for their consent for a "pat-down" search for weapons and/or illegal drugs, and as he was searching them, Kyle Williams, 19, pulled a weapon and shot him. At that point, everyone fled the park, leaving Crispin lying on the ground. Another Lakeland police officer sent as back-up arrived on the scene minutes later to find Crispin had been shot. Williams has been arrested and is facing murder charges.

In St. Louis, Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, was shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer on December 20. According to police, officers on routine patrol saw a transaction they suspected was a drug deal take place outside a chicken restaurant. As officers approached, one man ran off on foot, while Smith jumped into a car and fled. Police said he drove the vehicle toward them, so one officer fired a shot, but didn't hit Smith. Police chased Smith's car until it spun out, and a police car hit Smith's car, causing the air bag to deploy and blocking the cops' view of the driver. Smith refused demands to get out of the car, and when one of the officers tried to move the air bag to get a view of Smith, he saw him reach under his seat and fired shots, killing him. Police said they searched the vehicle and found a gun and suspected narcotics. A police investigation of the incident is under way.

In Houma, Louisiana, Wayne Michael Williams, 27, died December 21 after being tasered by police as he tried to swallow plastic bags of suspected cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. According to local media citing police sources, Williams was stopped by narcotics agents after they saw him exchange an object with another man. Police said he tried to swallow something and drive away as agents approached. They tasered and handcuffed him before noticing he wasn't breathing. Medical workers pulled a bag of suspected cocaine out of his throat in the ambulance and another containing suspected heroin and marijuana was removed at the hospital.

Williams' death drew sharp criticism from his relatives and residents of the trailer park where he was stopped, who have accused the Terrebonne Narcotics Task Force of heavy-handed tactics and harassing the community. But Terrebonne Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois said his office has completed an internal review and cleared all the officers to return to duty.

In Camden, New Jersey, Eddie Velazquez, 29, was shot and killed by a state trooper December 23 behind a liquor store in what police called "a high crime area." According to police, troopers were in the area to investigate suspected drug activity. When one trooper approached the SUV Velazquez was sitting in, he accelerated in reverse, striking and dragging the trooper. He then pulled forward and struggled with the trooper, who then shot him. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said he was carrying a loaded .45 caliber handgun in the pocket of his sweatshirt, but they did not say he had shot it or brandished it.

State troopers are patrolling Camden under orders from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who deployed them there earlier this month in response to a rash of deadly violence. Christie said at the time the troopers would provide "a visible surge" in uniformed officers on Camden's streets.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

The new year is upon us and 2011 is now a year for the history books. But we can't let it go without recognizing the biggest global drug policy stories of the year. From the horrors of the Mexican drug wars to the growing clamor over the failures of prohibition, from the poppy fields of Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle to the coca fields of the Andes, from European parliaments to Iranian gallows, drug prohibition and its consequences were big news this year.

Of course, we can't cover it all. We have no room to note the the emergence of West Africa as a transshipment point for South American cocaine bound for Europe's booming user markets, nor the unavailability of opioid pain medications in much of the world; we've given short shrift to the horrors of "drug treatment" in Southeast Asia; and we've barely mentioned the rising popularity of synthetic stimulants in European club scenes, among other drug policy-related issues. We'll be keeping an eye on all of those, but in the meantime, here are our choices for this year's most important global drug policy stories:

The Mexican Drug Wars

militarized US-Mexico border
This month marks the fifth anniversary of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's declaration of war on his country's drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- and five years in, his policy can only be described as a bloody disaster. The death toll stands at somewhere around 45,000 since Calderon sent in the army and the federal police, but that figure doesn't begin to describe the horror of the drug wars, with their gruesome brutality and exemplary violence.

Mexico's drug wars pit the army and the state and federal police against the cartels, the cartels against each other, and different factions of state, local, and federal police, and even different military commands, aligned with various cartels fighting each other in a multi-sided dance of death. All the violence and corruption has had a corrosive effect on Mexicans' perceptions of personal and public safety and security, as well as on its political system.

It has also tarnished the reputation of the Mexican military. After a two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch reported last month credible evidence that the security forces, led by the military, were responsible for 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances and 24 extrajudicial killings in the five states they studied.

And, as the cartels battle each other, the military, and the various police, the violence that was once limited to a handful of border cities has spread to cities across the country. Once relatively peaceful Acapulco has been wracked by cartel violence, and this year, both Veracruz and Monterrey, cities once unaffected by the drug wars, have seen murderous acts of spectacular violence.

