UN Drug Report Favors Shift from Mass Arrests

June 29th, 2009 by Russ

Antonio Maria Costa, UN Drug Czar

The blogosphere is all atwitter after a first perusal of the UN’s World Drug Report 2009 (warning: PDF). Usually playing the role of a global cheerleader for interdiction and incarceration efforts, this year’s report strongly indicts lazy low-level incarceration policies that have done nothing but increase the world’s relative prison population.

Released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the report presents a highly wonky, statistics-driven approach to tracking drug production around the world, as well as assessing some of the more popular drug policies around the international sphere. One major conclusion of the report was that enforcement policies of blindly increasing arrests, incarcerations, and seizures is a dead end:

Resources that could have been focused on these individuals are often wasted on the opportunistic arrest and incarceration of large volumes of petty offenders. In the case of casual users, the sanction of imprisonment is excessive.

The report rightly notes that the addicts themselves are not the enemy in the War on Drugs, and that police and prison systems are ill-equipped to deal with them. It continues:

In the end, the criminal justice system is a very blunt instrument for dealing with drug markets. As necessary as the deterrent threat remains, the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of individuals is an extremely slow, expensive, and labour intensive process.

Any shift in the UN’s position is surprising, given that World Drug Czar, Antonio Maria Costa, an old-world drug warrior, has been in office since 2002. This also explains why the report at no point attempts to make any real distinctions between the different types of drugs, and their relative levels of harm. Not a single thought is given to actually developing different policies based on what type of substance a country is dealing with. This is because, in the eyes of Costa, drugs are a scourge, and the question is never whether to control them, but simply how to control them most effectively. From such a myopic perspective, it’s very surprising to see any innovative suggestions at all.

The fun in all of this is watching the War on Drugs’ right wingers as they are violently dragged back towards the center by the ever-mounting evidence of a reality that doesn’t meet with their ancient world views.

Pot Raids Come Early to California

June 29th, 2009 by Rick

An outdoor weed crop

The feds are ramping up their efforts to bust illegal grow sites within California by way of a state sanctioned marijuana eradication team, comprised of federal, state and local officers — known as the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP).

A state Department of Justice spokeswoman, Special Agent Michelle Gregory, said:

They’re planting earlier, we might as well get out there and start picking them. [...] Hopefully, we can get some more grow sites.

CAMP is looking to break their record from last year of 2.9 million plants (reportedly worth $11.6B) seized from across California. Meanwhile, at a federal level, 5.2 million plants had been confiscated within the state. According to local authorities, 44,000 outdoor marijuana plants have already been uprooted, a figure way up (three times) from last year — Lake County being the number one area for the grow sites, for the third year in a row.

The grow sites that are raided (especially the large public ones) are believed to be operated by Mexican nationals that think growing pot and then distributing it within the United States is safer than growing it in Mexico and trying to smuggle it across the border. Apparently greed is behind the sheer increase of crops.

Mexican Street Dealers Dying in Droves

June 29th, 2009 by Russ

Drug Violence Targets Mexico

The Modesto Bee told a heart-wrenching story last weekend of a young Tijuana meth dealer named Hector Rodriguez Estrada, who was killed in cold blood along with his pregnant girlfriend, by a rival gang attempting to seize his drug turf. The story gives a face to the deteriorating social system in many parts of Mexico, in which cities are morphing into nothing more than shooting galleries between rival cartels.

In impoverished areas where factory workers make $60 a week, selling meth on a corner can be a very attractive economic option. According to Rodriguez’s older brother, Samuel:

When you live by the sea, you look for fish.

In other words, for many people in the poorest nations of the world, drug production or distribution is not a moral or ethical issue. It’s a matter of survival. These people exist within a black market that provides massive financial incentives to participate. Without any regulation or government-imposed morality, there is also a huge incentive to kill off competitors. This is a completely free market economy. There are no longer any rules or norms.

Perhaps once cartels saw benefit in respecting rival turf and developing in areas without conflict. But an aggressive campaign by President Calderon, coupled with an influx of US military weapons and aid has created a virtual anarchy to replace a tenuous balance. Tijuana drug rivalries fueled 443 murders in the last three months of 2008. Gang members were left in dumpsters by the dozens with severed heads, limbs, and fingers.

Until this economic system is supplanted with another, the cycle of violence will continue. There will be many more Hector Rodriguez Estradas. And there will be just as many rivals willing to punch his ticket for a new drug corner to run. Madness begets madness.

Cheech & Chong Reminisce About Getting Busted

June 26th, 2009 by Russ

Here’s a cute video of the legendary comic pair retelling a story of getting busted after a performance at the Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa, FL. Amazingly enough, the cops didn’t even attempt to pin a drug charge on the celebrity stoners. Instead, they were arrested on an obscenity charge, which was later dropped.

The Tampa police seem to be a bit sensitive about language, as they arrested Janice Joplin in 1969 while playing in the very same venue. For comics, however, being arrested for obscenity is a rite of passage. Comedy legends Lenny Bruce and George Carlin have both been taken into the clink for saying naughty things, but neither of those charges managed to stick either.

