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oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of December 15th 2011

Switzerland and the autonomous Basque region of Spain decide to shift their marijuana policies in a more liberal, reformist direction. The governor of Arizona suddenly becomes a fan of federal law over states' rights and appeals to the courts to rule on the new voter-approved medical cannabis laws. Mexico, as always, maintains a high profile this week, from its nascent anti-cartel movement to the apparent incursion of trafficking violence across the US border. ~ jw

Why I Protest: Javier Sicilia of Mexico

2011 saw the unprecedented rise of large-scale political protests around the world, prompting TIME magazine to declare “The Protester” Person of the Year. “We are two regimes down and counting”, says Kurt Andersen, who covered the movements in Tunisia and Egypt for the publication. One of those protesters featured is Javier Sicilia, a well-known Mexican poet and journalist, whose son was tortured and murdered by drug traffickers. He called for nationwide protests in April against the ineffective Calderón administration, out of which grew the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity. In a country where bloggers have been executed by the cartels, Sicilia refuses to let the many victims of the drug war remain anonymous and forgotten, or let the politicians off the hook.

"I think the greatest change the movement produced was that we made the [drug war's] victims' names and faces visible — we reclaimed the victims, put the photos of them smiling, before all this horror hit us, into the national consciousness. We made the rest of Mexico recognize that we have a national emergency to confront, and we got the nation and its families together to question how the government was confronting it.”

Read the full profile at: Time

U.S. Incarceration Falls for First Time Since 1972

For the first time since 1972, the prison population in the United States declined in 2010. This decline in the total prison populations occurred while all categories of violent and property crime decreased in every region of the country. According to Prisoners in 2010, a report issued today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people held in state and federal facilities decreased by 0.6 percent. This report also noted that "prison releases (708,677) exceeded prison admissions (703,798) for the first time since BJS began collecting jurisdictional data in 1977."

"Today is an exciting and promising day," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). "Advocates and researchers have long argued that smart on crime policies that decrease the number of people in prisons and jails will yield public safety benefits. Today's data further proves that we can put fewer people in prisons, improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars."

In September, JPI, a Washington, D.C.-based research and policy organization, released data analysis on the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report noting a 6 percent drop in violent crime and a 2.7 percent drop in property crime across the country.

"These are trends to be celebrated, but there is still more to be done," added Velázquez. "Incarceration in this country is still alarmingly high. We are glad to see some states making wise fiscal decisions, diverting resources away from incarceration and toward community treatment and re-entry supports for people on parole. But the past year's successes will be lost if we do not continue our progress. The federal government continues to foolishly devote more resources toward prisons while cutting social services and juvenile justice programs that help put troubled kids back on track. We can't incarcerate our way to public safety; rather, we need to focus on those policies that improve individual and community well-being."

Prisoners in 2010 can be found on the BJS website here. For additional information please contact Jason Fenster at (202) 558-7974 x306 or jfenster@justicepolicy.org.

Source: Justice Policy Institute.

North America

Arizona's Governor Asks Judge to Invalidate Parts of State Medical Marijuana Law

Brewer's move drew derision from Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, the organization left over from last year's successful initiative drive.

"That's unfortunate," he said.

"I also think it's somewhat ironic that a state government that seems to continuously question federal preemption, whether it's health care or immigration, now runs behind that shield in an effort to thwart the will of the voters."

Read the full article at: East Valley Tribune

The Shocking Ways the Corporate Prison Industry Games the System

Prior to the early 1980s, private prisons were “virtually nonexistent.” That quickly changed as the War on Drugs ‘tough on crime’ mentality swept the nation with institution of draconian sentencing and release laws for nonviolent offenders, causing an explosion in US incarceration rate. State and federal governments increasingly struggled with overcrowded prisons and the rising costs of housing the rapidly growing pool of inmates.

Coupled with the emergence of privatization madness under Ronald Reagan (a pattern that has continued under both Democrat and Republican administrations), skyrocketing imprisonment presented the perfect opportunity for the private sector to get in on the action, with promises of cost savings and more efficient operations than government-run facilities.

Read the full article at: AlterNet

New Canadian Drug Reform Coalition Emerges

The coalition went public last week, marking its coming out with a press conference in Vancouver, a Macpherson op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, and joining with the British Columbia Health Officers' Council (HOC) in releasing an HOC report, Public HealthPerspectives for Regulating Psychoactive Substances , which describes how public health oriented regulation of alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illegal substances can better reduce the harms that result both from substance use and substance regulation than current approaches.

"This paper highlights the large number of needless and preventable deaths, hospitalizations and human suffering consequent to our current approaches," said Dr. Richard Mathias of the HOC. "The Health Officers’ Council is inviting feedback on its ideas and requesting that organizations and individuals join with us in a call for immediate changes to put the public’s health first."

