Friday, July 23, 2010

Prop. 19 Receives Support From Both Sides of the Political Spectrum

As public support for marijuana legalization continues to grow, politicians on both sides of the political spectrum are beginning to realize: "if you can't beat em, join em".
Robert Cruickshank, public policy director for the Courage Campaign, which backs progressive causes, called for the vote in an attempt to overturn a party committee's recommendation to adopt a neutral position. He started by reminding the assembled Democrats that the party's chairman, former San Francisco state Sen. John Burton, has said pot was the issue that would motivate young voters to go to the polls in this off-year election.
"If we endorse Proposition 19 and take a courageous position to support reform, just as we took courageous positions on same-sex marriage and other contentious issues, we will win the moral argument, we will win Proposition 19 and we will win races in November," Cruickshank said.
Political strategists realize that candidates can benefit from supporting pro-legalization efforts. With voter support, candidates feel more comfortable and confident endorsing Prop. 19, rather than blindly following the zero tolerance War on Drugs mentality. This shift in status quo is a response to the fact that progressive voters are more likely to vote for candidates that also believe in sensible policies.
“A major part of our campaign strategy will be engaging young and first-time voters who are excited to come to the polls to support our initiative, and we think the Democratic Party will really benefit from the extra turnout that our campaign will provide,” said Yes on Proposition 19 Field Director James Rigdon.
Adding their names to the list of Prop. 19 endorsements are the California Young Democrats and the Republican Liberty Caucus of California. The Young Dems recognize the law-enforcement cost savings and potential local tax revenue legalization and taxation could bring in. The RLCCA endorsed the measure as well, but in a legalization-without-taxation stance.
“Clearly the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle free men and women living on free soil to grow and smoke marijuana,” said RLCCA Secretary Parke Bostrom. “Prop. 19 respects this right, while at the same time highlighting that under our Constitution, the federal government does not have authority to control the sale and possession of marijuana.”
John Dennis, the Republican nominee to challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 8th Congressional District, said Prop. 19 would help “restore freedom to adults over what they choose to consume. In addition, it will help reduce violence between rival drug gangs and law enforcement along the U.S./Mexico border. While not perfect, Prop. 19 is a big step in the right direction.”
As the public marijuana debate continues to sweep across the nation, politicians in every state will have to address the possibility of legalization. Better yet, the federal government will soon have to address the hypocrisy and the ultimate failures of the War on Drugs.

War on Drugs Deemed a Failure at the International AIDS Conference

The Vienna Declaration, a document drafted by the world's leading AIDS experts, became the centerpiece of the 18th International AIDS Conference held in Vienna this week. The statement declares the War on Drugs a 50-year-old failure, and calls on governments to adopt science-based drug policies. Experts argue that that the criminalization of drug use is fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
There is incontrovertible evidence that law enforcement has failed to curtail the market for illicit drugs, which is worth an estimated $320-billion (U.S.) a year, says Evan wood, founder of the International Center for Science in Drug Policy.

So, instead of merely arresting and jailing those who take illegal drugs, money should be spent on public-health efforts such as needle exchanges and methadone treatment. Removing the stigma and legal barriers will also make it easier for drug users to come forward to seek treatment for infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, as well as rehabilitative services.

“Basing drug policies on scientific evidence will not eliminate drug use or the problems stemming from drug injection,” the Vienna Declaration reads. “However, reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches … would allow for the redirection of vast financial resources to where they are needed most.”
Our punitive laws are expensive and ineffective. The supply of illicit drugs in the U.S. remains constant despite $50 billion spent on the failed War on Drugs every year. The mass incarceration of drug users doesn't seem to solve drug problems either. Handcuffs certainly don't cure drug addictions. With the money wasted on the drug war, there is little room left to fund addiction treatment and prevention programs. Outside of Africa, almost a third of all HIV infections stem from drug injections. Providing users with clean needle swaps, for example, is a sensible harm reduction strategy. More "extreme" strategies, including the legalization of drugs, seem to be considered more effective at dealing with drug problems than prohibition.
Dr. Evan Wood, an AIDS policy expert at the University of British Columbia and the chief author of the Vienna Declaration, cited Portugal’s approach. According to a 2009 report by the libertarian Cato Institute, in the decade since Portugal legalized possession of up to 10 days’ worth of any drug, including cocaine and heroin, its AIDS rate dropped by half, overdose deaths fell, many citizens sought treatment, drug use among young people fell and drug tourism did not develop. The institute called the policy “a resounding success.”
Although the premises of the Vienna Declaration should be concerning, who's paying attention? Only two governments have reacted to the document. Canada rejected it while Georgia's first lady signed it at a public ceremony. Not surprisingly, almost every top American official refused to discuss the declaration. One anonymous government official said he had just called the White House for guidance and was told no one had read it yet, and there was no time to respond. Will there ever be a more urgent time to take a deeper look into the failures of the War on Drugs?

