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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: NAACP & NOW Support DC Init, Pot Shop ATM Problems, Mexico Impunity, More (10/23/14):

Marijuana retailers face ATM problems, Seattle dispensaries get a heads up, the DC initiative wins a pair of endorsements, California's Prop 47 is drawing big bucks support, the Mexico missing student teacher story gets uglier, and more. Let's get to it:

You may need cash at your local marijuana retailer after a banking network pulled the plug. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Pew Poll: Latinos Are Even Split on Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Latino voters are slightly less likely than the population as a whole to favor marijuana legalization, but are almost evenly divided in their opinions. Some 49% said marijuana should be legal, while 48% said it shouldn't. A Pew poll earlier this year found support for marijuana legalization among the general population at 53%.

Banking Network Pulls the Plug on Pot Shop ATMs. Hundreds of recreational and medical marijuana retail outlets in Colorado and Washington have had their ATMs shut down after the South Dakota-based MetaBank pulled the plug on them. MetaBank had warned ATM providers in January that the presence of such machines in marijuana retail outlets violated federal rules, but shops had remained unaffected until this week. Other retail outlets using different bank networks were still able to process transactions.

DC Initiative Wins Endorsement from NAACP, NOW Branches. The DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, Measure 71, has picked up the endorsements of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). "The NAACP DC Branch strongly advocates to end the war on drugs, which has caused significant damage in our communities. Endorsement of Initiative 71 does not mean that the NAACP is pro marijuana, however, we view Initiative 71 as a step towards ending discriminatory drug policies." said Akosua Ali, President of the NAACP DC Branch. "Criminalization of marijuana has played a major role in the racial disparities and injustice in the criminal justice system," said Susan Mottet, president of DC NOW. "DC NOW works to end all discrimination in DC and urges the voters to pass Initiative 71 to help put an end to this tool for discrimination."

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Warns Dispensaries They Will Need Licenses, But… The city of Seattle has sent letters to 330 dispensaries operating there that they will need to be licensed by the state. The only problem is there is no such license for medical marijuana businesses. The city council had placed the requirement on hold until the state legislature decides whether and how to license dispensaries, but the letter warns that as of January 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016 if the legislature doesn't act before then), dispensaries must have state licenses or close their doors. Click on the title link to see the letter.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Picking Up Big Bucks Support. Proposition 47, he initiative that would defelonize drug possession and some other offenses, is getting generous contributions from California-based technology mavens and other business figures, but those donations are being dwarfed by the ACLU, which has contributed more than $3 million. Some of the big names include Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($246,000); Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz ($150,000), Democratic Party funder Quinn Delaney ($100,000), Hyatt Development Corporation CEO Nick Pritzer ($250,000), and app maker Sean Parker ($100,000).

International

OAS Drug Commission Meets in Colombia. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Cartagena, Colombia, yesterday and today, and addressed the consensus among countries that prison overcrowding in the Americas is a real problem, with more than 1.5 million people detained for drug offenses. The results of this initiative will be presented at the upcoming biannual meeting of CICAD that will take place in Guatemala during the third week of November.

Canadian House of Commons Report on Cannabis Harms. The Conservative-dominated House of Commons has issued a report on the harms of marijuana. It recommends raising "public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use." Click on the link to read the report.

NACLA on Race, Class, and Cannabis in the Caribbean. The venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has published a thoughtful piece about marijuana reform in the Caribbean, The Other Side of Paradise. In in, author Kevin Edmonds cites Caribbean activists to the effect that the region must act effectively on reforms or risk losing its lucrative, but currently illicit, pot crops to imported marijuana from places where it's already legal. An interesting read.

