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Phil Smith Debates Kevin Sabet on "The Fix" Today

Our own Drug War Chronicle editor Phillip Smith debates former ONDCP senior adviser Kevin Sabet on the addiction and recovery web site The Fix today:

Should Marijuana Be Legal?
Tomorrow, three states will vote on the most profound change in US drug laws since the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. The Fix offers two powerful opposing views on whether legalizing weed is the right thing to do.
 

By the way, Phil is on the way to Denver right now, where he will be reporting live on Amendment 64. He will then be attending the National Marijuana Business Conference, also in Denver.

Huffington Post Online "Shadow Convention" Taking On Drug War Today

Long-time readers may remember summer 2000 events we participated in, "Shadow Conventions" held outside the Democratic and Republican conventions to draw attention to neglected issues including the failed drug war. The Huffington Post is currently holding an online "shadow convention," today focusing again on drug policy.

HuffPost Live drug war coverage is taking place from 12-4pm EST (now) and 6-10pm EST, at http://live.huffingtonpost.com. I am scheduled for a panel at about 2:30pm, dealing with the drug provision of the Higher Education Act.

There is also commentary currently being linked to from the Huffington Post home page, including a piece by our Associate Editor and blogger, Scott Morgan, "Obama's Embarrassing Silence on Marijuana."

Thank you for supporting StoptheDrugWar.org, and look for important announcements coming out soon about the organization, important developments in the issue, and of course this week's Drug War Chronicle, Thursday morning in your email and on our web site every day.

US-Mexican Caravan for (Drug War) Peace Gets Underway [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, dozens of Mexican activists led by poet Javier Sicilia crossed into the US at San Diego to begin a weeks-long Caravan for Peace and Justice that will take them more than 6,000 miles through 27 cities in a bid to focus attention on the drug war's terrible toll in both countries. They were met there by representatives of the more than 100 US organizations that are joining and supporting the Caravan as it makes its way toward Washington, DC.

"Our purpose is to honor our victims, to make their names and faces visible," Sicilia said. "We will travel across the United States to raise awareness of the unbearable pain and loss caused by the drug war -- and of the enormous shared responsibility for protecting families and communities in both our countries."

But it's not just about honoring the victims of the drug war; the Caravan also explicitly seeks policy changes on both sides of the border, and not only to drug policy. These policy areas and the Caravan's recommendations include:

Drug War policies: We propose the need to find a solution, with a multidisciplinary and intergenerational approach that places individuals, and their welfare and dignity, at the center of drug policy. We call on both the Mexican and the U.S. community to open and maintain a dialogue about alternatives to Prohibition based on evidence, and which is inclusive in its considerations of the diverse options for drug regulation.

Arms trafficking: We propose that the President of the United States immediately prohibit the importation of assault weapons to the United States. Assault weapons are often smuggled into Mexico, and have also been used too many times against innocent civilians in the US. We propose giving authorities effective regulatory tools and adequate resources to halt arms smuggling in the border regions, especially in border states like Arizona and Texas.

Money laundering: We call for governments on both sides of the border to take concrete steps to combat money laundering. We propose that financial institutions be held accountable for preventing money laundering through increased government surveillance, investigations, fines and criminal charges. We also call for the Treasury Department to immediately implement Congress’ 2009 call to close the “prepaid/stored value cards” loophole.

US foreign aid policy: We call for a change from the United States' "war" focus to one of human security and development that contemplates promoting the healing of Mexico's torn social fabric. We propose the immediate suspension of US assistance to Mexico's armed forces. The "shared responsibility" for peace that both governments share must begin with each country complying with its own respective national laws.

Immigration: We call for a change in the policies that have militarized the border and criminalized immigrants. These policies have generated a humanitarian crisis driven by unprecedented levels of deportations and incarceration of migrants. In addition, these policies have also inflicted immeasurable environmental damage. We call for protecting the dignity of every human being, including immigrant populations that have been displaced by violence who are fleeing to the US seeking safe haven and a better life.


The Caravan is a natural outgrowth of Sicilia's Mexican Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity (MMPJD), which he formed after his son and several comrades were kidnapped and murdered by drug cartel gunmen in Cuernavaca in March 2011. It is designed to put names and faces on the estimated 60,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared, and 150,000 displaced by the prohibition-related violence pitting the so-called cartels against each other and the Mexican state.

