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Join us on Pete's couch., the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
April 2015
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The War on Drugs and the streets of our cities

The world is talking about Baltimore right now — another battleground between police and citizens who have lost respect for each other in large part due to the war on drugs.

Freddie Gray a victim of America’s longest war

Overall, the record on Freddie Gray reveals a young man who had frequent encounters with police as they carried out local operations in America’s longest war: the war on drugs.[…]

So, generally speaking, Gray was a low-level, nonviolent offender.

Some people will say his record is irrelevant to the central issues — how he died while in the custody of Baltimore police, and why the police pursued him on April 12 to begin with — and I agree.

But I mention his record because his encounters with the law stemmed from the enforcement of our drug laws.

Such encounters occur constantly throughout the country.[…]

Still, even with that change, we have the war on drugs. It goes on, day after day, constantly creating needless encounters between police and people like Freddie Gray.

A tweet from Sanho Tree last night…

I’m just trying to imagine what police/community relations might be like today if there’d never been a war on drugs.


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Open Thread

I’m playing the piano for a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” this weekend, and have a number of visitors in town, so I’m just trying to keep my head above water, but there’s a lot going on in drug policy as well.

You can count on our commenters to be on top of it.

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Michele Leonhart

So it looks like Michele Leonhart is finally going to be leaving the DEA.

Michele Leonhard, Head of D.E.A., to Retire Over Handling of Sex Scandal

Ms. Leonhart’s impending departure after eight years in the top job follows a hearing last week in which lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee expressed outrage about her handling of reports that D.E.A. agents in Colombia had participated in sex parties with prostitutes paid for by drug cartels.

Before we go any further, let’s make a couple of things crystal clear:

1. Michele Leonhart leaving is only part of the solution.

The entire agency is corrupt and needs to be dismantled.

2. Sex parties aren’t the problem. They’re just a symptom.

The scandal only demonstrates the obscene level to which the agency considers itself above the law and responsible to no ethical or legal code, while at the same time using violence against citizens to enforce arbitrary laws that they help create.

So Michele is going to retire. She’s not being fired, or put in jail, but will retire after 35 years in the DEA, with a fine pension. That’s the penalty for what she and the DEA have done to this country?


Meanwhile, good citizens have lost their jobs, their homes, their families, their freedom — all because of her and her mercenary army.

I started writing about Michele way back in 2003 when she was nominated as deputy administrator.

DEA Bad Girl Michele Leonhart

(I’ve got to admit that I got some pleasure out of the fact that for several years, when the head of the DEA put her own name in Google, this was the first thing to show up. So I’m guessing she knows who I am.)

In that article, I talked about her relationship with supersnitch Andrew Chambers and her lack of concern about lying.

The most startling statement in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation of Andrew Chambers was from Michele Leonhart:

“The only criticism (of Chambers) I’ve ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand.”

She continued by saying that once prosecutors check him out, they’ll agree with his admirers in DEA that he’s “an outstanding testifier.”

That’s the key. To an agent like Leonhart, getting the bust and getting the conviction is all that matters. The testimony is good if it leads to a successful conclusion (from her perspective). Why nitpick about the truth?

Truth has never been important to Leonhart during her entire career with the DEA.

Yes, I’m glad to see her go, but not optimistic about the possibility of getting anyone in that position to replace her that would actually do what’s needed — dismantle the very agency they’ve been tasked to lead.

About the best we can hope for is for someone to be put in place that will be asked to follow a watered-down version of the slogan that comes from the Hippocratic school…

First, do less harm.

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Who knew? Supreme Court remembers the Fourth Amendment

Supreme Court Says Police Violated 4th Amendment When Use of Drug-Sniffing Dog Prolonged Routine Traffic Stop

In a 6-3 decision issued today in the case of Rodriguez v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Nebraska police violated the Fourth Amendment by extending an otherwise lawful traffic stop in order to let a drug-sniffing dog investigate the outside of the vehicle.

According to the majority opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, “a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” […]

During the January 2015 oral argument in the case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor previewed the Court’s skepticism towards the police officer’s approach. “We can’t keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement,” Sotomayor declared. “Particularly when this stop is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It’s purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.”


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Twas the Night Before 4.20

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Fire the DEA

Forget expressing no confidence in Michele Leonhardt, or even firing her. The entire agency is corrupt, out of control, and destructive to our society.

DEA’s Leonhart Doomed? Committee Declares ‘No Confidence’ Amid Sex Party Scandal — USA Today

Nearly two dozen lawmakers serving on the House oversight committee say it’s time for leadership change at the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The current DEA administrator, Michele Leonhart, infuriated committee members Tuesday with her testimony about agents who repeatedly attended sex parties with prostitutes that were funded by drug cartel members.

None of the misbehaving agents were fired. Seven of them were punished with suspensions of between one and 10 days. The Department of Justice’s inspector general reported on the wild overseas escapades last month.

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said after the hearing that Leonhart should resign or be fired.

In a remarkably bipartisan Wednesday afternoon declaration, Chaffetz, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and 20 other members said they have no confidence in Leonhart.

