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Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.


United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Chronicle AM: FL, OH, PA Poll Tight Majority for MJ Legalization, Needle Exchange, More (4/6/15)

Quinnipiac University polls in three big states show narrow majorities for marijuana legalization, medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills get filed in Alabama, Egypt's tobacco traders want to legalize and tax hash, and more.

Marijuana Policy

At Hash Bash, Michigan Lawmaker Says He Will File Legalization Bill. Tommy Chong got the biggest cheers at Ann Arbor's 44th Annual Hash Bash Saturday, but hometown Rep. Jim Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) may have a bigger impact on marijuana politics in the state. He told the Hash Bash crowd he would introduce a legalization bill. He said he was in the process of drafting the legislation.

Florida Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it.

Ohio Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Buckeye State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it. The poll comes as at least two different groups seek to place legalization measures on the 2016 general election ballot.

Pennsylvania Poll Has Support for Legalization at 51%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has majority support for marijuana legalization in the Keystone State, with 51% of registered voters in favor and 45% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 88% saying they favored it. A medical marijuana bill is in play in Harrisburg.

Washington Senate Approves 37% Marijuana Sales Tax. The state Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 6062, which would remove the excise tax on pot producers and processors and replace it with a 37% tax on retail sales. The measure passed 26-22 and now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) last week filed Senate Bill 326, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and which has a unique scheme setting three levels of allowable amounts possessed. The bill would allow one dispensary in cities with a population of 10,000 or more and two dispensaries in cities with a population of 150,000 or more. Companion legislation is expected to be filed today in the House by Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).

Harm Reduction

Needle Exchange Gets Underway in Southwest Indiana County With HIV Outbreak. A needle exchange program began last Saturday in Scott County, where the state's largest ever HIV outbreak is underway. The move comes after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an executive order temporarily suspending the state's ban on needle exchanges, but only in that county.

Alabama Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) has filed a bill that would allow doctors and dentists to describe the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone to friends and family members of drug users. The measure is House Bill 208. It would also provide for training for law enforcement agencies that want their officers to carry the drug. The bill also has 911 Good Samaritan provisions.


Egyptian Tobacco Trade Group Calls for Hash Legalization, Taxation. The Cairo and Giza Tobacco Traders Association has called for serious study of a proposal to legalize the hash trade and said a 10% tax levied on hash transactions would quickly shrink the national budget deficit. The proposal is currently before the Legislative Reform Committee of the parliament.

Mexican Troop Presence Didn't Stem Drug War Killings, But Aggravated Them, Study Finds. A new study published on the website of The American Statistician found that the arrival of Mexican troops to areas with high rates of drug cartel violence did not lower homicide rates but increased them, at least in the short run. Longer-term decreases in violence could be attributed to increased civic engagement, not the presence of soldiers.

New Report Shows How Western-Imposed Prohibition Policies Hurt Poor Countries [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Wealthy Western countries are undermining good governance and social and economic development in poor, drug-producing countries by pressuring them to enforce prohibitionist policies that exploit peasant farmers and waste millions of dollars a year on failed crop eradication and drug interdiction programs. That's the conclusion of a recent report by the British advocacy group Health Poverty Action (HPA).

Afghan poppy fields (
In the report, Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World's Poorest, HPA shows how the West exports much of the harms of drug prohibition -- violence, corruption, environmental damage -- onto some of the world's poorest societies and weakest states. In fact, the report argues, by forcing these countries to devote scarce resources to trying to keep the West from getting high, the West makes them poorer and weaker.

Whether it's horrific prohibition-related violence in Mexico and Central America, the lack of funds for real alternative development in the coca growing areas of the Andes, or the erosion of public health services in West African countries tasked with fighting the trans-Atlantic drug trade, the policy choices imposed by these countries as conditions for receiving assistance have devastatingly deleterious consequences for local populations.