Case of Missing Mexican Student Teachers Unveils Tight Ties Between Local Officials, Drug Gang. Mexico's top prosecutor said Wednesday that the mayor of Iguala and his wife ordered the attack on 43 radical student teachers who have been missing for a month now, and that the wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was the "principal operator" of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which is being blamed for disappearing the students. Jesus Murillo Karam said the mayoral couple ran the group's illegal activities out of Iguala's city hall. City hall was attacked again Wednesday by protestors demanding the return of the students, and thousands marched in Mexico City to demand justice in the case, which is turning into a national scandal epitomizing the breadth of corruption and impunity in the country. Several mass graves have been found in the area, but the bodies in them haven't been identified as those of the missing students. That raises another touchy question: Whose bodies are in the mass graves?

Chronicle AM -- July 30, 2014

Marijuana arrests are up in a third of the states, the drug czar's office responds to the New York Times, Dr. Carl Hart wins a literary award, Philly narcs get busted, and more. Let's get to it:

Bus ad for the Alaska marijuana legalization campaign.
Marijuana Policy

ONDCP Responds to New York Times Call to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. In a Monday night blog post, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) responded to the New York Times's Sunday editorial calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "Marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution," ONDCP proclaimed. "The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem." Click on the link to read the whole post.

NORML PAC Endorses Constance Johnson for US Senate in Oklahoma. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) for the US Senate in Oklahoma. Johnson has been an advocate for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization and, this year, has been leading a petition drive to put legalization on the November ballot. "I'm incredibly thankful for NORML's endorsement, " said Sen. Johnson. "After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I'm taking this fight to the people. It's time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue." The Democratic primary is August 26.

Marijuana Arrests Up in Many States. Although annual marijuana arrests nationwide declined by 3.3% between 2008 and 2012, they increased in at least 17 states, according to a report published by NORML, Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests. South Carolina and the District of Columbia saw the biggest increases, but DC has just decriminalized marijuana possession, so that should change soon. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1%), New Hampshire (72%), Montana (70.3%), Wyoming (68.7%) and Wisconsin (67.1%).

Alaska Legalization Campaign Unveils News Bus Ads. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol In Alaska unveiled a series of bus ads yesterday in Anchorage that highlight the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol. The ads will appear throughout the week on city buses.

National Cannabis Industry Association Announces Food Safety Program for Edibles Makers and Responsible Selling Program for Retailers. The National Cannabis Industry Association will hold a ServSafe Food Safety training for edibles makers and a responsible selling program for budtenders in Denver next month. Click on the link to register.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Tells Health Department to Hurry Up with Medical Marijuana. Impelled by the deaths of two children with epileptic seizure disorders whose conditions could be alleviated with medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a letter to the Department of Health urging it to find ways to "accelerate the process for this specific dire population." Cuomo added that he looked forward "to any progress you can make for the children of our state living with epilepsy."

Fired University of Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Loses Appeal. Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher whose pending study of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans was halted when she was fired last month, has lost an appeal to regain her job. Sisley is now looking for a new academic home to pursue the research.

Law Enforcement

Six Philadelphia Narcs Charged in Corruption Probe. The long-running scandal around Philadelphia's out-of-control narcotics units took another twist today when federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against six of them, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. They are accused of shaking down drug dealers and stealing hundreds of thousands in cash and drugs over a six-year period. Federal prosecutors asked that they be held without bail, given their violent histories.

Drug Science

Dr. Carl Hart's "High Price" Wins Science Writing Award. Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University (and Drug Policy Alliance board member), has been awarded the PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his memoir, "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society." Read our review of "High Price" here.

International

Medical Marijuana Civil Disobedience Action in Italy. Activists affiliated with the Italian Radical Party have engaged in civil disobedience over medical marijuana by planting seeds to grow specifically selected marijuana plants to treat patients with multiple sclerosis. The move is a result of frustration with the lack of effective access to medical marijuana in the country, where only 60 patients manage to obtain Dutch-produced medical marijuana through the Public Health Service. Click on the link for more details.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- July 3, 2014

The Afghan poppy trade is spilling over into Central Asia, legal marijuana goes on sale in Washington state on Tuesday, Georgia holds off on welfare drug testing, a California sentencing reform bill is now one vote away from passage, and more. Let's get to it:

Central Asian countries are getting in on the Afghan drug trade, according to a new report. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Retail Marijuana Sales Begin at Noon Tuesday in Seattle. The first legal retail marijuana sale in Seattle will take place at noon Tuesday, the owner of Cannabis City says. But the first pot sold legally in Washington state may actually be purchased in Bellingham, where Top Shelf Cannabis says it will be open at 8:00am.

