oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of December 27th, 2010

We lead this first report of 2011 with a look back at the top stories of last year - a year which saw; the continuation of the Mexican tragedy; the failure to confront widespread Afghani opium production; and a rising clamour for a new paradigm and an end to drug prohibition. We look forward to keeping you up to date with all the latest developments in drug policy and criminal justice reform in 2011 ~ MW & CS
Mark Weiss Charles Shaw
1 January 2011

Last Year’s top 10 Drug Stories 

The Mexican Tragedy: Mexico's ongoing tragedy is exhibit number one in the failure of global drug prohibition. This month, the official death toll since President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the so-called cartels in December 2006 passed 30,000, with 10,000 killed this year alone. The multi-sided conflict pits the cartels against each other, cartel factions against each other, cartels against law enforcement and the military, and, at times, elements of the military and different levels of law enforcement against each other. The US has spent $1.2 billion of Plan Merida funds, mainly beefing up the police and the military, and appropriated another $600 million this summer, much of it to send more lawmen, prosecutors, and National Guard units to the border. None of it seems to make much difference in the supply of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine coming over (under, around, and through) the border, but the horrorific violence of Mexico's drug war is eroding public confidence in the state and its ability to exercise one of its essential functions.

The Rising Clamor for a New Paradigm and an End to Drug Prohibition: The critique of the international drug policy status quo that has been growing louder and louder for the past decade or so turned into a roar in 2010. Impelled in part by the ongoing crisis in Mexico and in part by a more generalized disdain for failed drug war policies, calls for radical reform came fast and furious, and from some unexpected corners this year.

In January, the former French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru called for Tahiti to legalize marijuana and sell it to European tourists to provide jobs for unemployed youth. Three months later, members of the ruling party of another island nation spoke out for reform. In traditionally tough on drugs Bermuda, leading Progressive Labor Party members called for decriminalization.

In February, an international conference of political figures, academics, social scientists, security experts, and activists in Mexico City called prohibition in Mexico a disaster and urged drug policies based on prevention, scientific evidence, and respect for human life. By August, as the wave of violence sweeping Mexico grew ever more threatening, President Felipe Calderon opened the door to a discussion of drug legalization, and although he quickly tried to slam it shut, former President Vicente Fox quickly jumped in to call for the legalization of the production, distribution, and sale of drugs. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked," he said. That inspired Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to say that he supported the call for a debate on legalization. The situation in Mexico also inspired two leading Spanish political figures, former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales and former drug czar Araceli Manjon-Cabeza to call for an end to drug prohibition in the fall.

Midsummer saw the emergence of the Vienna Declaration, an official conference declaration of the World AIDS Conference, which called for evidence-based policy making and the decriminalization of drug use. The declaration has garnered thousands of signatures and endorsements, including the endorsements of three former Latin American presidents, Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia. It has also picked up the support of public health organizations and municipalities worldwide, including the city of Vancouver.

Great Britain has also been a locus of drug war criticism this year, beginning with continuing resignations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Several members of the official body had quit late last year in the wake of the firing of Professor David Nutt as ACMD after he criticized government decisions to reschedule cannabis and not to down-schedule ecstasy. In April, two more ACMD members resigned, this time in response to the government's ignoring their recommendations and banning mephedrone (see below).

The revolt continued in August, when the former head of Britain's Royal College of Physicians joined the growing chorus calling for radical reforms of the country's drug laws. Sir Ian Gilmore said the government should consider decriminalizing drug possession because prohibition neither reduced crime nor improved health. That came just three weeks after Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council (the British equivalent of the ABA), called for decriminalization. The following month, Britain's leading cannabis scientist, Roger Pertwee called for cannabis to be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, and the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officer's drug committee said marijuana should be decriminalized. Chief Constable Tim Hollis said decrim would allow police to concentrate on more serious crime. The following day, the Liberal Democrats, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, were lambasted by one of their own. Ewan Hoyle called for a rational debate on drug policy and scolded the party for remaining silent on the issue. And just this past week, former Blair administration Home Office drug minister and defense minister Bob Ainsworth called for the legalization of all illicit drugs, including cocaine and heroin.

From Mexico to Great Britain, Vancouver to Vienna, not to mention from Tahiti to Bermuda, the clamor for drug legalization has clearly grown in volume in 2010.

