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Chronicle editor Phil Smith
receives the Brecher Award

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"The Media and Drugs -- A Long Way Still to Go" -- David Borden discusses why we still can't rely on the media to get drug policy right.

Read the latest Drug War Chronicle!

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Stopping the Drug War Means Winning the Information War.

As a subscriber to StoptheDrugWar.org, you know that this is an exciting and critical time for those who believe that prohibition and the global drug war in its current form need to end.

You're learning about the state-level revolt against federal marijuana laws, how the prerogatives of the drug war corrupt local police departments, and the real, nuanced policy story behind the headlines.

Stories are important. With each one we tell, we chip away at the prohibitionists' decades-long stranglehold on the drug policy debate. Things are starting to change. And we need your help to keep the momentum.

Why It's Critical to Support our "Unfinished Business" Campaign Today.

In an era where so much of the national debate is still framed by prohibition-based thinking, our small, dedicated and passionate staff keep anti-prohibitionists on the cutting edge of legislation and policy. Our platform serves as a vital information source for reform efforts -- locally, nationally, and globally -- and amplifies their efforts for audiences they couldn't have hoped to reach otherwise. Our mission to provide the best information available on the global drug war and its costs is critical to the national and global efforts to end it.

But we need your help to keep going strong in 2014. You can help our small and prolific team of experts pay their bills so they can stay focused on the great content that brings light to critical prohibition issues.

The mainstream media has been a depressingly dependable source of fear-based misinformation in the drug debate, predictably amplifying the talking points of those whose livelihoods depend on the expansion of the wasteful, corrupt and unjust global drug war.

That's why it's the duty of reformers to fund and make their own media -- a drumbeat that sounds clear and true against the fear and misinformation, turning a few more heads every year and slowly normalizing rational debate.

 

Testimonial

"Drug War Chronicle has, for years, provided a vital and unparalleled source of rational, fact based analysis on the US Drug War for readers in the UK and Europe. When the drug war ends, the role of the Chronicle in its downfall will not be forgotten." — Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

For $3.49 a Month -- About the Price of One Gallon of Gas -- You Can Fuel our Efforts and Keep Our Editorial Staff Working on the Drug War's Biggest Stories.

We ask that you support our mission by authorizing a recurring monthly gift of $3.49. It's easy, secure, and will keep our talented writing and policy team focused on the issues that we all care about—and hope more people will care about as the drumbeat builds.

Advancing information, research and informed argument in the national debate is critical to not just marijuana legalization, but ending the drug war on all fronts. America is at a crossroads. And so is StopTheDrugWar.org. Will you give up one gallon of gas to help us keep fighting the good fight in 2014?

Yes! I Can Give Up a Gallon of Gas a Month to Keep StopTheDrugWar.org's Writers Working.

Watch Drug War Chronicle editor Phil Smith's award acceptance speech at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last October:

Human Rights Watch on Coerced Guilty Pleas in US Drug Cases

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/offer-you-cant-refuse.jpg
A report from Human Rights Watch released this morning demonstrates the corruption of justice that mandatory minimum sentencing has brought about. According to "An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Defendants to Plead Guilty," prosecutors commonly force drug defendants to plead to lengthy mandatory sentences in order to avoid losing their entire lives. Jamie Fellner of HRW writes:

"Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial," said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple."
 

In one case cited, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, declined to plea to 10 years for possession of 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver. Prior convictions she had for simple drug possession triggered a sentencing enhancement, at the prosecutor's behest, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.

I think that very clearly constitutes a human rights violation, and we need to take this kind of power away from the officials who perpetrate such violations. One way to do that is by repealing mandatory minimum sentencing. There is a real chance of doing that, for the first time in a very long time, as a recent article we published shows. More on this coming soon.

Phil Lauded in Denver Last Month -- Video

I posted some photos last month, but here is the video from Phil's award at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. It was produced by Peter and Istvan from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, who were the official conference videographers and whose you may have seen me post here before.

Phil's award was first in the line-up, and this video begins with Ethan Nadelmann talking about the DPA awards and their history. At a little over a minute in, he describes the Brecher Award, then turns it over to Tony Newman, who introduces Phil. And then it's all Phil -- I think he did a great job.

Missouri Cannabis Conference This Weekend!