DC Mayor Calls for 4th of July Boycott of Maryland Shore to Protest Congressman's Move to Mess With City's Decriminalization Law. DC Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is joining DC activists in calling for city residents to not spend their holiday weekends in Ocean City or St. Michaels, Maryland. That's the area represented in Congress by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who authored a successful amendment to a House budget bill that would effectively overturn the District's decriminalization law. DC residents who want to enjoy the beach should instead go to Rehoboth Beach, DE, or Chincoteague Island, VA, instead, Gray suggested.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Governor Signs Limited Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Law. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed into law a bill that will allow people suffering from certain epilepsy conditions to use cannabis extracts containing less than 0.3% THC and more than 10% CBD. But only neurologists in a pilot study may recommend it.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Holds Off Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has announced that even though a new law to drug test welfare recipients went into effect Tuesday, he will delay implementing it until a federal appeals court rules on a similar Florida law. But the Florida law mandates suspicionless mandatory drug testing, while Georgia's law, House Bill 772, only requires drug testing upon suspicion of drug use, so some critics are wondering if something else is at play. The Georgia law also had a food stamp applicant drug testing provision, but that part has already been nullified by the US Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program.

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Wins Final Assembly Committee Vote. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010) was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a 12-3 vote Wednesday and now heads for an Assembly floor vote. Sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill would correct the sentencing and other disparities between crack and powder cocaine. The bill has already been approved by the Senate.

Law Enforcement

US Indicts Three Peruvian Shining Path Leaders on Drug, Terrorism Charges. Three leaders of the Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla group have been indicted in New York on drugs, weapons, and terrorism charges. They are accused of cocaine trafficking and committing terrorist acts against Peruvian -- not American -- civilians and military personnel. They are Florindo Flores Hala, also known as Comrade Artemio, and Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino. Flores Hala is in custody, but the Quispe Palomino brothers are not. Among other things, they are charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization, i.e. themselves.

ACLU Sues Massachusetts SWAT Teams for Refusing to Release Public Records. The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against SWAT teams in the state after they refused to release records sought in a freedom of information request. The SWAT teams are making the novel legal argument that they are not required to comply because the law enforcement councils that operate them are not public entities, but private, not-for-profit groups. Click on the link for a lengthy article on the issue.

International

Afghanistan's Central Asian Neighbors Complicit in Drug Trade, Report Says. About the only substantive cooperation between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors comes in turning a blind eye to the opium and heroin trade, according to a new report from Afghanistan Analysts. The report is Between Cooperation and Insulation: Afghanistan'sa Relations With the Central Asian Republics.

What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

children walking from home to school in Bamako, Mali (JoeyTranchinaPhotography©2014 Sète, France)
And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

West Africa
"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

drug, security, and insurgency analyst Vanda Felbab-Brown (brookings.edu)
But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

A Thousand March for "El Chapo" in Culiacan

As many as a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, Wednesday in support of arrested Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

El Chapo's supporters march in Culiacan Wednesday (www.blick.ch)

They called for his release from a Mexican prison and for him not to be extradited to the United States. Many of them said he provided employment in poor areas of the nearby Sierra Madre mountains and that his group had provided security for residents.

Many were dressed in white, holding signs with messages that included "Don't Extradite El Chapo," "We Want Chapo Freed," and "Sinaloa Supports You, Chapo."

"The government doesn't give any job opportunities," said Daniel Garcia, an unemployed 20-year-old. "The situation is, honestly, really difficult and he helps out the young people, giving them jobs."

"We support 'Chapo' Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains," said Pedro Ramirez, who was part of a group of 300 who had travelled from Badiraguato, a town in the Sierra Madre where Guzman was born 56 years ago.

