Posts Tagged ‘war on drugs’
by Scott Morgan, Stopthedrugwar.
The recent multi-agency federal raid of Oaksterdam University, a respected medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, has many people struggling to understand the Obama Administration’s escalating campaign against medical cannabis. Most pernicious among these theories is an idea I’ve heard repeatedly from medical marijuana supporters in recent weeks: that Obama needs to take a tough stance as he gears up for the general election.
It’s an easy enough thing to say, but it’s wrong, and people who want to change our marijuana laws would be wise to stop talking this way. The truth is that the American people don’t want a war on medical marijuana at all, and we’re steering our leaders in the wrong direction — both morally and politically — when we suggest that voters support the reckless drug war posturing of the past.
Sure, there was a time when politicians fanned the flames of anti-drug hysteria to powerful political effect. Knowing this history is important, but equally critical is the recognition that history, by definition, lies behind us. The “crack epidemic” of the ’80s, the death of Len Bias, the “soft on crime”attack ads that ravaged democratic nominee Mike Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign; these were events of political significance, but they’re a terrible measure by which to assess the implications of an issue like medical marijuana in an election nearly a quarter century later.
In fact, the question of whether Obama can safely stand up for medical marijuana is incredibly easy to answer. He already did. The president was elected on a platform that included pulling the plug on federal interference with state medical marijuana laws. Everyone knew that was his position, many supported it vigorously and perhaps more significantly, no one criticized him for it.
To even suggest that Obama has to appear “tough on drugs” in order to deflect political attacks is preposterous. What political attacks? When have we ever heard him criticized for any such thing? There is literally no constituency in the American electorate that is pressuring Obama to wage war against medical marijuana. The president could, in all likelihood, speak passionately in favor of medical marijuana from now until November without losing a single vote (and picking up more than a few for his trouble). To explain this, one need only look to the polls showing that eight out of 10 Americans support medical marijuana.
If anyone in the Obama Administration actually believes they’re scoring political points by waging war on voter-approved medical marijuana laws, they’ve got another thing coming. In 2012, the smart political approach to marijuana policy is to look at today’s polling, not yesterday’s posturing.
Marc Emery’s prison blog is updated by Cannabis Culture staff in Vancouver, B.C. Marc is currently serving a 5-year sentence in Federal Prison in the United States, Yazoo, Mississippi. Please support Marc financially or by writing him a letter. Find out more at FreeMarc.ca
My 54th birthday on Monday, February 13th was spent being sick, my first real malaise since last June or July (I’ve been in great health otherwise). I was dizzy and unable to stand without being queasy. I believe it was from the vitamin fortified oatmeal I had before bed; vitamin supplements don’t seem to sit well with me.
In 2000, I was just starting a daily regimen of vitamin, mineral, glucosamine and other supplements, 20 gel-caps of the stuff, and I got a terrible and sudden dizziness one morning 30 minutes after taking it all. It was like the whole world fell off its axis and I went to the floor, soaked my clothes immediately in a perspiration I had never before experienced. I was immediately nauseous and dizzy. Over the next 36 hours I remained very dizzy and nauseous when standing; it’s called ataxia. Within 48 hours I had recovered.
Three weeks later, about 30 minutes after taking the supplements, I had an identical attack of dizziness, imbalance, nausea. I recovered over 36 hours. There were no other symptoms. I put the connecting dots together and never took supplements again and it never recurred… until I went to North Fraser Pre-Trial in 2010 awaiting extradition to the US. The food was inadequate so I ordered a single multi-vitamin out of the vending machine and the exact same thing happened again as had happened 10 years earlier, but not nearly as threatening or extreme. It still took 36 hours to recover.
Then after eating three packages of fortified oatmeal the night of February 12th this year, the next day, after a disturbed sleep, I feel the same dizziness, ataxia, and nausea, but wisely stayed on my bunk horizontal and slept the whole day, getting up only to rehearse in the studio on my birthday, which went well, remarkably. I went right to bed upon my return. Then nine days later a milder but identical attack occurred, still taking 36 hours to throw off the lightheadedness and sluggishness. There are no other symptoms, so it wasn’t a cold, flu or other identifiable. I can’t identify what I would have eaten that would have caused that last attack. In all five cases from 2000 to present, I am very tired until it subsides, and standing up I become light-headed, nauseous, and dizzy, improving over 36 hours until I am normal. I suspect drinking water would speed getting it out of my system.
So while it was lousy to be sick on my birthday, I did yesterday receive in the mail yesterday from Britney in Vancouver 40 Facebook pages from my birthday with hundreds of people wishing me well. It was great to see some familiar names there and new names. I love getting Facebook pages from my two accounts, so thank you Britney!
