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Chronicle Book Review: Hemp Bound

Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine (2014, Chelsea Green Publishers, 145 pp., $17.50 PB)

Hemp shouldn't have anything to do with drug policy. It's a cannabis sub-species low in THC so it doesn't get you high, but impressive as an industrial agriculture crop, one with uses in a broad and ever-increasing range of activities. The applications are numerous, and farmers in countries around the world, including just across the border in Canada, are making a living growing for an ever-expanding market, both here in the US and abroad.

Drug War Chronicle shouldn't be writing about hemp any more than it should be writing about corn or flax or soybeans. This should be the stuff of rural radio station farm shows and county agricultural extension office pamphlets.

But here we are -- because in what is arguably the single stupidest manifestation of the war on drugs, and the war on marijuana in particular, our farmers can't grow it. And that's because the DEA cannot be convinced to change its boneheaded position that hemp is marijuana. In fact, it even took getting slapped down by a federal appeals court to force the DEA to allow hemp products -- oil and seeds, fibers, biofuels -- to be imported into the country.

Still, the ban on US domestic hemp production is hurting American farmers, American agriculture, and the American economy. Farmers in North Dakota can stare across that imaginary line in the prairie and see their Canadian counterparts pocketing $250 an acre in what is a billion-dollar a year industry north of the border. Meanwhile, the Chinese are now years ahead of us in the tech for "cottonizing" hemp; making it a soft, desirable fiber.

All that's standing in the way is the DEA. North Dakota is among 13 states that have already passed laws defining hemp as distinct from marijuana and removing barriers to its production. And now, with the recent passage of the federal farm bill complete with a hemp amendment authorizing universities and agriculture departments in those 13 states to produce hemp for research purposes, hemp is about to bust out of the gate.

It's not quite there yet. That's going to take the DEA having a change of heart -- fat chance -- or, increasingly more likely, an act of Congress. There are hemp bills in both Houses this session, and while I would be surprised if they passed this year, it's coming. It's coming both because of rapidly changing attitudes about marijuana and because it is just too damned stupid to shoot ourselves in the foot any longer by letting everybody else but us grow this valuable agricultural commodity.

And Doug Fine is here to cheer it on. The veteran journalist (and New Mexico goat farmer with an organic bent) came to hemp the way many of us have -- through marijuana -- as he researched his third book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. Now, with Hemp Bound, he's embraced an enthusiastic new role as an apostle of weed's country cousin. He's taken up the mantle of Jack Herer, but with more rigorous scientific backing, and while he doesn't want to shout out "Hemp will save the world!" one gets the definite sense that he thinks it's really going to help.

And he's done the research to back his claims. Fine interviews people in all aspects of the hemp industry, from Canadian farmers, scientists, and government officials to a Denver hemp-powered limo driver, a Dutchman whose company manufactures hemp fiber panels for the European luxury car market, and a Brit whose company uses hemp as a building material. The extent of the global hemp industry is truly eye-opening, and Fine is very seriously urging us here in the US to quit screwing around and get on the bandwagon.

Hemp Bound is not only informative and exciting, it's a fun read. Fine writes with passion, verve, and humor, and a sharp eye for bullshit. The chapters are fact-filled, but short, and are interspersed with interviews with the various players. And he gets bonus style points for managing to use the word "Saskatchewanian" (let that roll off your tongue), although there are style points foregone by using "separate the wheat from the chaff" instead of a hempier "separate the bast from the hurd" (if that's the correct analog; I defer to the true hemp experts here).

Mostly, Hemp Bound is a plea for us to take advantage of this plant. Fine waxes missionary over its multiple applications -- as he notes, a Popular Science article from the 1930s cited 25,000 industrial uses -- which I like to simplify and summarize as "The Three Fs" -- food, fiber, and fuel. And, if Fine and the people he talks to are correct, he's got good reason to be enthusiastic. With hemp, one can do good (by producing healthy, sustainable products with few nasty inputs and reducing reliance on petroleum products) and do well (make some money) at the same time.

But Hemp Bound is also an introduction to hemp and a how-to manual for American farmers thinking about making the leap. I come from an agricultural state. I know real live farmers. They are skeptical and tend to smirk at hippies, but they can also look around their acreages and see the ditch weed. Guys who are struggling to make a living with a thousand acres of corn and soybeans may be amenable to hemp if they think they can make a go of it. The profit is only $250 an acre, but when you have a thousand acres, that adds up, and farmers can count.

Fine speaks directly to these guys, some of whom are going to be the pioneers in America's next hemp boom. He can talk the talk that farmers talk. I think Hemp Bound needs to get in the hands of a lot of farmers, and I've made arrangements to see that it gets to a couple I know in central South Dakota. It also needs to get in the hands of legislators, state and university ag departments, and anyone else interested in starting our hemp revolution. We have some catching up to do, and Hemp Bound is our handbook.

Chronicle Review Essay: Marijuana Policy Past and Future

A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian (2014, The New Press, 264 pp., $17.95 PB)

After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy by John Walker (2014, FDL Writers Foundation, 194 pp., $14.99 PB)

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It has been fewer than 20 years since California voters ushered in the modern era of marijuana policy by approving a loosely-written initiative to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Since then, medical marijuana laws have spread to almost half the states (and that's not including those CBD-only bills in vogue this year), nearly as many states have decriminalized small-time pot possession, and two have taken the plunge into full (more or less) legalization.

I'm optimistic that the pace of change is only going to accelerate. I can foresee Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia legalizing it at the ballot box this year; with California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana all good candidates for doing the same in 2016. And if advocates in big Midwest states like Ohio and Michigan can ever manage to get a legalization initiative on the ballot there, we could pick up critical states in the Heartland.

It'll be a tougher slog in the states, mainly in the East, that don't have the initiative process. I would be surprised to see any of them legalize it until after 2016, in part because the legislative process is typically so slow, but also in part because after 2016, legislators will begin to understand that they're about to miss the marijuana revenues boat. While legalization bills are already popping up around the country, I'm not holding my breath, but I expect one or more of the New England states to legalize it at the statehouse in the months following the 2016 election, and then the race will really be on.

I have to thank Firedoglake's Jon Walker for helping to clarify my thoughts on this. With After Legalization, he posits what the near future of pot policy is going to look like, and he presents a convincing scenario similar to that which I have just advanced. Walker uses the rhetorical conceit of looking back from the year 2030 and argues that by that point, federal marijuana prohibition will be history (having ended sometimes in the 2020s) and 43 of the 50 states will have legalized it. (Two more, Idaho and Wyoming, in Walker's scenario, will have chosen to allow people to grow and consume their own, but won't allow marijuana sales.)

But After Legalization is much more than mere wishful prognosticating. It is an in-depth, thoughtful, and insightful look at how our approach to legal marijuana will evolve, what the issues are likely to be, where the battle lines are likely to be drawn, and who the players will be (you might be surprised). Walker provides concrete hypothetical examples of different approaches to legalization (available at state stores only, available from private stores, available from gourmet boutique stores), different product lines, and differing tax and regulation schemes, as well as delving into the minutiae of state and local regulation.

