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August 2014
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Drug War and Immigration

Report: Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Migrant Surge

Hernandez, who took office in January after winning on a pledge to be tough on crime, said only a drop in violence would curb the wave of families and unaccompanied minors fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who have overwhelmed temporary detention facilities on the U.S. border.

“Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade,” Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. “The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it.”

So often, we are our own worst enemy.

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Open Thread

Programming note:


Judge Jim Gray to Advocate for Legalization Opposite Dr. Kevin Sabet

CO—Former federal prosecutor, judge advocate for the Navy JAG corps and Superior Court Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) is in the Denver area this week meeting with media and civic groups and preparing for a debate this Wednesday on the merits of marijuana legalization, regulation and control. Judge Gray is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials who believe that prohibiting illicit drugs only serves to empower the criminal networks that sell them, wastes law enforcement time and resources, contributes to racial disparities in the justice system, saddles people who would be better served by treatment with criminal records and ultimately is ineffective at reducing use.

“The essential question is, would you rather have government regulators and legitimate business owners deciding how marijuana is grown, what it’s laced with, and who can buy it, or would you rather leave those decisions – and multiple billions of dollars in profits – to drug cartels and juvenile street gangs?”

He will be debating Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM this coming Wednesday at the Colorado School of Mines in an event that will be broadcast live here. ( Judge Gray will also be available for interviews before and after the debate.

“I look forward to discussing with Dr. Sabet the lesson we all should have learned eighty years ago with the prohibition of alcohol: Prohibiting a substance doesn’t prevent its use; it merely makes that use vastly more dangerous to both users and the communities in which they live.”

WHO: Judge Jim Gray vs. Dr. Kevin Sabet

WHAT: A public debate on marijuana legalization

WHEN: Wednesday, July 16 10:45am MT

WHERE: Colorado School of Mines Student Center, Ballroom B, 1600 Maple Street Golden, CO 80401 or online at

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White House embracing ‘State’s rights’?

White House Opposes Republican Amendment Undermining D.C. Marijuana law Reform

So the District of Columbia essentially passed a law reducing the penalty for marijuana from jail to a fine. But U.S. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) pushed forward an amendment in the U.S. Congress (which controls D.C.’s purse strings) that would prevent D.C. from even using its own funds to “carry out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.”

Pretty ridiculous. Now, however, the White House has stepped in, opposing the amendment:

The White House Statement of Administration Policy reads: “Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.

It’s unusual to see a Democratic administration pointing out the importance of State’s rights. It’s often seen as a loaded term, bringing back memories of segregation and slavery, and being used as a way to undermine any actions of the federal government.

And yet, “State’s rights,” more accurately defined as political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government, are an essential part of the United States Constitution.

It’s an oddly sad victory when we astonishingly note the White House’s support of the U.S. Constitution.

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Radley Balko with more good stuff:

Daniel Chong is the entirely predictable result of dehumanizing drug offenders

“Drug people are the very vermin of humanity.”

– Myles Ambrose, director of the Office of
Drug Abuse Law Enforcement during the Nixon Administration.

After discussing several cases (including Daniel Chong and Jonathan Magbie, Radley concludes:

It’s important to understand that these stories aren’t the product of rogue cops, jail officials or prosecutors. For 45 years now, the government has been waging an all-too-literal war on drugs. Since antiquity, great leaders have known that to win a war — to condition the population to be comfortable with all the violence and sacrifice that winning requires — you first dehumanize your enemy. Understand that, and you’ll begin to understand why the DEA had no safeguards in place to protect Daniel Chong but plenty of safeguards in place to protect the privacy of the DEA agents who almost killed him.

This same dehumanizing of the enemy extended to those “traitors” who dared to give aid and comfort to the enemy by suggesting that there was anything wrong with this war.

Back in a 1999 Congressional hearing on drug policy in Washington, DC, here’s what some of our representatives, sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, had to say:

“Legalization is a surrender to despair,” said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, Republican of upstate New York. “It cannot and ought not be any topic of serious discussion in our nation’s debate of the challenges of illicit drugs.”

Suggesting the depth of hostility toward the notion of legal drugs, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., asked whether anti-racketeering laws could be used to prosecute people conspiring to legalize drugs.

That’s right. Congressmen actually suggested that opposing the drug war cannot even be discussed and that those who do so should somehow be prosecuted.

This is the kind of hostility that those of us who chose to stand up sometimes faced (and that made many in the population afraid to speak up).