Opium and the Afghan War: More than nine years after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on. This year has been the deadliest so far for Western occupiers, with 697 US and NATO troops killed as of December 20. And while the US war machine is fueled by a seemingly endless supply of borrowed cash -- another $160 billion was just authorized for the coming year -- the Taliban runs to a large degree on profits from the opium and heroin trade. In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies. The Afghan poppy crop was down this year, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. But even that is not good news: The poppy shortage means prices will rebound and more farmers will plant next year. The West could buy up the entire poppy crop for less than what the US spends in a week to prosecute this war, but it has so far rejected that option.

The Netherlands Reins in Its Cannabis Coffee Shops: Holland's three-decade long experiment with tolerated marijuana sales at the country's famous coffee shops is probable not going to end under the current conservative government, but it is under pressure. The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, local governments are putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.), and the national government is about to unveil a plan to effectively bar foreigners from the shops. The way for that was cleared this month when the European Court of Justice ruled that such a ban did not violate European Union guarantees of freedom of travel and equality under the law within the EU because what the coffee shops sell is an illegal product that promotes drug use and public disorder. Whether the "weed pass" system contemplated by opponents of "drug tourism" will come to pass nationwide remains to be seen, but it appears the famous Dutch tolerance is eroding, especially when it comes to foreigners. Do the Dutch really think most people go there just to visit the windmills and the Rijksmuseum?

Russian Takeover at the UNODC: In September, there was a changing of the guard at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one of the key bureaucratic power centers for the global drug prohibition regime. Outgoing UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa, a former Italian prosecutor, was replaced by veteran Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov. Given Russia's dismal record on drug policy, especially around human rights issues, the treatment of hard drug users, and HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as the Russian government's insistence that the West resort to opium eradication in Afghanistan (Russia is in the throes of a heroin epidemic based on cheap Afghan smack), the international drug reform community looked askance at Fedotov's appointment. But the diplomat's first missive as ONDCP head talked of drug dependence as a disease, not something to be punished, and emphasized a concern with public health and human rights. Fedotov has shown he can talk the talk, but whether he will walk the walk remains to be seen.

US War on Coca on Autopilot: Coca production is ongoing, if down slightly, in the Andes, after more than a quarter century of US efforts to wipe it out. Plan Colombia continues to be funded, although at declining levels, and aerial and manual eradication continues there. That, and a boom in coca growing in Peru, have led to Peru's arguably retaking first place in coca production from Colombia, but have also led to increased conflict between Peruvian coca growers and a hostile national government. And remnants of the Shining Path have appointed themselves protectors of the trade in several Peruvian coca producing regions. They have clashed repeatedly with Peruvian police, military, and coca eradicators. Meanwhile, Bolivia, the world's number three coca producer continues to be governed by former coca grower union leader Evo Morales, who has allowed a limited increase in coca leaf production. That's enough to upset the US, but not enough to satisfy Bolivian coca growers, who this fall forced Evo's government to repeal a law limiting coca leaf sales.

Canada Marches Boldly Backward: Canada under the Conservatives continues to disappoint. When the Liberals held power in the early part of this decade, Canada was something of a drug reform beacon, even if the Liberals could never quite get around to passing their own marijuana decriminalization bill while in power. They supported Vancouver's safe injection site and embraced harm reduction policies. But under the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, Canada this year fought and lost (again) to shut down the safe injection site. Harper's justice minister, Rob Nicholson, in May signed extradition papers allowing "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery to fall into the clutches of the Americans, in whose gulag he now resides for the next four years for selling pot seeds. And while Harper's dismissal of parliament in January killed the government's bill to introduced mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including growing as few as five pot plants, his government reintroduced the bill this fall. It just passed the Senate, but needs to win approval in the House of Commons. The Conservatives won't be able to pass it by themselves there, so the question now becomes whether the Liberals will have the gumption to stand against it. This as polls consistently show a majority of Canadians favoring marijuana legalization.

A New Drug Generates a Tired, Old Response: When in doubt, prohibit. That would seem to be the mantra in Europe, where, confronted by the emergence of mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant derived from cathinone, the active ingredient in the khat plant, first Britain and then the entire European Union responded by banning it. Described as having effects similar to cocaine or ecstasy, mephedrone emerged in the English club scene in the past 18 months, generating hysterical tabloid press accounts of its alleged dangers. When two young people supposedly died of mephedrone early this year, the British government ignored the advice of its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which called for it to be a Schedule B drug, and banned it. Poland followed suit in September, shutting down shops that sold the drug and claiming the power to pull from the shelves any product that could be harmful to life or health. And just this month, after misrepresenting a study by the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EU instituted a continent-wide ban on mephedrone. Meet the newest entrant into the black market.