My health, other than those two bouts of ataxia, has been exemplary since July. The weather here is always great, it’s warm and sunny almost every day, the air is very clean. I walk the track 90 minutes each day, read books (currently reading ‘Just My Type, a History of Fonts’, and ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’), my 30 magazine subscriptions that come, the NY Times (and the crossword each day), I write a letter every day but fall behind and I’m embarrassed to say some people who deserve replies don’t sometime get one, plus I do three hours of email daily. My favorite magazines are MacLean’s, which is Canada’s ‘national magazine’, as it totally connects me to home, Mental Floss, a great magazine about anything that is so interesting I read every page, WIRED, DISCOVER, Bloomberg Business Week, and Backwoods Home Magazine. I enjoy reading Time and Newsweek. I get five guitar magazines, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, Harpers, and a bunch of others and read them all thoroughly. I’m hooked on a ten-part graphic novel series called ‘Y: The Last Man’, when all the men on earth except one perish from a plague.
As of today, Wednesday, February 29th, I have 861 days to go to my release on July 9, 2014, and 964 days of my sentence behind me. If I serve every day here, I still will not be released directly or immediately, on July 9th, 2014, US immigration will pick me up and take me to an immigration detention center, get my passport in order, and after about two weeks they will put me on a direct flight to Vancouver. So I’m hoping to be home with Jodie in time for our 8th wedding anniversary on July 23, 2014.
My fourth concert here at Yazoo medium was Saturday, February 18th, on a cool evening between Jodie’s visits on the Saturday and Sunday. Our band, Yazoo, was a 6-piece that night, up until now we’ve been going through personnel changes.
First Victor decided to leave to form his own band, that left us as a four piece, which I really liked: SAPP on drums, TC on vocals, me on bass, Terry on lead. Then we added Don, an excellent guitarist, and Chap, also an excellent guitarist, bassist and vocalist, who were from the other rock band ‘Out of Bounds’, whose drummer got transferred to El Reno federal prison.
Well, there’s a lot of talent in that 6-piece, so giving everyone enough to gratify them is a challenge, but it was working out okay. Then SAPP, our drummer, got in a brawl one day; his Florida homies got in a fight with some New York guys and when two guys get into a fight it can expand until there’s a dozen or more within minutes, and so SAPP, not normally a person prone to violence, got put in solitary. We thought he’d be ‘in the SHU’ (Special Housing Unit) for 3-6 months minimum, and likely get a disciplinary transfer to another prison. So there goes our drummer, we thought.
At the same time, a new fellow came to the prison who is a very good drummer; though he lacks the subtle nuance that SAPP brought, he became our drummer for Yazoo. His name is James, or “JG” as he’s called, and he was our our drummer since January to the concert, with no more than 6 practices together. Most of the black guys seem to have nicknames, like TC (our lead singer), or our old drummer ‘SAPP’ (whose name is Jermaine). So for the President’s Day concert we were a 6-piece and it was a little less than perfect.
We played, in order of performance:
I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
Red House (Jimi Hendrix)
A Change is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding)
Stormy Monday (Bobby Blue Bland)
Black Magic Woman (Santana)
Wind Cries Mary (Hendrix)
Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix)
Purple Haze (Hendrix)
Voodoo Child (Hendrix)
I thought I would have the most challenge with Black Magic Woman as my left pointer finger is extremely busy in that entire song and it kind of cramps up, but it turned out fine, even on a cold damp night. Our performance is loud and amplified through an excellent sound board and our audience was about 50-100 inmates, as it was dark, moist and cold that weekend, but you perform when you can. I flubbed a few lines on I Can See Clearly Now (which was the theme song for my Pot TV “Prince of Pot” show for years), but was fine for the rest of the songs.
Since that concert, TC, who will be released soon, left the band, and SAPP returned! Yay! JG was a good drummer but his beats were too fast and aggressive, so SAPP being back is a huge boost to the band. Chap will be doing all the vocals now, so we are a 5-piece, which, with SAPP back, will be a great rock ‘n roll band again.
In my 9 months as a musician (I can’t believe I’m even able to call myself a ‘musician’ credibly), I have been part of a Jamaican reggae band playing Bob Marley songs, played four country songs, five R&B songs, nine Hendrix songs and a dozen classic rock songs.
My band’s practice time in the studio is Monday evening from 5:30pm to 8pm. We worked on the Beatles ‘Come Together’ and ‘Crazy Train’ by Ozzy Osbourne. It’s a blast doing ‘Come Together’, it sounds terrific, there is a great bass line to it, and the song has a strange portentous quality to it. The words and vocals in the original by John Lennon say ‘shoot me’ over 20 times throughout, and the song seems to be about various jokers and strange people who ‘come together’ ‘over me’ like creative friends meeting over a funeral for the singer (John Lennon).
