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Feature: 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conferences Opens Amid Optimism in Albuquerque

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, people poured into the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Drug Policy Alliance's 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference got underway yesterday. Set to go on through Saturday, the conference is drawing attendees from around the country and the world to discuss dozens of different drug reform topics. (See the link above for a look at the program.)

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screening of near-final version of the next Flex Your Rights film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police
This is the second time DPA has brought the conference to the distant deserts of the Southwest. In 2001, DPA rewarded libertarian-leaning New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) for becoming the highest ranking elected official in the US to call for ending drug prohibition by bringing the conference to his home state. Since then, the ties between DPA and New Mexico have only deepened.

As DPA New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski explained at the opening plenary session, the Land of Enchantment is fertile ground for drug reform. "Back in 1997, when drug policy reform was little more than a twinkle in the eye, New Mexico passed a harm reduction act mandating the Department of Health to give out clean syringes for people with HIV/AIDS," she noted. "Then, when Gov. Johnson said it was time to end the war on drugs, DPA very wisely immediately opened an office here. In 2001, we passed the overdose prevention act, allowing for the distribution of naloxone. Then we passed opting out on the federal welfare ban, we passed asset forfeiture reform, we passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act -- saving somebody's life is more important than busting them for small amounts of drugs."

But wait, there's more. "Thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson, we became the 12th state to have legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people," Szczepanski continued. "We're working on treatment instead of incarceration, we're working to end the war on drugs in New Mexico and this country. This is a very special place for drug policy reform."

New Mexico is also right next store to one of the drug war's bloodiest battlegrounds: the mean streets of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, which in turn in borders New Mexico. More than 2,200 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Juarez this year alone.

That violence just across the river inspired El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke to turn a motion expressing sympathy for El Paso's sister city into one that also asked for an open and honest debate on ending drug prohibition. The resolution passed the city council by a unanimous vote, only to be vetoed by the mayor. Then, as the council scheduled an override vote, the pressure came down.

"Each of us on the council got a call from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, our congressman and a very powerful figure," O'Rourke told the crowd Thursday. "He told us if we went forward with this, it will be very hard to get your district the federal funding you need. That's a powerful threat, since we rely on federal funding to deliver basic services. It was enough to get four members to change their votes."

While the resolution was defeated, the debacle opened the door for serious debate on drug policy in El Paso and generated support for ending prohibition as well, O'Rourke said. "Our local Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter came out very strongly and helped organize a global policy forum in El Paso. I received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails of support from around the country and the world," O'Rourke related to sustained applause.

If Councilman O'Rourke was a new face, Ira Glasser is a familiar one. Former executive director of the ACLU and president of the DPA board of directors, Glasser told the crowd he was more optimistic about the prospects for change than ever before.

"Today we stand on the brink of transformative progress," he said. "I have never said that before. We can almost touch the goals we have sought, the unraveling of the so-called war on drugs, which is really a war on fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights, on personal autonomy, on our sovereignty over our minds and bodies, a war against people of darker skin color."

Just as Jim Crow laws were the successor to the system of slavery, said Glasser, so the drug war has been the successor to Jim Crow. "It's no accident that after the civil rights revolution ended with the passage of the last federal civil right law in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on the southern strategy against progress on civil rights," he noted. "Within months of taking office, Nixon declared the modern war on drugs."

Glasser wasn't the only one feeling uplifted. "I am feeling good, better than ever before," said DPA executive director and plenary keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann. "The wind is at our back. We are making progress like never before. We have to move hard and fast. Historically speaking, there are moments when everything comes together," drawing a pointed comparison with the successful temperance movement that managed to get alcohol banned during Prohibition. But Prohibition generated its own counter-movement, he said, again drawing a pointed parallel.

"Now, we're in another moment," Nadelmann said. "We're hurting with the recession, state budgets are hemorrhaging. More and more people are realizing we can't afford to pay for our prejudices, we can't continue to be the world's largest incarcerator."

