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

We lead this week with the release of the much anticipated trailer from Charles Shaw and openDemocracy's The Exile Nation Project, a testimonial documentary about the far-ranging consequences of the American criminal justice system.
Mark Weiss Charles Shaw
28 September 2010

Exile Nation Project Trailer Released

Ahead of his much anticipated two month, 30 city tour of the US and UK, which will see openDemocracy editor Charles Shaw gather interviews with nearly 60 people for the first phase of The Exile Nation Project; the first trailer for what promises to be a truly insightful and thought provoking film has been released, and is available here for you to watch.

The Project is a documentary archive of testimonies from criminal offenders, family members, and notable experts on the far-ranging consequences of the War on Drugs and The American Criminal Justice System. It was inspired by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation Institute, another documentary archive project that gathered video testimonies from survivors and other witnesses to the Holocaust.

In many respects, the American criminal justice system, and the drug war that has driven its explosion, has resulted in a cultural holocaust. So many people are in prison, so many families and communities have been destroyed, and so many generations have been lost, that those who do succeed us will need a living record of the devastating impact these policies had on American society.

The United States has 5% of the world's population, and 25% of the world's prisoners. At 2.5 million, the US has more prisoners than China. Not more prisoners per capita, more prisoners. And there are an additional 5 million under what's known as "Correctional Supervision" (probation, parole, and court monitoring).

On top of that, the security and livelihood of millions more has forever been altered by an arrest or conviction record.  This so-called "Land of the Free" punishes more of its citizens than the rest of the world, prompting even the conservative Economist to declare that "never in the civilized world have so many been locked up for so little."

The testimonies of The Exile Nation Project testimonies will help put a human face on a critical social issue that has been overwhelmed by fear, politics, racial prejudice, and intolerance, in an era where the public attitude has been, "out of sight, out of mind."

When the stories hit home, the policies begin to change.

Source: openDemocracy

Drug Arrests Top 1.6 Million Last Year despite Small Drop

This startlingly high number of arrests, documented in the FBI’s Annual Uniform Crime Report, hammers home an unsurprising, yet nonetheless shocking reality that ‘overall, drug possession arrests accounted for more than 81% , while fewer than one in five drug arrests were for drug trafficking or manufacture.’ These statistics underscore the strain placed on the criminal justice system and scale of the law enforcement cost to America.

Stop the Drug War note that ‘the more than 1.6 million people arrested on drug charges last year was nearly three times the number arrested for violent offenses (581,765)’ and ‘more people were arrested on drug charges than any other single offense, including drunk driving (1.44 million), larceny (1.33 million), or non-aggravated assaults (1.31 million).’ 

To read the full FBI report, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

California Marijuana Legalization has Nine Point Lead in Latest Poll

With only six short weeks left before voters hit the polls to determine the fate of the legalization of marijuana in California; exciting new figures from the Public Policy Polling Survey reveal the Proposition 19 movement is edging ahead with a lead of 47%-38%.  However, now is not a time for complacency, but for redoubling the efforts of all those who wish to see true evidence and rights based policy enacted in California.

As Stop the Drug war point out; ‘nine points is a nice cushion six weeks out from election day. But not great because Prop 19 is still polling under 50% when it needs 50% plus one vote to win and because the race is closer than in the previous Public Policy Polling survey in July, when it led 52%-36%.’  Victory it seems, will be ‘down to the wire.’

To get a full statistical breakdown of the polls, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Mexico Drug War Update

Bernd Debusmann, Jr of Stop the Drugs War presents a roundup of the key events from Mexico, in a week during which 187 were killed in the ‘war on drugs’.  The week saw much bloodshed, including  22 killed in a two hour clash between the army and gunmen; the death of a photojournalist and prosecutor investigating his murder; tragedy in a crowded bar in Ciudad Juarez; and the discovery of six of nine police officers murdered following their abduction. 

Debusmann Jr’s assessment of the current tide in the war is bleak; ‘The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government, has so far failed to make a difference.’ The weekly summary attests to this overview.

Wednesday, September 15

In Tamaulipas, 22 gunmen were killed during a two-hour gun battle with the army. The incident began when soldiers investigating suspicious activity came under fire. Twenty-five rifles and several grenades were seized during the incident.