In Mexico, the MMPJD struck a deep chord with a population increasingly angered and frightened by the often horrific violence raging across the country. Caravans organized by the MMJPD crisscrossed the country last year before bringing 100,000 people to mass in Mexico City's huge national plaza, the Zocalo in June. The mass outpouring of grief and anger convinced President Felipe Calderon to meet with Sicilia, who brought along photos of some of the dead depicting them as happy, smiling human beings.

"The powers that be were trying to tell us that all those who were dying were just criminals, just cockroaches," Sicilia explained. "We had to change the mindset, and put names to the victims for a change."

On last Sunday, Sicilia and the Caravan were met in San Diego by about 100 supporters from national groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance, Global Exchange, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the NAACP, the Washington Office on Latin America, and, as will be the case across the country, local immigrant rights, civil rights, religious, and drug reform groups.

"This movement brings together activists from both of our countries to shed light on the policies that have failed our families, neighbors, and nations," said Sicilia. "United, we will raise our voices to call for an end to a war on drugs that allows entire communities to become casualties, and we will demand a shift in attention to poverty and the lack of economic opportunity that helps breed the criminality."

"What we are trying to do is raise the level of conversation around this topic," said Global Exchange's Ted Lewis, one of the caravan's organizers. "We're trying to have a bi-national conversation and impact."

Javier Sicilia and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (caravanforpeace.org)
By last Friday, the Caravan had reached Las Cruces, New Mexico, after first stopping in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tucson. In Los Angeles, the Caravan wooed Hollywood, seeking support from the film community as it seeks to shift public opinion against prohibitionist drug policies that wreak havoc in both countries.

"What unites us is grief for what Mexico has lost, which is peace," said Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Oscar-nominated director of "Biutiful" and "Babel," who was among the Hollywood stars greeting the Caravan.

In Phoenix on Thursday, Sicilia and the Caravan had an unexpected encounter with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as they trekked to one of Arpaio's jails to see what the drug war looks like on the US side of the border. The feisty sheriff, who is notorious for his treatment of prisoners and anti-immigrant politics, got an earful from Sicilia, but didn't exactly roll over.

Sicilia chided Arpaio over the flow of American weapons into Mexico and the hands of the cartels and asked him to do a better job controlling the traffic, to which Arpaio retorted, "Control the flow of drugs."

Sicilia also urged Arpaio, who is under Justice Department investigation over his treatment of prisoners and illegal immigrants, to "be more human" in the way he handles people under his control. "We don't come in war but in peace to tell you that you have half of the responsibility for the war that there is in Mexico," he said. "I ask you whether treating migrants like dogs is a correct policy."

"I don't run the jails," Arpaio replied. [Ed: As noted above, Arpaio does run jails, and is being investigated for how prisoners are treated in them.]

Sicilia urged Arpaio to visit Mexico, but Arpaio demurred, saying that the cartels had a price on his head.

The Caravan for Peace is now less nearly two weeks into its journey across the county to Washington, DC. Organizers have not said yet whether they will seek a meeting with President Obama, but are planning on meetings on Capitol Hill. Between now and then, they hope the Caravan will succeed in raising consciousness among Americans about the toll of the drug war on both sides of the border. Whether policymakers will listen is an open question, but the media is certainly listening. Google lists 145 news articles about the Caravan so far. That's a good start.

Leonard Pitts Jr. on Obama, Drug Legalization, and Racial Disparities

Pulitzer-winning author Leonard Pitts, Jr., has a piece in the Miami Herald, "If Not Drug Legalization, What, Mr. President?"

If President Obama had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin. So the president famously said.

And the president’s son would thereby find himself at significantly greater risk of running afoul of the so-called “War on Drugs” than, say, a son of George W. Bush. Depending on what state he lived in, a Trayvon Obama might be 57 times more likely than a Trayvon Bush to be imprisoned on drug charges.

And not because blacks are committing most of the drug crime, which they're not, as Pitts demonstrates.

Nice way to start the weekend.

Surprise! The Media Doesn't Understand Why People Take LSD

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In medical practice, the term "drug abuse" is typically understood to describe habitual consumption with harmful consequences to the user. It's also sometimes used to describe non-therapeutic or unintended use of a medical drug. But when it comes to illegal substances, the press routinely -- and ignorantly – calls it full-blown "drug abuse," even if you try the substance just one time.