Here are five ways the report says global drug prohibition and rich countries' insistence that poor ones fight their battles for them hurts poor countries:

  1. Disintegrated and accountable states: Corruption and conflict stemming from current drug policies undermine democracy and make governments unable to adequately provide basic services. States can't function because they're stuck in a losing war against cartels.
  2. Lost resources: The global cost of enforcing anti-drug policies is at least US$100 billion a year. Dealing with the violence, environmental destruction, and health impacts caused by the War on Drugs costs poor countries much more and diverts both resources and attention away from essential services.
  3. Undermined economies: By making poor countries more unstable and tying up government funding in the global drug war, current policies sabotage economic growth and worsen inequality.
  4. Inequality: The War on Drugs disproportionately affects the poor, further marginalizing vulnerable populations and undermining efforts towards social and economic justice.
  5. Poor health: Current drug policies exacerbate health harms such as HIV and hepatitis, and have a serious impact on the social and economic determinants of health.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although changing the international drug prohibition regime is a glacially-paced ongoing project, the pace of change is picking up. The next UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for next year, and the prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Perhaps one of these years, we will arrive at a better, less damaging, way of dealing with the global trade in mind-altering substances.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Chronicle Book Review: Mexico on the Brink

Hidden Dangers: Mexico on the Brink of Disaster by Robert Joe Stout (2014, Sunbury Press, 210 pp., $16.95 PB)

Today is the official 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. The uprising that began then lasted for nearly two decades and by the time it was over, nearly two million Mexicans were dead, and the country was changed forever. That revolution overthrew a sclerotic, encrusted dictatorship that advanced the country materially and brought it to the brink of the modern era, but which ignored the interests of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Are we about to see a repeat? That's probably premature, but it's notable that authorities in Mexico City have canceled the official commemorative parade set for today, afraid of trouble breaking out. There has already been trouble in Mexico City today, anyway -- with masked demonstrators attempted to block access to the international airport -- so that decision may well be a prudent one.

What is motivating the protests today -- and for nearly the last two months -- is the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of 43 radical students from a provincial teachers' college in the south central state of Guerrero. It seems clear that the students and their threats of demonstrations were seen as a threat by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. Pineda, who has been identified as a leader of the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group (commonly referred to as cartels), is believed to have ordered Iguala municipal police to "take care of" the unruly students.

According to a version of events delivered by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Karam Murillo, Iguala police shot up the commandeered public buses the students were riding in (commandeering buses is not unusual in political protests), killing some of the students on the spot. The remaining students were then allegedly turned over by Iguala police to Guerreros Unidos gang members, who, according to Karam, killed them all, burned their bodies, chopped them to bits, and threw them in a river.

Of course, it took Karam a month to make that announcement, and in the meantime, anger over the disappearances grew by the day. Demonstrators attacked and burnt part of the state capitol complex in Chilpancingo; they attacked and burnt municipal buildings in Iguala; they fought pitched battles with police on the road to the Acapulco airport. And the demonstrations and solidarity protests are spreading.

This is a brutal scandal that has shaken even brutal scandal-plagued Mexico. Federal authorities have now arrested the mayoral couple, along with dozens of police men and gang members (some are undoubtedly both). The governor of Guerrero has been forced to resign. And President Enrique Nieto Pena and his government are now besieged, even though the mayor and the governor belonged to another political party.

This may be the landmine that sets off a long pent-up social explosion south of the border. I use the word "landmine" deliberately, for that is the precise term used by long-time journalist and current Oaxaca resident Robert Stout in his new book, Hidden Dangers. Although it appears to have been largely written before Pena Nieto took office nearly two years ago, it seems remarkably prescient.

In Hidden Dangers, Stout identifies several festering -- and interconnected -- problems facing Mexico, the result of ongoing economic and political changes.Looming large among the potential landmines are emigration, the war on drugs, rising popular political movements of resistance, official corruption and impunity, and increasing environmental degradation.

With the case of the missing 43 students, Mexico is stepping on two of those landmines: the war on drugs and the problem of official complicity and corruption. As Stout makes clear, Mexico's drug corporations (he never uses the word "cartels") have thrived in an atmosphere of violence and corruption and official complicity. I wouldn't say that drug money has corrupted Mexico's institutions because they have been deeply corrupted for years, as Stout illustrates throughout the book, but it has deepened the corruption and blurred the line between organized crime and state power.