In a separate incident, 19 gunmen were killed in a clash with the army in Nuevo Leon.

Thursday, September 16

In Ciudad Juarez, a young photojournalist was shot and killed in a parking lot. Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, worked for the Juarez daily El Diario. He became the second reporter from the paper to have been killed in two years. In 2008, the newspaper's lead crime reporter was shot and killed outside his home. A prosecutor assigned to his killing was also assassinated. A second photojournalist was critically wounded.

On Sunday, El Diario published a front-page editorial directed at the cities drug cartels, asking "What do you want from us?" and said that the cartels had become the de-facto authorities in the city. That prompted strong criticism from the Calderon administration, which said you cannot negotiate with criminals.

Friday, September 17

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed when gunmen opened fire inside a crowded bar just after 4:00am. The seven men and one woman were aged between 20 and 35. The former owner of the bar, Wilfred Moya, was shot and killed at the same location about two years ago.

Sunday, September 19

In Guerrero, the bodies of six police officers were recovered from a ravine. This brings the total death toll from a mass abduction of nine police officers who were taken captive by gunmen in the community of El Revelado to eight. Of the bodies that were recovered Sunday, four were dismembered. A note threatening authorities was left alongside the bodies. No motive or suspects have been announced in the attack.

Monday, September 20

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities released four men who had previously been accused of 55 murders, due to a lack of evidence. The men had been in custody in Mexico City for two months before being returned to Juarez, and are mandated to come to another hearing on Thursday, although they are no longer incarcerated. All four are suspected of belong to the Artist Assassins, a local drug gang which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Tuesday, September 21

Near Ciudad Juarez, a mob beat to death two alleged kidnappers. Federal police intervened, but the crowd blocked their squad cars and the two men died of their wounds. The town of Ascension, where the incident occurred, has been particularly hard hit by drug-related kidnappings and killings.

Wednesday, September 22

A Ciudad Juarez newspaper editor has been given asylum because of threats against his life in Mexico. Jorge Luis Aguirre is the editor of the online newspaper La Polaka. Last year, he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his experiences as a journalist in Mexico. More than 30 journalists have been killed or have vanished since 2006.

Total Body Count for the Week: 187 / Total Body Count for the Year: 8,049

Source: Stop the Drug War

Alabama Patient Facing 10 Years for a Gram of Medical Marijuana

For California resident Anthony Lapihuska, daily life is an ongoing struggle to confront depression and post traumatic stress Disorder. Having been hospitalized some 20-30 times for mental health reasons, Mr. Lapihuska has during the course of his lifelong battle with anxiety, been prescribed a variety of drugs including Xanax, Thorazine, and even an anti-Parkinson’s disease medicine. Following a long process of medical assessment, a life changing solution to Mr. Lapihuska’s condition seemed to have been reached after being prescribed medical marijuana.

The drug has delivered exceptional results; ‘now, I feel better than I've ever felt – I ride my bicycle 50 to 150 miles a day.’ It was in this frame of mind that Mr. Lapihuska visited his family, carrying his approved Patient ID Card, in December last year for his Christmas vacation.  However, Mr. Lapihuska’s Patient ID Card meant little to the Police Officer who, having accused him of hitch-hiking, proceeded to search him and discover his prescription bottle containing 1 gram of medical marijuana – and he was charged on 15th December with possession of an illegal drug, and now faces a sentence of between 2 and 10 years in prison.

The reason? Mr. Lapihuska’s family live in the State of Alabama, which does not recognise medical marijuana. ‘Alabama is a terrible, terrible place when it comes to drug laws,’ noted Loretta Nall, a long-time Alabama drug reform activist and leader of Alabamians for Compassionate Care, a medical marijuana activist group that has taken up Lapihuska's cause. ‘This is Anniston, Alabama,’ said Laiphuska. ‘There is no way I'm going to win this case. But my doctor told me this was my recommended medicine. If I was prescribed Oxycontin, or morphine, or Xanax and was walking down the road, they would have had to give my medicine back. I broke the law, but I think the law is wrong. I'm looking at two to 10 years for a gram of marijuana prescribed by my doctor?’

To read more about Mr. Lapihuska’s case, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Drugs and Murder in Afghanistan

Following the news that five American servicemen in Afghanistan have been charged with the deliberate killing of civilians during what appears to be some form of sport, and with further soldiers from the same unit being charged with similarly shocking abuses; Hal Bernton considers the wider relationship between the widely documented military use of powerful anti-anxiety prescription drugs, training standards, and civilian deaths.

