Archives for category: Politicians
  1. It’s a waste of money 
  2. It’s not up to the challenge
  3. It damages US diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

via the Atlantic, Rolling Stone and the Cato Institute

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I tend to focus in this blog on places I have a connection with- write what you know and all that. But there is other stuff happening elsewhere. (No, really, there is.) So with today’s news that the International Harm Reduction Association is rebranding as Harm Reduction International, I’ve decided to look outside my usual ‘places I know’ perspective.

So, to Canada:

For a while they seemed to have a pretty good drug policy- back under the Liberals, before the Evil Stephen Harper, they were setting up a safe injecting site, enacting a ‘four pillar’ strategy and being all Canadian and nice and setting global standards for good practices in harm reduction. Then the Evil Stephen Harper did that traditional “tough on drugs coz it makes me look all manly” politician crap, and it’s all been a bit rubbish. But then his coalition government collapsed and now the Canadians are choosing a new government, and all the drug policy dudes are getting all excited because maybe the Liberals can knock some sense into politics and prevent the Evil Stephen Harper from introducing a crime bill within a 100 days which would criminalize EVERYTHING. None of the left wing want to appear soft on crime, obviously. Instead they’re trying to be smart on crime. (Do you see what they did there?) There’s an interesting post on how ideology has trumped evidence in recent drug policy debates in Canada here.

Things got particularly exciting this week with a judge in Ontario ruling that the country’s medical marijuana laws are so screwed, and doctors are so wary of the repercussions of prescribing/recommending/whatever process is required in Canada to get patients their weed, that the law is effectively denying patients the care they need. To address this, the Ontario Superior Court struck down two key parts of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that prohibit  possession and production of marijuana. From the National Post:

The court declared the rules that govern medical marijuana access and the prohibitions laid out in sections 4 and 7 of the Act “constitutionally invalid and of no force and effect” on Monday, effectively paving the way for legalization.

If the government does not respond within 90 days with a successful delay or re-regulation of marijuana, the drug will be legal to possess and produce in Ontario, where the decision is binding.

Here’s hoping for inaction on the part of the government. And good luck keeping the Evil Stephen Harper out of government too!

 

A new report and campaign out this month from the NAACP highlights the misplaced priorities for state and federal funding – with states and federal government seemingly more willing to fund the incarceration of American youth than their education.

Key findings from the research:

• The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.

• The nation’s reliance on incarceration to respond to social and behavioral health issues is evidenced by the large numbers of people who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Among people in federal prisons, people in local jails, and young people held in the nation’s detention centers and local secure facilities, more than 500,000 people—nearly a quarter of all those incarcerated—are incarcerated as the result of a drug conviction.

• During the last two decades,  state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education

The NAACP’s recommendations:

1. Study the problem:  Support federal, state, and local efforts to create a blue-ribbon commission that will conduct a thorough evaluation of the criminal justice system and offer recommendations for reform in a range of areas, including:  sentencing policy, rates of incarceration, law enforcement, crime prevention, substance abuse and mental health treatment, corrections, and re-entry.

2. Create reinvestment commissions:  Support commissions charged with identifying legislative and policy avenues to downsize prison populations and shift savings from prison closures to education budgets.

3. Eliminate disparities in drug laws: Support efforts to eliminate disparities in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine at the state and federal level.

4. Increase earned time:  Support reforms that would allow prisoners to earn an earlier release by participating in educational and vocational programming as well as drug and mental health treatment.

5. Support youth violence reduction programs: Support programs and policies to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies for at-risk youth to prevent gang activity and criminal justice involvement.

6. Reform sentencing and drug policies: Eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses that help fuel drug imprisonment.

7. Use diversion for drug-involved individuals: Reform prosecutorial guidelines to divert people to treatment who would otherwise serve a mandatory prison term.

8. Shorten prison terms: Send young offenders who would otherwise receive mandatory sentences to structured programs to help them earn their GED and shave time off their prison sentences.

9. Increase parole release rates:  Improve parole boards’ ability to use evidence-based strategies when making decisions to parole prisoners, thus improving parolees’ chances for success and increasing parole approval rates.

