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Chronicle AM: Cannabis Social Clubs An Issue, NYC Psychedelics Conference, Argentine Election, More (9/25/15)

The issue of marijuana social clubs is bubbling up in Alaska and Colorado, a second Massachusetts legalization initiative gets ready to collect signatures, Oklahomans really don't like asset forfeiture, and more.

A conference on psychedelics is coming to New York City next month.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill Would End Students Losing Financial Aid for Getting Caught With a Joint. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed HR 3561, which would protect students who get arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses from losing access to financial aid. Under the 1998 version of the Higher Education Act (HEA), students with drug convictions lost financial aid, but that law was later walked back to apply only to students in school and receiving financial aid at the time of their offense. Blumenauer's bill would exempt students caught with marijuana from that punishment.

Alaska Set to Ban Cannabis Social Clubs. The state Marijuana Control Board has accepted draft language that would ban businesses allowing on-site pot smoking. The board said such businesses are not a type that was specified in the initiative that legalized marijuana in the state. If Alaskans want marijuana social clubs, it will now be up to them to convince the legislature to create legal space for them.

Colorado Bill Will Allow Marijuana Social Clubs. Rep. Kit Loupe (R-Colorado Springs) says he has drafted a bill that would create a retail marijuana club license. Marijuana users would be allowed to consume at the club, and the clubs could also serve alcohol and food, if licensed to do so. He says he will introduce the bill when the legislature convenes in January.

Second Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off Tomorrow. It's the 26th Annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, and Bay State Repeal is using the occasion to launch the signature gathering drive for its legalization initiative. Another initiative campaign, the Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana, got going on signature-gathering earlier this week.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Seeking Members for Medical Marijuana Task Force. The state Health Authority's Public Health Division said Thursday it is seeking applicants to serve on a newly created Task Force on Researching the Medical and Public Health Properties of Cannabis (the Cannabis Research Task Force). Those interested need to fill out this form by September 30.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Bill Would Mandate Screening of School Students. A wide-ranging bill to deal with heroin and opiate use being finalized by state Senate leaders would include mandatory drug screening of junior and high school students. While it is only a drug "screening," not a drug test, the provision is raising privacy and confidentiality concerns among some lawmakers. Click on the link for more discussion.


Psychedelics Conference in New York City Next Month. The annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will take place in New York City on October 9-11. "In recent years, a growing community of scientists, doctors, artists, activists, seekers and scholars has orchestrated a renaissance in psychedelic thought and practice. Horizons is a unique forum that brings together the brightest minds and the boldest voices of this movement to share their research, insights and dreams for the future," according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which is a partner in the conference. Click on the links for more information.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Civil Asset Forfeiture Repeal. A new SoonerPoll shows strong public antipathy toward asset forfeiture and strong support for ending asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. Some 70% said they would support "legislation that would allow law enforcement only to keep property when a criminal conviction is achieved" and 78% said they agreed that "law enforcement keeping confiscated property without a conviction denies those of their constitutional right of due process is un-American." The poll comes as the legislature ponders asset forfeiture reform.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Drivers' License Suspensions for Non-Driving Drug Offenses. The state is one of handful that still maintain such laws, but perhaps for not much longer. Senate Bill 2014 has passed the Senate and now heads to the House.


Argentine Presidential Candidates Ignore Experts, Call for More Drug War. The top three hopefuls in this year's presidential race -- Sergio Massa, Mauricio Macri, and Daniel Scioli -- all are calling for a tougher drug war, but Argentine scholars and experts say they are only deepening failed policies. More than a hundred scholars have signed a document, The Drug Issue in Argentina, that says maintaining, let alone deepening, existing prohibitionist policies is not the right way to go. Click on the links for more.

Tomorrow is the Anniversary of the Disappearance of Mexico's Ayotzinapa Students. A year ago Saturday, 43 students from a teachers college went missing in Iguala, Guerrero. They still haven't been found, and their disappearance has revealed links between local politicians, local law enforcement agencies, and drug gangs in a scandal that has severely tarnished the reputation of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The families are keeping the pressure on. Click on the link for more.

Interview with "The Cartel" Author Don Winslow [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Internationally acclaimed novelist Don Winslow's The Cartel, a hard-hitting and gut-wrenching tale of the Mexican drug wars, hit the stands late last month and is currently #17 on the New York Times best seller list. A sequel to his best-selling novel of the cartels, The Power of the Dog, Winslow's latest effort is a true-to-life, ripped-from-the-headlines story of power, greed, corruption, brutality, revenge, and justice set in the past decade of spiraling prohibition-related violence in Mexico.

Roughly 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since 2006, and another 20,000 or so have simply vanished. That blood-drenched history is the spindle from which Winslow unspools his story, featuring a veteran DEA agent locked in a decades-long feud with the head of the world's most powerful cartel. It's a grim, nail-biting crime thriller.

