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Latin America: Obama Administration Declines to Restore Bolivian Trade Preferences, Cites Government's Acceptance of Coca Production

President Barack Obama has declined to restore trade benefits under the Andean Trade Preference Act to Bolivia, citing the Bolivian government's acceptance of coca growing. The decision came in a Tuesday report from the office of the US Trade Representative.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare area of Bolivia
The report also complained about Bolivian nationalization of the hydrocarbon sector and increases in tariffs, but it was the pro-coca policies of the government of President Evo Morales that drew the sharpest language. Even while acknowledging that the Bolivian government continues to undertake significant interdiction efforts against the cocaine trade, the report criticized Bolivia for failing to adhere to US demands to decrease coca cultivation and for expelling the DEA from the country last fall.

Since assuming the presidency, Morales has dramatically changed Bolivian drug policy from "zero coca" to "zero cocaine, not zero coca." Coca production has seen slight annual increases under Morales, but Bolivia remains only the third largest coca and cocaine producer, behind Colombia and Peru.

"The current challenges include the explicit acceptance and encouragement of coca production at the highest levels of the Bolivian government; government tolerance of and attractive income from increased and unconstrained coca cultivation in both the Yungas and Chapare regions; and increased and uncontrolled sale of coca to drug traffickers," the report scolded. "The efficiency and success of eradication efforts have significantly declined in the past few years."

Tensions between La Paz and Washington have been high in recent years as Morales has defended the use and cultivation of coca and expelled US diplomats after accusing them of intervening in Bolivian internal affairs. Bolivia's close relationship with Venezuela under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez hasn't helped, either.

And this won't help, either. President Morales reacted angrily Wednesday, saying the move contradicted Obama's vow to treat Latin America countries as equals. "President Obama lied to Latin America when he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that there are not senior and junior partners," he told reporters. The report, he added, used "pure lies and insults" to justify its decision.

Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland, California, will decide this month whether to create a new business tax aimed at the city's four medical marijuana dispensaries. Mailed ballots went out this week and must be returned to the city registrar's office by July 21 to be counted.

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The tax measure, known as Measure F, would levy a business tax rate of $18 per every $1,000 in gross sales at dispensaries. Under the standard retail business tax rate, the dispensaries now pay $1.20 per every $1,000, meaning the new rate would be a whopping 1500% increase.

But that's okay with Oakland dispensary operators. In fact, it was the dispensaries that approached Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel about instituting a new tax.

Operators say they are willing to pay their fair share to help the city deal with pressing financial problems. The proposed tax should bring in $315,000 in tax revenues for the city in 2010, up substantially from the $21,000 generated under the retail tax rate last year.

It is also an effort to further legitimize medical marijuana in a city that is already pretty pot-friendly. "Criminals don't pay taxes," said James Anthony, an attorney for Harborside Health Center, one of the dispensaries. "Law-abiding citizens do. We are nothing if not law-abiding citizens," he told the Oakland Tribune.

Councilmember Kaplan, a prominent medical marijuana supporter, also argued in favor of the measure. "It is important that there be regulation and that there be a permit process and that there be taxation," Kaplan said. "Both because the city needs the revenue and to be sure that we weed out the bad actors."

The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass. It is also supported by the broad-based Yes 4 Oakland coalition.

Marijuana Expo Draws 20,000 to LA Convention Center

Another short video from Mike Gray, for Common Sense for Drug Policy. This one is from Todd McCormick's recent THC Expo in Los Angeles -- as Mike describes it, the "[l]argest marijuana merchandising exhibit in US History," "draw[ing] crowds and exhibitors from all over the world to the Los Angeles Convention Center." This could not happen if marijuana were not basically accepted by society, or a large part of it, despite the retrograde laws that still see thousands arrested daily. View the first video in the series, "Retirees Demand Marijuana," here. In case anyone doesn't know who Mike Gray is, by the way, you should know that he's a distinguished filmmaker and author, whose credits include the late 1970s Jane Fonda-Jack Lemmon-Michael Douglas movie The China Syndrome, as well as extensive work on the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. In drug policy he is well known as author of the book Drug Crazy, possibly the best introduction to the madness of the drug war yet written. (Mike's a member of our advisory board too.)
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

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