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Feature: Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Gets Only Limited Continuing Exemption

Insite, Vancouver's pioneering safe injection site, won a reprieve from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper last Friday -- but only a limited one. The site's three-year exemption from Canada's drug laws was set to expire next week, and the Harper government had dallied for months on whether it would re-approve the controversial harm reduction experiment. Supporters, including the city of Vancouver, the current and two former mayors, local activists, researchers from around the world, and Canadian politicians had sought a renewal of the three-year exemption, but the Harper government instead announced it would renew the exemption only through December 2007.

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InSite (courtesy Vancouver Coastal Health)
In an announcement last Friday afternoon -- seemingly timed to make the story vanish during a three-day holiday weekend news dump -- Health Minister Tony Clement said the results of the first three years of Insite's operation raised new questions that must be answered before the Harper government would make a decision about the long-term future of Insite or approve any other safe injection sites in Canada.

"Do safe injection sites contribute to lowering drug use and fighting addiction? Right now the only thing the research to date has proven conclusively is that drug addicts need more help to get off drugs," Minister Clement said. "Given the need for more facts, I am unable to approve the current request to extend the Vancouver site for another three and a half years."

Clement's remarks reflected the Harper government's ideological antagonism toward harm reduction practices in general and any form of dealing with drug users that does not involve abstinence in particular. "We believe the best form of harm reduction is to help addicts to break the cycle of dependency," Clement said, "We also need better education and prevention to ensure Canadians don't get addicted to drugs in the first place."

Although Insite and Vancouver Coastal Health, the government entity charged with operating the site, have produced reams of research showing that the site has reduced drug overdoses, attracted users at risk to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, increased the number of users seeking treatment or counseling, and reduced needle sharing -- all without leading to increases in crime or drug use -- the Health Ministry insists it wants more.

"We looked at research put out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others," Health Ministry spokesman Erik Waddell told Drug War Chronicle. "We want more research done to show that this form of harm reduction will actually help addicts get off drugs."

While Minister Clement and the Harper government are calling for more research on the efficacy of Insite, they aren't willing to pay for it. The federal government had been sponsoring research at Insite to the tune of $500,000 a year, but Waddell said that had come to an end. "We will not be providing any additional funding for research," he said.

That was news to Vancouver Coastal Health and supporters of Insite. "We hadn't heard that," said Viviana Zanocco, spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health. "We're still trying to get in touch with them and waiting for details," she told Drug War Chronicle. "Still, we are pleased the extension has been granted, even though it's not for the 3 ½ years we requested."

"It's good news that the exemption has been extended and they didn't close it down," said Gillian Maxwell of Insite for Community Safety, a coalition created to help ensure the site's continued existence. "Insite is staying open because of the broad support for it and the depth of research carried out that shows what is has already achieved," she told the Chronicle.

But Maxwell also complained that the Harper government is moving the goalposts. "They have raised the bar on us," she said. "We have a harm reduction program that helps people get into treatment, but now the Harper government wants it to show it helps people stop taking drugs. We can never get everyone to stop taking drugs. This means we have a lot of work to do to protect Insite."

Maxwell said she was shocked but not surprised by the Health Ministry's refusal to fund the additional research it calls for. "They are ideologically opposed to this, so they try to make it as difficult as possible. They may think things should be a certain way, but reality and the research say otherwise."

While the short term extension of the exemption is better than shutting down the facility, said Maxwell, it could well signal that the Harper government will try to shut it down permanently later on. "They didn't feel confident enough to try to close it down now, but they have already made it clear they favor a three-pillar, not a four-pillar, approach. They have little use for harm reduction, and I think they believe that 16 months from now there will have been another election and they will have a majority and then they can shut it down."

Representatives of Insite and the Vancouver city drug policy office were on vacation this week and unavailable to comment.

Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) predicted months ago that the Harper government would seek an interim solution. "I guess I was right," she told Drug War Chronicle. "I know these guys, and they don't want to let us mount a campaign. If they had said no outright, that would have been great, we could have really mobilized."

But Livingston and VANDU are not just sitting back and waiting for December 2007. The group filed a lawsuit late last month seeking an injunction to keep the site open and charging the Harper government with discriminating against people with diagnosable illnesses like drug addiction. "Criminalizing a group of people who are addicted to drugs is blocking them from health care, and that's a Charter right," she said. "The lawsuit will continue."

The lawsuit also charged that Insite does not need an exemption from the Canadian drug laws and even if it does, the government has provided no application process. "The staff at Insite doesn't handle drugs, so they shouldn't need an exemption," Livingston argued. "If they are going to argue that they do need a permit, they have to tell us how to do that. Right now there is no application process; it's all at the whim of a minister."

The safe injection site has survived one execution date, but the would-be executioners in Ottawa are still sharpening their axes. Fortunately for Insite, it has a lot of friends and a proven track record. This battle is going to continue for awhile.

