Archives for category: War on Drugs

What struck me about this story was the officers’ frustration that sentences are too light to persuade those arrested to turn informant:

Agents along the border had long been frustrated by what one ATF supervisor later called “toothless” laws that made it difficult to attack gun-trafficking networks. Straw buyers — people with no criminal record who purchase guns for criminals or illegal immigrants who can’t legally buy them — are subject to little more than paperwork violations. Even people convicted of buying AK-47s meant for the cartels typically just get probation for lying on a federal form attesting that they were buying the guns for themselves. With such a light penalty, it is hard to persuade those caught to turn informant against their bosses…

I’ve been watching the Canadian series ‘Intelligence’ recently.  It really drives home the extent to which the war on drugs, and the corruption and the violence that attend it, combined with our technological capabilities to spy and snoop like never before, have completely transformed how police work is undertaken.  I thought that proportionality was a basic tenet of justice- that severity of the sentence is related to the severity of the crime.  Since when should the severity of a sentence be correlated with its ability to blackmail a defendant into cooperation?

  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

The description below is nothing particularly new, it’s from an article in about how Newark Aiport is increasingly popular as a hub airport for traffickers moving heroin and cocaine from Central America to Europe. As you’re reading, just ask yourself this: Is this really the best way we have of stopping children from taking drugs? Isn’t there a simpler way? You know, like maybe regulating the sale in shops here in the US?

Three federal law enforcement agencies share responsibility for interdicting and investigating drug smuggling at the airports: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the front-line defenders who “sniff out” the couriers; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations directorate, which takes over the investigations; and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which manages a national drug intelligence program aimed at taking down domestic and international drug organizations.

When couriers are caught, the game plan is to quickly flip them and get them to turn in the people who were to pick up the drugs in the hope of developing leads that could eventually dismantle a network.

Within minutes of agreeing to cooperate, a courier is often deployed in a “controlled delivery” that results in additional arrests in the arrivals terminal or the airport parking lot.

“The courier is a great help, but most often the courier doesn’t have all the information on who the ultimate receiver is going to be,” said Mark Witzal, a deputy special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

“Everything is very compartmentalized. They only know enough of what they need to get into the country and then where they need to go,” Witzal said. “It’s for us to build a case using the information that we can get from a cooperator, be it a courier, information we might get from other sources, and also through a lot of different investigative techniques.”

“It’s a daunting task,” Witzal said. “Investigations are multiyear in scope. To take out, disrupt and dismantle an organization, it takes a significant amount of time.

Clearly, the purpose of the government’s drug strategy isn’t just to stop children from taking drugs, it’s to stop everyone from taking drugs. Sometimes,  I think we all just need to look at that and ask why?  Why is it so important to so many people that I don’t put this particular substance in my body?

Javier Sicilia erects the first of the names of the victims of Mexico's drug war (Photo from The Field: Al Giordano)

Javier Sicilia, who made the call for Mexicans to take to the streets last week in protest against Mexico’s continuing war on drugs, this week is asking people to remember the names of drug war victims in cities across Mexico.

Al Giordano writes:

Javier Sicilia today called on citizens throughout Mexico to erect such plaques on every municipal and state government hall on every town and city square, so that the 40,000 Mexicans killed in Calderón’s war will not be forgotten. “We have to give them back their names, their history, and also to their families who have been criminalized. At every Zócalo, put up their names, put up a plaque, so that their deaths will never be repeated.”

A story in the Washington Post last week drew attention to the number of children who are victims of violence in Mexico (1,180 in 2009). According to the DEA, “the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs,”

I seriously hope the civil protests in Mexico can change the frame of this debate, because I don’t know what else will.  Unfortunate???? Cocktards.

Source: Narcosphere: Narco News- The Field, The Washington Post

Thanks Jamie!


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


Sometimes it’s good to keep things simple.

Source: This isn’t happiness

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.