Meanwhile, business continues as usual, with drugs flowing north across the US border and voluminous amounts of cash and guns flowing south. Calderon's drug war, which has racked up a $43 billion bill so far (and an additional nearly one billion in US Plan Merida aid), has managed to kill or capture dozens of cartel capos, but has had no discernable impact on the provision of drugs across the border to feed America's voracious appetite. Worse, the attempted crackdown on the cartels has led them to expand their operations to neighboring Central American countries where the state is even weaker than in Mexico. Both Guatemala and Honduras have seen significant acts of violence attributed to the cartels this year, while El Salvador and Nicaragua also complain of the increasing presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

There are, however, a couple of positives to report. First, the carnage may have peaked, or at least reached a plateau. It now appears that the 2011 death toll this year, while tremendously high at around 12,000, didl not exceed last year's 15,000. That would mark the first downturn in the killing since Calderon called out the troops.

Second, the bloody failure of Calderon's drug war is energizing domestic Mexican as well as international calls to end drug prohibition. A strong civil society movement against the drug war and violence has emerged in Mexico and, sadly, the sorrow of Mexico is now Exhibit #1 for critics of drug prohibition around the world.

Afghanistan: Still the World's Drug Crop Capital

anti-opium abuse posters at a drug treatment center in Kabul (photo by the author)
A decade after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on, even as it begins to wind down. And Afghanistan's status as the world's number one opium poppy producer remains unchallenged. In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies.

The Afghan poppy crop was down in 2010, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. In 2011, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the area under poppy cultivation increased 7%, but that the expected harvest increased 61% because of better yields and would produce about 5,800 metric tons of opium.

The 2010 blight-related poppy shortage led to price increases, which encouraged farmers to plant more poppy and more than doubled the farm-gate value of the crop from $605 million to more than $1.4 billion. Additional hundreds of millions go to traders and traffickers, some linked to the Taliban, others linked to government officials. Last year, US and NATO forces embarked on counter-drug operations aimed at traders and traffickers, but only those linked to the Taliban.

And it's not just opium. According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2011, Afghanistan is also "among the significant cannabis resin producing countries," producing somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 metric tons of hash in 2010, with no reason to think it has changed dramatically in 2011. That brings in somewhere between $85 million and $265 million at the farm gate.

A decade after the US invasion, Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer by far and possibly the world's largest cannabis producer. Given the crucial role these drug crops play in the Afghan economy, there is little reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

The Return of the Golden Triangle

In 2010's roundup of major international drug stories, we mentioned the reemergence of opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle. In 2011, production has accelerated. According to the UNODC's Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2011, opium production has been increasing since 2006, but jumped 16% last year.

The region produced an estimated 638 metric tons this year, of which 91% came from Myanmar, with Laos and Thailand producing the rest. The region is now responsible for about 12% of annual global opium production.

The amount of land under poppy cultivation is still only one-third of what it was at its 1998 peak, but has more than doubled from its low point of 20,000 hectares in 2006. More importantly, estimated total production has rebounded and is now nearly half of what it was in 1998. The UNODC points a finger at chronic food insecurity, weak national governments, and the involvement of government actors, especially in Myanmar.

If Afghanistan does not produce enough opium to satisfy global illicit demand, the countries on the Golden Triangle are standing in the wings, ready to make up the difference.

The Rising Clamor for Legalization

former Mexican president Vicente Fox speaking at the Cato Institute
2011 saw calls for ending drug prohibition growing ever louder and coming from ever more corners of the world. Throughout the year, Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have called repeatedly for drug legalization, or at least a serious discussion of it. Although the specifics of their remarks shift over time -- sometimes it's a call for drug legalization, sometimes for marijuana legalization, sometimes for decriminalization -- leaders like Fox and Santos are issuing a clarion call for fundamental change in global drug policies.

That such calls should come from leaders in Colombia and Mexico is no surprise -- those are two of the countries most ravaged by drug prohibition and the violence it fuels. By the fall, even current Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who unleashed Mexico's drug war five years ago, was starting to join the chorus. In an October interview with Time magazine, Calderon said he could never win in Mexico if Americans don't reduce demand or "reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs." While he was unwilling to take the final step and embrace ending prohibition, he added that "I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs."

But the biggest news in the international battle to end drug prohibition came at mid-year, when the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a star-studded panel of former presidents and prime ministers, public intellectuals, and business magnates, called the global war on drugs "a failure" and urged governments worldwide to should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, in a report that drew press attention from around the world.