The song apparently was written in 1969 for the aborted run for governor campaign by Timothy Leary for the 1970 election in California. ‘Come together and join the party’ was the original theme; the song took an ominous turn after Leary fled the USA, first to Mexico, then Algeria, to avoid a lengthy jail sentence for marijuana. Leary had already had the US Supreme Court declare US federal marijuana prohibition unconstitutional in 1968, but he was charged again and given serious prison time. So ‘Come Together’ has a fascinating history and the bass parts are great! The Beatles were my first great love in music, as our Aunty Gladys sent me the (45 rpm) singles ‘Love Me Do/Please Please Me’ and ‘She Loves You/PS I Love You’ for Christmas 1963, when I was 5 years old.
In the summer of 1969, when I was 11 years old, five and a half years after Aunt Gladys sent me those two Beatles singles (which in 1964 we played on my parents “hi-fi”), I got one of those portable kids turn-table ‘record players’ in a portable box with a carrying handle. My first purchases were two 45 rpm records at 49 cents each from K-Mart: ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies, and ‘Daydream Believer’ by the Monkees. I still love both those songs 43 years later, and can sing them now as I could when I first elatedly bought them and played them 25 times a day for the first week in that summer of ’69.
My older brother Stephen, eighteen years old, was so disturbed by my repetitious playing of ‘bubblegum songs’, he went and bought me five 45 rpm singles of what he called ‘real music’. He gifted me with copies of ‘Light My Fire’ by the Doors, ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding, ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, ‘Laughing/Undun’ by the Guess Who and ‘Hey Jude/Revolution’ by the Beatles. I have forever loved those songs too, and feel so privileged that my band Yazoo played, at our recent concert, Otis Redding’s final song before his untimely death in 1967 by airplane crash.
Davy Jones, lead singer of the Monkees, died today, at age 66 from a heart attack. I remember my first girlfriend Lorrie had pin-ups of Bobby Sherman, David Soul and Davy Jones on her wall that summer of 1969. I was supposedly not cool, according to my brother, to love the Monkees, but I did – and still do. Think of me singing this song, mimicking a boyish English accent. (Thanks, Davy Jones.)
Oh I could hide ‘neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings
The six o’clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise, wipe the sleep out of my eyes
My shaving razor’s cold and it stings
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
You once thought of me as a white knight on his steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good time starts and ends
With a dollar one to spend
But how much baby do we really need?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Along with Come Together and Crazy Train, I am learning the bass lines to ‘Stranglehold’ by Ted Nugent and I already know the bass lines to ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd, so we will be incorporating those four songs in our Easter concert (April 7th) set, replacing ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and ‘Stormy Monday’. Out go the blues, in comes the rock!
In the next month, so we are told, we can buy an MP3 player for $70 that holds up to 1,500 songs, and the terminals to download songs are being installed in our units in the next few weeks. Songs will cost $1.20 and $1.55 each. Alas, my monthly budget is now $850, and it will go up to $920 a month once I buy 40 songs a month.
The biggest expense for me here is email, at $3 an hour, and I do about three hours a day, so that’s about $300 a month there, plus $320 on food, clothing and toiletries, $125 on phone calls to Jodie, $50 on postage, photocopies, stationary, and soon I’ll add on songs to buy plus the initial purchase of an MP3 player. Plus I need some new running shoes. Usually I would get a guy who cleans shoes to clean them, but last time I did that, he swapped my running shoes and gave me back a pair that was not mine, and that were not in as good condition (and as I looked days later after realizing they felt different, noticed they were not the same size either), but by the time I noticed that they felt different (at first I thought they just shrank or changed shape from the washing), the guy was let out of prison and wearing my better condition running shoes. He ‘swapped ‘em out’ as they saying goes. So that’s another $55.
I want to thank Mr. Rochte of Grosse Point, Michigan for putting $50 in my account twice, as has Kevin H. in Winnipeg, who put $40 in my account twice over the last month, and a Mr. Sernocky who also put in $50 twice in the last month! Yay! It really helps me, and I feel like less of a burden on Jodie. In the last 16 months alone, Jodie has spent $38,000 to visit me, and I have required $13,000 to live on in that time, a total of $51,000. Jodie and I have received donations totalling nearly $31,000 in that time, plus I sold my ZZ Top signed guitar for $2,500 to Tony Glickney (thank you Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, who donated the guitar, Francouver who arranged it, and Tony for buying it), so without the help of friends all over, my life would be way more difficult, challenging, and lonely! Jodie also depends on the store to help cover travel costs, so her customers and supporters are definitely appreciated and necessary. A super-special thank you to Dana Larsen for sending me over 100 books over the last year and arranging for my friends Catharine Leach, Jeremiah & Carina of CC, my ex’s (and still friends) Cheryl and Marcy to visit me, and being always beyond generous and helpful. Dana is my best friend and without him my ability to cope would be greatly lessened.