What Stout has to say about the drug cartels and the counterproductive policies adopted on both sides of the border to stop them is probably not new to regular readers of these pages. Through violence and cold, hard cash, the cartels manage to suborn security forces, elected officials, and legitimate businesses alike. And heavy-handed, militaristic attempts to quash them, especially with an army that seems to have no notion of human rights, has only resulted in more violence and more mistrust of government.

But it is complicated, and looking at Mexico solely through the prism of its war on drugs is too narrow a focus to get a good grasp on the country's realities. Mexico's drug cartel problem doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is part and parcel of a deeper social and political malaise, which, in Stout's view, is related to the country's authoritarian, unresponsive government and its inability or unwillingness to address the country's aching concerns.

And it's not just the PRI, the party that emerged from the Revolution to govern the country as "the perfect dictatorship" until the election of Coca Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000. One of Stout's contributions to our understanding is his explication of the authoritarian character that defines all political parties in Mexico. Whether it’s the PRI or the rightist PAN or the leftist PRD, all have adapted the same top-down, strongman politics that characterized the PRI in its heyday.

It is worth noting that the mayor of Iguala and his wife are members of the PRD, which is a sad reflection on the Mexican left. But Mexicans don't need to read Stout's book to understand that the same rot grips all the parties, and that's part of the reason even the PRIista Pena Nieto is feeling the heat over the Iguala disappearances. The problem is systemic, Mexicans understand this, and that's why they're so angrily taking to the streets right now.

Hidden Dangers does a very good job of tying together the disparate "landmines" facing Mexico right now. Especially for readers who have approached the country primarily through the lens of drug policy, it is a welcome opening of perspective. And, at only a bit more than 200 pages, it's a relatively quick read, packed with information and plenty to ponder. Check it out. 

Chronicle AM: OR Measure 91 Race Tightens, ACLU Petition on Police Militarization, Chile MedMJ, More (10/29/14)

There's a scary poll out in Oregon, the Drug Policy Alliance grades the House of Representatives, the ACLU has a petition to stop the Pentagon sending surplus military equipment to police forces, and more. Let's get to it:

Announcing the first permitted medical marijuana planting in Chile today. (
Marijuana Policy       

Latest Poll Has Oregon Measure 91 in Dead Heat. The latest poll from the Oregonian has the Measure 91 legalization initiative trailing in a tight race, but within the poll's margin of error. The poll of likely voters had 44% supporting the measure, with 46% opposed and 9% undecided or refusing to answer. The poll's margin of error is +/- 5%. An earlier survey by Oregon Public Broadcasting had the measure leading with 52%. One possible explanation for the difference in the polls is the age breakdown among the respondents. The OPB poll had a higher number of younger voters, who tend to support the measure, but who also tend to be less likely to vote than older voters.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Voters' Guide Grades US Representatives. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), has released its 2014 Drug Policy Reform Congressional Voter Guide, which grades members of Congress on how they voted on seven key drug policy issues this year and last. The guide names 10 representatives as "champions of reform." They are Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steven Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-TX), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Bobby Scott (D-VA).  DPA says the guide is not just to educate voters, "but also to send a firm message to elected officials that they will be held accountable for supporting draconian policies that exacerbate the worst harms of the drug war." It names 141 representatives who failed to get a passing grade. 

Law Enforcement

ACLU Petitions to End Program Giving Surplus Military Equipment to Police Agencies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has begun a petition drive designed to "stop arming local and state law enforcement with military equipment" and "impose a moratorium on the 1033 program to temporarily halt equipment transfers and create transparency and safeguards within this program." 1033 is the program under which surplus US military equipment, such as Humvees, armored personnel carriers, and the like are given free of charge to local and state police. The program has come under increased fire in the wake of heavily militarized police deployments in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of Michael Brown. Go to the link to sign the petition, then spread the word on social media platforms.


Mexico Announces Arrest of Four Drug Gang Members in Case of Missing Student Teachers. Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam Tuesday announced the arrest of four Guerreros Unidos cartel members who allegedly confessed to participating in the disappearance of 43 student teachers a month ago after they were detained by police. Murillo said that two of those arrested had admitted receiving the students and were about to reveal their location. The case, which unveiled close ties between drug gangs and local authorities, has roiled Mexican politics ever since the students went missing.