Another demonstrator said he trusted Guzman more than any elected official.

The obvious question, of course, is how did this demonstration come about? Going back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, drug traffickers have sought and won popular support by providing jobs, services, and facilities to communities where they operate. Mexican traffickers have done the same thing, hosting children's parties and building soccer stadiums and the like.

Was this a spontaneous outpouring of support for Sinaloa's most famous son? Or did El Chapo's buddies buy themselves a demonstration? In either case, the power of the cartels to mobilize popular support should not be underestimated.

Location: 
Culiacan
Mexico

Chronicle Book Review: "Narcoland"

Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anibel Hernandez (2013, Verso Press, 362 pp., $26.95 HB)

Being a Mexican drug lord is typically a career path with a suddenly abbreviated trajectory. Just ask the erstwhile leaders of the Zetas or the Familia Michoacana or the Beltran Leyvas or the Tijuana cartel or the Juarez cartel or the Gulf cartel. Well, ask them if you can hold séances or know how to burrow inside maximum security prisons -- because they're either dead or behind bars.

But as just about anyone in Mexico will tell you, there is one Mexican drug trafficking organization whose top leadership appears untouchable. That would be the Sinaloa cartel, led by the world's most famous narco and one of its wealthiest men, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his top henchman, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. More than a dozen years after he escaped from a Mexican prison, despite two presidencies waging an ever more aggressive war against the cartels, Guzman and company remain on top of the heap, his rivals decimated even as the Sinaloa cartel continues its bloody, multi-million dollar a year business. And El Chapo and El Mayo remain unscathed.

And as many, many Mexicans are eager to tell you, it looks like the fix is in. How is it that they can't catch or kill El Chapo? How is it that he escaped from prison in the first place? The cynical folk wisdom is that he is being protected by people in the government. That people should think that is not surprising. Suspicions of government complicity in the drug trade, whether in the state police forces; the ever-mutating (because frequently, necessarily, and unsuccessfully cleansed of corruption) federal police forces, the military, or the high ministries, are both long-held and well-founded.

Books reviewed in this publication over the past few years have amply detailed the layers of corruption and complicity surrounding the drug trade in Mexico, but in Narcoland, prize-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez takes it to a whole new level. Narcoland is the updated English language version of her explosive 2010 Mexican blockbuster Los Señores del Narco, a book whose publication generated death threats and led the National Commission on Human Rights to assign her two full-time bodyguards.

Despite Mexico's well-deserved reputation as a burial ground for journalists and despite the threats generated by her journalistic digging, Hernandez is undeterred. She is not the least bit squeamish about charging that the Mexican government has been hopelessly corrupted by the filthy lucre of the drug trade, right up to the presidential palace, and she is not afraid to name names, including people close to presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, as well as some of their most important appointees, such as Calderon's Secretary for Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna.

The charges Hernandez makes are blunt and mind-boggling: "From the beginning of his government, Calderon's strategy against the drug barons was designed to favor El Chapo Guzman and his main partners: El Mayo Zambada, El Nacho Coronel, and El Azul Esparragoza," she writes. "There is firm documentary evidence that Calderon's war was overwhelmingly aimed at those traffickers who are El Chapo's enemies or threats to his leadership… In fact, what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a 'war on drug traffickers,' but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel."

Hernandez clearly finger Garcia Luna, Calderon's top cop, as deep in El Chapo's pocket, and presents pretty convincing evidence for her case, including not only the inability to ever find El Chapo, but also the deployment of Mexican state security forces on his behalf. Funny, isn't it, how the cartels the Mexican government most aggressively pursues are the ones that El Chapo happens to have in his sights at the time?

Hernandez is equally blunt in her assessment of Mexico as a whole. It's a "mafiocracy," she writes, and the criminality isn't limited to capos and cops. Politicians rely on drug money to win campaigns, and traffickers rely on bought politicians to go about their business. Similarly, businessmen and high society people turn a blind eye to the narco-wealth that insinuates itself into every corner of society and every sector of the economy.