One thing that struck me was Walker's assertion that the wholesale cost of high quality marijuana under general legalization would be about $37 an ounce, and that good pot would probably sell for something like $75 an ounce retail -- more at those fancy boutiques. That's way cheaper than what we're currently seeing in Colorado, where legal pot is fetching near black market prices, but I suppose that black market premium will go down in the face of broader legalization.

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Relatedly, Walker also argues that the federal government can effectively set retail marijuana prices. It can do so by imposing a two-tiered excise tax that only kicks in if individual states have not passed their own excise tax. California could choose to impose no excise tax on pot, but it would gain no competitive advantage in pricing because then the federal excise tax would come into play. Such a system would, however, discourage states from setting excessive excise taxes because they could be undercut by neighbors.

After Legalization is an exercise in serious marijuana wonkery -- and I mean that in a good way. After legalization, the struggle won't be one of freedom and liberation, but of legislative committees, zoning boards, and product packaging disputes. Multiple interests will be at play, and pot smokers will only be one of them. Walker's work unpacks these intricacies, lays out the possibilities, and still manages to be entertaining. It should be required reading for policy-makers, legislators, and staffers beginning to grapple with these issues, but it's a comprehensive and provocative read for anyone with a serious interest in the future of pot policy.

If Walker attempts to answer the question "Where do we go from here?" Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian attempt to tell us how we got here in the first place with A New Leaf. With the pair of investigative journalists, we're off on a journey into the recent history of marijuana law reform. Regular readers of the Drug War Chronicle will know the stories the pair tell and the people they talk to -- this is exactly what I've been covering for the past 13 years -- but Martin and Rashidian manage to turn the whirlwind of events into a seamless, comprehensive narrative that explains the rise of the marijuana movement, culminating with the election day victories in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

They interview patients, growers, researchers, businesspeople, legislators, activists, and more as they tease the tale of marijuana reform from those first federally approved patients in the 1970s and 1980s through the AIDS crisis and the rise of medical marijuana in California, and beyond. Anyone wanting to join the conversation about the rapidly changing landscape of marijuana reform would be well-served to have A New Leaf on his bookshelf.

Like Walker, Martin and Nushidian see pot prohibition imploding in short order, and that brings us to the next order of business. With marijuana no longer illegal, the broader war on drugs loses its primary raison d'etre. Marijuana users constitute the vast majority of all illicit drug users -- with pot legal, the number of illicit drug users would drop from more than 20 million to somewhere around 2 million.

That could mean that the drug war collapses for lack of a suitable target. Or it could mean that the resources of the law enforcement juggernaut are focused all the more intensely on the remaining illicit drugs and their consumers. Even when marijuana legalization is a done deal, our work isn't done until we manage to kill the beast of prohibition once and for all.

Chronicle Book Review: Meth Mania

Chronicle Book Review: Meth Mania: A History of Methamphetamine by Nicholas Parsons (2014, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 241 pp., $58.50 HB)

What is the "drug menace" du jour? Crack cocaine? Nah, been there, done that. Bo-ring. Marijuana? Some people still try to find scary things to say about pot, but it just doesn't seem to really resonate anymore. Meth? Been there, done that, too, several times, as you'll see below.

Heroin seems to be a good candidate. After all, if you read the newspapers, especially after a celebrity overdose death, you'll know there's an "epidemic" of heroin use (and related overdose deaths) happening. Except that, while heroin use has increased in the last few years (primarily as a consequence of crackdowns on opioid pain pills), it is hardly an "epidemic." According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people using heroin on a regular is one-tenth of one percent of the population 12 and over. That number stayed stable from 2010 to 2012, the last year available for the survey, although it has apparently increased somewhat since then. And while overdoses are up, they are nowhere near the number of deaths for prescription pills.

But heroin, too, is old hat. One of the elements of a good drug panic is novelty. On that count, both "bath salts" (synthetic stimulants derived from cathinones) and "Molly" (a powder form of MDMA) are contenders for the crown. There's nothing like a zombie cannibal ripping someone's face off to propel a good drug panic, as was the case with bath salts, even if he didn't actually eat the guy's face and even, as it turned out, if he wasn't on bath salts.

While bath salts users are portrayed as scary insane people who aren't us, Molly users, on the other hand, are our sons and daughters, the innocent victims of evil drug dealers. Innocent victimhood is always good in whipping up a drug panic.

But again, the number of people actually consuming bath salts and Molly is miniscule. By far the biggest psychoactive drug problem in America, in terms of effects on the health of consumers, adverse impacts on others, and criminal justice system impacts, is alcohol. Yet, somehow, the country's most widely used and misused drug doesn't merit the screaming headlines, the hyperbole, the hysteria, and the hand-wringing. Why is that?

In Meth Mania, Nicholas Parsons provides some hints of an answer. While the book delivers what its title promises -- a critical history of meth, written with verve and insight -- it is also an exercise in applying the framework of social constructionism to the way we define and create social problems in general and drug panics in particular. Social constructionists, Parsons explains, attempt to understand how, why, and when certain social phenomenon come to be defined as social problems.

At any given moment, there are a panoply of issues -- child abuse, pornography, homosexuality, drug use, poverty, inequality, among others -- that could be defined as social problems. And social problems require solutions, darn it, otherwise, they wouldn't be problems. What social problems also require is someone to define them as such.

For Parsons and the social constructionists, these people are "claims makers." To be an effective claims maker, you must be credible and you must have access to the media. When it comes to drugs and drug policy, claims makers have traditionally been law enforcement, the medical profession, scientists, and moral entrepreneurs -- individuals or groups who seek power or influence by defining a phenomenon as a social problem and offering to do something about it. (I would posit that the advances we have seen in drug reform are, to some degree, the result of decades of work to both create alternate credible claims makers to cast the debates in new terms and to undermine the credibility ot traditional drug policy claims makers.)

Parsons is especially interesting in his discussion of law enforcement as a claims maker when it comes to drugs. Not only do police have authority and credibility as protectors of the public safety, they also have well-developed PR departments (although they don't call them that) that are constantly churning out press releases, er, I mean crime and arrest reports, they have very close and easy, and long-standing access to the media.

And, of course, law enforcement has its own interests to protect. Parsons notes one particularly brazen example of self-interested panic purveying, the "ice" scare of the late 1980s. The DEA jumped all over that -- until its annual budget was secured, then not so much.

This leads me to something Parsons didn't discuss, but which I have long wondered: Why, exactly, are police considered experts on drugs? Because they arrest drug users? Police arrest domestic violence suspects, too, but that doesn't make them experts on domestic bliss, as their own divorce and domestic assault rates indicate.

Parsons identifies three distinct meth panics -- the Speed Kills! methedrine panic of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the abortive "ice" panic of the late 1980s, and the meth panic that began near the end of the century and peaked around 2005, although its lingering effects still persist. In all three cases, although less clearly so in the latter, Parsons crunches the numbers on meth use and finds that the panics are related less to actual use rates than to media attention paid to the drug. And media attention paid to the drug is likewise driven not so much by actual use as by claims makers managing to get traction for their claims, for a variety of reasons.