Heroin Maintenance Expands Slowly in Europe: Heroin maintenance continues its slow spread in Europe. In March, Denmark became the latest country to embrace heroin maintenance. The Danes thus join Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and, to a lesser degree, Britain, in the heroin maintenance club. In June, British scientists rolled out a study showing heroin maintenance worked and urging the expansion of limited existing programs there. The following month, a blue-ribbon Norwegian committee called for heroin prescription trials and other harm reduction measures there. Research reports on heron maintenance programs have shown they reduce criminality among participants, decrease the chaos in their lives, and make them more amenable to integration into society.

Opium is Back in the Golden Triangle: Okay, it never really went away in Laos, Burma, and Thailand, and it is still below its levels of the mid-1990s, but opium planting has been on the increase for the last four years in the Golden Triangle. Production has nearly doubled in Burma since 2006 to more than 38,000 hectares, while in Laos, production has more than doubled since 2007. The UNODC values the crop this year at more than $200 million, more than double the estimate of last year's crop. Part of the increase is attributable to increased planting, but part is accounted for by rising prices. While Southeast Asian opium production still trails far behind that in Afghanistan, opium is back with a vengeance in the Golden Triangle.

Source: Stop the Drug War

No Mas: Mexico Students Unite to Stop Drug War

Amidst a deadly drug war in Juarez, Mexico, a group of college students have emerged from the violence to tell their city that they've had enough. Spurred on by an October 29 shooting by federal police of a 19-year-old classmate during a peaceful street protest, some 20 students at the Autonomous University of Juarez have formed Asociación Estudiantil Juarense (the Student Association of Juarez).

"Our first goal is to bring justice to José Darío Álvarez [who survived the shooting after emergency surgery], but our second mission is to end the corruption of police and military in the city," a 19-year-old student representative who we will call "Javier" told ABCNews.com. "A revolution without arms" is their rallying cry, and the group has organized marches in Juarez. A march in early November brought out nearly 200 people to the streets of Juarez.

The students have also garnered support and expressions of solidarity from outside Juarez. Across the border in El Paso, Texas, students and community members have held weekly vigils outside the Mexican Consulate; in Mexico City, students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the country's largest university, have held peaceful marches and protests.

The Juarez "students are quite heroic," said Bruce Bagley, who heads the Latin American affairs department at the University of Miami. "The fact that they are standing up to the military has highlighted the fact that the military in its conduct of the war on drugs in Mexico has actually fallen into numerous human rights violations.

"As student groups, they are not protected by anybody. They better be very careful," continued Bagley. "Mexico has a history of not putting military or police on campuses, and if the students started to target the violence of the drug gangs and the cartels, they would be extraordinarily vulnerable in one of the most violent areas of Mexico."

To read more, please follow this link

Source: ABC News

WikiLeaks Cables: Drug Enforcement Agency Goes Global, Beyond Drugs

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has grown into a global intelligence organization whose reach extends far beyond international drug trafficking, The New York Times reported.

Citing documents from the secrets website WikiLeaks, the newspaper said the DEA's operations had become so expansive the agency has had to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies.

One August 2009 cable reported Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli as having sent an urgent BlackBerry message to the US ambassador asking the DEA go after his political enemies."I need help with tapping phones," the paper quoted the president as saying.

An October 2009 cable from the US embassy in Mexico, said leaders of the military there had issued private pleas for closer collaboration with the US drug agency, because they did not trust their own police force.

The cable said Mexico's Defense Secretary, Guillermo Galvan "will try to keep military actions in its own channels rather than working more broadly with Mexico's law enforcement community."

In Sierra Leone, the attorney general solicited 2.5 million dollars in bribes from defendants in a major cocaine-trafficking prosecution, according to a March 2009 cable, quoted by The Times. But the country's president Ernest Koroma, had intervened to scuttle the deal.

Cables from Myanmar describe DEA informants reporting both on how the military junta enriches itself with drug money and on the political activities of the junta's opponents, the paper noted.