Here's the latest example from a CBS News story about LSD:

In 2009, the last time data was taken, 779,000 Americans age 12 and older said they had abused LSD at least once in the previous year.

I have a feeling that very few of these 779,000 people would consider themselves drug abusers. It says right there that you only had to drop acid one time in '09 to get counted, and as far as I'm concerned, doing acid one time doesn't make you much of a drug abuser. If it did, then we'd have to come up with a whole new term for some of the people I've had the good fortune of encountering at Burning Man, or for that matter, liberal arts college.

But as silly as all of this is, it gets worse when you take the context into account. The above quote, tragically, is actually the last line contained in this otherwise interesting article:

LSD should be considered for alcoholism treatment, study says

(CBS News) Decades ago, researchers would examine LSD's effects on various health conditions including pain, anxiety, and alcoholism. A new study suggests it might be time to revisit the mind-altering drug's therapeutic uses. The study found lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid, could help serious alcoholics sober up…

What we have here is entire article that goes on for several paragraphs about renewed scientific interest in the therapeutic benefits of LSD, only to conclude by implying idiotically that every single LSD user in the country is a drug abuser. Did it not occur to the author that some – perhaps a substantial portion – of the people using LSD were doing so for the same sort of therapeutic purposes being studied by these scientists? If the drug is in fact beneficial, then maybe, just maybe, people could be using for its benefits rather than as part of a pattern of abuse?

Seriously, this isn't even complicated. If CBS News has a hard time grasping the concept of beneficial, non-abusive drug use, my first recommendation would be to reread the first 8 paragraphs of their own article.

Chronicle Book Review: "The Marijuana Conviction"

 

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The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States, by Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread II (1999, Lindesmith Center Press, 368 pp.)

I don't customarily review books that aren't hot off the presses, and The Marijuana Conviction is even older than that 1999 publication date above, considerably so. In fact, it was originally published by the University of Virginia Press in 1974, back when Richard Nixon was still president. But we got our hands on a bunch of copies of it that we intend to share with our supporters, so I thought I would take a look.

I'm glad I did. Although I consider myself fairly well-read on the topic of marijuana law reform, I came away with a refreshed appreciation for the tumultuous social currents and historical happenstance that forged pot prohibition in the first place, the role of race and class, the opinion-shaping power of early media and political opportunists, and the bureaucratic maneuvering that enabled Harry Anslinger to shepherd the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act into law, enacting for the first time a federal ban on marijuana.

This is a foundational text for serious scholarship about the making of marijuana policy in America. Bonnie and Whitebread were University of Virginia law professors, and Bonnie had just finished a stint as Assistant Director of the Shafer Commission, which had been appointed by Nixon to examine the nation's drug policies (and was ignored by him when he didn't like what it had to say). The Marijuana Conviction first took form as an appendix to the commission report in 1972, and Bonnie and Whitbread spent the next year or so expanding and revising it into its published form.

We're talking primary documents here. Departmental memoranda from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, congressional testimony, state legislative hearings, and the like. It may sound dry, but it will be deeply fascinating and thought-provoking for serious marijuana policy wonks and even just pot history buffs.

And it's not all dusty documents. There is detailed social and cultural history, and there are extensive references to the lurid and outlandish press coverage of murderous marijuana maniacs and the campaign that percolated up from the states to criminalize the demon weed.

For that was the original charge against marijuana: It will enslave you, it will drive you to commit horrible crimes, and it will drive you insane. Bonnie and Whitebread devote much space to describing how such a view of marijuana emerged, and they tie it squarely to attitudes toward racial outsiders -- first the Chinese and the opium laws, then the Mexicans and blacks with the marijuana laws.

It doesn't paint a very appealing picture of American political decision-makers, whether it's lawmakers in Montana laughing as they voted to outlaw marijuana after testimony that consisted of a joking anecdote about how after Mexicans smoked it, they thought they were the Emperor of Mexico and wanted to assassinate their political enemies, or bureaucrats in Washington -- and not just Anslinger -- who deliberately covered up or suppressed information that didn't fit the emerging "marijuana menace" consensus.

It does, however, provide fascinating insight on the back-and-forth, both between Washington and the states and among the competing bureaucratic and political interests in Washington as that consensus concretized in harsh state and federal laws against marijuana.