But it's not just the economy that is opening the window, he continued. "What's happening in Mexico and Afghanistan, where illicit drugs are ready sources of revenues for criminals and political terrorists, that has people thinking. We have two major national security problems causing people to think afresh."

Nadelmann had a suggestion: "Ending marijuana prohibition is a highly effective way of undermining that violence," he said. "Until we end it, buy American."

Just after the opening plenary session ended, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted."

The conference, of course, continued Thursday afternoon and will go through Saturday, but your reporter was busy getting this week's Drug War Chronicle ready to go. Come back next week for fuller reports on the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

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Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, October 29

In Guerrero, a body was found hanging from a highway overpass. The unidentified man had been shot in the head, and left with two notes with messages from "La Familia." In Ciudad Juárez, a high-ranking police intelligence official was killed when he was attacked by heavily armed gunmen as he ate in a restaurant. One policeman was killed, and the official and two bodyguards were wounded. A sign was later found taking responsibility for the attack, which was apparently ordered by "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa Federation. Additionally, nine other murders were reported in Ciudad Juárez, four in Sinaloa, one in Tijuana, and four bodies found in the trunk bed of a truck in Michoacán.

Saturday, October 31

In Sonora, a well known union leader was killed along with 14 others, including four children. Margarita Montes Parra, 56, was ambushed by gunmen armed with AK-47's. It is unclear whether his death was ordered by drug traffickers or as a result of his union work. One of his sons, Adrian, was killed two years ago in what is thought to be a drug-related murder. Parra made headlines by publicly accusing the governor of Sonora of protecting his son's killers. He also accused the Veracruz state government of being complicit in drug trafficking.

Monday, November 2

Officials identified four bodies that had been found executed in an SUV in Mexico City. Three of the men had the word "kidnappers" handwritten on their body with marker, and a sign was found in the vehicle which read "for kidnapping, the boss of bosses". This is the nickname of Beltran-Levy cartel boss Arturo Beltran-Levy. There has been an increase of violence against kidnappers and petty criminals in recent months on the part of vigilantes working with drug traffickers and elements of the police. Additionally, in Tijuana, 13 suspected cartel gunmen were captured after a firefight that wounded one soldier and one gunman.

Tuesday, November 3

In the town of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near Monterrey, the mayor announced the death of a drug trafficker hours before the body was actually found. After being sworn in, Mayor Mauricio Fernandez was quoted as saying that "Black Saldana, who is apparently the one asking for my head, was found dead today in Mexico City." His announcement came 3 ½ hours before the blindfolded corpse of "Black Saldana" (otherwise identified only by his first name, Hector) was found. While at first he evaded questions about his prior knowledge of the incident, Fernandez later claimed that he had been tipped off by US officials that he was going to be targeted, and then found out about Black Saldana's death through unspecified means.

In Durango, a journalist who specialized in police matters was found dead after being kidnapped by armed men on his way to work. Alongside the body was found a note, whose contents were not revealed to the public. Vladimir Antenna Garcia, who wrote for El Tempo de Durango, is the third journalist killed in Durango this year, and the eighth journalist killed in Mexico.

In Chihuahua, 18 people were killed in a 48 hour period. Nine of these murders occurred in Ciudad Juárez. Among them was a municipal police officer who was gunned down in a hair salon where he was accompanying his wife. Additionally, in the state of Veracruz, a high-ranking member of the Zetas organization, nicknamed "El Gonzo" or "Z-20" was killed after being shot by Mexican naval personnel. Four people were arrested during the operation.

Wednesday, November 4

In the city of Chihuahua, police and soldiers shot dead a federal policeman who was driving one of three cars that failed to stop for them. The police and troops were on a joint patrol when they attempted to stop the suspicious vehicles. The three vehicles ignored orders to stop, sparking off a gun battle that left the federal agent and left another unidentified man wounded.