Beware Americans Bearing Gifts

This week saw the release of a General Accounting Office Report on the Merida Initiative. The Merida Initiative is a coordinated drug interdiction effort between the United States, Mexico, and Central American countries. It's a $1.8 billion fund set up in 2007.

News outlets in the United States reported with some curiosity as to why less than ten percent of the funds have been spent.

What the outlets didn't report was what the funds that were spent actually bought, or were about to be delivered.

So, here's the list of materiel being funneled to Mexico through the State Department and its embassy in Mexico City. (We're leaving out the training aspects to Mexican government agencies identified by the audit.) The list follows the division articulated by the GAO into what's about to be delivered (page 8 of the report) and what is pending delivery (page 25 of the report.)

Already Delivered

26 armored vehicles
62 Plataforma Mexico computer servers
Training Equipment
5 x-ray vans
OASSIS servers and software
Biometric equipment
Document verification software
Ballistic tracing equipment (IBIS)
30 ion scanners
Rescue communication equipment and training
Personal protective equipment
5 Bell helicopters
10 mobile X-ra minivans
Constanza software
100 Polygraph units
13 armored suburbans

Pending Delivery

218 Polygraph units
2 Railroad x-ray inspection units
2 Bell helicopters
3 Black Hawk helicopters (SSP)
Mobile Gamma Radiation trucks
3 Black Hawk helicopters (SEMAR)
4 CASA Airplanes
Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft
3 to 5 Black Hawk helicopters (SSP)
Additional equipment for Mexican national data system
Additional equipment for Mexican Communication and Transportation Secretariat
1 Bell helicopter

It seems that the military-prison-industrial complex is alive and well in Mexico. With our help.

But the point is that notwithstanding the helicopters, polygraph machines, and armored suburbans given by the U.S., the body count in the Mexican drug war continues to rise.

Maybe its time to start thinking about the true costs of prohibition? And search for a different way out of Mexico's 25,000 cadaver quagmire.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poor Mexico. So Far From God, So Close to the United States: The Merida Initiative Tries to Remake Mexico In America's Image

Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's president and dictator for more than three decades, was right. Mexico is too close to the United States.

Just last week, news outlets reported Mexico's first car bombing in recent memory, in the Mexican border city of Juarez, the most dangerous city in the world in a country racked by vicious drug violence. This week we also heard stories of testimony to the US Congress, that the United States under the Department of State, will increase delivery of $1.8 billion worth of expertise and materiel to fight the drug war. The U.S. promised this support to Mexico and some Central American countries, as an anti-drug effort focused on "strengthening" justice and criminal justice institutions through a bilateral agreement known as the 2007 Merida Initiative.

There's just one dampener to the glow: much of the money -- some 91 per cent -- has yet to be spent. Or at least that's how a number of news outlets reported the story. And of that nine percent, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported and summarized the difficulty of tracking exactly how the money is spent.

But even without the necessary anti-corruption and fraud controls desired by the GAO, there's a commitment to make the money flow faster. Somehow politicians and observers seem to think that more money spent in Mexico will dent the U.S.-bound supply roots and markets, and diminish the violence. It's a hazy, worrisome formula.

But what's even more troubling is the substance of what Barack Obama's Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David T. Johnson, told Congress. He crowed to Dennis Kucinich's House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy about what Hillary Clinton's Department of State has achieved even without the full Merida funds.

And what has the U.S. government achieved? Not a downturn in violence in Mexico. No decrease in the power of the drug trafficking organizations, not even a reduction in Stateside demand for drugs.