Parsons is also good at elaborating how we construct "folk devils" on which to hang our anxieties, and how those folk devils have changed over time. This is the stuff of stereotyping and Othering. Meth users are "zombie McGyvers," tweaked-out tinkerers who haunt Walmarts in the middle of the night. Or they are -- gasp! -- gay nightclub orgiasts in New York City. That's when they're the Other.

In some adumbrations of meth panic, users shift from the scary Other to the innocent victim, who fall prey to evil Other drug dealers. And it's even more helpful when scary Other drug suppliers have brown skins, like the Mexican drug cartels who, in the wake of various moves to repress domestic meth production, such as the current effort in West Virginia to make OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine prescription only, have taken an ever-increasing share of the US meth market.

I refer to those bills generically as "The Mexican Methamphetamine Market Share Enhancement Act," and Parsons makes a similar point: All of the efforts to repress the use and manufacture of meth have had unintended consequences that in most cases have only exacerbated the problems they were supposedly designed to solve. The imposition of controls on prescription meth and other amphetamines in the late 1960s led directly to the first round of outlaw biker-manufactured meth, and the switch from "eatin' speed" to "shootin' speed." They probably also played a role in the expansion of cocaine and crack use in the 1970s and 1980s.

Restrictions on precursor chemicals used in the P2P method led to the explosion of pseudoephedrine-based meth cooking. And continuing and deepening restrictions on meth and precursors have created the space for the new synthetic stimulants, the so-called bath salts, whose effects can be even more intense than meth.

The latest meth panic may be receding, but its effects linger. People making small amounts of meth for personal use in the one-pot method are still being arrested and sentencing as if they were major drug lab operators. New anti-meth laws still emerge at statehouses each year. And people who use meth are still demonized as if far outlier worst cases are the normal meth experience.

Meth Maniais an excellent history of America's love-hate affair with its premier stimulant drug, but it is also a guidebook for deconstructing the making of drug panics in general. As such, its value extends far beyond a single drug. This one needs to be on the bookshelf of any serious drug and drug policy student.

Book Review Essay: The Drug War Past, Present, and Future

Drugs, Crime, and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment by Howard Rahtz (2013, Hamilton Press, 141 pp., $28.99 PB)

The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973 by Kathleen Frydl (2013, Cambridge University Press, 447 pp, $34.99 PB)

The Social Value of Addicts: Uses of the Useless by Merrill Singer and J. Bryan Page( 2014, Left Coast Press, 248 pp., $29.95 PB)

Our century-long experiment with drug prohibition appears to be winding down. Don't get me wrong -- it isn't going to happen overnight, and there exists a huge institutional apparatus that lives off it and won't give it up easily, but we may have seen the worst of it.

The prison population is dropping, and so is the number of drug war prisoners. Federal drug war prisoners are now going to be doing less time thanks to reforms passed during this administration, and maybe even less time, if the US Sentencing Commission has its way. State drug war prison populations are shrinking, albeit too slowly.

Marijuana reform is moving fast, with widespread state-level approval of medical marijuana and decriminalization laws, and now, outright legalization in two states, with more to come in short order.

Some state-level legislators still have the urge to respond to "drug menaces" with ever-tougher criminal justice responses, but those impulses don't usually get the traction they used to, and they are being countered by an increasing acceptance of public health and harm reduction approaches at the statehouse.

And even internationally, where not so long ago, prohibitionist orthodoxy was the consensus position, drug warriors can no longer count on a united front. Uruguay has led the way on marijuana legalization, and the number of countries that have serious issues with the drug war status quo is growing. Perhaps the day when we look back on drug prohibition as a bizarre and embarrassing episode in our national history is coming sooner than we dare to think.

The three books under consideration here address different facets of our drug policy; one tells us how we got here, one explains (at least in part) why we're stuck here, and one offers up suggestions on where we go from here. With apologies to Dickens, it's as if we're seeing the ghosts of drug war past, present, and future.

In The Drug Wars in America, award-winning historian Kathleen Frydl excavates the prehistory of the drug war, focusing on the era between the beginning of World War II and the commencement of the modern drug war under Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. In doing so, she makes the argument that the growth of the anti-drug bureaucracies during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II was driven not so much by the desire to control drug use as by the need of the federal government to reshape itself in an era of rapidly-expanding state power.

That's why we moved from early drug control models of regulating drug consumption and the illicit drug trade (in the post-Harrison Act era) to criminalizing them. While Nixon inaugurated the modern drug war, Frydl argues, his actions really merely formalized an already created criminalization that had taken place in the preceding decades.

Frydl isn't about race or culture when it comes to explaining the deep roots of drug prohibition, but about the politics of state power. Her analysis brings a bracing bit of hard-edged political science to the whole question. And of course, while she doesn't emphasize racial or cultural factors, but rather the imperatives of building the Imperial State, she acknowledges the role of race especially in creating an Other against whom it is easy to take action.

And that leads us to the analysis of social scientists Merrill Singer and J. Bryan Page in The Social Value of Drug Addicts. Singer and Page are all about "othering," the process of labeling out-groups as deviant, dangerous, and deserving of repressive actions against them. Drug users have most definitely been "othered" as worthless slackers and disease-bearing burdens on society, although as the authors note in a fascinating historical analysis, this phenomenon of defining drug users as "deviant" is a relatively recent historical innovation, tied as much to the changing role (and class nature) of drug use as to the biopharmacological effects of the drugs themselves.

"Othering" is not a discrete event rooted in a place and time, but an ongoing process, one that helps justify actions taken against the Other, in this case, the horrid persecutions of drug users under the rubric of the drug war. Singer and Page take the reader on a journey through literary, pictorial, cinematic, law enforcement, and policymaking "othering" of drug users, showing at the same time how this socially constructed, drug using Other reinforces the very necessity of repressing and punishing it.

The subtitle of their book, "uses of the useless," refers to the way the very groups that work to define drug users as the Other benefit from the acting of doing so. Constructing scary portraits of drug users sells books, movies, and TV shows. It provides rationales for pumping up police and prison budgets. It even provides fertile research funding opportunities for social scientists, neuroscientists, and the like. And it helps deepen and fortify race and class distinctions that make it easier to do harm to Others, because, after all, they're not like us.

"I promise you, regular cocaine users do not look like this. They are scrawny and look unhealthy," voluptuous British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson said, explaining how she was not a regular cocaine user. The lovely, upper class Lawson just "othered" her fellow cocaine users.

The Social Value of Drug Addicts is a valuable contribution to the literature of drugs and drug policy, and it adds an analytical perspective sharply different from Frydl's. There is room for both, and then some, when it comes to understanding the complexities of drugs, drug use, drug users, and drug policy.

Howard Rahtz, author of Drugs, Crime, and Violence, has another perspective, one formed by a unique life's work divided between decades in drug treatment and rehabilitation and decades as a drug interdicting Cincinnati police officer. If Frydl traces the ghosts of the drug war's past, Rahtz is about the ghost of the drug war's future, or, more accurately, a future without a drug war.