The Province newspaper is coming to visit/interview me on April 21st and 22nd, right after 4/20, for an article on how I’m doing here at Yazoo. I would love it if the reporter could see my band playing in the studio on Monday night so I have a witness from home who can testify our band sounds like the real thing, especially on our Hendrix songs, or ‘Crazy Train’, ‘Come Together’, or ‘Black Magic Woman’. It would be good propaganda for the prison too, as I have already said in interviews that regarding its core job of keeping inmates safe, and having guards who don’t harbor animosity towards inmates, this place is well run. I arrived here on 4/20 last year. CBC National TV news is also seeking permission to film an interview with me here to put on their national news telecast. I would love to have our band play Black Magic Woman for CBC TV news! But it’s not likely to happen, as the prison doesn’t seem eager to have reporters come visit. So we’ll see how that goes.
My next visits from Jodie are March 10/11 and 24/25, then April 15/16 and 29/30, then May 19/20, then June 9/10. I just received back today ten photos of Jodie and I taken in the visitation room from our last visit on the Presidents Day weekend (February 18/19), so you’ll see those in a week or so!
This Saturday I’m hoping Ron Paul wins his first primary/caucus with the Washington State caucus. I’m hoping he wins first in Washington, Alaska (March 6th caucus), and comes in second and gets delegates out of Idaho, Virginia, North Dakota, Vermont on Super Tuesday (March 6th). Go Ron Paul! My good friend and busy SuperMom activist (and CC blogger) Catharine Leach of Rhode Island is campaigning until April 24th, the day of the Rhode Island Primary, to be a Ron Paul delegate to the Republican Presidential Convention in Tampa from August 27-30. Catharine has qualified for the delegate nomination process, and now must campaign to have Republican primary voters back her to be a delegate. Rhode Island gets 16 delegates to the Republican convention, 8 from the two districts in RI. If Ron Paul gets 15% or more, he gets at least one delegate from each district; if he comes in first, he gets 4 delegates from each district, second is two delegates, third or fourth (but over 15%) is one delegate each.
Catharine and I (as well as Jodie, and many others!) believe that if Ron Paul is not the Republican nominee, America is in serious trouble. Our great faith in Ron Paul’s strong views against prohibition were beautifully summarized with a speech he gave on Thursday, February 16 in Vancouver, Washington, where he said (quoted verbatim from Seattle CBS local evening news of February 17th, and Associated Press):
“‘If we are allowed to deal with our eternity with all that we believe in spiritually, and if we’re allowed to read any book that we want under freedom of speech, why is it we can’t put into our body whatever we want?’ Paul told more than 1,000 people at a rally in Vancouver, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Voters in Washington are likely to decide this year whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.”
(Also see videos and articles of Ron Paul defending and fighting for the cannabis culture here)
I hope the legion of cannabis activists in Washington State will go vote for Ron Paul at the Washington state caucus this Saturday, March 3rd. The Oregon Primary is May 15th, and Ron Paul has a good chance of winning first or second in Oregon also. Good luck to you, Catharine, and please, my US supporters and readers, please get out to vote for the wonderful, decent, anti-prohibitionist Ron Paul in your states primary or caucus!
by Tim Padgett, TIME Magazine
It started last summer, when it seemed that Mexican President Felipe Calderón had understandably reached the end of his rope. After 52 innocent people were massacred in August by drug gangsters who set fire to a Monterrey casino – 52 added to the almost 50,000 drug-related murders in Mexico since 2006 – an angry Calderón said that if Americans were so “determined and resigned to consume drugs, then they should seek market alternatives in order to cancel the stratospheric profits” fueling the ghastly narco-bloodshed. Everyone agreed that by “market alternatives,” Calderón meant some sort of drug legalization.
Everyone, of course, except the White House, where legalizing drugs is a political third rail, especially during an election season. Still, it put the Obama Administration on the spot to hear one of its staunchest drug war allies even hint at legalization – and it got even worse a couple months later when another major partner, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, said that he himself was not “not against” legalization. In recent weeks that call was taken up by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez and other presidents in Central America, an isthmus that drug gangs have turned into a killing field almost as horrific as it was during the civil wars of the 1980s. The Pentagon calls the Central American triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras “the world’s deadliest zone” outside Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Organization of American States (OAS) warns that drug gangs now pose a threat to Latin America’s fledgling democracies.
Today, March 6, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit with Pérez and other Central American leaders – and, fittingly, they’ll meet in Honduras, now home to the world’s highest homicide rate: 86 murders per 100,000 residents last year, 17 times that of the U.S. and five times more than even Mexico’s. There are a number of reasons for this Mesoamerican nightmare, including Central America’s hopelessly corrupt and medieval police and judicial systems, which the region’s oligarchies (who are content to simply line their mansions with razor wire and security guards) refuse to modernize. But as far as presidents like Pérez are concerned, the root cause is the U.S.’s insatiable demand for pot, coke, meth and heroin – we spend more on illegal drugs in America than we do on higher education – and increasingly they’re coming to the conclusion that a good way to keep los narcos from earning their “stratospheric profits,” which they use to buy the guns that wreak the mayhem, is to legalize some of the drugs.