Source: AlterNet

Myanmar ATS situation worsening

20 December 2010 - According to the latest Myanmar Situation Assessment on Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS), the manufacture, trafficking and consumption of synthetic drugs in the country and region is worsening.

Published by UNODC, the report indicates that the impact of methamphetamine and other ATS trafficked from Myanmar affects not only the country's immediate neighbours but also parts of  East and South-East Asia.

Speaking on this, Deepika Naruka, East Asia and the Pacific Regional Coordinator for the Global Synthetics Monitor: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme, noted: "There are indications that the methamphetamine problem in Myanmar is becoming more severe. In 2009, large seizures of high purity crystalline methamphetamine were made in Myanmar. Authorities in both Myanmar and Thailand confirm that the manufacture of crystalline methamphetamine is now occurring in the Golden Triangle."

Home to between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the estimated total number of ATS users in the whole of Asia, the issue of amphetamine-type stimulants in East and South-East Asia region is a major concern.

While most of the drugs produced in Myanmar - both in terms of opiates and methamphetamine - are mainly destined for the international market, domestic use of ATS in the country is increasing. Exacerbating this worrying trend is the lacking resources for drug treatment facilities in Myanmar. As in other countries in the region, capacity on this front is low, with no treatment facilities specifically focusing on ATS dependency..

The report is a critical tool in the fight against illicit drugs in general and ATS in particular in the region.  To read more, please follow this link

Source: UNODC

A Thousand March for Marijuana in Buenos Aires

About a thousand people took to the streets of Buenos Aires last Saturday to celebrate a year of marijuana activism and call for the right to grow their own plants. The march, led by student groups from around the country, ended at the Argentine Congress building, where speakers addressed the marchers. We present two-dozen+ photos from the day here, courtesy Argentine activists.

Marching behind a banner saying "No to the Drug Traffic," the protestors criticized drug prohibition as fueling violent drug trafficking organizations. Another banner called for "An end to ignorance, the right to grow your own, and education for responsible consumption."

The Argentine courts decriminalized marijuana possession for personal use last year, but cultivation remains a criminal offense. The Buenos Aires demonstrators want to see cultivation legalized as well.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Senate Unanimously Confirms Leonhart as DEA Head 

The US Senate Wednesday night unanimously confirmed Michele Leonhart as DEA administrator. Leonhart, a long-time DEA veteran, had served as acting administrator since late in the Bush administration and was nominated to head the agency by the Obama administration.

Drug reformers and concerned others had attempted earlier this year to block her nomination, citing her supervision of numerous raids on medical marijuana providers when she was Special Agent in Chief in Los Angeles, her refusal to allow a Massachusetts academic permission to grow marijuana for research purposes, and her unsavory relationship with former DEA "supersnitch" Andrew Chambers.

But those efforts got no traction in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators failed to ask a single tough question raised by reformers. The only flak Leonhart got in the committee was from Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI), who complained about strict DEA drug diversion programs that made it difficult for seniors in nursing homes to receive pain medications in a prompt and timely fashion.

Kohl went so far as to announce a hold on her nomination to block a floor vote because of the issue, but although Leonhart refused during her confirmation hearing to tell him when the DEA would respond on the issue, Kohl lifted the hold this week, allowing her confirmation to go ahead.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Mexico Drug War Update

Thursday, December 16: In Chihuahua, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was shot and killed in front of the governor’s office. Ortiz had been well-known for her protests and activism after the 2008 murder and dismemberment of her 16-year old daughter Rubi Frayre by her boyfriend Sergio Barraza. Barraza, thought to be a Zeta, was captured a year later in Zacatecas but was released after being exonerated by a Mexican court. Another court reversed the decision, but Barraza remains a fugitive. Barraza is thought to have ordered the killing of Ortiz, and had previously been implicated in several death threats against her life. The murder was caught on security camera video.

On Friday, heavily armed gunmen burned down a lumberyard belonging to Ortiz’s partner, Jose Monje Amparan. His brother, Manuel, 37, was kidnapped during the attack. He was later tortured, strangled and thrown from a moving vehicle.

Friday, December 17: In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, over 140 inmates escaped through the main vehicle entrance of a prison. It is suspected that prison guards were complicit in the escape. The prison director is missing along with the 141 escapees. Soldiers and Federal Police surrounded the prison after the incident.