The commission, heavily salted with Latin American luminaries, grew out of the previous year's Latin American Initiative on Drug Policy and includes some of the same members, including former Brazilian President Henry Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. It is paired with the UK-based Beckley Foundation's Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, which launched in November and is eyeing changes in the legal backbone of international drug prohibition, the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its successor treaties. The global commission also picked up strong support from an organization of Latin American judicial figures, Latin Judges on Drugs and Human Rights, which echoed the commission's call with its own Rome Declaration.

European Reforms

wall paintings near the entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (wikipedia.org)
Drug reform continued its achingly slow progress in Europe in 2011, with a handful of real advances, as well as a number of parties in various countries taking strong drug reform stands. But while Europe has largely embraced harm reduction and seen the positive results of Portugal's decade-long experiment with drug decriminalization, getting to the take level -- ending drug prohibition -- remains elusive.

In March, Scotland's Liberal Democrats voted to making campaigning for heroin maintenance treatment part of their party platform. Heroin users should not be fined or imprisoned, but should be given the drug through the National Health Service, party members agreed.

In September, their more powerful brethren, the British Liberal Democrats, who are junior partners with the Conservatives in the governing coalition, did them one better by adopting a resolution supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and the regulated distribution of marijuana and calling for an "impact assessment" of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that would provide a venue for considering decriminalization and controlled marijuana sales. That is going to lead to debate in parliament on the issue next year.

In August, the Greek government proposed drug decriminalization in a bill sent to parliament by Justice Minister Miltadis Papioannou. Under the proposed bill, drug possession for personal use would qualify only as "misconduct" instead of a more serious criminal offense. The bill would also guarantee the right to drug treatment, including for people currently imprisoned. People deemed "addict offenders" by the courts would be provided treatment instead of being jailed. But given the other pressing matters before the Greek government, the bill has yet to move.

Probably the most significant actual drug reform achievement in Europe in 2011 was Poland's passage of a law that allows prosecutors to divert drug users into treatment instead of prison. That law went into effect in December. The new law lets prosecutors bypass the courts in a "treat, not punish" approach to drug use when confronted with people arrested in possession of small amounts of drugs. A person arrested with personal use quantities of drugs can now be immediately referred to a therapist, and prosecutors are compelled to gather information on the extent of the person's drug problem. Still, there is an appetite for more reform; a political party that wants legalize soft drugs won 10% of the vote in the October presidential elections.

There has been some movement on marijuana and hints of more to come, as well in 2011. In an otherwise dismal year for weed in the Netherlands (see below), the Dutch high court ruled in April that anyone can grow up to five pot plants without facing criminal charges, no matter how big the harvest. The ruling came after prosecutors went after two different people who produced large multi-pound yields from a handful of plants, arguing that such harvests violated the Dutch five-gram rule. The court disagreed, but said that the pot would have to be turned over to police if they came to the door.

In June, Italy's top court ruled that balcony pot grows are okay, finding that the amounts of pot produced in such grows "could cause no harm." It's a small advance on earlier court rulings, and a step in the right direction.

And then there are moves that are pushing the envelope. Last month, the Copenhagen city council voted to explore how best to legalize and regulate pot sales. The move has the support of the mayor, but has to be approved by the Danish parliament, which has balked at such measures before. Maybe this time will be different. And raising the ante, the Basque parliament is set to approve a new drug law that will regulate marijuana cultivation, distribution, and consumption. The move is being propelled by the health ministry in the autonomous region of Spain, and would be a direct challenge to the UN conventions' ban on legalization.

Medical Marijuana's Slowly Growing Global Acceptance

It comes by dribs and drabs, but it comes.

In Israel, the Cabinet approved guidelines in August that will govern the supply of marijuana for medical and research purposes. In so doing, it explicitly agreed that marijuana does indeed have medical uses. The move came on the heels of a Health Ministry decision the week before  to deal with supply problems by setting up a unit within the department to grow medical marijuana. That unit will begin operating in January 2012. Currently, medical marijuana is supplied by private Israeli growers, but with the number of medical marijuana patients expected to rise from the current 6,000 to 40,000 by 2016, the state is stepping in to help out with supply.

In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Health said in September it plans to remove marijuana from its list of proscribed substances and allow it to be prescribed by doctors. The ministry said it would move to amend Czech drug laws by the end of the year to allow for the prescription of marijuana by doctors, although we haven't seen that actually happen yet. The ministry must also determine what sort of distribution system to set up. The Israeli model, where the state is licensing medical marijuana farms, is one oft-cited system.