The U.S. has responded by reiterating its “opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs,” as one White House official said last week. But there is a broadening global consensus that the conventional, 40-year-old “war on drugs” has failed, which means Biden would do well to listen to Pérez and company today in Tegucigalpa and not be a gringo scold when they bring up the legalization issue. Because the fact is, to a certain if not large extent they’re right: as countless drug-war observers like myself have argued in recent years, it makes sense to legalize at least more benign narcotics like marijuana, a drug that accounts for as much as half of the $30 billion the Mexican narco-cartels rake in each year.
What’s more, marijuana legalization is suddenly gaining acceptance in the U.S. Whereas just five years ago surveys showed Americans opposed it by an almost 2-to-1 margin, a recent Gallup poll showed 50% of them in favor of it and only 46% against it. Colorado and Washington will have the issue on their ballots in the fall, and other states may as well. That’s largely because fewer and fewer of us buy the U.S. drug-war leadership’s argument that pot is somehow as personally addictive and socially destructive as harder drugs like cocaine – or that it’s inevitably a “gateway” to those more dangerous narcotics. Meanwhile, more and more of us are tired of seeing U.S. law enforcement squander as much as $8 billion a year chasing down a drug widely considered no more harmful than alcohol if consumed in moderation.
And Latin American leaders like Calderón, Santos and Pérez know that, which is why their own ears are increasingly deaf now to Washington’s worn out insistence on letting drug cartels instead of tax collectors profit from marijuana sales. Ditto for the former Latin American heads of state who lead the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which calls for legalization. For now, Latin American presidents, including El Salvador’s Mauricio Funes and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchill, are only calling for the issue to be discussed – but they want both the U.S. and the U.N. to take that conversation more seriously. Santos realizes that if he were to unilaterally legalize even marijuana in Colombia, “I will be crucified” in Washington and at U.N. headquarters in New York. But he emphasizes that he wants this debate because, as he told The Guardian recently, Colombia is “still suffering most [from] the high [drug] consumption” in the U.S. and Europe.
Pérez and his Central American counterparts might argue that it’s they who are suffering most today. Not that their motives are always pure. Pérez, a former army general, is most likely using legalization to a large degree as leverage to get the U.S. to restore the military aid to Guatemala that was cut off as a result of armed forces atrocities committed during that country’s 1960-96 civil war. And Central America’s elites, despite paying some of the world’s lowest tax rates, are always looking for ways to shame Washington into paying for the police and judicial upgrades that they feel no social or moral obligation to fund themselves. (Last year Honduras’ ruling business families made sure that a desperately needed $400 million tax levy for improved security got chopped by 75%.)
Still, even if the leaders Biden meets with today are using legalization as leverage to wring more anti-drug aid out of the U.S., it’s because they believe it’s effective leverage. Even if the White House dismisses marijuana legalization, the rest of the world increasingly does not – especially in places where they’re reaching the ends of their drug violence ropes.
by Sam Stanton, The Sacramento Bee
As the top federal prosecutor in Sacramento was announcing a new focus on huge pot farms in the Central Valley on Tuesday, a U.S. district judge delivered a separate blow to efforts to thwart crackdowns on medical marijuana.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. dismissed one of five suits that had been filed in federal courts last fall in a bid to win legal support for medical marijuana use in California and other states.
Burrell’s order came in a suit filed in federal court in Sacramento last November on behalf of the El Camino Wellness Center, near Arden Fair mall, and Ryan Landers, a 40-year-old Sacramento man who uses medical marijuana to alleviate suffering from AIDS and other illnesses.
The suit targeted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michelle Leonhart and Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento.
Ironically, the decision to toss out the suit came the same day Landers was attending a luncheon of the Sacramento Press Club, where Wagner had been invited to discuss his office’s policies toward marijuana prosecutions.
The affair attracted about 100 people, many of them advocates for medical marijuana, and concluded with Landers politely rising, introducing himself and beginning to ask Wagner a question.
“I think you’re suing me, if I’m not mistaken,” Wagner said before addressing Landers’ questions.
The lawsuit dismissal came after the luncheon, and Wagner spent much of his presentation defending his office’s recent warnings against marijuana operations.
Wagner and the three other U.S. attorneys in California sparked controversy last fall when they announced charges against marijuana growers and dispensaries, as well as seizures of properties involved in the business.