But reading The Marijuana Conviction now, nearly four decades after the fact, leaves one feeling appalled and frustrated, too. Because not only do Bonnie and Whitebread describe the prohibitionist marijuana consensus -- that pot is addictive, criminogenic, and psychosis-inducing -- of the 1920s and 1930s, they also describe its disintegration in the 1960s. Of course, that consensus only crumbled when marijuana use spread to middle- and upper-class white youth, provoking not only the concern of well-placed parents, but also the interest of scientists and researchers who were just unable to find all of those pot-addled, blood-stained psychos.

But crumble it did. Almost a half century ago, the supposed scientific and medical basis for marijuana prohibition was exposed for the sham it was. At the time, Bonnie and Whitebread were too cautious, too professorial, to call for immediate "regulation" instead of prohibition. But as a first step, they demanded, at an absolute minimum, decriminalization.

In the decade in which they wrote, the reform impetus flourished, and 11 states actually did decriminalize. But since then, progress stalled, then came to a screeching halt during the Reaganoid dark ages of "Just Say No" and "This is your brain on drugs." It is only in about the last 15 years that the marijuana reform movement has begun moving forward again, now with ever increasing momentum.

But even with all that's gone on since the groundbreaking passage of Proposition 215 in California in 1996, marijuana is still illegal. The number of states that have even decriminalized is still in the teens, and while Bonnie and Whitebread waxed indignant about 250,000 people being arrested for pot each year, that number is now north of 800,000.

The Marijuana Conviction can't tell us how we can get out of this mess, although a close reading should yield some insights, but it certainly and artfully shows how we got into it. This is a must-have for any serious student of marijuana's bookshelf.


National Geographic "American Weed" Series Premiering Tonight

The Family Business: The Stanley brothers inspect young crops at their medical marijuana growhouse. (Steve Schrenzel / NGT)
The new National Geographic series "American Weed," exploring the Colorado's booming medical marijuana industry and the pushback, premieres tonight at 10:00pm ET/PT. Watch, then come back here to the Speakeasy and let us know what you think.

More info on "American Weed" is online at http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/american-weed/. A series of video previews is online here, or can be viewed below on this page.

Here's the announcement NatGeo emailed us this morning:
 

American Weed
 
Premieres Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT
 

All-new series American Weed finds Colorado medical marijuana businesses under scrutiny and facing mounting pressures from local residents. Medical cannabis entrepreneur and Fort Collins dispensary owner Josh Stanley works aggressively to counter such pressure with radio ads and fundraisers. As the oldest of 11 kids, Josh relies heavily on several of his brothers to work at the grove and keep his business supplied in medical marijuana. Meanwhile, Sgt. Jim Gerhardt and fellow officers on the North Metro Task Force continue to find illegal grows by residents claiming to be growing medical marijuana. Is the pendulum swinging back to curb the 10-year proliferation of medical marijuana in Colorado?

 

American Weed: Marijuana Drama

Premieres Wednesday, February 22, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Fort Collins dispensary owner Dawn Clifford and her husband, John, are facing the possibility of their business being shut down due to a proposed marijuana dispensaries ban.  If it happens, all owners are on the chopping block, and hundreds of patients will be left in the cold. The Stanley brothers are growing their medicinal marijuana to sell at their dispensaries throughout the state.  But the guys face a problem: their $250,000 crop must be moved before the plants outgrow the space and the crop is lost. Meanwhile, Scoot Crandall is rounding up votes to stop Fort Collins from being what he calls the “pot capital of Northern Colorado.” And Sgt. Jim Gerhardt discovers marijuana is growing in a suburban neighborhood within reach of children — who have picked leaves and taken them to school.

 

YouTube Ignores Cop's First Place Marijuana Legalization Video Question for Obama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:January 30, 2012
CONTACT:Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

YouTube Ignores Cop's First Place Marijuana Legalization Video Question for Obama

Site Finds Time for Questions About Dancing, Late-Night Snacks and Playing Tennis

WASHINGTON, DC-- Today YouTube ignored a question advocating marijuana legalization from a retired LAPD deputy chief of police that won twice as many votes as any other video question in the White House's "Your Interview with the President" competition on the Google-owned site. They did, however, find the time to get the president on record about late night snacking, singing and dancing, celebrating wedding anniversaries and playing tennis.  

