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couch, the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
January 2022



Dangerous questions for ending drug wars

A dangerous question for prohibitionists and the politicians who favor drug wars might be this one:

“Do you agree or not that pertinent actions should be taken, within the legal and constitutional framework, to begin a process of investigation into political decisions made in years past by political actors, with the aim of guaranteeing justice and the rights of possible victims?”

The question originated in a recent voter referendum in Mexico that reflected deep dissatisfaction with former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s empowerment of the Merida Initiative, or what some call Obama-Biden Merida 2. The referendum envisions a means of forestalling an era of Biden-Harris Merida 3.

The U.S. Congress investigates its own corruption only on rare occasions, and even then not very well. Posing the investigation question in the U.S. is likely to work best as a state referendum. It would enable and commit a state government to officially and aggressively investigate the progenitors and current political actors for whom drug wars have been a source of power and enrichment and whose corrupt practices limit the state’s ability to address vital public health and safety concerns.

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Idaho sheriff’s office circles its wagons

Southern Idaho law enforcement is up in arms about a marijuana dispensary opening in mid-September in the nearby border town of Jackpot, Nevada. Discussions with Nevada’s Elko County leaders to prevent the opening of Jackpot’s new 24/7-365 weed convenience store were unsuccessful:

… Similar to alcohol, marijuana is an intoxicant. It slows reflexes and impacts coordination, Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter said. […]

Deputies have been sent to drug recognition school and have training in spotting drivers operating under the influence of marijuana, he said.

“I have a good team of deputies,” Carter said. “If there is an issue, they will deal with it as they always have.”

After the grand opening of the dispensary, he expects law enforcement agencies to have increased patrols along U.S. Highway 93.

“Anyone engaging in illegal behavior should be aware they risk attracting attention from law enforcement,” Idaho State Police said in a statement.

Really? A “drug recognition school” for spotting drivers under the influence of marijuana? Is spotting the drivers even possible? Does this mean passengers under the influence will also be spotted?

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Is public discourse on drug overdoses improving?

This article today in the Washington Post caught my attention:

Drug overdoses deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year

The death toll jumped by more than 21,000, or nearly 30 percent, from 2019, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, eclipsing the record set that year.

Disturbing news, but what caught my attention was how the article approached this problem. Not once was the notion of harsher enforcement mentioned as a possible solution or need.

Instead, here were some of the reflections in the article:

“Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and 50 percent of methamphetamine overdose deaths also involved fentanyl. In many cases, she said, users are unaware that their drugs are laced with the powerful painkiller, which can halt breathing even if a minute amount is ingested.” […]

But unlike past years, 2020 brought the added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. Health-care resources were stretched and redirected toward the emergency. Anti-addiction medication was more difficult to obtain. Stress increased dramatically. Users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people were not nearby to summon first responders or administer the opioid antidote naloxone, experts said.

“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that tries to prevent overdose deaths, said in an email.

It’s time for the government to “provide medications for opioid use disorder for everyone who needs them, with no restrictions on cost or availability,” Volkow said.

There was a time when an article like this would be half enforcement-related, with a push for stricter laws and tough cracking down. This really seems like a long-overdue change in the discourse, at least. Recognition that drug illegality results in the more dangerous lacing with fentanyl, and that stress, depression, and instability (etc.) are factors leading to addiction and overdose as opposed to it being a thing you can just arrest your way out of (or “just say no” to).

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Best headline response to Richardson facing Olympic disqualification for marijuana use

The Onion weighs in.

Dream Crushed Over Trivial Bullshit Represents Nation Better Than Gold Medal Ever Could

Sha’Carri Richardson

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Great headline

Flint’s old police academy sold for marijuana grow facility despite objections

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Sharing with you a post I made today to a different audience…


This is a disturbing anniversary. Today, June 17, is 50 years since President Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one” — a speech that kicked off a massive and horribly damaging offensive that has continued to this day.

This is also a time when a whole lot of people are outraged at the notion of “critical race theory.” Why? Because they’ve been encouraged/duped by opportunistic politicians who wish to inflame partisan culture wars along with ridiculous non-issues like Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. (This will connect to the drug war. Patience.)