Wagner repeated his stance Tuesday that federal officials are not targeting sick people who use marijuana for relief, and said he considered his office’s enforcement efforts “quite measured.”
But he added that the state is in the midst of a “green rush” of people flocking to California to exploit the market for marijuana and that evidence found in recent cases showed some dispensaries – supposedly operating as non-profits – were collecting $10,000 to $50,000 a day, much of it in cash.
“We have received information that some storefront marijuana stores here in the Sacramento area are selling marijuana at a markup of at least 200 percent over what they are buying it for,” Wagner said. “That is not about treating seriously ill people. It’s about profits.”
Wagner noted that federal law does not allow for the sale or growing of marijuana, even if California does as a result of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative in 1996.
And he warned that the “unregulated free-for-all” that has allowed marijuana growers and merchants to make fortunes must come to an end.
In coming weeks, Wagner said, federal agents plan to focus on pot farms in the Central Valley located on agricultural fields.
“There’s been a proliferation of these large commercial grows on farmland, especially in the southern part of the valley from Stanislaus County down to Kern County,” Wagner said. “And these grows are often tens of thousands of marijuana plants.
“They’re often guarded by armed men and they are a hazard to people in those farming communities who live in or around them.”
Wagner’s message was met with mostly polite but skeptical questioning from some marijuana advocates in the audience.
One man questioned whether federal officials saying they were simply following the law was akin to Nazis using the same defense after World War II.
Another, former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing, questioned whether there was any accurate means of measuring whether the government’s war on drugs was working.
“Every metric I can find says it’s a failure,” Downing said to applause.
Wagner explained to questioners that he could not spell out to dispensary operators how much marijuana they could distribute without running afoul of prosecutors, saying that was like asking a California Highway Patrol officer how far over the speed limit a motorist can drive without risking a ticket.
His only direct effort to dodge a question came when a reporter asked if he had ever smoked marijuana and what he thought of it.
“Uh, I’ll say that I went to college,” Wagner replied.
by Robert Beckhusen, Wired.com
Three years ago, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the war on drugs “had not worked” — and admitted that the American appetite for narcotics “fuels the drug trade.” But now Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would like to take that all back. It’s full steam ahead for the drug war.
“‘Is the drug war a failure and are we going to change our strategy?’ I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure,” Napolitano said Monday after a meeting with Alejandro Poire, Mexico’s interior minister and top drug warrior. “I would say however that it is a continuing effort, to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs,” she added.
Few U.S. officials will object to defending the drug war on its merits, and Napolitano’s statement does not necessarily prelude joint responsibility for drug trafficking — a key part of the administration’s post-2008 shift in tone. Napolitano also called for working “bi-nationally, but in a regional way.” What’s remarkable, though, is the abrupt shift backwards at a time when Mexico and Central America are increasingly swamped by violent and militarized cartels.
Drug smuggling into the U.S. also shows no sign of slowing down, and these countries’ wars — fought by proxy with billions in U.S. aid — is making little progress toward dismantling those cartels or reducing their influence over swathes of territory.
In a sense, Napolitano is backtracking. “Clinton’s candor about the failures within U.S. policy was well received in Latin America and gave the new administration some additional credibility to work with partners in the region on combating organized crime and illicit trafficking,” wrote James Bosworth, a Latin America security analyst based in Nicaragua. According to Bosworth, Latin American governments are “hoping the U.S. is willing to look at the issue strategically and make adjustments.”
After all, many of these Latin American governments are dealing with a security threat in large part created by U.S. demand for drugs — and fought by criminal and insurgent armies which profit from trafficking. These cartels, like Mexico’s Zetas, are also spreading into neighboring countries like Guatemala.
Last week, the presidents of Colombia and Mexico were joined by President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala (a former military officer) in calling for drug decriminalization by the United States. Pérez, meanwhile, said Guatemala is “not doing what the United States says, we are doing what we have to do” — promising to decriminalize drugs while enforcing a mano dura, or “iron fist” approach to crime.
That may be where the war on drugs is heading outside the United States — fewer (if any) penalties for possession or consumption of drugs, but more efforts at cracking down on violence. The Mexican government, meanwhile, is likely to continue efforts to capture drug lords like Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Napolitano also compared the hunt for El Chapo to the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden. ”And you know what happened there,” Napolitano said. “I’m not suggesting the same thing would happen with Guzman but I am suggesting that we are persistent when it comes to wrongdoers and those who do harm in both of our countries.”
A cross-border raid, basically. But the Mexican government might not be comfortable with stealth helicopters loaded with Navy SEALs flying around the mountains of Durango. At least not yet.
by Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle
The Obama administration this week released its Fiscal Year 2013 National Drug Control Budget, and it wants to spend nearly $26 billion on federal anti-drug programs. Despite all the talk about the staggering federal debt problem and current budget deficits, the administration found nothing to cut here. Instead, the proposed budget increases federal anti-drug funding by 1.6% over fiscal year 2012.