Medical Marijuana Planted Today in Chile. After authorities in the La Florida district of Santiago, the Chilean capital, gave their permission, medical marijuana supporters today planted marijuana plants that will be harvested in April and turned into a cannabis oil to be used to treat pain in cancer patients. The project is being run by the Daya Foundation, and will also include a clinical study of marijuana's effectiveness as a pain reliever. 

Chronicle AM: Joe McNamara Passes, Rand Paul Speech, OAS Drug Resolution, More (9/22/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 picks up a nice endorsement, a marijuana legalization vote in York, Maine, is snuffed out, decrim advances in the US Virgin Islands, Rand Paul tells the GOP to reach out on drug policy, Joe McNamara dies, the OAS passes a drug policy resolution, and more. Let's get to it:

Joseph McNamara in his days as San Jose Police Chief. (SJPD)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Former US Attorney. Former Oregon US Attorney Kris Olson today endorsed Measure 91, the Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "I enforced our marijuana laws, and they don't work," she said. "Filling our courts and jails has failed to reduce marijuana use, and drug cartels are pocketing all the profits." Olson was US Attorney for Oregon from 1994 to 2001. Meanwhile, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association has made a $100,000 donation to the No on 91 campaign.

York, Maine, Effort to Get Marijuana Vote on Ballot Thwarted. A state court judge last Friday rejected an effort to put a local marijuana possession legalization on the ballot in York. York County Superior Court Judge Paul Fritzsche sided with town councilmen, who had rejected two citizen petitions seeking the vote. Fritzsche ruled that York cannot regulate marijuana because it is governed by state and federal law. Two other Maine towns, Lewiston and South Portland, will vote in November. The state's largest city, Portland, approved a similar initiative last year.

US Virgin Islands Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana was approved by the Virgin Islands Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety, and Justice last Thursday. The measure is Bill 30-0018. It would make possession of an ounce or less of weed a civil offense punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200, with the possible forfeiture of the contraband.

Medical Marijuana

Today is Deadline Day for Illinois Medical Marijuana Business Applicants. People who want to operate medical marijuana businesses have until 3 pm CDT to hand in their applications to state agencies. The Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program has more information.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Calls on Republicans to Embrace Drug Reform, Other Non-Traditional GOP Planks. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used a speech Saturday to the California GOP convention to call on the party to reach beyond its base by embracing issues such as drug reform, privacy in personal communications, voting rights, and an anti-interventionist foreign policy. Republicans need to "show compassion for people," especially young black and brown people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. "If you look at surveys, it's not that they're using drugs more than your kids are using drugs, it's because they're getting caught because they live in an urban environment with more patrols, they have less good attorneys, they don't have the resources, and some of the laws are still frankly wrong," he said.

Law Enforcement

Pentagon Surplus Arms Program Let Military Weapons Go to Police Forces That Abused Civil Rights. The Pentagon's program to distribute surplus military equipment to US civilian police forces allows even agencies that have been censured by the Justice Department for civil rights violations to receive lethal weaponry. The Defense and Justice Departments have apparently not been coordinating on the program, the Associated Press reports.


Drug Reforming Police Chief Joe McNamara Dies at 79. One of the earliest law enforcement voices for drug reform is no longer with us. Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara died last Friday at his home in Monterey, California. He is credited with bringing progressive reforms to the San Jose Police Department in the 1970s. After retiring as police chief in 1992, he went to work at the Hoover Institution, where he continued and sharpened his criticism of the war on drugs. "He was the police chief who became the most deeply involved in the drug policy reform movement," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who had worked with McNamara on issues for the past 25 years. "He was convinced the drug war was a total disaster and he needed to speak out about that."