There really was that “vermin” notion that speaking out for legalization of drugs was somehow akin to legalizing child abuse, and that drug offenders were not worthy of the considerations you would give to “real” people.

A lot, fortunately, has changed since then (Bob Barr even changed). But that historical ugliness still persists in certain quarters.

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DEA stocks dropping

LA Times: DEA may be losing the war on marijuana politics

“For 13 of the 14 years I have worked on this issue, when the DEA came to a hearing, committee members jumped over themselves to cheerlead,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “Now the lawmakers are not just asking tough questions, but also getting aggressive with their arguments.”

It has certainly been frustrating that for way too long, the DEA seemed to be untouchable, able to lie, cheat, steal, and even kill with impunity.

But slowly, gradually, that immunity is fading, as demonstrated by Congress stepping up, and the Los Angeles Times writing about it.

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The latest National Drug Control Strategy

Jacob Sullum does an excellent job of analyzing this year’s stragety: Obama’s ‘Third Way’ Looks a Lot Like the War on Drugs

As Sullum appropriately notes, it’s a mixture of good and bad elements, but it still overall adds up to more drug war.

According to the latest National Drug Control Strategy, which was released today by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “we must seek to avoid over-simplified debates between the idea of a ‘war on drugs’ and the notion of legalization as a panacea.” Fans of Obamaspeak will appreciate the way that sentence poses a false choice while renouncing false choices. After all, legalization need not be a “panacea,” or anything resembling one, to be better than the disastrous war on drugs, which Obama himself once called “an utter failure.

What is the president offering in its place? “Drug use and its consequences are complex phenomena requiring an array of evidence-based policy responses,” the ONDCP says. Understanding this reality, “the Administration remains committed to charting this ‘third way’ toward a healthier, safer, and more prosperous America.” But in practice, Obama’s “third way” looks an awful lot like the first way, because he refuses to renounce the use of violence to stop people from consuming politically incorrect drugs.

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Open Thread

I’m on my way to Los Angeles for a few days for work.

Here are a few items to get your blood boiling…

bullet image Meet Jason Westcott, your latest, needless, inexcusable drug war tragedy

On the night of May 27, as armed men streamed through his front door, Westcott grabbed his gun. But the 29-year-old didn’t have a chance to shoot before he died in a volley of gunfire. And those who killed him weren’t robbers.

They were police officers from the same agency he had enlisted to protect his home.

bullet image Imprisoning Women for Addiction

At MCI-Framingham, women committed solely under Section 35 are, in many respects, treated worse than convicted prisoners. Like other prisoners, they are strip-searched, subjected to body-cavity inspections, and deprived of their personal possessions and dignity. But unlike other prisoners, they cannot visit the library, pray at the chapel, or participate in prison programs. In fact, civilly committed women at MCI-Framingham cannot even access the addiction treatment programs available to sentenced prisoners.

As Governor Deval Patrick has acknowledged, Massachusetts is the only state that incarcerates people suffering from addiction who have not been convicted of crimes. This lawsuit seeks to end that practice.

bullet image Via Diane Goldstein, comes this from the Center for Investigative Reporting: Doctor pleads guilty to billing fraud at Los Angeles-area rehab clinic

A Southern California physician pleaded guilty to falsely identifying teenagers as drug or alcohol addicts to justify millions in bills to the government’s rehabilitation program for the poor. [...]

The Redondo Beach doctor had been medical director since 1999 and was responsible for $46 million in fraudulent claims, prosecutors said. Whitson referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment.

Four Atlantic counselors also pleaded guilty to fraud last year. They were accused of spending only a half-hour twice a week with students while fabricating the paperwork to bill for up to five 90-minute counseling sessions each week.[...]

At Atlantic, prosecutors stated that Margarita Lopez, Tamara Diaz, Cindy Leticia Ortiz and Arthur Dominguez enrolled students in substance abuse counseling even if they didn’t have an addiction problem. At the direction of their supervisors, they then fabricated counseling notes to justify billing the government for sessions that never happened. Dominguez, for example, was instructed to improve his fake paperwork if it appeared to be copied and pasted.

bullet image Terminal Cancer Patient Rushed to Hospital During Felony Trial for Medical Pot

Despite Mackenzie’s deteriorating condition, his trial is expected to be completed Friday, Linda Bowman, the judicial trial court supervisor at the Scott County Clerk’s Office, told The Huffington Post. If Mackenzie is found guilty, he faces at least three years in prison — a punishment that he’s said equates to a death sentence. [...]