But Winslow, who also authored 2012's Savages, another fictional treatment of the cartels turned into an Oliver Stone movie, isn't just writing for the sake of selling books. He has used the publication of The Cartel to pen op-eds calling the war on drugs a counterproductive failure and publish a full-page ad in the Washington Post telling Congress and the president "It's Time to Legalize Drugs."

On Friday, Winslow traveled to Houston to sit down for an interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network for the network's Cultural Baggage radio program. Here's the interview:

DEAN BECKER: Hello, dear listeners, this is Dean Becker and I want to thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Well folks, I've been enjoying this new book, it's a powerful indictment of this war on drugs, it's written by the author Don Winslow, the name of the book is The Cartel, and we have him with us today. Mr. Winslow, your book is a powerful indictment of the futility of this drug war, and first off, I just want to thank you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, sir, for that kind comment, and I appreciate it.

DEAN BECKER: Now, with the release of this book you also took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post decrying that futility and calling for the powers that be to take another look at the results of this drug war, and once again, I commend you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you. You know, I felt it was important to do something like that. At the end of the day, I'm a novelist and I write fiction, and I'm an entertainer, at the same time we're dealing with obviously serious issues that have had serious consequences on so many people in the United States, but of course particularly in Mexico. And so I just thought that I should try to do something.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, The Cartel, this new book, it's a follow-up to The Power of the Dog, and I think much of your similar or previous writings, and it continues the story of Agent Keller and a couple of others from that first book, but it's more, it's much more, and would you please just kind of give us a summary of your new book, The Cartel.

DON WINSLOW: Well, yes, thank you. The Cartel as you said is a follow-up to a book I did ten years ago called The Power of the Dog, which follows a DEA agent named Art Keller, who arrives in Mexico in the 70s full of idealism, and is over the years sort of schooled out of that by reality. But, he ends up in a vendetta with a drug lord, if you will, named Adan Barrera. And, so The Cartel continues that story. But, you know, it's not a book I really wanted to write, Dean. I really fought against writing it for a long time, but as things spiraled out of control in Mexico, you know, far beyond our worst nightmares, really, and I thought, well, I'll try a in fictional sense, you know, to crime readers, to try to explain what was going on down there.

DEAN BECKER: Well, a few years back I took a one-day junket into Ciudad Juarez, and the machine gun nests in the city park, cops on every street corner -- I didn't see the violence myself, but it was palpable, it was, it was, just -- scary, for lack of a better word. Your thoughts, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, the estimates vary of course, but during this era something like 100,000 Mexican people were killed, 22,000 missing. Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, and Tijuana, and the Frontera Chica, and the Texas border -- you know, all became battlegrounds in a multi-fronted war, cartel versus cartel. The military versus the cartels, the military versus the police, certain police forces versus other forces, and of course, you know, many, too many, innocent civilians got caught in the crossfire.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, you state in your acknowledgements that The Cartel draws deeply on real events, and I see many of them, I've been following the war in Mexico for several years, and it just seems that, you know, it made it more compelling to be based on a true story, so to speak.

DON WINSLOW:I'm an historian by training and inclination, and so I usually like to keep my stories pretty, pretty close to the bone. But I think that in a way, novelists can do things that journalists aren't allowed to. You know, we're allowed to imagine the inner life of characters, we're allowed to make up dialogue that perhaps brings out some of these events in a maybe more visceral way to readers who might not, you know, pick up a piece of journalism on this subject. And so, I like that combination between fiction and reality, and as long as I sort of keep their thoughts and their emotions fairly realistic, I think the novel can work well for that.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, back in 2012, with my group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I rode across the country with Javier Sicilia and about a hundred family members of those butchered in Mexico on the Caravan for Peace, and most of them were women who had these horrible stories that made me cry every night, I'll be honest with you. And your book includes the stories of some of these women, and the pain and misery they endure as well.

DON WINSLOW: As you know when you deal with this topic, it's all too easy to lose your faith in humanity. But, in researching the stories and writing the stories about some of these women, it's awe-inspiring. You know? There's no other word for it. The courage and the moral fortitude, and I think in the video I saw of the Caravan, the word grace is used, and I think that that might be absolutely the perfect word to describe these women, who have lost so much and have moved ahead and have moved on and tragically, you know, too often at the cost of their own lives.

DEAN BECKER: It seems that media everywhere is starting to recognize this futility of the drug war, and is starting to expose it for what it is, and that is hopeless.

DON WINSLOW: We've been doing the same thing for coming on now 45 years, and not only is it not working, it's made things worse. Drugs are more plentiful, more potent, cheaper than ever, and again, it's had a hideous effect on American society in terms of the number of people we imprison, in terms of the alienation of our police forces with our inner city communities. I think the militarization of police really began with the war on drugs, and of course, it's had the worst effect on the people of Central America, particularly Mexico. So, if something after 45 years has not improved a situation, but made things worse, then I think it's time that we looked at different solutions.


DON WINSLOW: And I think that that's pretty obvious, really.