"Prohibition has filled our jails, criminalized millions of our citizens, provided a financial windfall for international and local criminal groups, and somehow we never tire of pretending that it's working," he writes.

At this point, critiques of drug prohibition are nothing new, but Rahtz teases out three measures of policy soundness -- effectiveness, cost, and basic fairness -- that scream out for a dramatic policy shift away from prohibition. He also provides policy prescriptions for getting off the drug war expressway and onto the exit ramp, beginning with marijuana legalization (which is also embraced by the authors of the other books reviewed here).

Rahtz also calls for the decriminalization of drug possession, but not full-blown legalization. And his full-throated advocacy of drug courts will leave some reformers cold. But Rahtz's conception of the role of drug courts in an era of drug decriminalization is more akin to the alcohol treatment orders judges sometimes give drunk drivers than it is to the way drug courts currently operate.

With drug use itself not being a crime, it would take some other sort of criminal activity to get a drug user in front of a judge in the first place. As a person who is not fond of drug courts and their coercion, regardless of their efficacy, I could swallow post-decrim drug courts for drug-addled misbehavers much more easily than I can their current incarnation.

For the lay reader, Rahtz's work may be the most accessible, but both Frydl and Singer and Page also offer valuable contributions to our understanding of the huge, complex issues around drugs, drug use, and drug policy. Policymakers would do well to consider what ghosts of drug war past, present and future are saying.

Chronicle Book Review: "Narcoland"

Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anibel Hernandez (2013, Verso Press, 362 pp., $26.95 HB)

Being a Mexican drug lord is typically a career path with a suddenly abbreviated trajectory. Just ask the erstwhile leaders of the Zetas or the Familia Michoacana or the Beltran Leyvas or the Tijuana cartel or the Juarez cartel or the Gulf cartel. Well, ask them if you can hold séances or know how to burrow inside maximum security prisons -- because they're either dead or behind bars.

But as just about anyone in Mexico will tell you, there is one Mexican drug trafficking organization whose top leadership appears untouchable. That would be the Sinaloa cartel, led by the world's most famous narco and one of its wealthiest men, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his top henchman, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. More than a dozen years after he escaped from a Mexican prison, despite two presidencies waging an ever more aggressive war against the cartels, Guzman and company remain on top of the heap, his rivals decimated even as the Sinaloa cartel continues its bloody, multi-million dollar a year business. And El Chapo and El Mayo remain unscathed.

And as many, many Mexicans are eager to tell you, it looks like the fix is in. How is it that they can't catch or kill El Chapo? How is it that he escaped from prison in the first place? The cynical folk wisdom is that he is being protected by people in the government. That people should think that is not surprising. Suspicions of government complicity in the drug trade, whether in the state police forces; the ever-mutating (because frequently, necessarily, and unsuccessfully cleansed of corruption) federal police forces, the military, or the high ministries, are both long-held and well-founded.

Books reviewed in this publication over the past few years have amply detailed the layers of corruption and complicity surrounding the drug trade in Mexico, but in Narcoland, prize-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez takes it to a whole new level. Narcoland is the updated English language version of her explosive 2010 Mexican blockbuster Los Señores del Narco, a book whose publication generated death threats and led the National Commission on Human Rights to assign her two full-time bodyguards.

Despite Mexico's well-deserved reputation as a burial ground for journalists and despite the threats generated by her journalistic digging, Hernandez is undeterred. She is not the least bit squeamish about charging that the Mexican government has been hopelessly corrupted by the filthy lucre of the drug trade, right up to the presidential palace, and she is not afraid to name names, including people close to presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, as well as some of their most important appointees, such as Calderon's Secretary for Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna.

The charges Hernandez makes are blunt and mind-boggling: "From the beginning of his government, Calderon's strategy against the drug barons was designed to favor El Chapo Guzman and his main partners: El Mayo Zambada, El Nacho Coronel, and El Azul Esparragoza," she writes. "There is firm documentary evidence that Calderon's war was overwhelmingly aimed at those traffickers who are El Chapo's enemies or threats to his leadership… In fact, what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a 'war on drug traffickers,' but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel."

Hernandez clearly finger Garcia Luna, Calderon's top cop, as deep in El Chapo's pocket, and presents pretty convincing evidence for her case, including not only the inability to ever find El Chapo, but also the deployment of Mexican state security forces on his behalf. Funny, isn't it, how the cartels the Mexican government most aggressively pursues are the ones that El Chapo happens to have in his sights at the time?

Hernandez is equally blunt in her assessment of Mexico as a whole. It's a "mafiocracy," she writes, and the criminality isn't limited to capos and cops. Politicians rely on drug money to win campaigns, and traffickers rely on bought politicians to go about their business. Similarly, businessmen and high society people turn a blind eye to the narco-wealth that insinuates itself into every corner of society and every sector of the economy.

Beyond being a mega-scale muckracker, Hernandez is also an excellent story teller. She provides a behind-the-scenes account of El Chapo's 2001 escape from Puente Grande prison that is both shocking and enthralling. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that the official version of events, in which El Chapo escaped in a laundry cart, is not, according to Hernandez, what really happened.

Likewise, while navigating one's way through that minefield of competing cartels and their nick-named major players is an excruciating task, Hernandez provides the clearest, most compelling, and most comprehensible narrative yet of the evolution and infighting among the cartels.

It feels like conspiracy theory, and at times, one has to wonder. Is Nacho Coronel really still alive, having, as Hernandez claims, having faked his death in a shoot-out with soldiers in Jalisco in 2010? It seems unlikely. But her broader thesis -- that the fix is in -- seems quite likely. Could Mexico's officially most wanted man have eluded capture or death, eliminated his rivals, consolidated his power, expanded his operations, and weaved his web of complicity without serious help from very well connected players at the highest levels of Mexican politics, business, and law enforcement? It seems unlikely.

Chronicle Book Review: "Reefer Sanity"

Chronicle Book Review: Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana by Kevin Sabet (2013, Beaufort Books, 198 pp., $14.95 PB)

Kevin Sabet, or "Kevin Sabet, Ph.D.," as he likes to be known, is becoming the go-to guy for arguments against marijuana legalization. A former senior advisor in the drug czar's office, he, along with former Congressman (and recovered pain pill popper) Patrick Kennedy, are the men behind Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an organization created to stem the tide toward marijuana legalization. His op-ed pieces now pop up with some regularity, and earlier this month, he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the lone witness to raise the alarm about looming legalization in Colorado, Washington, and beyond. (He was undoubtedly invited to testify at the behest of Chuck Grassley, the octogenarian Iowa Republican who appears to be the only Reefer Madness-style politician left on the committee.)

Now, Sabet has organized and expanded his arguments in book form, and people interested in changing the marijuana laws will be seriously remiss if they fail to read, understand, and address them. Not because they are necessarily correct, but because Sabet is this generation's gentler, kinder voice of marijuana prohibition. The arguments Sabet makes in Reefer Sanity are sure to be used as ammunition by the foes of reform; count on them being echoed across the land as the debate spreads from state to state.