In Ciudad Juárez, six people were gunned down in a bar. Among them was off-duty US Air Force Staff Sgt. David Booher, who was based at Holloman Air Force base outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. The motive for the attack was unclear, but it bore all the hallmarks of a drug-related murder in Ciudad Juárez. The incident brings the number of deaths in Ciudad Juárez to 30 over the last four days. Additionally, in Garcia, Nuevo Leon, a recently appointed police chief was killed along with four of his bodyguards when they were ambushed by an unknown known of heavily armed gunmen.

Body count for the week: 111
Body count for the year: 6,286
Body count since December 2006: 15,000+

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Editorial: How Much Does It Cost to Build an Air-Conditioned Drug Smuggling Tunnel?

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
Last year I attended a small lunch-time forum on the subject of immigration and the US-Mexico border. Seated at the table was a man in a military uniform, not one of the speakers, but clearly eager to say his piece. After the presentation was over, he put up his hand, told us he was an officer with Southcom -- the branch of the Armed Forces dealing with areas to the south of the United States -- and that his military education and experience told him that walls don't stop people. Walls just slow people down, he said -- you can go over a wall, you can through it, you can go around it, or you can go under it. And militarily he understood that a wall spanning our border would not slow people down enough to stop the kind of traffic that we have crossing the border -- not unless we simply shoot people to kill on sight, which he was unwilling to do.

Whatever one thinks about immigration, or attempts to block it at the border, the reasoning has clear implications for the so-far ineffective attempts at drug interdiction. If it is either impossible or at least difficult to stop people at the border -- and since we haven't managed to do it so far, it must at least be difficult -- how difficult must it be to stop the flow of drugs? After all, people have a certain height and width and depth, and they need oxygen and occasionally food and water and space to move. Drugs can be packaged in any shape or size, they don't require maintenance over the period of time involved in trafficking them, and a fairly small volume of certain drugs can be worth a small mint. It's fairly safe to say that drugs are not going to be kept out of this country, no matter how hard we try. It is simply not going to happen.

Since that time the issue has taken on a new degree of poignancy and urgency. Since Mexican President Calderon took office in 2006 and began his attempted crackdown against the cartels, more than 12,000 Mexicans have died in the surge of violence that followed. The 2009 death toll alone has passed 6,000. Because drugs are illegal, all the money people spend on them in the US goes into a criminal underground where violence is often the rule. The unabated flow of drugs across the US-Mexico border is powerful evidence of prohibition's failure.

The past week offered up a more visual form of evidence to make the point. Across the border from San Diego in Tijuana a partially-completed smuggling tunnel was found. They got almost as far as the border fence. It was found by the authorities before being finished, but not very long before. Military officials took a group of reporters to see it on Tuesday. The tunnel had been equipped with electricity and an air supply, according to the Associated Press.

The tunnel is neither a new nor unique development. Last year one was found in the Mexican state of Baja California. That one had an elevator and rail transport system. At least 75 have been found since the 1990s, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE). They're not limited to our southern border, either.

My two questions are: How many successful drug smuggling operations are needed in order to pay for constructing and maintaining such a tunnel -- might it only need to be used once? -- and how many more tunnels are there that have never been found? I have a feeling that there are many undiscovered smuggling tunnels, and that the cost of building one with air-conditioning and electric transportation is low compared with the likely rewards. Mexico offers a virtually unlimited labor pool. The proof that the cost is low is simply the fact that they keep building them over and over. They wouldn't keep building the tunnels if it weren't a cost-effective strategy.

Don't expect the drug trade to slow anytime soon, at least not because of law enforcement, and don't let the pictures of the latest tunnel or drug seizure fool you into thinking it might. Hope that something happens to stop the wave of violence terrorizing our southern neighbors and threatening our borders possibly too. But don't expect that finding another tunnel is what will do that.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman Jr.