The face of the cartels. Has anyone seen El Chapo?
DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. If you will allow me, I want to read just a paragraph here from your book, this is from Alvarado. He states: "You North Americans are clean because you can be. That has never been a choice for us, either as individuals or a nation. You're experienced enough to know that we're not offered a choice of taking the money or not, we're given the choice of taking the money or dying. We've been forced to choose sides, so we choose the best side we can and get on with it. What would you have us do? The country was falling apart, violence getting worse every day. The only way to end the chaos was to pick the most likely winner and help him win, and you North Americans despise us for it. At the same time you send the billions of dollars and the weapons that fuel the violence. You blame us for selling the product that you buy. It's absurd, John."

DON WINSLOW: I don't know how to respond to my own writing. I think it's the truth. Couple of thoughts: You know, we're very good up here at wagging the finger of corruption at Mexico. Is there corruption in Mexico? Of course, and I write a lot about it. I'm not alone in that. But as that passage indicated, what we don't understand is that police and journalists and average citizens are not offered the choice: take the money or leave it. They're offered the choice: take the money or we kill you. And very often, or we kill your family.And you know, the so-called Mexican drug war is one of the most tragic misnomers of the last half century. It's not the Mexican drug problem; it's the American drug problem. We're, we're the buyers, and it's the simultaneous appetite, American appetite for drugs and prohibition of them that creates the power of the cartels and that shields this violence. And, if I were on the other side of the border looking north, I'd talk about corruption, I would ask what kind of corruption exists in American society that makes you Americans the largest drug market in the world? At a rate of five times your population.

DEAN BECKER: And the world's leading jailer.

DON WINSLOW: The world's leading jailer. Not only the world's leading jailer, Dean. In the history of the world we have the largest prison population.

DEAN BECKER: Kind of tied in with your action to do that full-page ad in the Washington Post, I tried last summer to wake up our nation's leaders with release of my book. We hand-delivered a copy of my book to the president, his cabinet, every senator, representative, all nine Supreme justices, and we mailed a copy to all fifty governors, to pretty much little avail. And I'm hoping that your book lights a bigger bonfire on their conscience.

Waiting to cross from Mexico into the US (
DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, I hope so too. You know, I deliberately put that ad in the Washington Post in order to do it in Congress's home town, hoping that that paper would arrive on their desks with their coffee. I think that ad was two weeks ago or three weeks ago, I don't remember, it's been a little bit of a blur, you know, I'm out on a book tour. But, I've not heard from a single politician. Who I have heard from? Cops.

DEAN BECKER: What was their response?

DON WINSLOW: Agreeing with it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear. I mean, it puzzles me that the evidence is so glaring, we can cut down on death, disease, crime, and addiction were to legalize and control it for adults, but no one wants to talk about that. Certainly not at the presidential level.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, I think, Dean, for so many years it's been the fourth rail of American politics. You know, you start talking about a sane drug policy and your opponent then starts talking about you being soft on crime, and, you know, oh he wants our kids to have access to dope. Which of course they do now, because it's not working. What I would like is some politician to stand up and talk back with the facts. The numbers are there, the solid data are there. If you want to talk about being soft on crime, I would say that the fact that 60 percent of rapes and 40 percent of murders now go unsolved, because we're so focused on busting drugs. To me, that's soft on crime. And I think police want to go back to doing real police work.

DEAN BECKER: I'm with you, sir. Now, it seems like every week I see another headline about another bust of a quote top narco-trafficker, but the fact is, it's just a chance for another corn farmer to get down off the tractor and attempt to become a billionaire, isn't it?

DON WINSLOW: Listen, it's never worked. We have tried to attack the drug organization pyramid from the bottom, the street-level kids selling crack on the corner, to the middle, the traffickers coming across the border, to the top, going after these top drug lords. None of these strategies work because the amount of money they can make is so great that there is always someone willing to step into any of those roles. So, you know, there was great celebration when for instance Chapo Guzman was captured. That's fine, I have no tears for Chapo Guzman, I'm glad he's in prison, I have no tears for any of these drug lords who've been killed by the police. However, it makes no difference. Nothing was disrupted, nothing was even slowed down. The drugs just keep coming. The strategy does not work. And as long as we approach this as a law enforcement problem or god help us a military problem, we're, the same thing is going to on and on and on.

DEAN BECKER: You know, a couple of portions of the book touched me deeply. One was about the old farmer, Don Pedro, and his battle for his ranch with the Zetas. That one made me cry, I'm an old man, I'm sorry, and it just made me think of, you know, these bandits, these rapscallions, what they're up to, the Zetas. Would you talk about that situation?

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, that is based on a real incident. It was impossible to resist writing about it, but, you know, I think there are two parts to your question, so let me take the first one first. Back in, you know, 2010, '11, and '12, various cartels were forcing people off their land because either it was strategically located along the border or just because they could. The Zetas that you mentioned were looking for land for training camps and secret bases, and they were all-powerful, or so they thought, and they could just go tell people, get out. In northern Chihuahua, along the Texas border, the Sinaloa Cartel was fighting the Juarez Cartel, and they were literally colonizing the area. They were telling, you know, people in that area, in the Juarez Valley that had been there for generations, to get out, and moving Sinaloans in, almost like colonists, in order to secure that area. Who's on first now? Without a doubt the Sinaloa Cartel. They're the dominant cartel in Mexico now. They basically won the war. There's a sort of an upstart cartel, the new generation Jalisco Cartel, and we're in a bit of a lull, but that's about to collapse. You know, over the past month or so violence has drastically increased again in the Tijuana area. So, stay tuned.