The proposed budget is remarkable for how closely it hews to previous years, especially in regard to the allocation of resources for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) versus those for supply reduction (domestic and international law enforcement and interdiction). The roughly 40:60 ratio that has been in place for years has shifted, but only incrementally. The 2013 budget allocates 41.2% for treatment and prevention and 58.2% for law enforcement.
“This is very much the same drug budget we’ve been seeing for years,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The Obama drug budget is the Bush drug budget, which was the Clinton drug budget. Little has changed.”
“It’s really just more of the same,” said Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst whose last assignment in northeastern Mexico between 2008 and 2010, a when prohibition-related violence there was soaring, helped change his perspective. Dunagan quit the DEA and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
“There are very minor adjustments in how the drug spending is allocated and bit more money for treatment, but there’s a significant increase in interdiction, as well as a $61 million increase for domestic law enforcement,” Dunagan noted. “They’re trying to argue that they’re abandoning the drug war and shifting the focus, but the numbers don’t really back that up.”
The proposed budget also demonstrates the breadth of the federal drug spending largesse among the bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington. Departments that catch a ride on the drug war gravy train include Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans’ Affairs, as well as the federal judiciary, District of Columbia courts, the Small Business Administration, and, of course, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP — the drug czar’s office).
“It’s just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes,” said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “In a way, it’s ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar’s office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn’t happen,” he said.
“The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar’s budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin,” Sterling continued. “They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that’s almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars.”
The Justice Department alone would get $7.85 billion, up almost $400 million from FY 2012, with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the DEA among those Justice components seeing funding increases. BOP spending would increase by about 8%, while the DEA budget would increase from $2.35 million to $2.38 million. On the other hand, the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which lost its congressional patron with the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), has been zeroed out.
“The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous,” said Sterling. “There are too many people doing too much time they don’t need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.
“He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. “He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great.”
“That increase in incarceration spending really jumps out at me, too” said Dunagan. “To make their claim that they’re not going to be locking up small-time dealers and users is pretty disingenuous.”
Pentagon spending on interdiction and other anti-drug activities would decline somewhat, with the budget proposing $1.725 billion for 2013, a decline of $200 million from the 2012 budget. But interdiction spending goes up elsewhere, as Dunagan noted.
And State Department drug spending would take a hit. Spending would decline by just more than $100 million to $687 million, but most of that decrease would come from reduced funding for alternative development assistance, while State’s other drug-related program, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (“drugs and thugs”), would see only a $6 million decrease.
While funding for prevention and treatment would increase by 4.6% under the proposed budget, some treatment and grant programs are seeing cuts, while criminal justice system-based approaches are getting more money.
“I’m concerned that the budget seems to be emphasizing drug courts and criminal justice-based drug treatment,” said Piper. “They’re cutting SAMSHA, which funds a lot of treatment, but increasing spending for prison-based treatment.”
The $364 million earmarked for SAMSHA’s treatment programs is a $61 million reduction from FY 2012, while drug courts saw a $17 million increase to $52 million and BOP drug treatment programs saw a $16 million increase to $109 million.
The new drug budget also resurrects the drug czar’s widely criticized National Youth Media Campaign, dropped last year when Congress failed to fund it.
“I’m also disappointed that they put back in funding for the drug czar’s failed youth media campaign, which Congress eliminated last year,” said Piper. “It’s only $20 million, and you can hardly do a national media campaign with that, but still.”
This is only the administration’s budget proposal, of course, and Congress will have plenty of opportunities to try to cut (or increase) portions of it. Still, the proposed budget is a window on the thinking of administration that has talked the talk about how we are no longer in a war on drugs, but has taken only stumblingly tiny steps toward walking the walk. And drug reformers aren’t liking what they’re seeing.
“LEAP thinks this is misguided,” said Dunagan. “The only thing that’s different is the rhetoric used to spin it, and even that is a sort of tacit acknowledgment by the administration that people don’t really like the drug war, but substantively, there’s very little different from the past.”
“Between the drug budgets and his war on medical marijuana, we’re very disappointed in Obama,” said DPA’s Piper.
“We should be disappointed in the Obama administration,” said Sterling. “There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I’m very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don’t have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.
Arianna appeared on Monday morning’s edition of “CNN Starting Point With Soledad O’Brien,” joining a roundtable to discuss singer Tony Bennett’s call to legalize drugs. Bennett’s comments came on Saturday evening after singer Whitney Houston died at 48.
“First it was Michael Jackson,” Bennett said. “Then it was Amy Winehouse. and now, the magnificent Whitney Houston. I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs — so they’ll have to get it through a doctor, not to some gangsters who just sell it under the table.”