The important thing to know about Sabet is that he generally approaches marijuana policy from a public health perspective. For him, policy is about preventing marijuana use in the first place and then reducing the harms of its use (see below) when prevention fails. Yes, he still wants to arrest you, but only for the kinder, gentler reason of getting you into forced drug treatment.

But his focus on harms exposes a curious lacuna in his thinking: he never addresses the benefits of smoking marijuana, or drinking booze, or whatever other drug is in question. An argument that says only that X number of teen potheads will go schizophrenic or that X number of marijuana users will get in car wrecks or that marijuana use will cost X dollars in increased health care costs, but that fails to note that 1000X pot smokers will endure sweet moments of bliss, hilarity, and camaraderie is an argument with half the equation missing.

Yes, we have a certain number of alcoholics. We also have tens of millions of people who derive pleasure from sipping a fine California cabernet sauvignon with dinner or enjoying a cold, cold beer during a hot summer ball game. And even someone beginning his day with a cup of coffee and a cigarette (addictive substances both) derives some small pleasure from doing so. It's hard to put a dollar figure on such positives, and even harder when you don't even consider them.

Before getting into specifics, my other major problem with Sabet's approach is his willingness to use the coercive power of the state to make us conform to his vision of the public health. As Ethan Nadelmann is fond of putting it, "absent harm to others" the state should just butt out. Sabet doesn't want people thrown in prison or jail for marijuana; he wants them thrown in coerced treatment. He doesn't want people to suffer the life-long consequences of a marijuana arrest; he just wants to arrest them to "help" them. (Sabet would like to see marijuana possession arrest records disappear so as to not hurt one's future chances, but he still wants to arrest you for your own good.)

This is the danger when the nice-sound label "public health approach" gets stuck onto what is really still a criminal justice approach, with what is arguably a public health component tacked on. We trade cops, arrest, and imprisonment for cops, arrest, and treatment. But we still have the cops and we still have the arrests, and with the treatment component, we get extended surveillance and control by the state. There is a really human liberty interest here of which those, like Sabet, who can only conceive of drug use in terms of human slavery, are almost totally blind.

Sabet constructs his book around "Seven Great Myths About Marijuana." Here they are, with my briefest of responses. (I'm counting on the rest of you out there to do the detailed responding to his arguments; I'll limit myself to general comments here.)

Myth #1: Marijuana is Harmless and Non-Addictive. I don't know too many serious reformers who would make this argument, but they would say that its harms in most cases are minimal and that it's addictive in the same sense that a substance like coffee is addictive. And the dreaded withdrawal syndrome is about as horrendous as going off coffee. Not to mention that there are many people Sabet would qualify as "marijuana addicts" who nonetheless manage to lead happy, productive, creative lives.

Myth #2: Smoked or Eaten Marijuana is Medicine. What I find interesting about this section is the way it illuminates a growing divide between people who believe only in standardized, pharmaceuticalized Western medicine and people more inclined to accept naturalistic remedies. For Sabet, if it ain't a pill manufactured by a drug company, it ain't medicine. For medical marijuana supporters (and many others), however, the wonders of pills, with all their toxicities and other side effects, leave something to be desired. A nice hit of high-CBD weed or a cup of poppy tea work quite well, and they're not going to destroy your liver or make your hair fall out or cause impotence or any of those other litanies of side effects we're treated to in those drug company TV ads.

Myth #3: Countless People Are Behind Bars Simply for Smoking Marijuana. No responsible reformer believes that. It is an argument that I see frequently being made by well-intentioned but ill-informed people, but, as Sabet demonstrates, it just isn't so and the drug reform community has understood that for some time now. The collateral consequences of a pot arrest are a different story. Sabet would like to minimize arrest records to reduce those consequences, but he still wants to arrest you so the state can get its claws into you.

Myth #4: The Legality of Alcohol and Tobacco Strengthen the Case for Legal Marijuana. Here, Sabet argues that the costs of legal alcohol and tobacco far exceed the benefits, and that legalization of marijuana will increase use and its attendant harms. But he elides the qualitative differences in the harms of the three substances. Is more marijuana use going to cause more bar fights, domestic abuse, and drunken brawls? Not likely. Is more marijuana use going to cause more schizophrenia or lung cancer? Well, we've had nearly a half-century of pot-smoking cohorts and have yet to see associated increases in those illnesses. But bottom line, it's a matter of fundamental fairness: How can you justify criminalizing people for using a substance less harmful than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco?

Myth #5: Legal Marijuana Will Solve the Government's Budgetary Problems. Sabet suggests that tax revenues from legal weed will be lesser than expected because of tax evasion and falling prices and that legalization will bring its own costs, such as paying for a regulatory framework. How true this is remains to be seen, but like many of his other "myths," this is in large part a straw man argument. I hear serious reformers saying marijuana tax revenues will help, not that they will be a panacea.

Myth #6: Portugal and Holland Provide Successful Models of Legalization. Sabet points out, accurately enough, that neither Portugal nor Holland have actually legalized marijuana; Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs, and Holland tolerates controlled sales and possession of small amounts. He points to mixed results from Portugal and to recent moves from conservative Dutch governments to try to rein in the cannabis coffee shops, but fails to note the strong resistance in Holland. He also points to increasing Dutch teen marijuana use, but fails to note that it is well within European norms. He also fails to note the consistent finding from social scientists that the link between drug policies and drug use rates is quite weak.

Myth #7: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment are Doomed to Fail -- So Why Try? Prevention efforts can reduce use rates and some forms of drug treatment show more promise than others. Okay. I'm all for treatment for people who want and need it. But Sabet seems to assume that anyone who smokes marijuana needs treatment, and he's willing to see you arrested, sent to drug court or its equivalent, and placed under extended surveillance by the state to get his druthers. Also, typically, he points to high numbers of marijuana users in treatment without noting that a majority of them are sent there by the courts, the schools, or other authority figures after getting busted -- not because they are "marijuana addicts."

Get familiar with these arguments and how to respond to them. Pull apart those straw men. Find those fallacies. Examine those underlying assumptions. You're going to be hearing a lot of arguments just like these in the months and years to come. Part of how effectively we move forward on ending the drug war depends on how effectively we rebut its slickest proponents. And Kevin Sabet is among the slickest with his kinder, gentler public health neo-prohibitionism.

Chronicle Book Review: "Our Lost Border" and "The Fight to Save Juarez"

Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence, Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso, eds. (2013, Arte Publico Press, 290 pp., $19.95 PB)

The Fight to Save Juarez: Life in the Heart of Mexico's Drug War, Ricardo Ainslie (2013, University of Texas Press, 282 pp., $25.00 HB)

More than six years after then President Felipe Calderon unleashed the Mexican military to wage war against the country's wealthy, powerful, and murderous drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- Calderon is gone, but the unprecedented violence unleashed by his campaign continues largely unabated. The new administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto is claiming some successes, but lauding the fact that the killings are now going on a rate of only a thousand or so a month is more a sign of how far things still have to go than have far we have come.