DEAN BECKER: Your book references some of the videos that get circulated by the cartels, showing their commitment to outdoing each other in the way they torture and kill members of the opposite cartel. I saw one of those that, where one cartel had grabbed the wives and girlfriends of another cartel. They pulled out axes and chainsaws, and built piles of arms...

DON WINSLOW: That sounds familiar, that video.

DEAN BECKER: Oh god. And, my Spanish was not good enough to understand all they said, but it was a strong message, for sure.

DON WINSLOW: You know, lately we've been as a nation very absorbed with ISIS, and those videos, and they took that page out of the cartel playbook. What you're looking at is basically terrorism in Mexico. And, you know, the cartels are in the territory business, they need to control territory, and to do that, they need to control the population. And they do it through a variety of methods, but one of them is terror. And, and when they put out videos like that, they are really saying to the people, you don't want this to be you. The Spanish that is being spoken in many of these videos is to get these people to confess their roles in the rival cartel, sometimes to confess their crimes because these videos are also a means of propaganda, and a means of the cartels justifying, or attempting to justify, the horrors that they commit, in a very similar way to the ISIS videos. The really sad aspect, or more tragic aspect of these videos, is that they're used as tools of recruitment. Particularly young people, both men and women, see these videos, and see them as demonstrations of power. And I think that there are few things more seductive to people who see themselves as powerless than to see power, and just as the ISIS sadistic videos have been great recruiting tools for ISIS, the videos that you alluded to have been recruiting tools to the cartels.

DEAN BECKER: The hundred thousand dead, approximately, the 20,000 missing, the tens of thousands of children without parents -- it's just so enormous, and yet somehow it's ignored. That doesn't count in the US's drug war equation.

DON WINSLOW: The modern day Mexican drug war, the contemporary period that we're looking at, coincides almost exactly with the post-911 era. And I think that the United States has been, and it's understandable, Dean, because of 911, because of the lives lost, because we've had people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our soldiers dying and wounded, we have been obsessed with, and most of our attention has gone to the Middle East. That, that's understandable, I think. I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying it's good, but I think that, that people can only absorb so much violence and sorrow and tragedy. I think though that the other part of the equation is that, that we don't want to look at it down there. It's something we don't want to see because I think on some level we are aware of the role that we play in it, and our own responsibility for it, and I think that that can be a hard mirror to look into. And sometimes people, and particularly our politicians, frankly, would rather look away.

DEAN BECKER: It kind of draws a parallel with the cops busting somebody and accusing them of being the cause of the problem here in the US -- if they weren't buying drugs then these other situations would not occur. But the same could be said about the US and as you stated earlier, our addiction to these drugs coming through Mexico.

DON WINSLOW: I think we are addicted to the drugs. Now obviously, we have a population in the United States that is literally addicted to drugs. The percentage of that never changes very much over the years. There are some spikes with certain drugs at certain times, but the level of drug addicts remains about the same, that's sort of one topic. The other topic is recreational drug users, and they need to look at their responsibility. I can't understand for instance why a person who would be so concerned about buying free trade coffee or fair trade coffee would then think nothing of buying marijuana that has blood all over it. You know? I don't understand people who go out and protest against big business but then will come back and buy a product that's been shipped to them by a cartel that tortures and slaughters and rapes. This makes no kind of moral sense to me. So, in my perfect world, all drugs would be legal and no one would use them. But certainly, in the time until the United States straightens out its drug laws, until we've stopped forcing the hands of these sadistic criminals, I'd love to see a movement where particularly young people in America boycotted these drugs, the way they boycott other products.

DEAN BECKER: The book was a follow-up to Power of the Dog, and it seems that there may be, as you mentioned earlier, a need for another book in this series, if Los Pinos and the White House continue to believe this drug war to be necessary.

DON WINSLOW: It's my fondest hope and prayer that there's no need for a third book. I would love it if Los Pinos and the White House took me out of this business. I don't have plans to write another drug book, you know, next or for a few years, but then I'm really hoping at that point when I look around this landscape that we have come to some sort of sanity, and some sort of wiser policy, and that there's no need for a third book.

DEAN BECKER: Well, me too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and deep prayer in that regard. Well, Don, here's hoping we can continue this discussion again soon and that just maybe, the politicians will read your book and pull their heads out soon. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you'd like to share with the listeners, Mr. Don Winslow?

DON WINSLOW: I have a website,, and, you know, always happy to hear from anybody. I have been very encouraged over the past two weeks by the number of police officers and DEA people that have contacted me. And I think there is a little momentum right now. You know, yesterday the United Methodist Church came out calling for war, an end to the war on drugs, addressing Congress. So I think that there might be a little bit of a groundswell, and I'm going to choose to go with that optimism.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, I want to thank Don Winslow, author of The Cartel.