Arianna weighed in on Bennett’s view, pointing to the United States’ struggles in containing the war on drugs.
“The point I think is absolutely fair — that the war on drugs has failed and we are not acknowledging it. We are spending over $50 billion a year fighting a war that has become a war on our own people, especially among African Americans and minorities in general. All the distinctions between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, we are seeing our jails filled with non-violent drug offenders.”
by Chris Roberts, SFWeekly
For Paul Chabot, the War on Drugs is personal indeed: Before he became a Navy man, a campus cop, and a former National Drug Control Policy staffer, he was in drug rehab for alcohol and marijuana addiction himself — at the young age of 12, according to his online bio.
In his latest tactical maneuver in the marijuana war, however, San Bernardino County’s Chabot is aiming, not at the children or at our lapsed morals, but he’s going right for our checkbooks.
Californians — and “every dad, mom and other citizen who has been affected by pot stores and drug legalization tactics” should become “IRS Pot Store Whistle-blowers,” according to an e-mail Chabot sent Monday to the Coalition for a Drug Free California’s e-mail list. The e-mail came under the subject line: Call the IRS and you could earn millions!
“By simply reporting a pot store to the IRS, average citizens who are fed up with these domestic marijuana cartels can now fill out a very simple form,” wrote the proud Tea Partier. He added that, since California has “10,000 pot stores,” the pickings are far from slim.
“If the IRS takes action and fines the pot store, the Whistle-blower, by law is entitled to a 30% cash award,” he said.
There’s a lot to chew on here, from a Tea Partier advocating big government and taxation, to a Ph.D.-holder overstating the number of pot clubs in California by a factor of 10. But all that, and the morals of reporting one’s neighbors to higher authority as a common practice aside, there’s a serious glitch in Chabot’s scheme: It doesn’t work.
While he mentions neither the dispensary, nor the wrinkle in the tax code by name, Chabot refers to Oakland’s Harborside Health Center and its ongoing battle with the IRS. The short-version is that the dispensary wants to claim the cost of its goods — in this case, medical marijuana — as a business expense on its federal tax forms and thus not be subject to taxation (just as any other widget-seller would do).
The IRS cited section 280E of the tax code, in which sales of illegal drugs cannot be deducted as a business expense, when it slapped Harborside with a $2.4 million overdue tax bill. While several members of Congress have moved to ensure 280E is not used on medical marijuana dispensaries, this case is currently in the courts.
Meanwhile, Chabot wants you to ponder the opportunities 280E has for the unwashed masses. Just think, he writes, if YOU were the Johnny Citizen who informed the feds of Harborside’s misdeeds! “If this was a whistle-blower case, the whistle-blower would get 30% of the 2.4 million which is roughly $700,000 in your pocket,” he wrote.
Or not at all. Even if a private citizen were to eventually succeed in collecting a payment from the IRS as a “thank you” for corraling a tax scofflaw — which would be a feat in itself — it would take much, much more than a phone call informing the taxman that a pot store exists to qualify for a whistle-blower reward, according to Henry Wykowski, a former United States attorney who headed the Northern District of California’s efforts to prosecute tax evaders.
“If this is true, I should be on the phone every day, calling the IRS and reporting every small business up and down the street in the hopes that they audit them,” Wykowski said. “[Chabot] misstates the basics of the [whistleblower] program … you have to go to the IRS with credible information.”
A whistleblower needs to present the IRS with actual information, such as ledgers, receipts, or other information used which the IRS then instigates a successful investigation, Wykowski said. In other words, a phone call or a letter informing the IRS of the existence of a business – a business that pays its taxes — won’t cut it. All the less so considering that these are businesses that file unchallenged tax returns — it’s the tax law itself that’s at issue, not medical marijuana dispensaries’ returns.
Chabot did not immediately respond to our multiple e-mails or telephone calls left Monday, but we’ll let you know if, and when, we hear back.
There’s also the issue of his faulty math. Prior to the federal government’s months-long coordinated shutdown of state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries across California, there were roughly 1,000 dispensaries in operation, according to Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. Figures provided by the Board of Equalization, which collects sales taxes from dispensaries, are similar — so how Chabot arrived at the notion that there are 10,000 dispensaries “in California alone” is a mystery.
“We’re concerned that people like Chabot would act with such venom and disdain against the state’s most vulnerable — our sick,” Hermes said. “Where are the patients who cannot grow medical marijuana themselves, or find someone skilled to grow it for them supposed to safely and legally obtain it?”
This use of big government to eradicate otherwise legal businesses would also put Chabot at odds with at least one other California politician who identifies with the Tea Party: San Francisco’s own John Dennis, whose small government bent leans Libertarian.
“It’s such a cynical thing,” Wykowski added. “‘Snitch off your neighbors, and get a reward?’ Fascism, I think it’s called.”