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How many shipments are needed to pay for one drug smuggling tunnel?
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people -- the body count passing 6,000 for 2009 so far this month. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Saturday, October 24

A high ranking federal police official was assassinated in Chihuahua. Jose Alfredo Silly Pena was a naval captain who served as a federal police intelligence official. He, along with three other men, had been kidnapped by heavily armed men some hours earlier. Additionally, 23 people were killed in violence in Chihuahua during a 48-hour period. 18 of these murders occurred in Ciudad Juárez. In Guerrero, four bodies were found in a hidden pit just meters from where seven bodies had been found last Tuesday. In other parts of Mexico, an unidentified gunman was killed by the army near Tlapehuala, and two more were killed and six captured after battling soldiers near Tamaulipas. The day before, four people, including two police officers, were killed after a firefight in Hidalgo; two people were killed in Michoacán, and three each in Durango, Coahuila, and Oaxaca.

Sunday, October 25

In Torreon, Coahuila, gunmen ambushed the convoy of the municipal public safety director. The official survived, but a nearby civilian was killed in the ensuing firefight. In another part of Torreon, a gun battle left two other people dead, one of whom was apparently homeless. Fifteen people were killed in Chihuahua, 14 of whom were killed in Ciudad Juárez. One of the dead was head of the police anti-theft unit, who was gunned down in a restaurant as he ate. At least three killings occurred in Sinaloa, and two women were kidnapped after being snatched from their car on the highway. At least three people were killed in Sonora, including a lawyer and a reputed gang leader.

The AP reported that dozens of ICE officials have been investigated for their handling of informants. Allegations include that ICE steered investigators away from a man who has since been charged with the El Paso murder of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana. Galeana was a Juárez cartel manager and ICE informant. Additionally, ICE officials are being accused of allowing a man -- described as a "homicidal maniac" by the DEA -- to continue to be an informant even after having supervised the killing of a Juárez cartel associate.

Tuesday , October 27

In Puebla, four police officers were killed and a fifth wounded after being shot by gunmen. The officers were performing a traffic stop of a suspicious vehicle when another truck pulled up from which several heavily armed gunmen emerged and opened fire in an apparent attempt to "rescue" the passengers of the first vehicle.

In Nayarit, four men have been arrested in the videotaped and widely publicized torture of five teenagers. It appears the five boys had attempted to rob a house when they were captured by heavily armed vigilantes. In addition to being beaten and threatened with weapons, the boys were forced to kiss each other. The boys were later dumped naked on a street. There has been increased activity in recent months by vigilante groups thought to be linked to drug traffickers or members of the police.

Wednesday , October 28

Mexican soldiers have discovered an enormous, partially completed tunnel which ends just across the border from Otay Mesa, California. The tunnel, which was incomplete, came complete with electricity and an air supply system. Journalists in Tijuana were invited to tour the site, which is the latest of many similar discoveries in recent years.

Mexican police have arrested a man suspected of being La Familia's operations chief for the state of Michoacán. The man, Abel Valadez Oribe, 32, was on his way to a cockfight when he was detained by police after being tipped off by informants. Oribe, also known as "El Clinton," is also suspected of ordering multiple murders, including that of the mayor of Ixtapan de la Sal. His arrest comes a week after 303 suspected members of La Familia were arrested across the United States. In another part of Michoacán, the dismembered remains of an unidentified man were found by the roadside near Uruapan. Uruapan was the site of one of the most publicized incidents of the Mexican drug war in 2006, when gunmen threw five severed heads onto a dance floor in a local nightclub.

Total body count for the week: 157
Total body count for the year: 6,175

Feature: Historic Hearing on Marijuana Legalization in the California Legislature

In an historic hearing Wednesday, the California legislature examined the pros and cons of marijuana legalization. The hearing marked the first time legalization has been discussed in the legislature since California banned marijuana in 1913.

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Ammiano press conference for hearing
Onlookers and media packed the hearing room for the three-hour session. Capitol employees had to hook up remote monitors in the hallway for the overflowing crowd of supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization.