Chronicle AM: Dalai Lama on MedMJ, OH Initiative Shenanigans, First MA Dispensary Will Open, More (6/22/05)

Ohio's political establishment gears up to block a controversial legalization initiative, the Dalai Lama supports medical marijuana, the Obama administration removes a barrier to marijuana research, Louisiana's governor rejects clemency for a man doing 13 years for two joints, and more.

The Dalai Lama is down with medical marijuana. (
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Official Says Proposed Amendment Could Block Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted said last Friday that an amendment to block private-interest monopolies would render the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative invalid if the former passed. Husted and Republican lawmakers have vowed to adopt a resolution to place the monopoly amendment on the ballot. Husted said that if that amendment passes, the ResponsibleOhio initiative would be invalid, even if it also passed, and even if it passed with more votes than the monopoly amendment. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would limit commercial marijuana growing to ten specified locations, the owners of which are also the financiers of the initiative campaign.

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Proposed. Billings anti-pot zealot Steve Zabawa is back at it. In 2014, he proposed an initiative saying that any federal Schedule I controlled substance (read: marijuana) "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana." It failed for lack of signatures. Now he has filed the same initiative again.

Medical Marijuana

Dalai Lama Endorses Medical Marijuana. Speaking at a an event in Guanajuato, Mexico, last week, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Speaking in response to a question about legalizing marijuana, the Dalai clarified that he opposed its recreational use, but using it medicinally would be "the exception."

White House Removes Crucial Barrier to Marijuana Research. The Obama administration announced today it is ending a major impediment to marijuana research, the Public Health Service review. That hurdle, created under the Clinton administration, required all applications for marijuana research to undergo an individual review, slowing down marijuana research and making it more difficult to study than heroin or cocaine.

First Massachusetts Dispensary Approved to Sell Medical Marijuana; One Inspection Left. The Alternative Therapies Group in Salem is ready to start selling to patients after winning a temporary waiver from state testing guidelines widely viewed as too strict. The Department of Public Health has said it will reconsider the standards. The dispensary is one of four in the state that have started growing their own supply, and is the furthest along. It must still pass a final inspection before it opens its doors. Much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Appeals Court Upholds Making Employer Pay for Emotional Distress from Random Workplace Drug Testing. The court upheld an award for the intentional infliction of emotional distress on two law office workers pressured into taking a random drug test by their employer. The employee handbook called for random drug testing for certain safety-sensitive categories, or after an accident or for probable cause, but the company compelled all employees to undergo drug testing on one day in 2011. The two plaintiffs were awarded $15,000 each in damages by the trial court, which is what the appeals court just upheld.

Law Enforcement

Philly Court Throws Out 58 Convictions Tied to Dirty Narcs. A Common Pleas Court judge last Friday reversed 58 convictions in cases linked to six former Philadelphia narcotics officers. The six were cleared of criminal corruption charges in federal court in May, but their misdeeds have tainted hundreds of cases. The Public Defender's Office is seeking reversals of 1,370 cases, and the city is facing 135 civil rights lawsuits based on the unit's behavior. Since 2013, prosecutors have refused to prosecute cases tied to the squad after numerous allegations they planted evidence, beat and robbed suspects, and falsified paperwork. Much more at the link.


Louisiana Governor Rejects Clemency for Black Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last week denied a clemency petition for Bernard Noble, sentenced to 13 years in prison for two joints under the state's draconian marijuana laws. Jindal said he rejected clemency because Noble had not yet served 10 years in prison.


China's Wide Open Illegal Drug Chemical Factories. It's pretty darned easy to get new synthetic drugs by the pound or more from Chinese manufacturers, according to this New York Times report. Need spice or flakka or bath salts? It's just a few clicks away.

Head of Scandal-Plagued DEA to Resign [FEATURE]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, an unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate.

[It's now official: Attorney General Holder announced Leonhart's retirement in a statement late this afternoon.]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is on her way out the door. (
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pronounced themselves agog over recent reports of DEA agents in Colombia partying with prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer dollars, sometimes paid for by Colombian drug traffickers. Those revelations came in a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report issued last month.

Members were infuriated by the DEA's handling of the case, in which 10 DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing. Only seven of them were disciplined, and the punishment was extremely light: they were suspended for periods of one to 10 days. Leonhart drew the wrath of committee members when she claimed she was unable to discipline the agents more severely.

"What would it take to get fired at the DEA?" asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who said he was "stunned" that no one had been fired in the wake of the revelations. "What the hell do you have to do?"

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told Leonhart that as agency head she carried much of the responsibility for what he called "a cultural problem" at the agency stretching back years.

"You get called before this committee and say 'Oh, it's terrible, it's awful,'" Chaffetz said at the conclusion of the hearing. "But you personally have been responsible for this for more than a decade and you didn't do anything about it."

