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January 2009



A message from the front lines in D.C.

If there’s anyone who has a finger on the pulse of Congress when it comes to drug policy reform, it’s probably Howard Wooldridge. LEAP’s cowboy-hat-wearing lobbyist has become a familiar figure in the Washington corridors. His LEAP on the Hill posts are always a delight to read.
He makes a strong and important point in an email:

The marijuana contingent of prohibition reform needs to do more outreach and education to the ‘unconverted’ and the uninformed. This will involve moving outside the comfort zone of a hemp fest ‘free the weed’ type meeting and into a Rotary or other such venue. LEAP can use all the help possible to educate the citizens. My wife wears a t-shirt that says: MOMS SAY LEGALIZE POT – Ask Me Why… in my 13 years I have never seen a MJ reformer wear a t-shirt that invites a discussion or even effectively advertises their position. A Shirt that just has MJ leaves on it or NORML is essentially worthless in converting a soccer mom or dad to our side.

Zogby poll shows that 3/4 of America knows the WOD is a failure. Congress knows it by that margin and Obama has called it an ‘utter failure.’ That said, the WOD was NOT an issue in 2008.

In order to end prohibition, dozens of Hill staffers have told me THE PHONE HAS TO RING with constituents insisting on moving legislation on this issue. And the phone is NOT ringing. Politicians are led by the people; they rarely are going to lead. They are mostly cowards by nature. Not one Member of Congress has put on their website a position on the war on drugs/prohibition. That needs to change. All the logic and reason in the world will not move Congress… only voices. Out of roughly 40 million users of illegal drugs, less than 100,000 belong to a drug reform org. We have much work to do in 2009.

This tracks closely with what I’ve talked about — change comes from the bottom, not the top. And we need to spread the word. Tell all your friends, and when they’re all convinced, widen your circle of friends and tell them. When you have all them convinced, convince them to all call their Representatives.
And, by the way, when is the last time you called your Representative?
We’ve got a lot of new ones this year, and both the new and the old need to hear from us — and not just the automated email blasts that come along every so often. Write a letter, call their staff. Be succinct. To the point. Don’t ask them to legalize marijuana — they can’t quite do that (states still have their own laws), but ask them to stop prosecuting medical marijuana patients, or to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, or to support sentencing reform, or to support study into alternatives to prohibition. Make it clear that you’re a voter and you care about these issues.
And more of you need to come out of the closet. I know you all can’t do it, but, quite frankly, lots of you probably can who think that you can’t.
I found the following comment left here regarding questions at quite strange:

I would probably submit the question “If drugs are so bad, can’t people choose not to do them without having to do so at gunpoint?”, if I thought that any government agency should have a record of my personal political positions. What are you people, fucking insane???

“Personal political positions” is kind of an oxymoron unless you live in a political world of one (Ã la Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Total Perspective Vortex). How do you fight for change if you won’t even tell people what needs to be changed?
Propaganda wins by making us afraid to speak.

Coming to terms with the impossibility of winning a drug war

An interesting article in Newsweek: Colombia’s Failed Drug War.

By some measures lvaro Uribe is the world’s most successful head of state. Since taking office in 2002, the president of Colombia has routed the ELN terrorist group, broken the FARC guerrillas, demobilized their right-wing paramilitary foes and made Colombia’s cities safe again. Homicides are down 40 percent nationwide since his term began, and economic growth is up, from just 2.5 percent in 2002 to 8.2 percent in 2007. Result: 66 percent of Colombians approve of Uribe even during a global financial catastrophe Ödown from the 80s a few months agoÖthe highest of any president in a democracy.

This is quite positive stuff (at least positive-sounding). At this point, the U.S. government would tout this as proof that the drug war is working. Which, of course, is nonsense. Whether or not you agree that the developments listed above are positive for Colombia and/or the United States, it takes a certain level of self-delusion to use them as measures of drug war success.
Newsweek’s Adam Kushner is not deluded.

U.S. policymakers have also hailed Uribe: President George W. Bush has feted his “determination to rid the country of narcotrafficking.”
Determination is not, however, enough to win the war on drugs. Since 2000, the United States has sent more than $6 billion to Bogot½ to help Uribe and his predecessor stabilize the Andean region, stanch the flow of drugs into America’s cities and cut drug production. In what is known as Plan Colombia, Washington sent pilots and choppers to Colombia, trained commandos and furnished weapons to fight traffickers and terrorists. For his part, Uribe and his predecessor raised the military budget from 4 to 6 percent of the national GDP. But instead of cutting drug production in half by 2006, as Plan Colombia intended, the acreage of land dedicated to coca cultivation is up 15 percent since 2000 and now yields 4 percent more cocaine than it did eight years ago. An October report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an oversight agency, says Plan Colombia’s goals “have not been fully achieved.”

A doozy of an understatement by the GAO. The notion that Plan Colombia could ever be considered a success with billions of dollars spent and cultivation and output going up is simply bizarre.
Kushner goes on to explain why economics, geography, and logistics actually make it impossible to win the drug war.

To a certain extent, Uribe is struggling against impossible odds. […]
All of which means that the drug war in Colombia may be at a stalemate. With diminishing returns on enforcement, American and Colombian officials are at a loss to say what, exactly, their endgame is. […]
So for now, Colombia and the United States will have to come to terms with the fact that even a popular president has limited power to fight drug traffickers.

Kushner’s article isn’t perfect. He blames neighboring countries for not participating enthusiastically enough, even though he doesn’t show that such participation would make a difference. He also neglects some of the important economic considerations.
However, this is an important moment.
An article in a major national magazine is saying, essentially, that the drug war (at least in Colombia) cannot be won. There is no quick answer, no option for solving it by simply throwing more money at it.
The conventional wisdom about Colombia has gone through quite a transition:

We will win the drug war through Plan Colombia.
We are winning the drug war in Colombia. We just need more time/money.
While there have been some set-backs, if we redouble our efforts, we will win.
We need to come up with some different options and get some more help from neighbors, and then we’ll win.
There’s no possible way to win this war no matter what we do.

This is good progress. And now we have to help lead them to…

What’s next?