While talking a good game about how his administration is going to pursue a different path from that of his predecessor, Pena Nieto has in fact largely maintained Calderon's policies. The military is still out in the field fighting cartel gunmen, the government still shouts out with pride whenever it captures a top capo (and it has captured three in the past six weeks), and Pena Nieto's plan for a national gendarmerie to replace the soldiers is busily vanishing before our eyes.

Rhetorical flourishes notwithstanding, it still looks much like the same old Mexican drug war, even if it isn't garnering the attention north of the border that it did last year. The reason for that lack of attention now may not be nefarious. Last year was a presidential election year in both countries. For the US electorate, that meant the border and the Mexican drug war was an issue; for the Mexicans, the drug war came to define Calderon's tenure. Now, the elections are over and attention (at least north of the border) has turned elsewhere.

But for the people who actually live on the border, the issue isn't going away. And even if the violence, the corruption, and the criminality miraculously vanished tomorrow, the scars -- physical and psychological -- remain. Too many people have died, too many communities have been devastated, too many decapitated heads have been left in too many places. Local economies have been devastated, long-time cross-border ties, familial and otherwise, disrupted.

At best, one can say that Rio Grande Valley Mexican border towns like Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros have already been through the worst of the conflagration -- like a forest after a wild fire, most of the combustible fuel is gone. The scores have largely been settled on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande: The Sinaloa Cartel has severely weakened its rival Juarez Cartel, the Zetas have nearly eliminated the Gulf Cartel. While only a couple of years ago, Juarez and the other valley cities were ground zero for the Mexican drug war, the fire has moved on, to place like Michoacan, Durango, and Chihuaha City.(Although, after these recent captures of cartel leaders, things could flare up again as rival underlings scramble to replace them and rival cartels scramble to take advantage.)

In The Fight to Save Juarez, psychoanalyst and multi-media documentarian Ricardo Ainslie details life in El Paso's sister city during the worst of the cartel violence, relying on a quite impressive series of interviews with then Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, human rights workers, state and federal government officials, cartel gun molls, and ordinary citizens. Ainslie provides a smart, detailed, and fascinating look at a city devastated by anarchic violence and the winking complicity that accompanied it.

One of his most striking achievements is to narrate the outbreak of war between the Juarez Cartel and the encroaching Sinaloans, and to locate the opening of hostilities squarely in the ranks of the Juarez municipal police. Ainslie makes painfully clear how corrupted the department was, with a high proportion of its membership doing double duty as La Linea, the strong-armed enforcers and executioners for the Juarez Cartel. It was those guys who were targeted by the Sinaloa Cartel, first with exemplary executions, then with invitations to switch sides, then with more executions of those police who refused their offer. And the gang war was on.

Ainslie deftly navigates the intricacies of state (not so much, thanks to a corrupted Chihuahua governor), local, and federal efforts to do something about the savagery and about the police department. The bloodletting in Juarez, already festering in the national imagination, became Mexico's issue number one after the massacre of neighborhood youth at a party in Villas de Salvarcar by cartel gun men, and Ainslie was there as Calderon and his ministers were forced to come to Juarez and take the heat for the results of their policies.

Ainslie brings nuance and subtlety to his reporting, illuminating political rivalries and the interplay of different levels of government, as well as the human suffering and economic disruptions involved. The Fight to Save Juarez clears away much of the murkiness surrounding what went on in Juarez during those bloody years beginning in 2008, and places the struggle there in the context of a society where just about everyone is complicit in one way or another in the gravy train that is the Mexican drug trade.

What Ainslie does not do is question drug prohibition. For him, drug prohibition is simply a given, and the answers to Mexico's problems with prohibition-related violence and corruption must come from somewhere other than reevaluating the drug laws. That said, his reporting is still a valuable contribution to understanding the realities of Mexico's drug war.

Similarly, the essays in Our Lost Border generally do not question drug prohibition. What they do do, with uneven degrees of success, is bring life in a war zone home at a very personal level. Whether is it Richard Mora lamenting the loss of the Tijuana of his youth or Diego Osorno writing about the wholesale abandonment of a Rio Grande Valley town to warring cartel factions in "The Battle for Ciudad Mier," these Mexican and Mexican-American writers describe a cherished past vanquished by a bloody, horrifying present.

And Our Lost Border is bilingual, the essays appearing in both Spanish and English. That is appropriate and even symbolic; Mexico's drug war isn't just Mexico's. As Americans, we own it, too, and for border Mexican-Americans or even as Anglos with cross-border ties, this isn't about violence in a distant land, this is about the binational community, friends, and family.

Neither of these books even pretends to be an anti-prohibitionist manifesto. But that's okay. They both help us achieve a richer, deeper understanding of what is going on on the border in the name of the drug war. We can draw our own conclusions.

Chronicle Book Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, by Radley Balko (2013, Public Affairs Press, 382 pp., $27.99 HB)

Whatever happened to Officer Friendly? You may recall that program, designed to improve police-community relations by acquainting children and young adults with law enforcement officers and explaining to them that police were their friends and were there to help. It was popular in the 1960s, but largely died out by the 1980s, although vestiges remain at a few police departments scattered around the country.

There may still be a smiling Officer Friendly on the force somewhere these days, but you wouldn't know it, because he's all dressed up in paramilitary gear, looking like an Imperial Storm Trooper, and that smiling face (if it exists at all) is hidden behind the darkened visor of his riot helmet.

To be sure, Officer Friendly was always a public relations effort. Even back in the halcyon 1960s, his friendliness toward you was largely determined by your net wealth, your neighborhood, and your race. But back then, we still had a working Fourth Amendment and we didn't have the war on drugs at least the drug war that we have today. We didn't have SWAT teams marauding across the landscape. And if not all police officers were really friendly, at least they looked like normal human beings, not winners of a Darth Vader look-alike contest. [Ed: Most police officers aren't on SWAT teams and don't dress like Darth Vader -- but you know what we're saying.]

Written by veteran investigative journalist Radley Balko, who's been covering the drug war, policing, and criminal justice beat for years at places like Reason magazine, the Cato Institute and Huffington Post, Rise of the Warrior Cop explains what happened. It's a long story whose origins go back to colonial days, but in Balko's hands, an entertaining and illuminating story -- as well as depressing and frightening -- told with verve and gusto, meticulously researched, and filled with telling historical detail.

Balko traces the origins of policing back to the colonies and exposes the tension between fears of a standing army and the need for an effective force to maintain public order. He shows how the values (and fears) of the Founding Fathers were expressed both in the Castle Doctrine ("a man's home is his castle") and the Bill of Rights, whose 3rd Amendment forbade the stationing of troops in private homes in peacetime and whose Fourth Amendment protected persons and their homes from government intrusion without a warrant.

Balko's telescoping work brings us rapidly to the dawn of the contemporary period a half-century ago, when rising crime rates and social disorder sparked heightened public concern and increased willingness by the public and the men in blue to resort to ever more repressive and aggressive policing measures to stem the tide of anarchy unleashed by pot-smoking hippies, anti-war activists, and uppity blacks.