Immediately after last Tuesday's hearing, 22 members of the committee signed a joint statement saying they had "no confidence" in Leonhart's continued leadership.

And now word leaks from the White House that Leonhart is about to become history.

It's been a long time coming. The veteran DEA administrator and her agency have been embroiled in scandal throughout her tenure. And she and the DEA have been increasingly out of step with an administration that has shown an interest in rolling back drug war excesses, from major sentencing reforms to largely (if belatedly) adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward medical marijuana and even marijuana legalization in the states.

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • A series of recent investigations by USA Today found that the DEA has been tracking billions of U.S. phone calls without warrants or even suspicion of wrong-doing, an operation copied by the NSA and other agencies after 9/11. The DEA built the modern surveillance state.
  • DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana. In a bizarre 2012 debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Drug reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), both of which had been calling for Leonhart's head for some time, were elated, but urged the Obama administration to use this as an opportunity not to just put a new face in charge of DEA, but to change the agency's direction.

"Leonhart's DEA reflects an outdated, disastrous approach that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind,” said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "If she leaves, he has an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the DEA and support drug policy reform. The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems. Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore," he said.

"Ms. Leonhart consistently and recklessly undermined President Obama's mandate that public policy be guided by science instead of ideology. Her resignation will allow the president to appoint an administrator who will rely on the facts rather than ignore them," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies.

"Most Americans, including President Obama, recognize the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yet, Ms. Leonhart was unwilling to even acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm than heroin and methamphetamine," Riffle continued. "While most of the country has been progressing in its views on marijuana policy, Ms. Leonhart has maintained a mindset straight out of the 1930s. Hopefully her resignation will mark the end of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era at the DEA."

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: Historic Fed MedMJ Bill Filed, Coca Boom Falters, Wichita Weed Wars, More (3/10/15)

A bipartisan trio of US senators roll out a historic medical marijuana bill, American Indian tribes form a cannabis coalition, medical marijuana loses by one vote in Utah, South America's coca boom may be ending, and more.

Cocaine seized by Spanish police. Will there be more where that came from?
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Attorney General Says Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Unlawful. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a letter to city officials that the pending initiative "may not be lawfully adopted" and shouldn't be put before voters. But residents are still likely to have a chance to vote on it. Then it will be up to the attorney general to file a lawsuit to block it. The measure would "conflict with uniform state law in numerous ways and would be void," the attorney general says.

National Indian Cannabis Coalition Forms. The country's first Native American-focused marijuana trade group launched today at a reservation economic summit in Las Vegas. The group's mission is "to inform and educate tribal leaders on the emerging regulated cannabis markets from an entrepreneurial and operations perspective," says its website.

Medical Marijuana

Historic Federal Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana Rolled Out Today. A bipartisan trio of senators today introduced historic legislation to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website. Click the link for more details.

Revised Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Would Allow Affirmative Defense. The bill, Senate Bill 1169, has been revised to address concerns from law enforcement. It would no longer legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil, but would provide for an affirmative defense in case of arrest.The original bill would have removed CBD cannabis oil from the state's law banning marijuana.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins House Panel Vote. The measure, House Bill 109, was approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. It now moves to the House Criminal Committee, where chairman William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) says it has his support.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Dies by One Vote. A bill that would have made Utah a medical marijuana state was defeated last night. Senate Bill 259, filed by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) lost on a vote of 15-14 in the Senate.


Coca Boom Over? Coca and cocaine production in South America appears to be stalling, with all three major coca-producing countries—Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru—seeing declines in acreage planted and overall cocaine production. Click on the link for more details.

Patients from 13 Countries Form International Medical Marijuana Coalition. They have formed the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC) this past week gathered at a medical marijuana conference in Prague. Member countries include Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The US delegation is led by Americans for Safe Access.

Conservative Dutch Justice Minister Forced Out in Drug Dealer Cash Payment Scandal. Marijuana foe Ivo Opstelten and his deputy, Fred Treeven, resigned yesterday rather than face parliamentary questioning over revelations they authorized the repayment of millions of dollars to the drug dealer from whom it had been seized. Teeven actually authorized the 2001 payment, but Opstelten misled parliament about it. Now, they're both gone. 

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, Fallout from Florida SWAT Killing, Bolivia Top Narc Busted, More (3/6/15)

Decrim is moving in New Hampshire, Georgia families rally for medical marijuana, Louisianans will rally for Bernard Noble (13 years for two joints), roommates of a Florida man killed in a SWAT pot raid cry "murder," and more. 