OAS Issues Resolution on Drug Policy. At its 46th Special Session in Guatemala City last Friday, the Organization of American States passed a resolution calling for states to "regularly review the drug policies adopted, ensure that they are comprehensive and focused on the well-being of the individual, in order to address their national challenges and assess their impact and effectiveness." The resolution also called on states to develop drug policies "that prevent social costs or contribute to their reduction; and, when appropriate, reviewing traditional approaches and considering the development of new approaches, based on scientific evidence and knowledge." And it calls for states to develop comprehensive approaches that examine "the structural causes, triggers, and the multiple factors that contribute to violence and crime" with a view to taking them into account when drafting the 2016-2020 Hemispheric Plan of Action on Drugs. Click on the link to read the OAS press release.

Bill Filed to Rein in Police Militarization [FEATURE]

Concerns about the militarization of American policing have been on the increase for some time now, but have crystallized in the wake of the heavy-handed police response to the killing earlier this summer of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Soldiers or police? It's the latter. (
For years, observers have noted the SWAT mission creep, where sending paramilitarized police units to deal with rare mass attacks and hostage-taking events has transmuted into the routine use of SWAT for things like serving drug search warrants. A recent ACLU report documented this trend, finding that 62% of all SWAT teams had been deployed for drug raids. And public anger over police killings -- especially of young men of color -- has been on the increase as well.

In the past decade, affairs have only accelerated as police departments around the land have availed themselves of Congress's largesse in letting them pick up surplus military equipment for free, bringing home Humvees and MRAPs, as well as all kinds of armaments and military get-up. Under the weight of all that gear, policemen who used to look like Officer Friendly have taken on the appearance of imperial storm troopers.

That has all taken place under the Pentagon's 1033 program, which allows the transfer of such equipment from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan state and local law enforcement agencies without charge. But, critics claim, while appropriate as war materiel, much of this equipment is not suited for civilian law enforcement purposes.

Law enforcement's resort to military equipment against largely peaceful civilian protestors in Ferguson, with armored vehicles moving in to confront teenagers wearing shorts and sniper rifles aimed from turrets at local residents put the issue front and center in the national consciousness.

There were congressional hearings on the topic last week, and today, a bipartisan pair of congressmen, Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID), announced that they had filed a bill to rein in the Department of Defense program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Police militarization is an attitude, too. (BCSO)
"Militarizing America's main streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent," said Johnson in a statement announcing the bill. "Before another small town's police force gets a $750,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can't maintain or manage, it behooves us to press pause on Pentagon's 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America."

The bill is HR 5478, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2014. It would:

  • Prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, armed drones, armored vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives.
  • End incentives to use equipment in circumstances when the use is unnecessary. Under the 1033 program, local police are required to use the equipment within a year, incentivizing towns to use it in inappropriate circumstances.
  • Require that recipients certify that they can account for all equipment. In 2012, the weapons portion of the 1033 program was temporarily suspended after DOD found that a local sheriff had gifted out army-surplus Humvees and other supplies. This bill would prohibit re-gifting and require recipients to account for all equipment received from DOD.
  • Remove any reference to counterdrug operations from the program, thus ensuring that law enforcement is not incentivized to use the equipment to perform arrests of those suspected of being low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

"Our nation was founded on the principle of a clear line between the military and civilian policing," said Labrador. "The Pentagon's current surplus property program blurs that line by introducing a military model of overwhelming force in our cities and towns. Our bill would restore the focus of local law enforcement on protecting citizens and providing due process for the accused."

The bill also adds requirements to enforce tracking mechanisms that keep up with and control transfers of the equipment, implement policies ensuring that police agencies can't surplus the equipment for resale and define drones more clearly. It would also specify that the use of MRAPs, grenades, and drones is not appropriate for civilian law enforcement.

In addition to Johnson and Labrador, the bill's original cosponsors are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), John Conyers (D-MI), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Jim Moran (D-VA).

The move is winning kudos from drug reform organizations.

Just what every small town police department needs. (Doraville PD)
"Very occasionally and with proper oversight and training, the use of some military equipment is appropriate -- school shootings, terrorist situations and the like," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "But when it's routinely used against nonviolent drug offenders, it only serves to further strain police-community relations so vital to preventing and solving violent crime. This bill will correct some of the worst excesses of a potentially useful program hijacked by the war on drugs."