Saturday, December 18: In Ciudad Juarez, at least six people were murdered in several incidents. In one incident, a car with Oklahoma license plates was ambushed by gunmen, killing two men and wounding an 18-year old female and three children. In another incident, a man was found dead and wrapped up in a blanket. These killings bring the December total to 130. The yearly total is now being variously being reported as being somewhere between 3,000 and 3,100.

Sunday, December 19: In Guatemala, authorities declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz province. According to the Guatemalan government, several cities in the province -- including the capitol, Coban -- have been overrun by members of the Mexican Zetas organization. Under the state of siege, the army is allowed to detain suspects and conduct searches without warrants, as well as control local gatherings and local media.

[No body count this week because El Universal, on which we rely, has not updated theirs. But the Mexican attorney general's office reported last week that this year's death toll had reached 12,456 as of November 30 and 30,196 since December 2006]

Source: Stop the Drug War

No police in Mexico town after last officer kidnapped

The Mexican border town of Guadalupe has been left with no police force after the last officer was kidnapped.

Erika Gandara's house was set on fire by unidentified gunmen before she was abducted last week, according to the state prosecutor's office. All her colleagues had resigned or were killed in the region's drug war.

More than 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence since 2006 when the President announced a crackdown on the cartels.

Ms Gandara, 28, had patrolled the town of 9,000 inhabitants on her own since June. "Nobody wants to go into policing here, and the budget just isn't there anyway," she told AFP news agency earlier this year.

It is also close to the hamlet of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerreror, where a 20-year-old college student got the job of police chief in October because no one else applied. The Mexican government has sent soldiers to patrol Guadalupe and to investigate the kidnapping of Ms Gandara.

Source: BBC News

Cannabis clubs plug a gap in Spanish drugs laws

The sign on the door says it all, but the acrid smell and smoke wafting across the Private Cannabis Club in the Madrid dormitory town of Paraceullos de Jarama are proof that it lives up to its name. The Private Cannabis Club, is at the vanguard of a new movement of pro-cannabis campaigners in Spain. The members spotted a gap in Spain's drugs laws which, they say, makes the activities of private clubs like these entirely legal.

The spacious club, in a former restaurant in a town overlooking Madrid's Barajas airport, is equipped with a bar, kitchen, billiard tables and TV screens. It is the most sophisticated of up to 40 cannabis clubs that have sprung up in garages and back rooms around Spain since campaigners worked out that laws making it illegal to consume in public did not apply to private, member-only, clubs.

"We've been open for two months and we already have 125 members," said the association's president, Pedro Álvaro Zamora. Those members pay €120 a year to belong and Zamora and his companions follow rules that seem similar to those of exclusive Mayfair clubs.

Supplying the club is another problem, as dealing in cannabis is illegal. "We are fighting for the legal right to grow it," said Zamora. The club applied for a medical licence to cultivate cannabis but was turned down. Then police raided its secret plantation and destroyed the plants. Zamora said they would challenge in court the right to destroy a plantation devoted to supplying a private club: "We are people who work and pay taxes. We are not delinquents."

Some judges have ordered police to give confiscated cannabis back to clubs. "They have told them to return it on the basis that there is no threat to public health." Zamora stressed that the club's suppliers did not belong to the drugs underworld: "We don't go to the black market to buy. We know farmers who cultivate cannabis and can provide us."

Source: The Guardian

Maldives: empowering communities to address drug use

The Republic of Maldives, is witnessing a growth in the use of drugs, particularly among young people. As injecting drug use becomes more common, there is a greater risk of HIV transmission, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases among the population.

UNODC has partnered with local non-governmental organizations, the Narcotics Control Council, the Department of Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Services and the Ministry of Health and Family in the Maldives to carry out a project entitled "Strengthening the National Response to Combat Drug Abuse in the Maldives". Supported by the European Union, one of the objectives of the project is to strengthen and support community-based approaches for drug use prevention, treatment and care.

As part of the activities under this project, a first ever health camp was organized last month in the Fenfushi Island of the Alif Dhaal Atoll. The objective of the health camp in the remote island was to create awareness about drug use, including the effect of drugs on individuals, families and the community; as well as about the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation options available in the country.

Two hundred and twenty out of eight hundred members of the island community participated in the half-day long event, which consisted of games, group discussions and individual interactions aimed at imparting knowledge about HIV/AIDS and drug use, and other health related services.

To read more please follow this link

Source: UNODC

Colombian football seeks to escape grip of drug cartels

For a football club mired in debt and with a long list of defeats, a duffel bag stuffed with $7m was a godsend. And that was just the petty cash.