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ShowMe-Cannabis.png
ShowMe-Cannabis logo (show-mecannabis.com)
Show-Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are hosting their fall 2013 statewide Cannabis Policy Conference for the Show-Me state, this Saturday in Kansas City. There are other events too, one of them a happy hour fundraiser TONIGHT with LEAP's Neill Franklin. Visit http://show-mecannabis.com/events for more info.

Also click here for one of the (many) reasons this is important.

Location: 
208 W. 19th St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
United States

First Conference Glimpses

Phil's first report from the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last week highlights the picture that is emerging of the next most likely states to legalize marijuana. More conference-inspired reporting will be forthcoming soon, but there are also some initial videos our from the conference too.
 
First, a photo of Phil's award speech:



And Phil, me, Ethan Nadelmann (who emceed) and Tony Newman (who introduced Phil and presented the award):



(These and many more conference photos were posted on Facebook by DrugWarFacts.org editor Doug McVay.)
 
The first video was shot by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Drugreporter team, whose work we've featured here before. This time they were the conference's official videographers. The video consists of highlights from the conference's first full day, and was shown during a plenary session the next morning:
 
 
The next one is from Dean Becker and the Drug Truth Network, of a tour for conference-goers of the River Rock dispensary:
 
 
A few more came out early from HCLU: Itefayo Harvey of DPA, Rep. Jared Polis, Nadelmann, and Rev. Edward Sanders:
 
 
 
 
 
Check back at HCLU, DPA and Drug Truth for more to come, and here on StoptheDrugWar.org.

First Videos from the Conference

Phil's first report from the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last week highlights the picture that is emerging of the next most likely states to legalize marijuana. More conference-inspired reporting will be forthcoming soon, but there are also some initial videos our from the conference too.
 
First, a photo of Phil's award speech:

(who emceed) and Tony Newman (who introduced Phil and presented the award):



(These and many more conference photos were posted on Facebook by DrugWarFacts.org editor Doug McVay.)
 
The first video was shot by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Drugreporter team, whose work we've featured here before. This time they were the conference's official videographers. The video consists of highlights from the conference's first full day, and was shown in a plenary on the second day:
 
 
The next one is from Dean Becker and the Drug Truth Network, of a tour for conference-goers of the River Rock dispensary:
 
 
A few more came out early from HCLU: Itefayo Harvey of DPA, Rep. Jared Polis, Nadelmann, and Rev. Edward Sanders:
 
 
 
 
 
Check back and HCLU, DPA and Drug Truth for more to come, and here.

Michael Douglas Tribute to Mike Gray

Actor Michael Douglas gave a tribute to our friend Mike Gray at the memorial service in Los Angeles this week. He talked about first working with Mike on the movie The China Syndrome, and about MIke's work on drug policy reform and how the drug war has affected him and his family. You can listen to it on the Drug Truth Network here.

It was recorded by Doug McVay, who attended the memorial with Common Sense for Drug Policy. Mike was the board chair of CSDP, and Doug and I are both board members.

Angry Afternoon (The Human and Fiscal Cost of the Medical Marijuana Wars)

Two reports came out today about the federal government's attacks on medical marijuana providers. First, California NORML surveyed court records connected with medical marijuana cases, finding nearly 500 person years of incarceration for medical marijuana defendants. Second, Americans for Safe Access has estimated $300 million spent by the Obama administration on anti-medical marijuana enforcement, after $200 million spent in two terms of the Bush administration -- half a billion total.

Dale Schafer and Mollie Fry (canorml.org)
Among the cases highlighted are those of people like Richard Flor, Montana medical marijuana provider who died in federal prison. They include the husband and wife defendants Dale Schafer (a hemophiliac) and Dr. Mollie Fry (a cancer patient). Not highlighted in the release, but on the list, is my friend Bryan Epis, California's second medical marijuana defendant and the first to be convicted. Bryan is getting out soon, but he's spent too many years behind bars. There are many more, of course.

Some people argue that these people knowingly took a risk, violating federal law, and even if one disagrees with a law, it's the law and prosecutors are bound to uphold it. But that misses a basic ethical point, and a practical one. In practical terms, police and prosecutors have discretion to focus their resources on the cases of most importance to them. They also can choose not to prosecute, or make deals to let people out of prison time, no abuse of discretion being thereby committed. In many cases that's what happened.

And so in a situation such as this one -- states passing pro-medical marijuana laws, now even legalization laws, the Obama administration effectively encouraging people further by promising a more-or-less hands off approach to the issue, that clearly would have been the right approach for officials to take. If they felt (rightly or wrongly) that they had to shut down certain operations, the ethical approach, given all that came before, would have been to tell the people things have changed, they have to stop doing what they're doing or face prosecution, but giving them that chance. (The same idea applies to Marc Emery, whose business was accepted by authorities for nine years until they hit him with the years he's serving.)