Read the full article at Stop the Drug War

Latin America

Mexico's Drug Cartels Profit from the Flow of Guns Across the Border

It's a war sustained by a merry-go-round. The cartels use the money paid by Americans for drugs to buy weapons at US guns stores, which are then shipped across the frontier, often using the same vehicles and routes used to smuggle more narcotics north. The weapons are used by the cartels to protect narcotics production in their battle with the Mexican police and army, and smuggle drugs north.

Key to the cycle is the ease with which traffickers are able to obtain guns in the US, made possible in large part by the robust opposition of the powerful gun lobby – backed by much of the US Congress – to tighter laws against arms trafficking.

Read the full article and see video at: The Guardian

Mexican Spillover Violence: The Riddles Grow

For decades Mexican drug smugglers have had marketing links inside the United States, but the large cartels have kept most of their fighting in Mexico. There has been the unwritten rule: antagonizing U.S. law enforcement isn’t worth the risk. But this is only a custom, and customs can change. The drug war itself might be defined as a gradual breakdown of norms and inhibitions. The two recent incidents ask once again: How far will the cartels go?

Read the full article at: InSight

Never-ending Drug War Moves to Central America

US officials say Costa Rica, like other drug transit countries, has good reasons to be alarmed. Ninety-five percent of all cocaine reaching the United States is currently passing through Central America, they say.

William Brownfield, the US State Department chief of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, says Central America has already surpassed Mexico as the greatest drug-related security threat to the United States. And no country that is used as a transit point can escape an escalation of the drug cartel’s operations, he said.

Read the full editorial at: Miami Herald

Europe/UK

Switzerland Relaxes Cannabis Laws to Allow Cultivation at Home

Four cantons in the Alpine country, which already has liberal laws regarding marijuana, have decided to allow residents to each grow up to four plants at home for personal consumption, as of New Year's Day 2012.

Read the full article at: The Daily Mail

Spanish Basque Country Legalizing Marijuana in 2012

Government officials said the new law would better explain the consequences of consumption to the public, and would create "a certain space for personal autonomy," adding that prohibition only leads to "clandestine action, delinquency and the black market."

Read the full article at: Toke of the Town

Asia

Meth Behind Chinese Mekong Deaths?

All of the Chinese victims had been blindfolded, tied up and shot, according to Thai and Chinese media. In their defense, the army officers said they had heard about the assault on the ships by hijackers and later also boarded them, but announced they had discovered 920,000 hidden amphetamine pills and one dead Chinese crew member. A few days later, 12 other Chinese corpses appeared floating in the Mekong, prompting urgent demands by Beijing for Bangkok to investigate the case and punish the killers.

It is a major concern. The murders became a major point of contention between the two countries, with the Chinese suspending all shipping between Thailand and China on the Mekong.

Read the full article at: Asia Sentinel

Asia's “Speed Trap”

Al Jazeera produced a video report in its 101 East weekly series on the emergence of methamphetamine as the drug of choice in Southeast Asia. Penalties for drug use and trafficking can be strict; in some countries, violators are subject to the death penalty. “Rehabilitation” often consists of regimented camps run by the military, rather than health-oriented or psychological addiction counseling.

See other videos in the series at: Al Jazeera

Other News

Sniffer Dogs Get It Wrong 4 Out of 5 Times

Matthew Pels said a police dog sat next to him at Redfern station before he underwent a search about six months ago. When his pockets were emptied, a packet of dog treats was found.

''The whole thing was unnecessary,'' he said. ''I think it was a violation of my privacy.''

Mr Shoebridge said the figures showed thousands of innocent people were being ''ritually humiliated'' publicly.

Read the full article at: Sydney Morning Herald

New Exile Nation Video

In August of 2008 San Diego law enforcement launched "Operation Green Rx," a series of coordinated raids on legal providers of medical cannabis. Overseen by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis, these raids were funded by a Federal grant meant to arrest violent gangs. The brutally violent raids produced no arrests of gangs or drug dealers, because they were actually targeted at medical patients like Donna Lambert. This is her story.

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Donna Lambert from Charles B Shaw on Vimeo.

 

Newsletters and Weekly Features

-- Borderland Beat: reporting on the Mexican drug cartel wars

-- RAND Drug Policy Research Center

-- Drug War Chronicle #712 - Dec 8, 2011

 

About the authors

Juliana Willars is an American journalist and researcher. She works in drug education and harm reduction, and is pursuing a degree in Anthropology, specializing in Mesoamerican cultures.

Charles Shaw is an award-winning journalist, editor and filmmaker, and the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality. He is currently working on a new film called I’m Still Here, a documentary on Trauma and Healing that will be released in 2015.


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