Beheadings a Sign of Mexico Turf War: Bloody Scene in Once Tranquil State Underscores Growing Violence

Location: 
MIC
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Houston Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4168805.html

Calling in the Drug Calvary

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-colafghan6sep06,1,4418859.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=1&cset=true

State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico

Location: 
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Washington Office on Latin America
URL: 
http://www.wola.org/publications/mexico_state_of_siege_06.06.pdf

Editorial: There's Always Another Drug Cartel...

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
It was the DEA's lucky day, and one drug lord's unlucky one. Notorious drug lord Javier Arellano-Felix, head of one of the world's leading cocaine trafficking organizations, was plucked from the sea near Mexico's coastline by the US Coast Guard. He's now facing life in prison on a 2003 indictment for cocaine trafficking.

There are plenty of reasons besides drug trafficking for putting this guy away -- his cartel is a major party to the drug trade violence plaguing the Tijuana region that has already claimed some 1,500 lives. Some of the murders have been unspeakable in their sheer gruesomeness. The organization was responsible for the infamous 1993 assassination of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo as he waited to meet an arriving papal official in Guadalajara airport.

Though we don't lament Arellano's loss of freedom, there is much to lament in the system that made him possible, a system that in its impact if not intentions has claimed so many lives and will continue to in the future. Cocaine traffickers and their henchmen are not killing people because they are high on cocaine; they are killing people because that is a part of business -- making money -- in this lucrative criminal enterprise. We know from long experience that taking out one drug lord, even dismembering an entire trafficking organization, only leads to the growth or establishment of a new one, with no reduction in the amount of cocaine getting taken to market. DEA officials acknowledged this even as they celebrated their high-profile capture -- they even predicted violence would result from it, as rival traffickers fight to fill the void the capture has created.

The most notorious drug lord, perhaps, was Medellin, Colombia cartel builder Pablo Escobar, taken down in a hail of bullets by government forces acting under the leadership of attorney general Gustavo de Greiff. De Greiff's public commentary was infinitely more enlightened than we should ever expect to hear from the DEA. De Greiff explained in the media that nothing would happen to the flow of cocaine, the Medellin will just be replaced by another cast of characters, the answer is... legalization. Of course the DEA and their bosses at the Dept. of Justice didn't like that. But he was right. (Click here to hear what de Greiff had to say at our 2003 Mexico conference.)

So while DEA's chieftains will undoubtedly continue to savor the afterglow for weeks or months to come, in the meanwhile the victims of drug prohibition will continue to needlessly suffer and die. Because there is always another cartel, another leader waiting in the wings, another vendor or middleman willing to sling a gun to get his share.

Latin America: US Feds Bust Major Mexican Trafficker, Expect Violence, Continued Drug Trafficking as Result

Javier Arellano-Felix, a major player in one of Mexico's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, was arrested by the US Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of Mexico's Baja California. But even as federal law enforcement officials risked serious injury from all the back-patting going on at their celebratory press conference Thursday, they acknowledged that his arrest would amount to little.

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DEA poster
The Arellano-Felix organization controls the Tijuana drug trade franchise, or "plaza" as it's called in Mexican slang. It grew in the 1980s into a major cocaine trafficking group, but was dealt a harsh blow in 2002 when one older Arellano-Felix brother was killed and another arrested. In the past two years, since the most recent disruptions of the Mexican cartel structure, the Arellano-Felix organization has been a key player in the bloody vendettas among traffickers that have left more than 1,500 people dead.

"El Tigrillo" ("The Little Tiger"), as he is known in Mexico, was one of several organization members indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2003 on charges they conspired to smuggle tons of cocaine into the US. He faces life in prison here.

"In the world of drug law enforcement, it doesn't get any better," John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, sat a mobbed news conference. "This is huge. The opportunity to capture a drug lord the caliber of Javier Arellano Felix is a unique event." His capture marks "the end of two decades of the most... powerful and violent drug-trafficking organization," he added.

And what that means in Mexico is a new round of violence as competing trafficking organizations fight to take advantage of the opening. Fernandes acknowledged as much, saying that violent jockeying for power is the likely result of Arellano's arrest.

Nor do authorities expect his arrest to make any significant difference. "In drug trafficking we're not naive enough to think that drug trafficking is going to stop," said FBI Daniel R. Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI's local office.

Still, it was a nice photo-op.

Md. high court rejects reckless endangerment convictions for drug use by pregnant women

Location: 
Annapolis, MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Baltimore Sun
URL: 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-te.md.court04aug04,0,347300.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

Latin America: New Report Says Colombian Cocaine Production Seriously Underestimated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smugglers Innovate as Border Tightens

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
USA Today
URL: 
http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060803/a_borderdrugs03.art.htm

Mayor Seeks Drug Maintenance for Drug Addicts

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=bf184ac0-01c2-4251-8c46-24cbb64be30f

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