In New Zealand, medical marijuana was on the agenda of the New Zealand Law Commission when it issued a report in May reviewing the country's drug laws. In addition to other drug reform measures, the commission called for clinical trials on medical marijuana "as soon as practicable" and said medical marijuana patients should not be arrested in the meantime. "Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the government consider doing this." The government there does not appear to be eager to follow those recommendations, but the commission report is laying the groundwork for progress.

In Canada, which has an existing medical marijuana program, the news is more mixed. Health Canada is in the process of adopting a "more traditional regulatory role" for the medical marijuana "marketplace, and envisions privatized medical marijuana provision by licensed and strictly regulated grower. That doesn't sit well with a lot of patients and activists because it means Health Canada wants to eliminate patients' ability to grow their own. Nor were patients particularly impressed with Health Canada's earlier attempt to provide privately produced and licensed medical marijuana. Without outright legalization of marijuana being more popular than the Conservative government, Canada may eventually get around to solving its medical marijuana problem by just legalizing it all.

Iran's Drug War Execution Frenzy

drug burn marking International Anti-Drugs Day, Tehran
Iran has garnered itself a well-deserved reputation as one of the world's leading practitioners of the death penalty, but 2011 saw an absolute explosion of death sentences and executions -- the vast majority of them for drug offenses. At the end of January, we reported that Iran had already executed 56 drug offenders for offenses involving more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin. As if that weren't enough, in February, the Islamic Republic made trafficking in synthetic drugs, including meth, a capital offense. More than 50 grams (less than two ounces) of meth could bring the death penalty, but only on a second offense.

At the end of May, by which time the execution toll for drug offenses had risen to 126, Iran announced it had 300 drug offenders on death row and lashed out at Western critics, saying if the West was unhappy with the killings, Iran could simply quit enforcing its drug laws.

"The number of executions in Iran is high because 74% of those executed are traffickers in large quantities of opium from Afghanistan bound for European markets," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights, during a press conference that month. "There is an easy way for Iran and that is to close our eyes so drug traffickers can just pass through Iran to anywhere they want to go," he said."The number of executions in Iran would drop 74%. That would be very good for our reputation."

In a December report, Amnesty International condemned Iran's drug executions, saying the Islamic Republic has embarked on "a killing spree of staggering proportions." The London-based human rights group said "at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offenses so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty International recorded at least 166 executions for similar offenses."

"To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment," said Amnesty's Interim Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Ann Harrison. "Drug offenses go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months," Harrison said.

Amnesty said it began to receive credible reports of a new wave of drug executions in the middle of 2010, including reports of mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one, on August 4, 2010, involving at least 89 people. While Iran officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offenses, Amnesty said it has credible reports of another 300 executions, "the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offenses."

"Ultimately, Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly," said Harrison.

Amnesty also accused Iran of executing people without trial, extracting confessions by torture, failing to notify families -- or sometimes, even inmates -- of impending executions, and mainly executing the poor, members of minority groups, or foreigners, including large numbers of Afghans.

Amnesty noted tartly that Iran receives significant international support in its war on drugs. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided $22 million since 2005 to support training for Iranian anti-drug forces, while the European Union is providing $12.3 million for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-drug cooperation. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, and Japan have all provided anti-drug assistance to Iran via UNODC programs.

"All countries and international organizations helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offenses need to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions," said Harrison. "They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths."

Iran may be the most egregious offender when it comes to killing drug offenders, but it is by no means the only one. Other countries that not only have the death penalty for drug offenses but actually apply it include China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Human rights activists argue that the death penalty for drug offenses violates the UN Charter. For information on ongoing efforts to curtail the use of the death penalty for drug offenses, visit the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project.

In a bit of good news on the death penalty front, in June, India's Bombay High Court struck down a mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses.The regional high court is the equivalent of a US district court of appeals.

"This is a positive development, which signals that courts have also started to recognize principles of harm reduction and human rights in relation to drugs. It is not utopia, but it is a giant step," said Indian Harm Reduction Network head Luke Samson.

"The Court has upheld at the domestic level what has been emphasized for years by international human rights bodies -- capital drug laws that take away judicial discretion are a violation of the rule of law," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International (formerly the International Harm Reduction Association) and author of The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Violation of International Human Rights Law"India's justice system has affirmed that it is entirely unacceptable for such a penalty to be mandatory. This will set a positive precedent for judicial authorities in the region, which is rife with draconian drug laws."