And if you want to put a face on the militarization of American policing, Balko has just the man for you: former LAPD Chief Darryl Gates, advocate of professionalized law enforcement, creator of the first SWAT team and proponent of harsh measures against drug users -- he told Congress they should be executed. Gates was first out of the blocks with SWAT, but in the years since then, SWAT teams popped up first in other big cities, then in medium-sized cities, and then in smaller towns and cities across the country.

Originally designed to be used in rare situations involving the need for special weapons and tactics (Special Weapons And Tactics, SWAT), such as riots like the one that swept Los Angeles in 1965 and hostage situations, such as the shootout involving the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group who kidnapped Patty Hearst, in 1974, Balko details how SWAT has undergone "mission creep." From being used rarely and only in the most extreme circumstances in the beginning, SWAT teams now are deployed dozens of times a day, tens of thousands of times a year, and are routinely used against low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

The application of such aggressive policing gets people killed, including both cops and innocent citizens, as well as criminals. As he guides the reader through recent history, we revisit ugly scenes that regular Chronicle readers may recall, and some that many have doubtless never heard of. The litany of needless deaths because of law enforcement overkill is infuriating -- and terrifying.

Of course, police alone did not militarize themselves. Politicians, especially those trying to win votes playing the "law and order" card, encouraged, enabled, and emboldened police. And, as Balko brilliantly shows, the imperatives of the drug war were a key motivator for political leaders like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush the Elder, all of whom expanded and deepened the war on drug users and sellers largely for political gain.

The flip-side of the undeniable militarization of American policing is the steady erosion of the Castle Doctrine and the Fourth Amendment. Balko does a real service by detailing a line of Supreme Court decisions dating back decades, but really beginning to bite in the past 30 years, that successively eroded Fourth Amendment protections. While aimed, of course, at only the worst criminals, the loss of those protections is suffered by all of us.

It really seems like America is degenerating into a variety of police state, with peaceful demonstrators confronted by police riot squads, "no-knock" raids that seem more in place in a war zone than in an American city, a cornucopia of federal dollars and surplus military equipment turning every Barney Fife into Robocop. In addition to the imperatives of the drug war, police militarization has only been heightened by our now more than decade-long War on Terror.

But Balko sees some hopeful signs. He credits the rise of social media for casting a glaring light on police abuses and ensuring that the evidence is widely circulated. He notes that enthusiasm for the drug war is lagging and skepticism about government is growing. And he charts the beginnings of a path back to an America where the police are peace officers.

"The best reform to scale back the overly militarized, dangerously civil-liberties averse style of policing that prevails in this country would be to end the drug war all together," he writes, while acknowledging that's not very likely. But barring the end of drug prohibition, the federal government could at least end the federal drug war and the federal incentives to militarized policing. No more federal taxpayer dollars for local police funding, no more Byrne Grants to fund those cowboy drug task forces, no more surplus military equipment to turn local police into occupying armies (at least in certain neighborhoods).

Beyond that, local officials can work to halt the "mission creep" that has seen SWAT go from riots and hostage situations to raiding poker games and bars serving underage drinkers, or doing "administrative searches" of unlicensed barbers, as happened in Miami. And does the Department of Education really need its own SWAT team? And, as Maryland did after the infamous SWAT raid on Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, states can start demanding transparency and accountability from police commanders in the way they deploy such specialized units.

Rise of the Warrior Cop is an important book and deserves to be read by small government conservatives, civil libertarian liberals, police commanders, and politicians alike.  Balko makes a very strong case that the status quo is a threat not only to our liberties and our way of life, but to the very values on which the country was founded.

After reading Rise of the Warrior Cop, I'm in a bad mood. Some of the people responsible for this militarization of our police, like Darryl Gates, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan are already burning in hell where they belong. Others, like Bush the Elder drug czar Bill Bennett, who also called for the death of drug users, civil liberties be damned, are not there yet, but deserve to be. Still others, like Joe Biden and a majority of the Supreme Court, are currently serving in some of the highest offices of the land. I guess I better not say what I think of them. I don't want to be visited by a SWAT team.

Chronicle Book Review: Smuggler Nation

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, by Peter Andreas (2013, Oxford University Press, 454 pp., $29.95 HB)

Wow. With Smuggler Nation, Brown University political science professor Peter Andreas has hit the ball out of the park -- or over the border. This book should be required reading for not only for people interested in we got to our current mess in the war on drugs, but also for anyone interested in American history in general, and the twinned growth of illicit commerce and the ever-increasing policing resources designed to thwart it in particular.

What makes Smuggler Nation so essential for people primarily interested in drug policy is the manner in which it situates drug prohibition and efforts to suppress the drug trade within the larger historical context of state efforts to control -- or prohibit -- trade. The war on drugs (or at least its interdiction component) didn't drop on us out of the sky, but was built upon already existing national-level efforts to enforce proscriptions on free trade, dating back to Jefferson's abortive ban on US ships trading with any foreign nations, the more successful, but still long-lasting and highly contentious effort to ban the slave trade, and Prohibition-era border enforcement.

Andreas shows that, going back to colonial times, smuggling and illicit commerce played a crucial role in the creation and expansion of the American economy, and, indeed, in the anti-British sentiment that led the way to the American Revolution in the first place. Whether it was enriching Providence and Boston merchants in the triangular slave trade, stealing intellectual property from England at the start of the Industrial Age, selling American cattle to hungry British troops stationed in Canada during the War of 1812, allying with the smuggler-pirate Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans in that same war, selling contraband whiskey to Indians, smuggling guns into Mexico (in the 1840s, in addition to now) -- the list goes on and on -- smuggling and illicit commerce was, and continues to be, part and parcel of the American story.

Andreas also show that those efforts to control unsanctioned commerce led directly -- and continue to lead directly -- to ever larger, more expansive, more expensive, and  more unintended consequence-generating law enforcement efforts to suppress it. We saw it with the early growth of the US Navy to combat tax evading smugglers, and how those efforts rerouted, but did not defeat, illicit trade. We saw it with the expansion of drug war interdiction efforts in the 1980s, where blockading the Caribbean route for Colombian cocaine rerouted, but did not defeat, illicit trade, and helped provoke the metastasis of what had been largely low-key, local Mexican smuggling networks into the Frankenstein monster drug cartels of today.

We can see that at work today in the current debate over the immigration reform bill working its way through Congress. House Majority Leader Boehner thought he could sell the bill to his conservative caucus by agreeing to expansive provisions to "regain control of the border" or "secure the border" by spending billions of dollars and adding 20,000 more federal agents along the Mexican border. (Nevermind that even that's not likely to be enough to satisfy Boehner's caucus, some of whom might support the bill but others of which have charmingly compared Mexican immigrants to dogs and asserted that those DREAM Act kids are mostly drug mules.)

There were 3,000 border agents in the early 1990s, 7,000 by the late 1990s, and there are 20,000 right now. The immigration bill would double that number again. As Andreas, relying on the historical record, notes, that is unlikely to stop drug smuggling or people-smuggling (there are much deeper driving forces to such phenomenon than law enforcement), but merely to divert it or reroute it, to corrupt enforcers, and to inspire the smugglers to come up with new technologies to get around it and gain entrée into Fortress America.