Beyond being a mega-scale muckracker, Hernandez is also an excellent story teller. She provides a behind-the-scenes account of El Chapo's 2001 escape from Puente Grande prison that is both shocking and enthralling. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that the official version of events, in which El Chapo escaped in a laundry cart, is not, according to Hernandez, what really happened.

Likewise, while navigating one's way through that minefield of competing cartels and their nick-named major players is an excruciating task, Hernandez provides the clearest, most compelling, and most comprehensible narrative yet of the evolution and infighting among the cartels.

It feels like conspiracy theory, and at times, one has to wonder. Is Nacho Coronel really still alive, having, as Hernandez claims, having faked his death in a shoot-out with soldiers in Jalisco in 2010? It seems unlikely. But her broader thesis -- that the fix is in -- seems quite likely. Could Mexico's officially most wanted man have eluded capture or death, eliminated his rivals, consolidated his power, expanded his operations, and weaved his web of complicity without serious help from very well connected players at the highest levels of Mexican politics, business, and law enforcement? It seems unlikely.

Chronicle AM -- December 4, 2013

Some Denver city council members don't know when to give it a rest, some California US reps want stiffer penalties for pot grows on public lands, the Big Dog speaks on drug policy, Ecstasy may be on the rise, Morocco holds a historic hearing on cannabis, and more. Let's get to it:

Ecstasy seems to be making a comeback.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Now Considering Cultivation Restrictions. Just when you thought it was safe again, after an effort to stop people from smoking marijuana on their own property in public view died Monday night, the Denver city council is now considering an effort to cap the number of plants that can be grown in a single household. The measure is sponsored by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, the same person behind the failed private property smoking ban. The measure would be in conflict with Amendment 64, which is now part of the state constitution and clearly says anyone 21 or older can grow six plants "notwithstanding any other provision of law."

California US Senator, Representatives Seek Tougher Penalties for Federal Lands Marijuana Grows. Several California congressmen, including some who have been strong supporters of medical marijuana, have written a letter to the US Sentencing Commission seeking longer prison sentences for people growing on federal and some private lands. "We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," the letter said. "The production and cultivation of controlled substances in particular marijuana, on public lands or while trespassing on private property is a direct threat to our environment and public safety." The signatories include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and US Reps. Doug Amalfa, Sam Farr, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson.

Drug Policy

Bill Clinton Says Attitudes Toward Drug Legalization Are Changing. Attitudes toward drug legalization are changing, former President Bill Clinton said in an interview with Fusion TV Tuesday. "The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," the ex-president opined. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing. It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up," he said. But he added that he didn't think hard drugs should be treated like marijuana. "It's also too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn't have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives, or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away," he said.

Vermont Chief Justice Criticizes Drug War, "Tough on Crime" Approach. Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has lashed out at the war on drugs and "tough on crime" approaches in general in a pair of recent speeches and a television interview. "Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground," Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month. "The classic approach of 'tough on crime' is not working in this area of drug policy. The public responds very well to this 'tough on crime' message, but that does not mean it's effective in changing individual behavior. If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn't going to happen… The criminal justice system can't solve the drug problem."

Club Drugs

Teen Ecstasy-Related Hospital ER Visits Doubled in Recent Years, Feds Say. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday that hospital emergency room visits linked to teen Ecstasy use had more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The number jumped from about 4,500 to more than 10,000 during that period. One third of those cases also involved alcohol. Authorities worry the club drug is making a comeback, although the number of ER visits reported for ecstasy is a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million drug-related ER visits reported each year.

International

Morocco Parliament Holds Hearing on Legalizing Cannabis for Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Morocco's Party for Authenticity and Modernity held a historic hearing Wednesday about legalizing marijuana cultivation for hemp and medical marijuana. The party hopes to introduce legislation next year. Somewhere between 750,000 and a million Moroccans depend on the cannabis crop for a living, although lawmakers said small farmers currently reap very little profit, with most profits going to drug traffickers sending Moroccan hash to Europe.