Stephen Downing, the retired LAPD police officer and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), had this to say about the site ignoring his question: "It's worse than silly that YouTube and Google would waste the time of the president and of the American people discussing things like midnight snacks and playing tennis when there is a much more pressing question on the minds of the people who took the time to participate in voting on submissions. A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana to de-fund cartels and gangs, lower incarceration and arrest rates and save scarce public resources, all while generating new much-needed tax revenue. The time to discuss this issue is now. We're tired of this serious public policy crisis being pushed aside or laughed off."

The top-voted video question from Downing is as follows: "Mr. President, my name is Stephen Downing, and I'm a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department. From my 20 years of experience I have come to see our country’s drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources. According to the Gallup Poll, the number of Americans who support legalizing and regulating marijuana now outnumbers those who support continuing prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?" The question can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0IpiATxdR4.

Downing's question came in first place for video questions and ranked second out of all questions (with the overall top spot going to a text question about copyright infringement). Many of the other top-ranking questions were about marijuana policy or the failed "war on drugs," as has been the case every other time the White House has invited citizens to submit and vote on questions via the web. 

Voting in the YouTube contest wrapped up Saturday at midnight EST. In addition to the top-voted marijuana and drug policy questions mentioned above, there were a number of other similar questions that received thousands of votes but were mysteriously deleted after being marked "inappropriate."

More information about the contest and the top-voted questions can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/whitehouse. The Gallup poll referenced in Downing's winning question can be found online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/150149/Record-High-Americans-Favor-Legalizing-Marijuana.aspx.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs after fighting on the front lines of the war on drugs and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

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New Offer for Donating Members: PBS "Prohibition" on DVD and Blu-ray

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Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

I am pleased to announce our newest offer for donating members, the recent Prohibition documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick made for PBS. These three disk sets include 90 minutes of bonus footage not available on the web site or shown on TV. Read Phil Smith's film review of Prohibition in Drug War Chronicle here.

Donate $50 or more to StoptheDrugWar.org and you will be eligible to receive a complimentary of Prohibition. Click here to make a donation online by credit card or PayPal. You can also donate by mail -- info below.

(If you've donated recently and are disappointed you didn't get to ask for a copy of Prohibition with your donation, please let us know -- we'll be glad to send you a copy if you've donated $50 or more in the last few months, or to combine a smaller donation you've made with a new donation for the difference to qualify you for the offer.)

Please note that even with a nonprofit, bulk discount, we are spending nearly $25 per copy to purchase these and send them to you -- if you can afford to donate more than $50, or to supplement your $50 donation with a small, continuing monthly donation, I hope you'll consider doing so. If gift items are not important to you, I hope you'll consider sending a donation that's entirely for our work.

Dozens of StoptheDrugWar.org supporters have contributed to our organization in recent months to help us secure and prepare our programs for the new year -- thank you! Copies of the email messages they responded to are online: click here to read our appeal for support for our blog and our online legislative center; click here for more information on what the legislative center does for our efforts, and click here for some reasons to support the Drug War Chronicle newsletter.

Donations to our organization can be made online at http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, or they can be mailed to: DRCNet Foundation (tax-deductible), P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; or Drug Reform Coordination Network (non-deductible for lobbying), same address. (Contact us for information if you wish to make a donation of stock.) Be sure to indicate if you are requesting Prohibition and whether you'd like DVD or Blu-ray.

Thank you for standing with us to stop the drug war's cruelties and meet the opportunity this time offers to make a brighter future. And don't get discouraged by the challenges our movement and the cause are currently facing: Time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,



David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Mexico's Calderon Continues Shift Toward Drug Legalization Support

Felipe Calderón with George Bush (whitehouse.gov)
Via Drug WarRant, an interview in Time magazine with Mexican Pres. Felipe Calderón:

Is it true that you would like to see America legalize drugs?

I can hit the criminals, I can put them in jails, I can take control of their structures, I can rebuild the social fabric. But if Americans don't reduce the demand or don't reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs, it will be impossible to solve this problem.

So the answer is yes?

I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs. Even in the U.S., you can see states in which marijuana is ... if that is not legal, I don't understand what legal means. No? Marijuana has some kind of "medical" use, for instance, no?

At 42,000+ drug war killings in Mexico since Pres. Calderón took office, he'd better be talking about legalization. Sooner would have been better than later. But we'll take it.

Good to see Time bringing this up too -- kudos to intellectually intrepid reporter Belinda Luscombe. The major media is finally breaking its longstanding mostly silence about the drug war as prohibition, and not just marijuana prohibition.

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