Instead of doing that, in the many cases CANORML has highlighted, they instead let the parties go about their business for years, until they had the evidence compiled they would need to get the extremely harsh sentences they wanted. If these outlets were really harming the public, shouldn't they have moved to close them down as soon as they could instead? I thought the point of our laws was to protect the public, not to destroy the individuals targeted by the law.

Those are a few of the reasons it's an angry afternoon for me.

Author, Filmmaker, Drug Reformer Mike Gray Dies

We received word Wednesday that Mike Gray, probably best known in the drug reform community as the author of "Drug Crazy: How We Got in this Mess and How We Can Get Out," has died.

Mike Gray, RIP
A fixture at drug reform conferences for the last decade, Gray had been a staunch advocate of ending drug prohibition and had worked with Robert Field at Common Sense for Drug Policy to publicize the abuses of the drug war and assist local activists seeking reform. Among his many works at CSDP were the DVDs "Law Enforcement Against Prohibition," highlighting spokespersons of the group by the same name, and "Cops & Clergy Condemn the War on Drugs."

Born in 1935 in Darlington, Indiana, Gray received an engineering degree from Purdue University, but found his life's work in documenting political violence as a filmmaker. He was a cofounder of the Chicago-based Film Group, a pioneering collection of documentary filmmakers whose works included "The Murder of Fred Hampton," the Chicago Black Panther leader gunned down by police in 1969. Gray's iconic coverage of the police riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention were seen around the world.

Gray moved to Los Angeles in 1973, where he expanded his creative endeavors to include screenwriting credits for four-time Oscar nominated "The China Syndrome" and other films, for episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," as well as a number of books. His written work addressed issues such as the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island and the use of the death penalty, as well as drug reform. In addition to "Drug Crazy," Gray returned to the issue of drug policy with "Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington’s War on Drugs."

Gray won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Drama and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and for the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay.

Your reporter conversed briefly with Gray at the California NORML conference in January. He didn't appear to be in ill health; his death comes as a shock, if not a surprise, given his age. He will be missed.

 
 
 

Perspectives on the Denver "420" Disruption

Denver 420 rally, while it lasted (facebook.com/pages/420-Rally/104447806260934)
Yesterday's historic "420" rally in Denver, the first since Colorado voted to legalize marijuana last fall, was marred and cut short by violence. Two unidentified gunmen shot and wounded three people -- two attendees were shot in the leg and were rushed to a nearby hospital with "non-life-threatening-injuries," and a teen was grazed by a bullet and walked there, according to the Denver Post. Attendees fled the scene, and the remainder of the event as well a smaller one planned for today were canceled.

It was not the kind of day those three people or their friends had planned, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind. It was also not the kind of day that thousands attending including many who traveled from afar had planned either. It's lucky there were no trampling injuries, at least no serious ones, apparently.

Without forgetting what's most important -- the people most directly affected -- it's also worth noting that this is obviously not the kind of headline that legalization advocates wanted. The story had the top spot on Google News for a time last night, and continues to hold front page placement as I write this. That's an unfortunate accomplishment, particularly after the grim and violent week we just lived through. But does it hurt the cause?

After looking through news reports, I don't think so. The only criticism of the idea of the rally was from a Colorado anti-marijuana group, appearing well toward the end of the article. Most of it was sympathetic reporting about the victims, about organizers cooperating with police, police looking for information on the suspects, who the musical acts were, how police even before Amendment 64 passed had focused on crowd safety rather than marijuana enforcement during Denver's 420 events. I have not yet seen any quotes suggesting that marijuana use had any connection to the violence, though I've not done an exhaustive search.

Of course there's an opportunity cost from this unfortunate story replacing the story we'd hoped for of legal marijuana becoming a mainstream, accepted reality. And it's hard to know whether the coverage reflects maturation on the part of the media's treatment of the marijuana issue, vs. the violence forcing things into perspective. But I lean toward the former, and there's some comfort from seeing marijuana reformers and public safety personnel so clearly on the same side. At least that's how it looks from a distance. Our movement is part of larger society, and we are vulnerable to all the same dangers.

Let's hope the victims' injuries are no worse than reported, and for their swift recovery.

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