To read the full story, follow this link

Source: The Real News

This Week in History

With the potential legalization of marijuana in California; growing momentum in the UK for evidence based drug policy favoring decriminalization; and a new Russian head of the UNODC; these are interesting times in drug policy.  Yet what was happening this week in the past? David Guard from Stop the Drug War provides a quick snapshot of our recent history.

September 29, 1969: At the beginning of the second week of Operation Intercept, the Nixon Administration's failed, unilateral attempt to halt the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States, the Bureau of the Budget (predecessor to the Office of Management and Budget) sends a scathing critique to the White House of the June report that served as the catalyst for the plan, calling it a "grossly inadequate basis for Presidential decision" and warning that its recommendations were based on faulty or unproven assertions.

September 29, 1989: The domestic cocaine seizure record is set (still in effect today): 47,554 pounds in Sylmar, California.

September 25, 1996: Mere days before Congress adjourns for the year, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) introduces H.R. 4170, the "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996." Within a few days, the bill attracts a coalition of 26 Republican cosponsors. The legislation demands either a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone caught bringing more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States. The bill ultimately dies a well-deserved death.

September 24, 1997: A federal grand jury in San Diego indicts Mexican cartel leader Ramón Arellano Félix on charges of drug smuggling. The same day he is added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

September 28, 2001: Drug Enforcement Administration agents seize files containing legal and medical records of more than 5,000 medical marijuana patients associated with the California Medical Research Center in El Dorado County when they raid the home and office of Dr. Mollie Fry, a physician, and her husband, Dale Schafer, a lawyer who had earlier announced his bid for El Dorado County district attorney. Both Fry and Schafer were eventually convicted of marijuana offenses in federal court and sentenced to prison.

September 23, 2002: Mike and Valerie Corral's medical marijuana hospice near Santa Cruz, California, is raided just before dawn by federal agents. The Corrals are held at gunpoint while their co-op garden is destroyed.

September 26, 2002: In a move that eventually leads to a lawsuit alleging unlawful interference in an election, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awards a $3,000,000 grant to the governor's office in Nevada during the time when US Drug Czar John Walters is attempting to build opposition to Nevada's ballot initiative, Question 9, which proposes amending the state constitution by making the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana legal for adults. (Only two other states are awarded large SAMHSA grants at that time -- Michigan and Ohio, also facing drug reform initiatives.)

September 27, 2004: Struck by a drunk driver at four years old and paralyzed from the neck down, quadriplegic Jonathan Magbie dies from inadequate medical care while serving a ten day sentence for marijuana possession in a Washington, DC jail.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Online Response for the 2010 UK Drug Strategy to Close End of Month

‘Ministers have agreed the new strategic vision and broad themes for the Drug Strategy which will set the framework for the future delivery of drugs policy,’ say the UK’s Home Office. 

Yet, while the broad vision has been agreed, there is still time to take part in the targeted consultation document, which provides an early engagement opportunity for a wide range of partners, from charities to enforcement partners, drug workers and voluntary and  community sector organisations. Responses from members of the public are also very welcome.

The consultation paper sets out the key objectives and themes of the government's vision for drugs policy, and aims to give the voice of the 'Big Society' the power to influence the development of the new Drug Strategy, by asking you what should be the approach taken in each of these thematic areas.

With the deadline only a few days away on 30th September please add your comments on the Government’s Vision for the new Drug Strategy here

Source: DS Daily

New UNODC Chief to Focus on Public Health and Rights Based Approach

‘Whether we talk of the victims of human trafficking, communities oppressed by corrupt leaders, unfair criminal justice systems or drug users marginalized by society, we are committed to making a positive difference...Drug dependence is a health disorder, and drug users need humane and effective treatment - not punishment...treatment should also promote the prevention of HIV.’

To many who may have been alarmed at the appointment of Yuri Fedotov of the Russian Federation as Director General of the UN office at Vienna and new Executive Director of the UNODC; Mr. Fedotov’s words will have gone some way to offer reassurance that the UNODC will have a strong emphasis in its work on safeguarding health, human rights and justice.