DEA: Bad Boys Sexing Up Colombian Prostitutes Supplied by Drug Cartels – by Diane Goldstein

As a career police officer and an Executive Board Member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement professionals opposed to the War on Drugs, I have long believed that one of the most corrupting influences in policing is the enforcement of our drug laws. […]

I have often written about the Machiavellian effect of the drug war on policing and how it has fueled corruption. This scandal, as so many others is not a salacious tale about sex and drugs, but about the failures of drug prohibition and how power corrupts. The DEA, like the drug war has outlived its usefulness. The agency’s handling of not just this scandal, but also many others since its inception reflects their inability to manage itself. The time has come to dismantle an agency more concerned for its own power then for supporting the will of the American people and the rule of law.

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Odds and Ends

bullet image Smoking Marijuana for 50 Years, and Turning Out Just Fine

Not the kind of person that prohibitionists like to admit even exists.

Awkward joke by the author about marijuana being a gateway to writing a book, but otherwise, nice little article.

bullet image New Mexico: Governor Signs Bill on Civil Forfeiture

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill Friday virtually ending the practice of civil forfeiture, making the state a leader in sharply restricting a contentious policy that critics say deprives citizens of due process and gives law enforcement a profit motive. “This is landmark legislation to protect people’s property and due process rights,” said Lee McGrath, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian civil rights group that has long campaigned against the practice. The law preserves criminal forfeiture, in which assets tied to crime can be taken if the owner is convicted.

bullet image Human Rights Watch Sues DEA over Bulk Collection of Americans’ Telephone Records

Los Angeles — Human Rights Watch, a nonpartisan organization that fights human rights abuses across the globe, filed suit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration late Tuesday for illegally collecting records of its telephone calls to certain foreign countries as part of yet another government bulk surveillance program. The group is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has launched a series of legal challenges against unconstitutional government surveillance.

“The DEA’s program of untargeted and suspicionless surveillance of Americans’ international telephone call records—information about the numbers people call, and the time, date, and duration of those calls—affects millions of innocent people, yet the DEA operated the program in secret for years,’’ said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “Both the First and Fourth Amendment protect Americans from this kind of overreaching surveillance. This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW’s rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance.”

bullet image Where Do Presidential Candidates Stand on Marijuana?

Nice run-down by Tom Angell.

bullet image In Mexico, new demand for ‘the good stuff’ grown in U.S.

Hmmm… will this change border dynamics?

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Fun with Propaganda

Of course, throughout history, our government has coopted all kinds of cultural icons to help promote its destructive war on drugs (and I’m sure some participated in good faith because they themselves had been blinded by the years of propaganda). I was reminded this morning of this:

Captain America Goes To War Against Drugs

It was 1990, and it was a free issue “Produced in Cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation”

Back in 2011 Cracked had an article that described the completely inane attempt at using Captain America this way: 6 Comics That Covered Serious Issues and Failed Hilariously

Captain America seems like a perfect “Don’t do drugs” spokesman until you remember that it was getting shot up with a “super soldier serum” that let him gain muscles the size of basketballs and become a superhero. So that makes him pretty much the Barry Bonds of superheroes and the second-worst person to star in a PSA comic about substance abuse after Pablo Escobar.

The “Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs” story is so epic it spans two comics, and it’s so offensively stupid that the DEA might as well have tattooed DRUGS on their knuckles and punched all the kids who read this comic in the face instead.

It goes on in detail to describe the bizarre story in this comic.

And, of course, there were others. Check out The American Soft Drink Industry presents DC Comics’ The New Teen Titans in cooperation with The President’s Drug Awareness Campaign, complete with a letter from Nancy Reagan.


Speaking of propaganda, remember the old “This is your brain on drugs”?


It’s been rightly ridiculed over the years, but now there’s a new version that’s a lot more interesting.

The tagline of the most famous anti-drug campaign of the late 80s is now the title of a series of beautiful posters created by Duke University senior Meaghan Li. Li majors in public policy and minors in graphic design. This project was created for a psychology class that delved into different aspects of substance use and abuse.

This is your brain on drugs.


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I’ve been busy today and haven’t had a chance to watch/listen to this, but I thought you might want to know that there’s a video featuring Mark Kleiman debating “Chasing the Scream’s” Johann Hari.

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DEA spying on Americans

This isn’t a real surprise, but it’s still a big story.

U.S. secretly tracked billions of calls for decades

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed.

For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved with the operation said. The targeted countries changed over time but included Canada, Mexico and most of Central and South America.

It turns out the DEA was the worst offender…

The DEA used its data collection extensively and in ways that the NSA is now prohibited from doing. Agents gathered the records without court approval, searched them more often in a day than the spy agency does in a year and automatically linked the numbers the agency gathered to large electronic collections of investigative reports, domestic call records accumulated by its agents and intelligence data from overseas.

And it took Edward Snowden to stop the program.

Holder halted the data collection in September 2013 amid the fallout from Snowden’s revelations about other surveillance programs.

And, of course, they knew it wasn’t right.

To keep the program secret, the DEA sought not to use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions or in its justification for warrants or other searches.

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