Roommates of unarmed Florida man shot in a SWAT pot raid call it "murder." (
Marijuana Policy

Northern California Counties Seek Unified Position on Pot Policy. As the state legislature again grapples with regulating medical marijuana, and with an almost certain legalization initiative in 2016 looming on the horizon, policymakers from Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Sonoma, and Trinity counties gathered in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) Thursday to begin trying to reach a unified position on possible reforms. Click on the link for more detail.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Moves. The legislature's Committee on Criminal Justice voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve a bill that would decriminalize the possession of a half-ounce of pot or less. The measure is House Bill 0618. Although recent polling shows 71% of Granite Staters want either decriminalization or full legalization, the bill still faces opposition as it heads for House and Senate floor votes.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Families Swarm State Capitol in Support of Strong Medical Marijuana Bill. Dozens of Georgia families streamed into the state capitol in Atlanta yesterday to crank up the pressure on the Senate to pass a medical marijuana bill. House Bill 1has already passed the House, but the Senate is now considering an alternate bill, Senate Bill 185, which would only set up a limited trial program for children with epilepsy. The families want House Bill 1.


Rally Saturday in New Orleans for Bernard Noble, Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years without parole in state prison, are holding a rally in New Orleans Saturday to call for clemency for the non-violent offender and family man. Click on the link for event details and more information.

Law Enforcement

Roommates of Unarmed Florida Man Killed By SWAT Team in Pot Raid Call it Murder. Roommates of Derek Cruice, the 26-year-old Deltona man shot in the face and killed by a Volusia County deputy during a drug raid, described his killing as "murder" and strongly challenged the police version of events. See them describe what happened here. Supporters of Cruice held a rally this morning to decry his killing. A memorial event for Cruice is set for tomorrow morning at a local park. Click the title link for event details.  


Bolivia's Former Top Narc Arrested for Drug Links. General Oscar Nina, head of the national police in 2010 and 2011, has been arrested by Bolivian authorities on suspicion of illegal enrichment and links to drug trafficking. His wife, daughter, and son were also arrested on similar charges. Another former Bolivian top narc, General Rene Sanabria, is doing a 15-year sentence in the US for drug trafficking. President Evo Morales has vowed to wipe out "the cancer of corruption," but it seems to be a perpetual problem. 

Chronicle AM: NE Felony Pot Brownies, OK Pot Lawsuit Protest, Mexico Cop-Zeta Ties, More (12/26/14)

Some Nebraska counties are charging possession of marijuana brownies as a felony, Oklahoma activists will rally against the state's lawsuit against Colorado's marijuana law, San Diego closes more dispensaries, a new document reveals links between cartel gangsters and cops in Northern Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Kratom -- for adults only in Illinois starting next week. (
Marijuana Policy

Western Nebraska Counties Are Charging Possession of Some Marijuana Edibles as a Felony. Even though pot possession has been decriminalized in the state for decades, some counties near Colorado are now treating foods containing marijuana extracts as a Schedule I drug, possession of which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Prosecutors in some Western counties say that pastries that contain actual marijuana will be treated like marijuana, but those containing concentrates will be treated as a Schedule I drug.

Nevada NAACP Leader Urges Legislators to Legalize It This Coming Session. Jeffrey Blanck, president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP, has sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to legalize marijuana during the 2015 legislature. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada already has a legalization initiative approved for the 2016 ballot. The legislature has the first 40 days of the session to approve the initiative; if it doesn't, it goes directly to the voters in 2016.

Oklahoma Activists to Protest Pot Lawsuit Against Colorado. Oklahoma marijuana legalization supporters have organized a protest against state Attorney General Scott Pruitt's decision to join Nebraska in suing Colorado to try to undo legalization there. Led by OK NORML and the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, activists have set up a Facebook invite to the January 8 rally. "Attorney General Scott Pruitt is suing Colorado for their marijuana laws," the page says. "This is a waste of taxpayer money and a clear violation of states' rights." Click on either link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

San Diego Officials Shut Down Five More Dispensaries. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has shuttered five more unpermitted dispensaries ahead of the opening of the first permitted dispensaries early next year. Four are set to open then. More than 200 dispensaries have been shut down in the past four years under threat of legal action, but as many as 50 unpermitted dispensaries remain.


Kratom Will Be for Adults Only in Illinois Beginning Next Week. As of January 1, a new state law will limit the use and possession of the Southeast Asian herb kratom to adults. Kratom is said to have a high similar to opiates, but is not a controlled substance under federal law. It is, however, on the DEA's list of "drugs of concern." It has been banned in neighboring Indiana.

Law Enforcement

Lawsuit in Deadly Massachusetts SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue, Judge Rules. A police officer who shot and killed unarmed black Framingham resident Eurie Stamps, 68, in a January 2011 drug raid may have used excessive force, violating his constitutional rights, a US District Court judge ruled as he allowed a lawsuit against the officer to move forward. Officer Paul Duncan shot and killed Stamps as the elderly man lay prone on the floor of his apartment during the raid. Duncan claims the shooting was accidental, but Stamps is still dead, and his family is suing.


Mexican Cops Worked Closely With Zetas, Declassified Document Shows. A document declassified by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam shows how police and traffic police in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, worked closely with the Zetas cartel in a series of killings of immigrants en route to the US known as the "San Fernando massacre," in which at least 72 immigrants were tortured and murdered.