10.Reduce revocations of people under community supervision:  Develop alternative to-incarceration programs that will reduce the number of people sent to prison for technical violations.

11.Support re-entry and the sealing of records: Support legislation that will close criminal records of certain offenders after they have not committed another crime within a certain number of years.

via: The Root, via Transform

 

I’ve written previously about how I don’t think we’re yet at the breaking point for prohibition. There’s too many vested interests and too much political cowardice.  This week, in many ways, it’s business as usual- Kerlikowske mocked politicians who only voice opposition to the war on drugs while they’re not in power, the Economist highlighted the volte-face that both Cameron and Clegg have taken to become Drug War Champions since assuming power, and Obama decided to hold a Facebook town hall on 4/20 (is he a legalization cocktease, or what?) Meanwhile in Texas, a Congressman is looking to up the ante, proposing that the US classify drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) as terrorist organizations. This would definitely open up a number of sources of funding for justice and security organizations to access to fund the war on drugs, and probably a whole world of legislation to allow surveillance and prosecution. There’s a thoughtful analysis on a site called Blogging by Boz (and reposted by Sylvia Longworth) which considers the issue.

Boz is in cautiously in favour, with an understanding that ‘terrorism’ can be defined as ‘the use of violence to achieve political or economic goals’. This is a new view to me- I’ve always thought of terrorism within a purely political framework, not economic. I can see that the brutally violent murders in Mexico (decapitations, hangings etc) are designed to inspire terror, in order to further economic ambitions…but if you count that as terrorist, does that mean that criminal gangs within the US who, for example, harrass and intimidate victims from testifying against them, are also terrorists? Surely that’s equivalent?

Danny at Transform wrote a piece recently about the ‘securitization’ of  drug policy suggesting that by framing the debate in these terms, “progressive reform in itself becomes a ‘threat’ – a ‘threat’ to a long standing mission and some very well resourced agencies, charged with fighting the drug war.”

However, criticism of the drugs war this week has been coming from a number of different quarters.

An article in the Guardian called out development agencies that  “skirt their role in helping to change the environment in which the drug economy flourishes”.  A paper in the latest edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy argues that:

“increasing drug law enforcement is unlikely to reduce drug market violence. Instead, the existing evidence base suggests that gun violence and high homicide rates may be an inevitable consequence of drug prohibition and that disrupting drug markets can paradoxically increase violence.”

On a similar theme, an article in Foreign Policy by Jonathan Caulkins and colleagues about crop eradication in Afghanistan suggests that “to the extent that counternarcotics efforts succeed, they are more likely to increase than to reduce the revenues and power of the Taliban.”

As the weekly bulletins from Drug War Chronicle show, the situation is continuously dire in Mexico, with over 35,000 victims to date, and another mass grave of 59 corpses discovered. Nick Clegg was over there, making sure that Britain was doing its bit to sustain the status quo, praising Calderon for his courage against the cartels. However across the country, thousands of people took to the streets calling for a truce with the cartels. Al Giordano provides detailed coverage, with pictures and videos from protesters. Time’s article points to the fact that with Calderon standing down next year, there is a serious question within Mexico “as to whether the government should allow cartels to dominate specific trafficking routes, thus avoiding the bloody turf wars.”  Apparently, “this notion is so commonly discussed, it has its own terminology: “repartir plazas,” roughly meaning “to award turfs.”

The protests were also covered in an article in the Huffington Post, by the Drug Policy Alliance calling on Americans to take inspiration from Mexico’s protesters to stand against America’s 40 year old war on drugs.

Will it amount to anything?  It would seem that if any region is going to stand up against prohibition, then South/Central America would be the obvious choice. The war on drugs is destabilizing the entire region, and for those countries, like Brazil, that want to be serious contenders on the global political stage, it’s got to be a long-term strategic concern. But if Bolivia can’t even amend the UN legislation to the extent that coca-chewing is legalized, what hope is there for radical reform? Could the region adopt the ‘repartir plazas’ approach called for in Mexico,  where drug production is tolerated below the Mexican border, and drug consumption is prohibited above it? Or is the region still too dependent on US aid/too vulnerable to US military incursions to take the risk ? Pete at Drug War Rant suggests we consider a kind of intelligent enforcement, using a carrot and stick approach to discourage violence in the drug trade. Are these half measures, an adequate or plausible substitute for legalization?  Something to consider over the weekend.