The hearing before the legislature's Public Safety Committee was called for and chaired by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), who earlier this year introduced AB 390, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in the state. While Ammiano has made clear that he supports legalization, the witness list for the hearing was well-balanced, with legislative analysts and representatives of law enforcement as well as reform advocates in the mix.

The hearing began with testimony from legislative analysts, who estimated that the state could realize tax revenues ranging from hundreds of millions to nearly $1.4 billion a year from legalization. The latter figure was from the state Board of Equalization, while the lower estimates came from the Legislative Analyst's Office.

But tax revenues wouldn't be the only fiscal impact of legalization. "If California were to legalize, we would no longer have offenders in state prison or on parole for marijuana offenses," noted Golaszewski. "We estimate the savings there at several tens of millions of dollars a year. There would also be a substantial reduction in the number of arrests and criminal cases law enforcement makes. To the extent they no longer have to arrest people for marijuana, they could shift resources elsewhere."

Golaszewski said there are roughly 1,500 people imprisoned on marijuana charges in California, 850 of them for possession offenses.

The analysts were followed by a panel of attorneys who debated the legality of state legalization. "If California decides to legalize, nothing in the Constitution stands in its way," said Tamar Todd, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance Network.

But while Marty Mayer, attorney for the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), generally agreed with that assessment, he also argued that the state could not unilaterally legalize. "The state of California cannot unequivocally legalize marijuana," he said, noting that marijuana is prohibited under federal law.

Next up were the cops, and there were no surprises there. "Marijuana radically diminishes our society," said CPOA president John Standish. "Marijuana is a mind-altering addictive drug that robs you of memory, motivation, and concentration," he said before Ammiano cut him short, noting that the purpose of the hearing was to discuss public safety and economic impacts of legalization, not to debate marijuana's effects on health.

"Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed to the hilt, but the taxes don't cover the cost of medical treatment, let alone DUIs," Standish continued. "This would lead to an increase in crime rates, social costs, medical costs, and environmental concerns. There is also a very real concern that Mexican drug cartels are behind most of the imported marijuana coming into the US," he added, without explaining what that had to do with legalizing marijuana production in California.

And, pulling out yet another woolly chestnut, Standish resorted to the old and discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use is a stepping stone to hard drug use. "Marijuana is a gateway drug," he said. "Every incident in 30 years of law enforcement I have been in where marijuana has been involved has not been good. Both marijuana and methamphetamine are equally critical problems," he said.

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overflow room
After reciting a short list of violent incidents around large-scale illegal grows allegedly operated by Mexican drug cartels, Sara Simpson, acting assisting chief of the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, warned that the cartels were likely to try to maintain their market share. "That could lead to more violence," she warned.

"Legalizing marijuana is bad public policy," said Simpson. "A significant number of marijuana users are incapacitated," she claimed. "When a recreational drug user backs over your four-year-old, you consider yourself a victim of violent crime. Legalization would increase death and injury totals."

"Why would we want to legalize a substance known to cause cancer?" asked Scott Kirkland, chief of police in El Cerrito and chairman of the California Police Chiefs' Medical Marijuana Task Force. "Legalization will only result in increased use of marijuana with a corresponding increase in drugged driving," he warned.

But later witnesses said that California was simply wasting resources by arresting marijuana offenders. Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said that arrest statistics from the past 20 years show that California law enforcement is more focused on prosecuting simple possession cases than cultivation and sales.

"California's drug war, particularly on marijuana, is focused on drug users," he said. "Virtually every category of crime has declined since 1990, except for a dramatic increase in arrests for marijuana possession. In 1990, there were 20,834 arrests for possession. Last year, there were 61,388 arrests. "

This was going on while arrests for all other drug offenses declined, Macallair said. For all other drugs, arrests were down 29%. Even marijuana manufacture and sales arrests had declined by 21%. More people went to prison in California in 2008 for marijuana possession than for manufacture or sales, he added.