Many who oppose critical race theory don’t know what it actually means.

Now, when it comes to things like cancel culture and critical race theory and other culture-war fodder, there is an actual need for informed discussion on the nuances and the real-versus-manufactured outrages, but we don’t see much of that. For our purposes here, I will define critical race theory as “a practice that examines America’s history of racism and how it still impacts the country today.” Simple.

That brings us back to the drug war. And while there are a lot of topics I avoid commenting on because I don’t know enough, the drug war is something I’ve been studying and writing about extensively for two decades.

Yes, some call this the 50th anniversary of the war on drugs, but that’s a bit arbitrary. The origins go back much further and they’re almost all steeped in racism. The war on drugs is an essential part of America’s history of racism.

The first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws in the early 1900s were directed at black men in the South. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 20s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans.

From a Hearst newspapers national column: “Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles?… THREE-FOURTHS OF THE CRIMES of violence in this country today are committed by DOPE SLAVES — that is a matter of cold record.”

And as marijuana found its way into the jazz scene, some of the animus shifted to blacks (for more on the drug war and jazz, also look up Harry Anslinger and Billie Holiday).

“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” (Hearst newspapers, nationwide, 1934)

Attributed to Harry Anslinger: “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races… Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Fast forward to the 1970s and racism was still connected to Nixon’s expanded war on drugs. As John Ehrlichman said: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

“But Pete,” you may say, “that’s ancient history — things that only old people like you care about. We don’t do that (or say things like that) anymore.”

OK. Let’s take a look at another piece of history.

Saturday will be the 35th anniversary of the death of Len Bias – a promising University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose. With his death in the news, Tip O’Neil and the Democrats jumped into overdrive to create legislation putting more teeth in the drug laws. The result was the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, crafted by a 44-year-old senator from Delaware named Joe Biden. While the intention of these laws may not have been specifically racist to those writing them, the results were most definitely racist because of other factors in society. These laws resulted in the infamous 100-1 threshold disparity in sentencing between the chemically identical crack cocaine (used more by blacks) and powder cocaine (used more by whites). For more details, read my article about this: Len Bias – the death that ushered in two decades of destruction.

The reason that this history should concern us is that decades of sentencing disparity based on institutional/systemic racism (defined as societal patterns and structures that impose oppressive or otherwise negative conditions on identifiable groups based on race or ethnicity) have resulted in huge numbers of black Americans being disenfranchised (particularly in those states that still do not allow ex-felons to vote) and has, in many areas, dramatically affected family and other societal structures.

Understanding the history of the drug war is an essential element in crafting better ways of dealing with drugs and addiction in the future, and ensuring that laws don’t wittingly or unwittingly affect one group disproportionately.

There were times during my days of writing about the war on drugs when I was under some pressure not to talk about it, particularly since I worked at a university (that pressure never came from the university administration, fortunately). Some of that pressure came from other faculty, some from political leaders. But it turns out that learning history is important. As are facts. Even in education.

Fortunately, grassroots conversations about the history of the drug war have mostly overcome the federal government’s resistance to any meaningful discussion. And people have better come to realize that declaring war is not a good drug policy.

Today, 65 percent of voters support ending the war on drugs and 83 percent say it has failed.

Let’s learn about and understand the dark parts of our history, not for blame assignment, or to make people feel bad about themselves, but to fix the broken things that have resulted (and still persist in often unexpected ways) — and to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

True patriotism is caring about the health and welfare of our country and working to make it better. It’s not about making empty nationalistic gestures of faux fealty while avoiding learning about our past.

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Amazon supports marijuana legalization

Amazon Won’t Screen Employees for Marijuana Use, Will Back Federal Legalization

Amazon CEO Dave Clark said Tuesday that the company will no longer screen most of its employees for marijuana use, and it will back federal legalization legislation.

“We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation,” Clark said in a blog post on Amazon’s website. The change in policy comes as a response to “where state laws are moving across the U.S.,” Clark said.