Andreas also makes an important point about "the threat" of transnational organized crime. That's pretty much just a fancy way of saying smuggling, he asserts, and it is nothing new. As he shows throughout Smuggler Nation, trade in contraband has been part of global trade since, well, forever. And now, given the rapid expansion of global commerce in recent decades, it would be surprising if contraband trade isn't expanding, too. It is, he argues, but possibly at a slower rate than the expansion of licit global trade. All of the hulaballoo over "the menace" of illicit trade is overdone, he dares to suggest.

Andreas is an academic who specialized in the US-Mexico border in his early career, and his publisher, Oxford University Press, is an academic press, but his writing is quite accessible to the lay reader. Smuggler Nation is chock full of great lost stories from American history, stories that hold serious lessons for us today as we struggle against the behemoth that our prohibition industry has become. Smuggler Nation will help explain how we got here, and you'll learn plenty and have lots of fun along the way.  This book needs to be on your bookshelf, and well-worn at that.

Chronicle Book Review: Too High to Fail

Doug Fine, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution (2012, Gotham Books, 319 pp., $28.00 HB)

[Ed: This review was based on the hardcover edition of "Too High to Fail." The paperback edition of Too High Fail has now been published as well. According to the author it includes a a postscript that reflects "more unbelievable happenings in Mendocino County and worldwide through the beginning of this year."]

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Marijuana and marijuana policy are big news these days -- they are exciting times, indeed! -- and that's reflected in what has now become a deluge of books on the topic. We've probably reviewed a dozen or more pot books in the last year alone, and here's another one. While, given the torrent of titles, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out in the crowd, New York Times bestselling author Doug Fine's Too High to Fail is exceptional.

Fine writes with verve and passion, making it clear from the outset that he views marijuana prohibition as not only useless, but harmful -- not only to any sense of justice and morality, not only to the millions of people arrested and punished in myriad ways for the crime of possessing or trading in a hugely useful and versatile plant, but also to the country's efforts to claw its way back from the precipice of the Great Recession.

With that out of the way, in early 2011, Fine heads off for Mendocino County, California, ground zero in the new marijuana economy. A couple of hours north of San Francisco on US 101, Mendocino is part of the state's famous marijuana-growing Emerald Triangle, and is, to a mind-blogging extent, dependent on the pot economy. In fact, if not for pot, Mendocino would probably wither up and blow away. The logging industry is history, and the legal agricultural economy is a fraction of the size of the pot economy. (The county's largest legitimate ag crop, wine grapes, pulled in about $75 million in one recent year, at the same time the pot harvest was estimated at $8.1 billion, or about a hundred times as much).

The pot economy is normalized in Mendocino County. Marijuana dollars pay for everything from the new pickup trucks flying off dealers' lots every fall to the capital necessary to open boutique businesses that dot one-horse towns like Willits and Ukiah to the salaries of Mendocino County sheriff's deputies (at least for a couple of years; see below). County officials know what the local economy runs on, and so does the sheriff, which is why the county instituted its zip-tie program for growers willing to register as medical marijuana providers. Farmers paid thousands of dollars into county coffers for those zip-ties, which would let state and local law enforcement know that these were legal grows, not outlaw ones.

If California, where medical marijuana is legal is Fine's "bubble," Mendocino County, with its casual acceptance of the pot economy is the bubble squared, and growers operating within the guidelines of the zip-tie program, complete with inspections by law enforcement are inside the bubble cubed. This is where Fine situates himself, as he uses the journey of a single plant from cloning to delivery to a patient as the hook for his narrative of his hazy Mendo days.

Fine's sympathetic portraits of the folks involved, from Sheriff Tom Allman, who told him he wouldn't get "up off my ass" to arrest a guy with a pound of pot in the sheriff's parking lot and who created the zip-tie program, to Deputy Randy Johnson, who performed the unique job of zip-tie program compliance sergeant, to novice Mendo outdoor (but experienced East Bay indoor) grower Tom Balogh, who grew the clone Fine tracked, to Northstone Organics head Matt Cohen, who was determined to run a farmer-to-patient collective in scrupulous compliance with state laws, help put a human face on Mendocino's marijuana culture and some of its intricacies.

Fine also shines at explicating the various currents and tensions that run through the community, whether it's the veteran "Redneck Hippies" unhappy with the new generation of young, bling-slinging profiteers or county commissioners not exactly happy with Mendo's free-wheeling grow scene, but who recognize that it can't be wished away and should instead be regulated for the benefit of the county and its citizens. Or the travails of newcomer Balogh, who must contend with skeptical neighbors and prove to the community that he's not just another hit-and-run wannabe "sensimillionaire."

But while Fine spent a season deep inside the bubble, he also found that it could be punctured. He details his own experience being pulled over by sheriff's deputies in neighboring Sonoma County to the south who profiled him for his facial hair and muddied, big-tired pick-up, as well as the misadventures of two Northstone Organics deliverymen also pulled over and busted by Sonoma narcs and, gallingly, prosecuted by Sonoma County district attorneys. The drive from Mendo south through Sonoma and on to the Bay Area was called "running the gauntlet," as law enforcers on the hunt for busts and assets to seize preyed on the US 101 traffic less like highway patrolmen than highwaymen.

(As a resident of medical marijuana-friendly Sonoma County, such behavior by my elected officials and their minions offends my sensibilities. I'll be attending a Summer Solstice event this coming week to celebrate the formation of a political action committee whose goal is help enlighten our public servants, or replace them if they appear too thick-headed to get it.)

But Fine, Northstone Organics, and the entire Mendocino County effort to craft a tightly-regulated, county-benefiting medical marijuana program encountered an even more dramatic bursting of the bubble when federal prosecutors renewed their war on medical marijuana in the fall of 2011. Mendonesians had largely ignored the raids on dispensaries going on elsewhere in the state as the war ramped up, but they couldn't ignore the crew of DEA agents who rousted Cohen at gunpoint and chopped down Northstone's 99 plants, depriving more than 1,700 patients of their medicine, and effectively putting an end to the innovative zip-tie program.

With Too High to Fail, Fine show us how marijuana can be regulated and integrated into the community. And he dares to dream of a future where the cannabis plant, with all its manifold uses, can be integrated into, and indeed, become a boon for, the American economy. He also shows us the obstacles in the way.

The story of Mendocino's (and America's) marijuana adventure didn't stop in the fall of 2011. Since then, even as the first two states legalized marijuana outright at the ballot box, the federal offensive against medical marijuana in California has continued. Mendocino County had to fend off an overreaching federal subpoena of all records related to its medical marijuana program, Northstone has been knocked out of business, and an innovative program that served the interests of the community and the local economy has been stopped in its tracks.

In the new paperback edition, Fine returns to Mendocino and adds a 6,000 postscript on all the exciting developments since 2011, including legalization in Colorado and Washington, the seismic shifts in public opinion in favor of legalization, and the continuing trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the county's growers and the public officials attempting to come to grips with it all.

Although Fine looks bravely and boldly toward a cannabized future, we aren't there yet. But Too High to Fail chronicles what it could look like based on the Mendo experience, and provides a valuable and entertaining read along the way.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School