Former Mexican Border State Governor Charged in US with Money Laundering for Cartels. Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas state, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, has been indicted by US authorities on charges he took millions in bribes from the Gulf Cartel. Prosecutors allege Yarrington started receiving bribes while running for governor of the state in 1999 and continued to do so throughout his term. He is being sought by US authorities, but has not been taken into custody in Mexico.

UN Drug Chief Warns of Afghanistan "Narco-State"

Afghanistan could collapse into a "full-fledged narco-state" as the looming withdrawal of US and NATO combat forces creates a gaping hole in the center of the country's economy, Yuri Fedotov, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Fedotov noted that the Western forces generate about a third of all jobs and investment in Afghanistan. They are due to leave the country by the end of next year, and even the presence of a residual force of up to 10,000 fighters is increasingly in doubt as the US and Afghan haggle over a status of forces agreement that would allow them to stay.

The other major economic activity in the country is opium production, processing, and distribution, including the manufacture of heroin from raw opium, which accounts for roughly another third of the national economy. Since the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, it has consistently been the world's leading source of illicit opium production, accounting for nearly 90% of all poppies produced worldwide.

Multi-hundred million dollar annual cash flows associated with the opium economy have benefited the Taliban insurgency, which taxes farmers in areas it controls as well as engaging in or protecting drug trafficking. They have also benefited corrupt Afghan government officials and associated warlords.

Fedotov, whose native Russia has been flooded with Afghan heroin, said Wednesday that an upcoming UNODC survey due later this month will show increases in both opium cultivation and production.

"The situation is worsening, that is clear and very disappointing," he said. "It is a very serious setback, but we need to take that as a warning shot," he added, calling for increased international assistance.

"That is also fertile ground for corruption and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is a multi-faceted challenge and we need to take that as a serious problem," Fedotov warned. "Otherwise we have a serious risk that without international support, without more meaningful assistance, this country may continue to evolve into a full-fledged narco-state," he said. "We have not been able to develop an alternative economy in Afghanistan," Fedotov said. "With all our efforts, it was very hard to move from illicit to licit."

Oh, and those Afghan farmers? When they're not producing opium, they're producing cannabis. Afghanistan is also one of the world's preeminent producers of it, according to UNODC, and production was up again last year, the group reported last month.

Afghanistan

Chronicle Book Review: "Our Lost Border" and "The Fight to Save Juarez"

Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence, Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso, eds. (2013, Arte Publico Press, 290 pp., $19.95 PB)

The Fight to Save Juarez: Life in the Heart of Mexico's Drug War, Ricardo Ainslie (2013, University of Texas Press, 282 pp., $25.00 HB)

More than six years after then President Felipe Calderon unleashed the Mexican military to wage war against the country's wealthy, powerful, and murderous drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- Calderon is gone, but the unprecedented violence unleashed by his campaign continues largely unabated. The new administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto is claiming some successes, but lauding the fact that the killings are now going on a rate of only a thousand or so a month is more a sign of how far things still have to go than have far we have come.

While talking a good game about how his administration is going to pursue a different path from that of his predecessor, Pena Nieto has in fact largely maintained Calderon's policies. The military is still out in the field fighting cartel gunmen, the government still shouts out with pride whenever it captures a top capo (and it has captured three in the past six weeks), and Pena Nieto's plan for a national gendarmerie to replace the soldiers is busily vanishing before our eyes.

Rhetorical flourishes notwithstanding, it still looks much like the same old Mexican drug war, even if it isn't garnering the attention north of the border that it did last year. The reason for that lack of attention now may not be nefarious. Last year was a presidential election year in both countries. For the US electorate, that meant the border and the Mexican drug war was an issue; for the Mexicans, the drug war came to define Calderon's tenure. Now, the elections are over and attention (at least north of the border) has turned elsewhere.