Amazon also pledged to throw its considerable weight behind marijuana legalization on a countrywide scale, saying the company would be “actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act)—federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities.”

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Time for drug sniffing dogs to find a new job

… and we’ve got one for them.

On the Covid Front Lines, When Not Getting Belly Rubs

The three Labradors, operating out of a university clinic in Bangkok, are part of a global corps of dogs being trained to sniff out Covid-19 in people. Preliminary studies, conducted in multiple countries, suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places.

“For dogs, the smell is obvious, just like grilled meat for us,” said Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong, deputy dean of research and innovation for the faculty of veterinary science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

The hope is that dogs can be deployed in crowded public spaces, like stadiums or transportation hubs, to identify people carrying the virus. Their skills are being developed in Thailand, the United States, France, Britain, Chile, Australia, Belgium and Germany, among other countries. They have patrolled airports in Finland, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, and private companies have used them at American sporting events.

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Protecting children from drug wars

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN-5) recently introduced H.Res.356 – “Expressing condemnation for police brutality wherever in the world it occurs.”

The bill is in the early stages of being sent through committees and summarized, but its intent is unmistakable. H.Res.356 will focus world attention on drug war hotspots where children or adults are targeted, injured, or killed by members of militarized police squads ostensibly assigned to enforce that nation’s drug laws.

Children caught in police drug raids in Bolsonaro’s Brazil or Duterte’s Philippines typically aren’t as lucky as a Congressperson’s kid who gets busted for drugs. If drugs are involved, not much happens to the well-connected son or daughter of the public official compared to the subsequent misfortunes of other kids or adults whose lives are put at risk in botched police raids or arrests. Then there’s the ripple effect that runs through families and communities affected by the raids.

Given the bill’s potential to alter how the world perceives drug wars, H.Res.356 is likely to receive stiff opposition from Congressional members still connected to the lost hopes and dreams of a White supremacist drug-free society. In that case, the resolution’s successful passage may very well depend on individuals and citizen groups voicing their strong support for Rep. Ilhan Omar and the House bill that may yet help shield and save children from all drug wars.

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Colombia’s Proxy Drug War with Venezuela

Drug wars and oil wars will not go away anytime “soon” if the U.S. government has its way in South America:

…The U.S. Air Force on March 30 and 31 [2021] flew four C-17 Globemaster troop and equipment-carrying planes to airports in Colombia…the U.S. Congress will soon authorize the sale to Colombia of fighter aircraft worth $4.5 billion. […]

Colombian President Iván Duque in late February announced the creation of the “Special Command against Narcotrafficking and Transnational Threats.” This will be a 7000-person elite military force with air assault capabilities. Its “certain objective” according to the Communist Party’s website, is war against Venezuela.

During the tenure of left-leaning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and that of his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, Colombian paramilitaries repeatedly crossed the border on destabilization missions. Organizers for a 2000 seaborne anti-Maduro assault called Operation Gedeon were based in Colombia, as were some of the plotters who mounted a drone attack against Maduro in 2018. The U.S. and Colombian governments in February 2019 failed in their attempt to deliver humanitarian aid across the border at Cucuta, Colombia. Their idea had been to divide Venezuela’s military…The outcome of the fighting in Apure is unclear. The Colombian and U.S. governments undoubtedly would utilize any humanitarian crisis as an opening to further destabilize Venezuela’s government.

It’s certain that the U.S. government in the Biden era continues to seek the overthrow of Venezuela’s government. Without question the reactionary Colombian government is at the beck and call of the U.S. government. The U.S. has its eye on Venezuela’s … crude oil, in excess of 550 billion barrels…What is underappreciated is the role of drug-trafficking in serving interventionist purposes. […]

Drug wars conducted by proxy nations are the U.S. military’s answer to manufacturing consent for war. Drug enforcement’s role is to offset the bad optics and crippling economics of direct military interventions. It’s been determined that fielding each DEA or CIA functionary, or each U.S. soldier, costs on average $1 million, up to $1.3 million if a soldier is injured. Colombia’s soldiers are much cheaper.

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