Times had been tough for Bogota's Independiente Santa Fé football club. The last time it won a Colombian league title was in 1975, the club was racking up debts and often players were not paid on time.

Then, investigators say, the duffel bags full of cash started arriving in about 2002, and for a while fortunes of the club took a turn for the better. Santa Fé lured Argentinian players to its ranks and by this year the team was savouring the possibility of a Colombian first division league title for the first time in 35 years.

But the source of the funds that transformed the club's fortunes was not a kindly benefactor. The cash is said to have come from Julio Alberto Lozano, an emerald czar turned drug lord, who bought shares in the club through friends and family. As he built up what police say is today Colombia's most powerful drug cartel, he used the Santa Fé football club as a front. American investigators say Lozano shipped as much as 960 tonnes of cocaine to the US and Europe over the past five years.

The organisation, called the El Dorado cartel, allegedly laundered part of its $1.5bn profits through the club.

Unfortunately for Colombian football the story of Santa Fé is not an isolated case. For years the sport has been tainted by its association with drug barons and criminals, and three more of the 18 first division clubs are under investigation for money laundering.

The latest revelations of money laundering have finally forced the Colombian government to act. President Juan Manuel Santos, a lifelong fan of Santa Fé, has announced a "zero tolerance" policy for narco-football, which he denounced as "repugnant". In a recent speech he said he would put and end to the "macabre relationship between criminals and football".

The links between Santa Fé and the El Dorado cartel started to emerge last spring in reports from informants and undercover police agents.

To learn more, please follow this link

Source: The Guardian

WikiLeaks cables: 'Taliban treats heroin stocks like savings accounts'

The United Nations' drugs czar told Nato that Afghan insurgents were withholding thousands of tonnes of heroin and treating their drugs like "savings accounts" to manipulate street prices in the west, according to a leaked US cable.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN's office on drugs and crime, told Nato representatives that the Taliban and organised crime gangs had withheld 12,400 tonnes of opium from the international market to keep the price of heroin and opium at a profitable level. The opium allegedly withheld by insurgents was worth around $1.25bn (£800m). Each tonne of opium is said to be worth around $100,000 and can be used to produce 100kg of heroin.

The US cable appears to show that the UN believed that the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan were well-organised, aware of the market and focused on maintaining a viable price for the drug.

Costa's claims, reported in a confidential document, were expressed at a meeting on 18 September 2009. He was briefing Nato and its partners on the results of the 2009 Afghanistan Survey, the UN's annual assessment of the drugs industry in the country. Costa believes that the insurgency is withholding these stocks from the market and treating them like 'savings accounts'. Costa encourage intelligence organizations to keep focus on the storage and movement of Afghanistan's opium stocks."

Costa's reported opinion was not part of the UN's final 2009 Afghanistan Survey. According to the cable, opium trends were positive overall and showcased a major decline in opium cultivation – by 22% in 2009, the lowest in 15 years.

To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Guardian

What happened next? Jamaican crime and corruption

Just a few months ago, Christopher "Dudus" Coke was widely regarded as the most powerful man in Jamaica. The leader of the Shower Posse gang, he was said to own whole neighbourhoods, politicians and perhaps even their parties through his extensive crime organisation built around drug trafficking. So when the government moved to extradite him to the US in May, after sitting on a warrant for eight months, perhaps no one was more surprised than Coke.

Jamaicans watched stunned at the running battles in their capital and wondered for a while if the government's nerve would hold. It did, and Coke was driven underground until he was finally arrested, or gave himself up, depending on which account you believe, the following month. Today he sits in a New York jail awaiting trial on drugs and weapons trafficking charges – and Jamaica waits for the government to fulfil its promise to purge politics of links to organised crime.

Jamaica's two main political parties, long tainted by ties to organised crime, pledged after Coke's deportation to clean up their act, not least because large numbers of Jamaicans were sick of the corruption of politics. A first step to that was supposed to be a transparent investigation into how it was that Golding sat on the US arrest warrant for Coke for months – and why he hired a lobby firm to try to get Washington to drop the case.

But as a commission of inquiry seeks to investigate the handling of the extradition request and the violence it provoked, the two main political parties – perhaps concerned at the exposure of links to organised crime – are already attacking each other over the conduct of the probe..