But for the people who actually live on the border, the issue isn't going away. And even if the violence, the corruption, and the criminality miraculously vanished tomorrow, the scars -- physical and psychological -- remain. Too many people have died, too many communities have been devastated, too many decapitated heads have been left in too many places. Local economies have been devastated, long-time cross-border ties, familial and otherwise, disrupted.

At best, one can say that Rio Grande Valley Mexican border towns like Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros have already been through the worst of the conflagration -- like a forest after a wild fire, most of the combustible fuel is gone. The scores have largely been settled on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande: The Sinaloa Cartel has severely weakened its rival Juarez Cartel, the Zetas have nearly eliminated the Gulf Cartel. While only a couple of years ago, Juarez and the other valley cities were ground zero for the Mexican drug war, the fire has moved on, to place like Michoacan, Durango, and Chihuaha City.(Although, after these recent captures of cartel leaders, things could flare up again as rival underlings scramble to replace them and rival cartels scramble to take advantage.)

In The Fight to Save Juarez, psychoanalyst and multi-media documentarian Ricardo Ainslie details life in El Paso's sister city during the worst of the cartel violence, relying on a quite impressive series of interviews with then Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, human rights workers, state and federal government officials, cartel gun molls, and ordinary citizens. Ainslie provides a smart, detailed, and fascinating look at a city devastated by anarchic violence and the winking complicity that accompanied it.

One of his most striking achievements is to narrate the outbreak of war between the Juarez Cartel and the encroaching Sinaloans, and to locate the opening of hostilities squarely in the ranks of the Juarez municipal police. Ainslie makes painfully clear how corrupted the department was, with a high proportion of its membership doing double duty as La Linea, the strong-armed enforcers and executioners for the Juarez Cartel. It was those guys who were targeted by the Sinaloa Cartel, first with exemplary executions, then with invitations to switch sides, then with more executions of those police who refused their offer. And the gang war was on.

Ainslie deftly navigates the intricacies of state (not so much, thanks to a corrupted Chihuahua governor), local, and federal efforts to do something about the savagery and about the police department. The bloodletting in Juarez, already festering in the national imagination, became Mexico's issue number one after the massacre of neighborhood youth at a party in Villas de Salvarcar by cartel gun men, and Ainslie was there as Calderon and his ministers were forced to come to Juarez and take the heat for the results of their policies.

Ainslie brings nuance and subtlety to his reporting, illuminating political rivalries and the interplay of different levels of government, as well as the human suffering and economic disruptions involved. The Fight to Save Juarez clears away much of the murkiness surrounding what went on in Juarez during those bloody years beginning in 2008, and places the struggle there in the context of a society where just about everyone is complicit in one way or another in the gravy train that is the Mexican drug trade.

What Ainslie does not do is question drug prohibition. For him, drug prohibition is simply a given, and the answers to Mexico's problems with prohibition-related violence and corruption must come from somewhere other than reevaluating the drug laws. That said, his reporting is still a valuable contribution to understanding the realities of Mexico's drug war.

Similarly, the essays in Our Lost Border generally do not question drug prohibition. What they do do, with uneven degrees of success, is bring life in a war zone home at a very personal level. Whether is it Richard Mora lamenting the loss of the Tijuana of his youth or Diego Osorno writing about the wholesale abandonment of a Rio Grande Valley town to warring cartel factions in "The Battle for Ciudad Mier," these Mexican and Mexican-American writers describe a cherished past vanquished by a bloody, horrifying present.

And Our Lost Border is bilingual, the essays appearing in both Spanish and English. That is appropriate and even symbolic; Mexico's drug war isn't just Mexico's. As Americans, we own it, too, and for border Mexican-Americans or even as Anglos with cross-border ties, this isn't about violence in a distant land, this is about the binational community, friends, and family.

Neither of these books even pretends to be an anti-prohibitionist manifesto. But that's okay. They both help us achieve a richer, deeper understanding of what is going on on the border in the name of the drug war. We can draw our own conclusions.

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