"Our courtrooms are full every day with marijuana cases," said Terence Hallinan, the former San Francisco City and County District Attorney. "It's still against the law to sell even a gram. There are a lot of people in court and jail for marijuana offenses."

The Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego told the committee marijuana law enforcement has especially pernicious effects on the young. "When they find a group of kids with a joint, they take them all in to juvie. When they're incarcerated, they join gangs for safety. Jails have become the boot camps for the gangs," she said. "We need to think about and protect our youth."

"I speak on behalf of California's millions of marijuana users who are tired of being criminals and would like to be taxpaying, law-abiding citizens," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "We think it makes no sense for taxpayers to pay for criminalizing marijuana users and their suppliers when we could be raising revenues in a legal market."

"Today, our marijuana laws are putting our children in harm's way," said retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray. "We want to reduce the exposure of a lifestyle of marijuana use and selling to our children, but prohibition's illegal dealers don't ask for ID," he said.

At the end of the hearing, Ammiano opened the floor to public comment. While most speakers supported legalization, a contingent of conservative African-American religious leaders vigorously denounced it. "I know from personal experience the devastation that occurs in one's life and community as a result of drug abuse that began with marijuana," said Bishop Ron Allen, founder and president of the International Faith Based Coalition.

Also in opposition was Californians for Drug Free Youth. John Redman, the group's director, said legalizing marijuana to raise revenues was reprehensible. "This is blood money, pure and simple," Redman said.

The battle lines are shaping up. On one side are law enforcement, conservative clerics, and anti-drug zealots. On the other are researchers, activists, and, evidently, the majority of Californians. Ammiano gave as a handout at the hearing a sheet listing at least six recent polls showing majority support for marijuana legalization in the state.

The bill isn't going anywhere for awhile. Ammiano said he will hold more hearings later and may revise it based on the hearings. But marijuana legalization is now before the legislature in California.

Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War

For years, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has suggested that drug legalization needs to be on the agenda when discussing how to resolve prohibition-related problems like the wave of violence plaguing Mexico. Now, he's getting personal and political, as he attacks sitting President Felipe Calderon for what Fox is describing as a "failed" effort to send the military after the so-called drug cartels.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/vicentefox.jpg
Vicente Fox
Fox and Calderon are both members of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), and Calderon replaced Fox in the Mexican presidency in December 2006. With Mexico already stricken by violent conflict among the cartels and between the cartels and Mexican law enforcement, Calderon called out the military to join the fray, but matters have only gotten worse. An estimated 14,000 people have been killed in the conflicts since Calderon sent in the soldiers, with 2,000 being killed in one city -- Ciudad Juarez -- this year alone.

Addressing reporters at the annual conference of the conservative European Popular Party in Vienna last weekend, Fox said Calderon's efforts against the cartels had gone astray and the military should return to the barracks. "The use of the army in the fight against drug mafia and organized crime, the use of force against force gave no positive results. On the contrary, the number of crimes only grows," Fox told journalists on Saturday. "It's time to think of alternative ways to fight the crime," Fox said, adding that police and governments of Mexican states should be charged with anti-drug efforts on their territory, instead of federal forces.

Not that Fox himself had much better luck against the cartels, nor was he averse to using the military. While Fox was president between 2000 and 2006, he deployed troops to Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, and other states, especially after 2003, when violence began escalating. By 2005, nearly 1,400 were reported killed in the drug wars, and 2,000 more in 2006.

But those levels of violence, which once seemed extraordinary, would now be a welcome relief after nearly three years of Calderon's campaign and the harsh response from the cartels. This year's toll in Ciudad Juarez alone matches the toll nationwide for the last year of the Fox era.

Fox was also critical of the United States, saying it needed to do more to control arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug use. But he again questioned whether drug prohibition is the best way to attain those ends. "Drug consumption is a personal responsibility, not one of government, Fox said."Perhaps it is impossible to ask government to halt the supply of drugs to our children."