Meanwhile, Coke wonders if he will ever be released. He can afford a phalanx of expensive lawyers to try to get him off the drug- and gun-trafficking charges, although they have been demanding evidence that the money they will be paid with is clean. His trial is expected to start before the spring.

Golding promised that things would be different after Coke was extradited. Many Tivoli residents had sided with the outlaw because of disillusionment with a political system that had singularly failed to look after the interests of the poor. Now, the prime minister has personally been handing over cheques to some of the 2,700 families whose homes were damaged during the fighting in May.

Source: The Guardian

Florida Drug Czar falls to Budget Ax

The Florida Office of Drug Control is going out of business. The four-man fiefdom in the Sunshine State's drug war bureaucracy has fallen afoul of incoming Republican Governor-elect Rick Scott's war on state spending and was notified last Friday that it would be out of business come January.

The office was established by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and its FY 2010-2011 budget is $551,300. Its charge was reducing substance abuse in Florida and helping set state drug policy. The office put out an annual report, as well as other reports, compiled statistics, lobbied for tighter restrictions on the state's burgeoning pain medicine clinics, and sought funds for prescription monitoring when the state legislature failed to allocate them.

Office director Bruce Grant, Florida's "drug czar," unsurprisingly thought the decision to disband the office was a mistake and sent the wrong message. "It kind of says this is not a priority issue," he said, adding that the state's drug problems are not going away. "It's not a war that's going to be over tomorrow."

The duties of the Office of Drug Control will likely be taken up by law enforcement and the state Department of Health, but that didn't mollify Grant. "Somebody's going to have to pick up the ball," he said. "Frankly, the Department of Health is not the aggressive type of agency to do it."

In the meantime, the incoming governor has surgically excised a layer of drug war bureaucracy and saved Florida taxpayers a half a million bucks a year. It's not much, but it's a start.

Source: Stop the Drug War

EU Court Okays Dutch Coffee Shop Ban for Foreigners

Saying the effort to combat drug use and drug tourism outweighed European Union provisions for equal treatment for all EU citizens, the European Court of Justice last Thursday upheld a Dutch border town's ban on the sale of marijuana to foreigners. The ruling paves the way for Holland to institute a national "weed pass" to keep non-Dutch out of the nation's famous coffee shops.

The ruling came in Josemans v. Maastricht, in which Maastricht coffee shop owner Marc Michel Josemans challenged a 2005 Maastricht ban on selling cannabis products to non-residents. He was forced to temporarily close his shop after selling to foreigners in order to set up a test case. Josemans challenged the law in Dutch administrative courts, which asked the European Court of Justice to review the issue.

"The prohibition on the admission of non-resident to Netherlands 'coffee shops' complies with European Union law," the court held. "That restriction is justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance, an objective which concerns both the maintenance of public order and the protection of the health of citizens at the level of the Member States at European level."

The ruling opens the way for Holland's conservative Liberal/Christian Democrat governing coalition to institute a nationwide ban on foreigners purchasing marijuana at the coffee shops. The government is planning to introduce a "weed pass" that will be required to purchase pot and will only be available to Dutch citizens and legal residents.

To learn more, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Marijuana Bust no Longer Automatic Arrest in New Orleans

In a bid to reduce congestion in the city's criminal courts, the New Orleans City Council voted last Thursday to make marijuana possession, prostitution, and two other minor crimes municipal offenses. That gives police the option to issue a summons instead of making an arrest. Up until now, pot possession and the other offenses have only been addressed by state laws, which required police to arrest and book offenders. With the offenses now municipal, police are no longer required to make arrests, saving the city the expense of booking, housing and feeding jailed pot smokers. The move will also reduce the caseload of judges and prosecutors, who also handle serious felonies.

"These ordinances will contribute significantly to the city's efforts to promote greater efficiency and equity in our criminal justice system, particularly for our police officers, the District Attorney's office and in the criminal court," said Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chair of the council's Criminal Justice Committee. "These measures have unanimous support from the City's criminal justice agencies, and we are thankful for the many people who have worked so hard on this initiative."

New Orleans police arrested 58,219 people in 2007. Half of those arrested were for municipal or traffic offenses. Although no hard numbers are available, the measures undertaken since then have certainly decreased that percentage, and Thursday's ordinance should see it decline further.