Conscious of the Russian Federation’s track record, Anya Sarang of the Moscow based Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, speaking at the International AIDS conference, urged Mr. Fedotov ‘to rise above Russia's policy and publicly announce his and his agency's commitment to harm reduction and human rights.’

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, together with the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and the Andrey Rylkov Foundation sent an open letter to Mr. Fedotov, welcoming his appointment. They offered their support in assisting him to convince governments, especially Russia’s, to reform their drug policies. You can read the full letter here

Sources: IDPC and Drug Reporter

Explain to Us What You Want From Us

As the tide of violence sweeping across Mexico shows no sign of abating, with some 28,000 lives lost since President Calderon took office, a local newspaper, following the death of one of their own photojournalists in the town on Ciudad Juarez (no exception to the climate of death, with 6000 of her own victims to the drug war) has controversially broken with existing protocol and reached out to the drug cartels to forge a dialogue. 

El Diario de Juarez, in its Sunday edition that followed Luis Carlos Santiago’s murder as he celebrated the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, directly addressed those in charge of the cartels:

‘Explain to us what you want from us, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling... It is impossible for us to do our job under these conditions. Tell us, then, what you expect from us, as a newspaper...This is not a surrender. This is about a truce with those who have imposed the force of their law in this city, so that you will respect the lives of those who dedicate themselves to the job of informing the public.’

News Editor Pedro Torres commented, ‘If the authorities aren’t able to give us the guarantees to carry out our work, if the authorities can’t guarantee the safety of our citizens, or that they have the right to be informed, then we want to know who can.’

For the full video report and transcript, please follow this link

Source: Democracy Now

Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda on the Drug War

‘This is a failed war’ – So, former Foreign Minister, columnist and author, Jorge Castañeda delivered his pragmatic assessment of the reality of the current ‘war on drugs.’ The message Mr. Castañeda offers is clear – the way out of this dead end is through the legalization of drugs in Mexico.  Only by facing up to the reality that the costs of the war have ‘far outweighed any conceivable benefits to the country,’ and that we must urgently ‘change strategies and find a way out of this mess’ will things improve. 

Mr. Castañeda, while accepting that for President Calderón, who has ‘literally bet the store on this war’ may find it difficult to change track, highlights the scale of the violence and economic destabilisation ravaging the country; ‘the costs continue to rise astronomically. I mean, every week we have a new disaster. We thought we had reached, you know, rock bottom, and then, the following week, something worse even happens.’ 

Placing the crisis in context, Mr. Castañeda points to the possible legalization of marijuana in California under the Proposition 19 vote in November – ‘this is going to place Mexico, on the one hand, in a terrible situation, because how can you go on killing—having people die by these numbers—29,000 now in four years—and at the same time have California legalize it? I mean, it’s ridiculous. On the other hand, you know, what do we do with the legalization in Mexico? Do we legalize?’

To learn more about Mr. Castañeda’s assessment of the Mexican crisis, please watch his interview with Juan Gonzales and Amy Goodman at Democracy Now

Source: Democracy Now

Sign the Prague Declaration

The Prague Declaration is a statement of representatives of municipal governments, decision makers responsible for local and municipal drug policies, workers in the field of drug prevention, regulation, treatment, and harm reduction, and researchers in the field of drugs. It was prepared in Prague for the conference Urban Drug Policies in the Globalised World (30th September 30t to 2nd October 2010) and it is open to be signed by anyone interested in urban, municipal and local drug policy.

The Declaration outlines the key principles on which the local policies should be based to promote a health and rights based approach to the drug problem. It is available in Czech, English, Romanian and Russian.

To learn more and sign the Declaration, please follow this link

Source: IDPC

Join the European Harm Reduction Network

The European Harm Reduction Network (EuroHRN) has been recently formed by ten organisations with a shared interest in advocating for and sharing knowledge on harm reduction within Europe. It is made up of three sub-regional networks covering North, South and Eastern Europe and managed by a coordinator based at the International Harm Reduction Association in the UK.

Participation in EuroHRN is free of charge and open to both individuals and organisations that support the mission statement and aims of EuroHRN. Those who may be interested in joining include people who use drugs, people living with HIV, community advocates, practitioners, policy makers and other individuals or organisations that wish to learn more about, or advocate for harm reduction within Europe.