Indonesian Ulama Supports President's Plan to Execute Drug Offenders. The Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, said Wednesday it supported President Joko Widodo's tough stance on drug traffickers. Widodo has refused to stop the execution of convicted drug offenders and is seeking support for his stance. He found it with the Ulama. "We support the death penalty for the drug dealers and the producers, but not the consumers," said Said Aqil Siradji, chairman of the Ulama's central board.

Chronicle AM: Green Friday, CA Drug Prisoners Walk Free, Mexico Crime Plan, N Korea Meth, More (11/28/14)

California's Prop 47 sentencing reform is kicking in with a vengeance, it's Green Friday in legal pot states, and there's a whole raft of international news. Let's get to it:

Mexican President Pena Nieto finds himself in a tight spot as anger over corruption and impunity reach the boiling point.
Marijuana Policy

In Legal Marijuana States, Black Friday is Green Friday. Legal marijuana retailers in Colorado and Washington are getting in the holiday spirit by offering "Green Friday" specials to customers. Kindman Premium Cannabis in Denver is offering $50 ounces to the first 16 Colorado residents today and tomorrow, while the Green Room in Boulder has their $50 eighths on sale for $40. Some Washington state retailers are offering similar deals.

With Threat of Initiative Looming, Some Key Massachusetts Lawmakers Start Talking Legalization. Some Bay State lawmakers are saying it's time to pass a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, or else the voters are going to do it themselves. "It's almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right," said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee. "I don't think it's wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question." Not everyone agrees, including Committee on Public Health Chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker. But if the legislature doesn't act, an initiative looks very likely in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona University Professor Fired for Medical Marijuana Research Gets Colorado Grant to Study Pot and PTSD. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.


California Drug Offenders Being Freed Under Prop 47. Hundreds of jail and prison inmates have already been released in the three weeks since California voters approved Proposition 47, which retroactively reduced drug possession (and some other minor offenses) from a felony to a misdemeanor. Scores more people are flooding courts with applications to have their records cleansed of felonies. Nearly 5,000 people in state prison and tens of thousands more in county jails and on probation are probably eligible for resentencing. Those who completed their sentences years ago also can have their felonies erased. Also, thousands of probationers will be released from regular monitoring. Foes expect the worst, but time will tell.


Mexican President Announces National Anti-Crime Plan. Under intense political pressure after the apparent kidnapping and murder of 43 radical teachers' college students in Guerrero in September in a collaboration between corrupt politicians, corrupt police, and drug gangsters, President Enrique Pena Nieto Thursday announced a plan designed to cool public outrage and reform the nation's notoriously corrupt police forces. Pena Nieto is proposing giving Congress the power to dissolve corrupt municipal police and also placing local police under the control of the nation's 31 state governments. The same day Pena Nieto made the announcement, police in Guerrero announced the discovery of 11 burned and decapitated bodies (not the missing students). Similar anti-crime plans aimed at corrupt local police were announced in 2004 and 2008, but didn't succeed in rooting out the problem.

Colombia President Announces Crop Substitution Pilot Program, Says Will End Need for Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday a pilot program for crop substitution in southern Putumayo state and said there will be "no more need" for aerial fumigation of crops once it is implemented. The pilot program is set to start in April. Crop substitution is a key part of the interim agreement on drugs between Colombia and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The two forces have been in extended peace negotiations for the past two years.

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Pharmacy Sales. Although the Uruguayan government had initially planned to start allowing the sale of marijuana in pharmacies by year's end, it has now pushed that goal back to March, and perhaps further. National Drugs Board General Secretary Julio Calzada told reporters Wednesday that the delay loomed. The Reuters report linked to here mentioned "a variety of hurdles," but didn't specify what they are. Under Uruguay's legalization, people can grow up to six plants at home, organize into collectives to grow jointly, or register with the government and buy their pot at the drug store -- once the government crosses those hurdles.

Malay Man Gets Death Sentence for 20 Pounds of Weed. The Malaysian High Court in Alor Setar has sentenced a 37-year-old Penang man to death for trafficking 9.4 kilos of marijuana. Akbar Ali Abdul Rahman was convicted under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for some drug offenses.

North Korea as China's Meth Supplier. The Guardian has in-depth reportage on North Korea's methamphetamine industry, which it says is flooding northwest China with the drug. The report says the Hermit Kingdom's meth industry has shifted from centralized and government-controlled production to decentralized, privatized production. North Korea denies it's doing any such thing. A very informative read.

Australia Report Finds Drug Enforcement Doesn't Affect Drugs on the Street. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has released "the most comprehensive assessment of drug law enforcement ever undertaken in Australia," and found no evidence that increased drug law enforcement -- as measured through seizures and arrests of drug dealers -- affected the amount of drugs on the street or reduced hospital admissions related to hard drugs. The report is "Supply Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm."

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Australia's Tasmania. A bill to allow for medical marijuana and set up a controlled farming regime was filed Thursday in the Tasmania state parliament. Local media says the bill has "broad support," and was cosponsored by a Liberal, a Liberal Democrat, and a Green. The bill is not yet available on the Tasmania parliament web site.

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. 

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