 

Over at Drug War Rant today Pete was praising Gary Johnson, who looks like he’ll be running for the presidential nomination in the Republican Primaries. I thought I’d quickly check out the other names in the hat, and see where they stand on drugs…we have a few tokers, some preaching, a smattering of hypocrisy, and a straight edger. Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:

Michele Bachman

Although crazy-eyed Michelle voted against funding the Merida Initiative (funding for Mexico’s war against drug trafficking), she’s been pretty quiet on the issue of legalization or not. Given her “small government” stance on abortion and same sex marriage, I imagine that the same logic applies to drug use.

Haley Barbour

Again, quiet in his pronouncements. One thing that stood out in his rhetoric..he “fought the scourge of illegal narcotics with a vengeance”. I love that. All fire and brimstone. We never get fire and brimstone in UK politics. Shame.

Mitch Daniels

Mitch was actually arrested in 1970 for marijuana possession (apparently he had enough to fill two size 12 shoe boxes). He received a $350 fine and no jail time. He believes justice was served, and he learnt his lesson. If he’d been convicted under today’s drug laws, he probably would have been kicked out of college, lost eligbility for student aid, and maybe even faced a charge of possession with intent to supply.

Newt Gingrich

(Release, Nice People Take Drugs)

Newt smoked marijuana in the ‘60s, but that doesn’t make drug use right. He believes in capital punishment for international drug traffickers.

Gary Johnson

Gary’s got to be the hero, and the only possible choice for any legalization proponent. He smoked marijuana for a medical condition between 2005 and 2008 and believes that cannabis should be legalized, because it’s the sensible thing to do.

Mike Huckabee

Inconsistent, would be the easiest way of summarizing Huckabee’s approach. In an interview with Meet the Press in December 2007 he boasted about his tough on drugs stance: “[Mitt Romney] said that I reduced methamphetamine sentences in Arkansas. Truth is I signed a bill in 1999 that doubled those sentences. We did not reduce them. Our sentences were four times harsher than they were in Massachusetts.” Although in a few months earlier in September 2007, treatment must have been the message ‘du jour’ as he was quoted as saying  “We’ve incarcerated so many of the people who really need drug rehab more than they need long-term incarceration” He also brings a touch of the Preacher to his pronouncements:  “How can we change a drug-addicted culture? Do we say, “if these people weren’t poor, or if they only knew what drugs did, then they wouldn’t be doing this?…we must come to see that our core problem is not a lack of education but a lack of righteousness.”

Sarah Palin

Of all the possible former tokers, I wouldn’t have picked Palin.  She smoked cannabis when it was legal in Alaska but didn’t like it and doesn’t smoke it now. She wouldn’t support legalization because she worries about the message it would send to her kids.  I don’t know… all of these politicians who tried pot and didn’t like it…what’s with that?  The only person I’ve ever met who tried pot and didn’t like it was my step mum, and she was a witch.

Tim Pawlenty

Tim “who he?” Pawlenty hasn’t said much on drugs yet.  He’s proud of introducing “tougher penalties for meth offenders” and believes “Most crime is drug-related” Meh.  Bo-ring.

Mitt Romney

Mitt has also been quiet, but supports the US efforts to promote civil war in South America, for its own good of course. “Our partnership with Colombia contributes to our security and our quality of life—sowing stability in a critical region and helping keep deadly drugs of our streets.”

Donald Trump

I have to say, this surprised me.  Donald has “never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee“. Apparently his brother died as a result of alcoholism, and told him never to drink or smoke. He paid attention. I wonder if he’s got a straight edge tattoo under that flowing mane of hair?