To learn more about this story, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Vision: The Idea That Drug Addicts Should Be Treated, Not Locked Up, Is Making Waves

The U.S. and Canada are making significant strides towards mainstreaming harm reduction, but there are still walls to knock down.

Hundreds of doctors, politicians, researchers and frontline workers met with drug users and ex-users in Austin, Texas, in December to openly talk about drug use. But instead of reaffirming their commitment to the decades-long war on drugs, the eighth National Harm Reduction Conference will feature discussions on opening needle exchanges, legalizing and regulating the drug trade, and overdose prevention methods.

"What we do in (the United States) is make drugs as unsafe as they possibly can be, and we do that through laws, which means that, if you get busted with drugs, you go to prison for a long time. And that's designed as a deterrent to make people stop using drugs, which obviously it isn't," said Allan Clear, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, which runs the national conference.

"We do things like take syringes out of circulation, which has caused epidemics of hepatitis and HIV. So harm reduction is a way of trying to make drug use safer for people who use drugs, without demanding that they stop using drugs."

Harm reduction can include a range of services from needle exchanges and condom distribution to safe consumption sites and access to addiction services such as methadone and buprenorphine treatments and detox facilities.

Supported by the United Nations and over 93 countries worldwide, harm reduction remains controversial. While over half of the 158 countries where drug use has been reported say they support harm reduction, only 82 countries have needle exchanges, just 73 provide opiate substitution therapies like methadone, and a measly eight countries have safe drug consumption facilities. There are only two safe consumption facilities in North America, both in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

To learn more about harm reduction efforts, please follow this link

Source: AlterNet 

Healthcare professionals face unique addiction challenges 

By the time Richard Ready became chief resident of neurosurgery at a prominent Chicago-area hospital, prescription drugs kept him going. Stimulants to stay alert through his daily rounds. Heavy pain relievers to numb his emotions after his mother's death. A powerful sedative to calm his nerves.

In the second year of his residency, Ready became a regular user of a type of Tylenol mixed with codeine. He'd steal them by the dozens and carry them inside a little plastic bag in the pocket of his lab coat. His tolerance was so high that he'd take up to 70 pills a day to stave off withdrawal.

"Sometimes I'd be standing in the operating room and it'd look like I had the flu," Ready said. "So I'd excuse myself and I'd run into the bathroom, eat 10 [Tylenols with codeine], and in maybe five or 10 minutes I'd be normal again."

Ready's battle with drug addiction may seem extreme, but it's a common fight inside hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Some studies suggest as many as 10% of those in the healthcare field are using drugs or battling some level of addiction, a rate similar to that in other white-collar jobs.

Ready knows his clouded judgment put patients at grave risk. But as far as he knows, he said, he never harmed a patient in the operating room.

"You become two people. You become what you want other people to see and you become what you are," said Ready, 66, who has been sober for 25 years and is now an addiction specialist treating other medical professionals in the Adventist hospital system in Chicago's suburbs.

To learn more of Ready’s experiences, and his efforts to help counsel others facing the same situation, please follow this link

Source: The Los Angeles Times

President Obama More Tight-fisted With Clemencies than President Bush

Earlier this year President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reforming the draconian 100-to-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. During the panic and hysteria around drugs and crime in the mid-1980s, outrageous laws were passed that mandated a minimum five year sentence for possession of just five grams of crack cocaine (similar in weight to a couple of sugar packets). To receive this same punishment for cocaine in powder form, an individual would have to possess 500 grams, despite the fact that the two drugs are nearly identical in pharmacology and health effects.

To pass the the Fair Sentencing Act and get Republican buy in, however, the Democrats watered down the original bill that would have eliminated the 100-to-1 diparity completely, and insteadreduced the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1.

Even more troubling was that that the reform was not applied retroactively - which means that none of the tens of thousand of people unfairly languishing in cages will find any relief from the new law.

Since the new law was passed in August, I regularly receive calls from family members, many in tears, asking how they can help get their loved one home soon. I have to tell them they can't. Without providing relief for those still incarcerated under the 100-to-1 disparity, justice has not been served.

Today, to address this injustice, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2010. The law would allow people who are currently imprisoned under the old sentencing structure to have their sentence lowered so that it is brought into alignment with the new 18-to-1 compromise.

While this law would address a major flaw with the Fair Sentencing Act, it's hard to see Congress taking action. The same advocates and voices that pushed through this year's reform need to turn up the heat.

To learn more please follow this link 

Source: AlterNet


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