If you would like to join EuroHRN please email Maria Phelan at [email protected]

Source: IDPC

National Organizations Testify in Support of Juvenile Justice Reform

Leading national juvenile justice organizations urged the D.C. City Council and new leadership in the District to support continued juvenile justice system reforms at a Public Oversight Roundtable on Thursday, September 23rd called by Councilmember Tommy Wells.

Saying that "All eyes are on the nation's capital," representatives of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Justice Policy Institute, the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Campaign for Youth Justice testified that the opening of New Beginnings and other changes instituted over the past several years are a model for other states, and offer the best chance the District has to improve the lives of young people and create safer, healthier communities in D.C.

To read the full JPI testimony to the Roundtable, please follow this link. Key recommendations made by Tracy Velázquez, Executive Director were as follows:

  • Focus law enforcement efforts on the most serious offenses. When you flood a system with youth who are low-level misdemeanants, you reduce the ability of the system to be effective in serving those youth it was intended for.
  • Increase services to meet the needs of youth and families not just once they enter the system, but before. Washington, D.C. has many fragile families for whom early intervention services will pay for themselves many times over.  This includes health and mental health, early childhood education, nutrition, housing, and employment.
  • Focus on those areas most in need. While Wards 5, 7 and 8 stand out as areas with the highest levels poverty – and the most number of justice-involved youth – there are neighborhoods in other Wards which also are pockets of concentrated poverty.  The recent Promise Neighborhood grant awarded to the César Chávez Middle School is a start; the District should expand upon this model – regardless of federal funding dollars – to help the youth avoid the cycle of poverty that many have become caught up in.
  • If a youth does end up getting involved in delinquent behavior, ensure that there are adequate services at each point in the system spectrum. Youth who are not a high risk to public safety but have a lot of service needs should not be sent to the most restrictive – and expensive – end because there are inadequate services in the community.  
  • Give kids more positive youth development activities. New facilities like the pool and recreation field in Deanwood are a great example. As youth who get in trouble tend to do so during out-of-school hours, constructive activities, including sports, the arts, and employment opportunities benefit youth and help reduce use of the juvenile justice system at the same time.

Source: Justice Policy Institute

Abuse in the Name of Treatment: Drug Detention Centres in Asia

According to estimations, hundreds of thousands of people are kept in compulsory drug detention centres in Vietnam, China, Thailand and Laos. Some people enter voluntarily in the hope of kicking their drug habit, others are sent there by their families who pay for their “treatment”. But in some cities, it often happens that the military police just collect street children, drug users, sex workers and other groups on the street considered “deviant” by the authorities and detains them in a camp for years, without any due process or right of appeal.

It’s easy to get in – but it’s hard to get out. Detainees are often subject to forced labour, starvation, beatings, torture and raped – while they do not get any treatment or rehabilitation. When they finally leave the camps, they feel more disintegrated from society than before. The vast majority of detainees who leave the camps start to use drugs again or engage in other illegal activities. The governments of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand received millions of dollars from Western governments to build camps to treat dependent drug users.

Tax payers in donor countries usually did not know what practices were used in the camps before Human Rights Watch documented the widespread human rights abuses (see for instance, 'Skin on the cable''Where darkness knows no limits' or 'An unbreakable cycle'). A new documentary from the Hungarian Civil Liberties documentary, ‘Abuse in the Name of Treatment - Drug Detention Centers in Asia’ further highlights the reality of this situation. To watch the documentary, please click here

Source: IDPC

Brazilian Supreme Court Allows Alternatives to Imprisonment

We end this week’s update with welcome news from Brazil, where the Supreme Court decided at 6 votes against 4 that judges could now decide to apply alternatives to imprisonment against drug traffickers.

In so doing, the Supreme Court decided that the National Congress had exceeded their legislative powers when it amended the 2006 Law on Drugs which prohibited the application of alternative penalties on drug traffickers.

The law does not differentiate between trafficants and drug users, and does not set minimum quantities for possession. As such, it is now up to the judge to decode which penalties to apply on a case by case basis.

The specific case leading to this decision was the habeas corpus requested by Alexandro Mariano da Silva, arrested in June 2007 with 13.4 grams of cocaine and crack in Porto Alegre. 

For more on this story, please follow this link (in Spanish)

Source: IDPC

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