Weekly updates on executions worldwide including for drug offenses are available from the Rome-based group Hands Off Cain.

The Netherlands Will Bar Foreigners from its Cannabis Cafes... and More

a coffee shop in Amsterdam (wikimedia.org)
The Netherlands' conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte continued and deepened its effort to undo Holland's reputation as a marijuana haven and drug tourism destination last year. Plans to ban foreigners from Dutch cannabis cafes reached fruition in 2011, with the Dutch Justice Ministry saying in November that foreigners would be barred from southern border coffee shops effective January 1. A month later, the government announced that plan would be delayed until May, and would go into effect nationwide beginning in 2013. Goodbye, tourist dollars.

But it's not just clamping down on foreigners. The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, with local governments putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.). Now, the national government will be limiting their client base to 2,000 card carrying Dutch nationals each.

The national government also rather bizarrely declared in October that it wanted to declare high-potency marijuana a dangerous drug like cocaine or heroin and ban its possession or sale. That hasn't happened yet, but unless the Dutch get around to electing a more progressive government, the Christian Democrats and their allies will continue to work to undo the country's progressive pot policy reputation, not to mention its tourism industry..

North America's Only Supervised Injection Site Gets a Reprieve

Ending a years' long effort by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper to close Insite, the Vancouver supervised injection site for hard drug users, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in September that it should be allowed to stay open.

The Harper government, a foe of harm reduction practices in general and safe inection sites in particular, had argued that the federal drug law took precedence over British Columbia's public health policies. British Columbia and other Insite supporters argued that because Insite is providing a form of health care, its operation is a provincial matter. The federal government's concerns did not outweigh the benefits of Insite, the court said.

"The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for Insite cannot be ignored," the court said. "Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada."

Insite has been the only supervised injection site on the North American continent, but in the wake of that ruling, that may not be the case for long. In the wake of the September ruling, Montreal announced plans for four safe injection sites in December. It's not a done deal -- it will require financing from provincial health agencies -- but plans are moving forward. And there are distant rumblings of plans for an effort to get a supervised injection site running in San Francisco, which would be a first for the US, but don't hold your breath on that one.

If the Harper government has been defeated in its effort to kill supervised injection sites, it is moving forward with plans to pass an omnibus crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, including growing as few as six pot plants. With an absolute majority in a parliamentary system, there seems to be no way to block the bill's passage, which will mean a real step backward for our northern neighbor as it emulates some of our worst penal practices.

Bolivia Challenges the Global Coca Ban

coca leaves drying in warehouse, Ayacucho province (photo by the author)
At the end of June, the Bolivian government of former coca-grower union leader Evo Morales announced it was resigning from the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs because that treaty bans the cultivation of coca. The resignation is effective January 1. The move came after a failed effort last year by Bolivia to amend the treaty to allow for coca cultivation, a traditional activity in the Andes, where the plant has been used as a mild stimulant and hunger suppresser for millennia.

"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian at the time.

Bolivia will rejoin the convention sometime during the new year, but with the reservation that it does not accept the language proscribing the coca plant.

That move has aroused the concern of the International Narcotics Control Board, which issued a statement saying the international community should reject moves by any country to quit the treaty and return with reservations doing so "would undermine the integrity of the global drug control system."

Of course, there are many people aside from Evo Morales who believe the global drug control system lacks any integrity whatsoever. For those people, the actions of Bolivia represent the first serious effort to begin to undo the legal backbone of the global prohibition system.

Morales himself said last month
that he believes Bolivia will succeed next year. "I am convinced that next year we will win this international 'fight' for the recognition of chewing coca leaves as a tradition of peoples in Latin America, living in the Andes," he  said in an interview with the Bolivian radio station Patria Nueva.

In ending...

Global drug prohibition is under sustained, systemic, and well-deserved attack. It is being attacked (finally) in its core treaties and institutions, it is under ever broader political attack from around the planet; its central precepts are increasingly tattered. Ever year the clamor grows louder in the face of prohibition's screaming failure to accomplish its given ends and the terrible costs it generates. The process of chipping away at drug prohibition is under way. The prohibitionist consensus is crumbling; now comes the struggle to finally kill the beast and replace it with a more sensible, compassionate, and smarter approach to mind-altering substances.

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