"In light of what we all saw in Ferguson, Missouri, the American people are clamoring for law enforcement to become less militarized. Grenades, drones, and tanks may belong on the battlefield; they certainly don't have a place on US streets," said Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Such militarization is inextricably linked to the drug war, where SWAT teams and no-knock raids have become a routine part of drug arrests, even in the case of nonviolent offenders."

The bill is a good first step in reining in law enforcement militarization, he said.

"This legislation is a thoughtful attempt at tackling a very worrying problem -- the militarization of law enforcement," Collins said. "The Pentagon program is highly problematic because preferential treatment is given to those police forces that use their equipment to fight the drug war. This bill would end that, and move us away from a heavy-handed approach to drug policy."

Washington, DC
United States

End the Drug War "For the Kids" Coalition Forms [FEATURE]

In a move precipitated by the child immigration border crisis, but informed by the ongoing damage done to children on both sides of the border by law enforcement-heavy, militarized anti-drug policies, a broad coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations came together late last week to call for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting the kids.

The failures of the war on drugs transcend borders. (

"The quality of a society can and should be measured by how its most vulnerable are treated, beginning with our children," said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that coordinated the letter. "Children have every right to expect that we will care for, love and nurture them into maturity. The drug war is among the policies that disrupts our responsibility to that calling."

The groups, as well as prominent individuals such as The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, signed on to a letter of support for new policies aimed at ending the war on drugs.

"In recent weeks," the letter says, "the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the US border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."

Organizations signing the letter include a broad range of groups representing different issues and interests, but all are united in seeing the war on drugs as an obstacle to improvement. They include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute of the Black World,, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization. For a complete list of signatories, click here. [Disclosure:, the organization publishing this article, is a signatory.]

In the past few months, more than 50,000 minors fleeing record levels of violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have arrived at the US border seeking either to start a new life or to reconnect with family members already in the country. The causes of the violence in Central America are complex and historically-rooted, but one of them is clearly the US war on drugs, heavy-handedly exported to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in the past several decades.

Those northern Central American countries -- the so-called Northern Triangle -- have been especially hard hit by drug prohibition-related violence since about 2008, when, after the US helped Mexico bulk up its war on the drug cartels via the $2.4 billion Plan Merida assistance package (President Obama wants another $115 million for it next year), the cartels began expanding their operations into the weaker Central American states. Already high crime levels went through the roof.

Honduras's second largest city, San Pedro Sula, now has the dubious distinction of boasting the world's highest murder rate, while the three national capitals, Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, are all in the top 10 deadliest cities worldwide. Many of the victims are minors, who are often targeted because of their membership in drug trade-affiliated street gangs (or because they refuse to join the gangs).

Protesting for schools, not prisons in California (Ella Baker Center)
The impact of the war on drugs on kids in the United States is less dramatic, but no less deleterious. Hundreds of thousands of American children have one or both parents behind bars for drug offenses, suffering not only the stigma and emotional trauma of being a prisoner's child, but also the collateral consequences of impoverishment and familial and community instability. Millions more face the prospect of navigating the mean streets of American cities where, despite some recent retreat from the drug war's most serious excesses, the war on drugs continues to make some neighborhoods extremely dangerous places.

"In the face of this spiraling tragedy that continues to disproportionately consume the lives and futures of black and brown children," the letter concludes, "it is imperative to end the nefarious militarization and mass incarceration occurring in the name of the war on drugs. So often, repressive drug policies are touted as measures to protect the welfare of our children, but in reality, they do little more than serve as one great big Child Endangerment Act. On behalf of the children, it is time to rethink the war on drugs."

Although the signatory groups represent diverse interests and constituencies, coming together around the common issue of protecting children could lay the groundwork for a more enduring coalition, said Jeronimo Saldana, a legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The idea was to get folks together to make a statement. Now, we have to figure out how to move forward. The letter was the first step," he said.

"The groups have been very positive," Saldana continued. "They're glad someone was speaking up and putting it all together. What's going on in Central American and Mexico is tied into what's happening in our own cities and communities. This crosses partisan lines; it's really obvious that the failed policies of the war on drugs affects people of all walks of life, and the images of the kids really brings it home. We hope to build on this to get some traction. We want folks to continue to make these connections."