The only major charge that caught up to the Up in Smoke duo hit Tommy Chong in 2003. Already well past his comedy prime, Chong was involved in a glass bong-selling business with his son, Paris. District Attorney and Bush appointee, Mary Beth Buchanon secured Chong’s conviction on a drug paraphernalia charge (as part of a $12 million debacle called Operation Pipe Dream), for which he actually had to serve nine months in prison. This is why he refers to himself as a ‘felon’ near the end of the piece.

Unlike many other entertainers, Cheech and the Chonger actually practice what they preach. And that’s one big reason why they’re still so popular after nearly 40 years.

Special of the Day: Kung Pao Dan Tang

June 26th, 2009 by Rick

Dan Tang, on the far right

Anyone that is a fan of the show Weeds, would appreciate a story coming out of Colorado about a drug ring network that was busted that eventually led to the arrest of Dan Tang, owner of the Heaven Dragon restaurant that catered to many politicians for many years.

Despite a possible leak at the time, the operation named Fortune Cookie, busted 25 houses that had more than 24,000 marijuana plants spread out between them. Around $3m in cash was also recovered, along with $1m worth of grow equipment.

Jeff Sweetin, special agent in charge of the Denver field division of the DEA, said:

It’s the largest, most organized indoor grow operation I have ever seen.

Tang himself has only been charged with money laundering in the case, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office plans on making him the last person to be put on trial for connection to the drug ring. Twenty people have already been charged with state and federal crimes ranging from growing pot to distributing it and even money laundering and fraud.

Maniacal British Bobbies Waterboard Pot Smugglers

June 26th, 2009 by Russ

Example of Waterboarding

In the “Countries That Shouldn’t Emulate America” category, comes the tale of six of London’s finest metro police. After apprehending a couple suspects who were carrying a large weed shipment, the officers decided to seize the property of the suspects, and give them the old Dick Cheney workover for good measure.

According to Britain’s Telegraph UK this is one of the most egregious police corruption scandals in the city department’s history. Apparently the officers, who included a detective sergeant, seized several flat-screen TVs, computers, and other electronics from the drug suspects. They then proceeded to repeatedly dunk the men’s respective heads in buckets of water, presumably to find out where they were hiding their Xbox 360.

Few of the specifics are being released due to an extensive corruption investigation. Obviously the city dropped the charges against the torturees, as it tries to smooth over this embarrassment. Though the details released were unusually grizzly for this sort of case, the corruption of law enforcement by drug money is an old and reliable standard.

Perhaps this is why President Obama declined to release bonus photos of the Abu Gharib victims. He didn’t want to give our War on Terror partner nations any bright ideas.

Mexican Congress Passes Drug Decriminalization

June 26th, 2009 by Russ

The Mexican Congress

Early this week, a major blow was struck against the modern War on Drugs. Faced with a unprecedented drug crisis threatening to spill over its already porous borders, the Mexican legislature decriminalized the possession of drugs intended for personal use.

Done relatively quietly because of a worsening Swine Flu outbreak, the Mexican lower house approved a measure that had already passed the Senate to allow Mexicans to carry up to five grams of pot, half a gram of cocaine, .04 grams of meth, and .05 grams of heroin. The bill also acts to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug dealers.

The bill now awaits the signature of President Felipe Calderón, which is expected to happen shortly. Though Calderón had gained a reputation as a staunch enemy of local drug cartels, he offered up the decriminalization legislature as an emergency measure to loosen the burden on Mexico’s prisons and overtaxed law enforcement.

According to Rafael Ruiz Mena, head of Mexico’s National Institute of Penal Sciences:

The important thing is… that consumers are not treated as criminals. It is a public health problem, not a penal problem.

The referred to public health problem has become a serious drain on Mexico’s resources. As we reported last month, the addiction rate in Mexico has increased by 50% since the violence between the government and cartels began to escalate. A fragmenting of the traditional cartel structure has flooded the Mexican market with cheaper, purer substances that have moved street level dealing and use out of any semblance of control.

It’s a shame that the situation had to deteriorate to this point before the Mexican government agreed to take steps toward adopting a more rational drug policy. Perhaps transitioning to a system that seeks to help non-violent addicts (instead of demonizing them) will restore the people’s faith in Mexican government, and stem the breakdown of Mexican civil society.

New Hampshire Ready for Medical Marijuana?

June 25th, 2009 by Rick

New Hampshire State Capitol

New Hampshire is trying to become the 14th medical marijuana state as their state legislature passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow chronically ill patients to seek treatment using medical marijuana. The bill is now on it’s way to the Governor.

Governor John Lynch isn’t like those other drones that blindly follow the drumbeat of the neo-cons and drug warriors. He actually wants to study the bill before he signs it into a law.

One of the smart things that the legislature had done was ensure that patients nor caregivers could grow the marijuana, instead “compassion centers” or non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries will be organized.

Will New Hampshire learn from California’s mistakes? They already seemingly have, by limiting those that can “game the system.”

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