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people -- the body count passing 6,000 for 2009 so far this week. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday , October 16

In Michoacan, three bodies were found, all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juárez area.

Saturday , October 17

In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man's tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city.

Monday , October 19

Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening "kidnappers, thieves and traitors" and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juárez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente.

Tuesday , October 20

In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the "La Familia" cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco.

Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck.

Wednesday , October 21

A suspected member of the Juárez Cartel was added to the FBI's ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Jurez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Jurez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juárez under the protection of the cartel.

Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI's ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel.

Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juárez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juárez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juárez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor.

Thursday, October 22

In the United States, over 300 people were arrested, in what is being called the largest single-blow against Mexican drug cartels operating in the country. The arrests targeted the US operations of the La Familia cartel, which is based in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Law enforcement officials said arrests were made or charges were files in multiple states, including California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesee, Texas, and Washington State. Many of the charges filed were directed against those involved with the cartels methamphetamine smuggling network in the US, with other charges being directed at those involved in cocaine and marijuana trafficking for the organization. Additionally, a New York grand jury has indicted Servando Gomez-Martinez, who is linked to the July murder of twelve federal police officers who were found dead by the side of a roadway.

Total body count for the week: 203
Total body count for the year: 6,018

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update--October 22

by Bernd Debussman Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war: Friday , October 16 In Michoacan, three bodies were found , all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juarez area. Saturday , October 17 In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city. Monday , October 19 Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening “kidnappers, thieves and traitors” and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente. Tuesday , October 20 In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the “La Familia” cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco. Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck. Wednesday , October 21 A suspected member of the Juarez Cartel was added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Juarez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Juarez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juarez under the protection of the cartel. Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel. Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juarez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juarez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juarez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor. Total body count for the week: 113 Total body count for the year: 5,928 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War

Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War For years, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has suggested that drug legalization needs to be on the agenda when discussing how to resolve prohibition-related problems like the wave of violence plaguing Mexico. Now, he's getting personal and political, as he attacks sitting President Felipe Calderon for what Fox is describing as a "failed" effort to send the military after the so-called drug cartels. Fox and Calderon are both members of the conservate National Action Party (PAN), and Calderon replaced Fox in the Mexican presidency in December 2006. With Mexico already stricken by violent conflict among the cartels and between the cartels and Mexican law enforcement, Calderon called out the military to join the fray, but matters have only gotten worse. An estimated 14,000 people have been killed in the conflicts since Calderon sent in the soldiers, with 2,000 being killed in one city—Ciudad Juarez—this year alone. Addressing reporters at the annual conference of the conservative European Popular Party in Vienna last weekend, Fox said Calderon's efforts against the cartels had gone astray and the military should return to the barracks. "The use of army in the fight against drug mafia and organized crime, the use of force against force gave no positive results. On the contrary, the number of crimes only grows," Fox told journalists on Saturday. "It's time to think of alternative ways to fight the crime," Fox said, adding that police and governments of Mexican states should be charged with anti-drug efforts on their territory, instead of federal forces. Not that Fox himself had much better luck against the cartels, nor was he averse to using the military. While Fox was president between 2000 and 2006, he deployed troops to Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, and other states, especially after 2003, when violence began escalating. By 2005, nearly 1,400 were reported killed in the drug wars, and 2,000 more in 2006. But those levels of violence, which once seemed extraordinary, would now be a welcome relief after nearly three years of Calderon's campaign and the harsh response from the cartels. This year's toll in Ciudad Juarez alone matches the toll nationwide for the last year of the Fox era. Fox was also critical of the United States, saying it needed to do more to control arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug use. But he again questioned whether drug prohibition is the best way to attain those ends. "Drug consumption is a personal responsibility, not one of government, Fox said."Perhaps it is impossible to ask government to halt the supply of drugs to our children."
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