Different signatories do have different missions, but a pair of California groups that signed the letter provide examples of how the drug war unites them.

Child refugee in a US border detention facility (
"We have a history of working on behalf of youth involved in the criminal justice system and their families," said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We see desperate families trying to stay connected, strong, and healthy, but mass incarceration is really making that difficult. We work both with families whos kids are involved in the justice system and with families with one or both parents in prison or who have lost custody of their kids because of their involvement in the criminal justice system," she explained.

"We are working to combat this, and we think the war on drugs overall has had disastrous consequences for families, both here and abroad," Zohrabi continued. "The trillions poured into policing and militarization has just produced more misery. It's time for drugs to be dealt with as a public health issue, not a crime."

"We signed on because the letter is very clear in addressing an important component of the discussion that hasn't really been out there," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the Latino social justice group "This crisis on the border is not the result of deferring actions against immigrant child arrivals, as many right-wing Republicans have been saying, but is the result of one of the most deadly peaks in crime and violence in the Northern Triangle in recent memory," he argued.

"The violence there is one of the main push factors, and when we talk about this in the US, it's critical that we acknowledge these push factors, many of which are connected to the war on drugs," Carmona continued. "You'll notice that the kids aren't coming from Nicaragua, where we haven't been supporting the war on drugs, but from countries that we've assisted and advised on the drug war, where we've provided weaponry. This is very well-documented."

While is very concerned with the immigration issue, said Carmona, there is no escaping the role of the war on drugs in making things worse -- not only in Central America and at the border, but inside the US as well.

"We're very concerned about the chickens coming home to roost for our failed war on drugs policy," he said. "The American public needs to be made very aware of this, and we are starting to see a greater understanding that this is a failed policy -- not only in the way we criminalize our young Latino and African-American kids here in the US, but also in the way this policy affects other countries in our neighborhood. As Nicaragua shows, our lack of involvement there has seen a lower crime rate. Our military involvement through the drug war is an abysmal failure, as the record deaths not only in Central America, but also in Mexico, shows."

Colombia, FARC Reach Accord on Drug Issues

The Colombian government and the Marxist guerrillas of the FARC have reportedly reached an agreement on how to deal with drug issues, the third item in a five-part agenda for peace talks that have ongoing in Havana since 2012.

Both Reuters and Business Week reported Friday afternoon that an agreement had been reached. Both cited Colombian government officials who spoke anonymously because the agreement hasn't been made public yet. And neither have the details.

[Update: The FARC and the Colombian government have now released a joint communique outlining the areas of agreement. They include programs for crop substitution, the end of aerial eradication--although the government maintains the ability to undertake it in extreme circumstances--a national drug use prevention education program, a national drug rehabilitation program, and Colombia challenging current drug control policies in international forums like the United Nations.]

The FARC has been at war with the Colombian state for half a century. Flush with profits from the coca and cocaine trade, it surged in the 1990s, but was beaten back by a vicious counterinsurgency led by the government of former President Alvaro Uribe and backed by billions of dollars in US anti-drug, and later, anti-terrorism assistance. Also aligned with the Colombian state were rightist paramilitary organizations involved in the drug traffic.

The government of President Juan Santos has attempted to end the seemingly perpetual conflict by engaging in the peace talks. Santos is up for reelection later this month against a hard-line Uribe ally, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, whose position is that the FARC must agree to lay down its weapons before engaging in peace talks. This apparent progress in the slow-moving talks could help Santos when voters go to the polls on May 25.

While the FARC has refused a cease-fire while talks are ongoing, on Friday it also announced that it would temporarily cease operations in the days just before and after the election.

The FARC had entered this phase of the negotiations with a 10-point program on the drug issue, including special protections for coca producers, alternative development programs, development of licit uses for coca, poppy, and marijuana crops, an end to aerial fumigation of drug crops, and an to militarized drug law enforcement, decriminalization of drug producers, workers, and consumers, and recognition of problematic drug use as a public health, not a criminal justice problem.


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