District Court Judge Henry Latham ruled in May that Mackenzie is barred from using his condition as a defense in court during his trial as a reason for why he was growing marijuana, the Associated Press reported.

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Defining ‘public’

Raid on Denver Pot Club Illustrates Continued Intolerance of Marijuana Consumption Outside the Home

Last week Denver police raided and shut down Maryjane’s Social Club, one of the few places in Colorado, aside from private residences, where people could legally smoke pot. Or so it seemed. Maryjane’s did not advertise and was open only to paying members, but in the eyes of Denver officials that was not sufficiently private. [...]

But to qualify as a private club, Douglas says, an organization would have to satisfy the “balancing test” set forth by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in U.S. v. Lansdowne Swim Club, a 1990 discrimination case. That test includes factors such as the club’s selectivity, its history and mission, the formalities it observes, whether it advertises for members, whether its facilities are used by nonmembers, the control that members have over the club’s operations, and whether the club generates profits for the people who run it.

That’s just utter hogwash.

He’s taking the definition of a private club in a completely different context and trying to apply it to anything that’s “not public.”

The law doesn’t say that marijuana has to be smoked in a private club. Rather is says that it’s an offense to consume marijuana “openly and publicly.”

From any fair reading of the intent of the law, that’s clearly a prohibition against smoking it around others who would be surprised or bothered by it. In other words, out on the street, or lighting up in a regular restaurant, etc.

You don’t need to charge a membership fee, and you certainly don’t have to be a private club as defined in U.S. vs. Lansdowne Swim Club.

Really all you should need is a sign that says, “Beyond this point, people may be smoking cannabis. If that bothers you, don’t go there.”

Now, fortunately in other areas of the state, private clubs are not running into trouble. But they shouldn’t have to worry at all (other than meeting normal regulatory requirements of establishments). Legalization of marijuana does not mean that users are to hide in their homes in shame.

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Legalization, unfortunately, brings us idiots as well


VANCOUVER, Wash. — John Larson, a recently retired high school science and math teacher, hopes to be in the first wave of legal recreational marijuana salespeople opening shop here in Washington State this week.

Mr. Larson, 67, who was talked into the venture by his children, said he had never tried marijuana, and, in fact, voted against legalizing it in 2012. But as a business idea — well, that’s different.

“If people were dumb enough to vote it in, I’m all for it,” he said over a cup of coffee near his shop here in southern Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. “There’s a demand, and I have a product.” [Emphasis added]

Really? That’s the way you want to talk about your customer base in the New York Times?

I suggest finding another place to shop. Unfortunately, due to the expected shortages, he’ll probably get good sales anyway, but that would be a real shame.

[Thanks, Tom]

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Follow the money

The July 21-28 issue of The Nation has a cover story on “Guess Who’s Profiting from Pot Prohibition

Ironically, both CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids are heavily reliant on a combination of federal drug-prevention education grants and funding from pharmaceutical companies. Founded in 1992, CADCA has lobbied aggressively for a range of federal grants for groups dedicated to the “war on drugs.” The Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997, a program directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was created through CADCA’s advocacy. That law now allocates over $90 million a year to community organizations dedicated to reducing drug abuse. Records show that CADCA has received more than $2.5 million in annual federal funding in recent years. The former Partnership for a Drug-Free America, founded in 1985 and best known for its dramatic “This is your brain on drugs” public service announcements, has received similarly hefty taxpayer support while advocating for increased anti-drug grant programs.

The Nation obtained a confidential financial disclosure from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids showing that the group’s largest donors include Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and Abbott Laboratories, maker of the opioid Vicodin. CADCA also counts Purdue Pharma as a major supporter, as well as Alkermes, the maker of a powerful and extremely controversial new painkiller called Zohydrol. The drug, which was released to the public in March, has sparked a nationwide protest, since Zohydrol is reportedly ten times stronger than OxyContin. Janssen Pharmaceutical, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that produces the painkiller Nucynta, and Pfizer, which manufactures several opioid products, are also CADCA sponsors. For corporate donors, CADCA offers a raft of partnership opportunities, including authorized use of the “CADCA logo for your company’s marketing, website, and advertising materials, etc.”

The article goes on to talk about a variety of financial interests of those opposing legalization, including asset forfeiture and other sources.

This isn’t a surprise to us. We’ve long talked about the fact that the most ardent supporters of prohibition are either sadomoralists or financially profiting from the drug war (or both).

You can read more about Big Prohibition here.

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