Sources: Andrew Sullivan, On the Issues, Drug War Rant

The Drug War Chronicle reports that two US State level marijuana initiatives- decriminalization in Maine, and legalization and regulation in Washington, died this week. Maine, which has already decriminalized possession of up to 2.5oz, was looking to increase that to 5oz or 6 pot plants. The Maine DEA and the Maine Prosecutors’ Association lobbied against the bill.

Washington’s bill, to legalize and regulate, which had been fully endorsed by the Seattle and times and the Seattle legislative, failed to make it out of the committee stages. Reformers are currently collecting signatures for a ballot initiative for November elections.

Meanwhile in DC, the new Mayor, Vince Gray, still hasn’t signed the regulations to begin implementation of the District’s medical marijuana program, following on from legislation passed in May 2010.

Over in the UK, the UK CIA news blog reports that the  Legalise Cannabis Alliance has rebranded as CLEAR (Cannabis Law Reform) and the organization’s leader, Pete Reynolds (a regular commenter on this blog) has announced plans to field candidates in local and parliamentary elections to achieve following objectives:

  1. To end the prohibition of cannabis.
  2. To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.
  3. To introduce a system of regulation for the production and supply of cannabis based on facts and evidence.
  4. To encourage the production and use of industrial hemp.
  5. To educate and inform about the uses and benefits of cannabis.

I said before that I’m not sure that direct involvement in national politics is the right way forward, although I’ll be watching with interest to see what involvement in local politics could achieve. I’d also recommend that someone takes down the links  from the old LCA website…check this out: http://ccguide.org/index.php Hilarious(ly bad).

I don’t like to think of myself as naive, especially when it comes to drugs, but every now and then I read something that shocks me. This week I was hit with a double whammy- an article in the Guardian about Wachovia’s complicity in the laundering of Mexican drug money, and a Wall Street Journal article about an extradition fight between the US and Venezuela for a drugs kingpin- Walid ‘the Turk’ Makled.

In the constant drip drip in the news of a $1mn bust here, and a $500,000 seizure there, I guess I must have lost sight of how much drugs money is actually sloshing around in the system. Wachovia bank was recently fined $110mn for

failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4bn… into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business

That’s not to say that all of the money was dirty, or even that all of it was drugs money. But some of it definitely was:

“On numerous occasions,” say the court papers, “monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug-trafficking organisation. Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug-trafficking organisations.” … “nearly $13m went through correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia for the purchase of aircraft to be used in the illegal narcotics trade. From these aircraft, more than 20,000kg of cocaine were seized.”

$378.4bn!!! The article equates the money to a third of Mexico’s GDP. The Information is Beautiful Site has a helpful guide for visualizing what a billion dollars looks like.

$378.4bn is more than all of Africa’s debt to the West, but less than it would cost to feed every child on Earth for five years. Why are we leaving this money, untaxed, in the hands of criminals?  Why are we letting it finance wars, and corruption, and violence, and murder?  What the fuck are we playing at? The $110mn fine that Wachovia paid is about 0.02% of that amount.

Speaking of wars and corruption leads me to the second story of the week to leave me open-mouthed as I read. The US and Venezuela are currently in a tussle over the extradition of “a king among kingpins” currently held in a Colombian jail. According to US officials:

At the height of his power, Mr Makled…smuggled 10 tons of cocaine a month into the US from Venezuela…He controlled Venezuela’s most important port and allegedly added to his transport empire by, in effect, stealing an entire airline…

I’m sorry…did you say airline?

“In 2008, Mr Makled bought a controlling interest in Aeropostal SA, then the country’s largest privately owned airline.”

He also “operated about half the warehouses and loading docks in Puerto Cabello”, Venezuela’s largest port. The DEA implicates top Venezuelan government officials in Makled’s operation, and in one interview to Colombian television, Makled said “If I’m a drug dealer, then all of them are drug dealers too.”

Oh, and by the way- 1o tons of cocaine? That’s 9,071,840 grams. A month.

So…there we have it. The two stories that made me question my naivety this weekend. Beyond befuzzled. This week I am flabbergasted.