Instead, a listing of what Johnson refers to as a "vital set of tools" reveals that US drug warriors are using Merida to remake Mexico into an security state favoring prohibition and akin to that of the United States.

1. "Humane corrections systems that can serve as platforms for addiction treatment..."

2. "Non-intrusive inspection equipment and K-9 training..."

3. Support for moving Mexican criminal trials from an "old inquisitorial system to an accusatory system that uses transparent oral trials and relies more heavily on physical evidence."

4. "We are working on complex money laundering investigations, asset forfeiture issues and weapons trafficking."

5. "U.S. assistance has also successfully expanded Plataforma Mexico, which provides sophisticated information technology equipment to law enforcement and judicial offices..."

6. Training by "US Federal, State, and local law enforcement for 4,300 new Federal Police investigators in investigative techniques..."

7. "In one of the more innovative programs, we are working with the U.S. states of Colorado and New Mexico to provide training and technical assistance for corrections officers, not only from Mexico, but also from Central America."

8. Promotion of "anonymous tips" in communities besieged by drug violence.

9. Drug crop elimination in "key drug source countries."

There's no indication that pushing such reforms further will weaken the drug cartels. Even after three years of the Merida Initiative, and four years into Mexico's drug war, the death toll ticks, steadily upward, irrespective of the designs of the Washington policy apparatus.

Poor Mexico. Poor Mexico, indeed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

D.A.R.E. Officers Give Out Donuts to Get Kids to Talk to Them

D.A.R.E.'s International Training Conference is underway in Cincinnati, OH right now and D.A.R.E. officers from all over the country have figured out a healthy and non-ironic way to educate kids about the dangers of drugs: free donuts.

Seriously. That's the best they could come up with. Considering that poor diet and lack of exercise contribute to nearly 400,000 deaths each year, they couldn't have made a worse choice. Maybe if D.A.R.E. wasn't spending thousands of dollars each year on Mustangs and monster trucks with custom paint jobs to make kids think they're cool, they could have bought these kids some carrot sticks instead of giving out 1,000 sugar glazed artery cloggers donated by Dunkin' Donuts.

One police officer explained that giving out free donuts made children a lot less afraid of approaching police. "For people to approach you, it's a good thing because as police officers, that usually doesn't happen."

Why in the world would young people be cautious of talking to police officers? Police are the good guys right? They protect and serve and wage a war on drugs, so why is it unusual for them to be approached?

It might have something to do with things like this:

California's Cannabis Culture

Already leading the nation in marijuana reform by enacting Prop. 215 (the Compassionate Use Act of 1996), California voters will have another chance to take part in this historic movement as Prop. 19 awaits passage this November. If the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use passes, the rest of nation will be looking at California with much anticipation.

In this short and sweet documentary, Amanda Van West takes us into California to explore it's deep rooted cannabis culture. We hear the from of a variety activists, proponents and opponents alike. Alex Woon, one of SSDP's Board of Directors, is featured in the video.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Youth Voices against the Drug War: The Case of the Boy Scouts of Juarez

How do youth resist feeling disempowered by the Drug War? With their schools and communities on lockdown in Northern Mexico, what do young people have to say about their confinement in one of the hemisphere's most violent cities?

On Saturday 17 July youth from Juarez, Chihuahua attended a Panamerican Boy Scouts Jamboree in Tepotzlan, Morelos State with three thousand scouts from 15 countries. Juarez has a homicide tally this year at around 6,000 people. The killings have been indiscriminate: two scouts ages 19 and 21 from Chihuahua were killed earlier this year.

Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala, attended the jamboree as a guest speaker and as head of the Department of Infancy and Families (DIF). Zavala failed to address the Drug War that has claimed 25,000 people since her husband, President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, took office. Newspapers in Mexico reported that she actively declined to address a question about the Drug War.

So some of the youth met silence with sound. At an assembly for the last group photo of the reunion, the scouts from Chihuahua began a chant which also told them to dive for cover. Margarita Zavala could not help but listen.

"What do we shout in Juarez?" "Everybody hit the

"What do we shout in Chihuahua?" "Everbody hit the

"What do we shout in the North?" "Everybody hit the floor."
The stunt caught the attention of newspapers around the world. The media interviews enabled some scouts to contribute their sense of deep frustration.

One scout told El Diario that "you should see that we are not happy at living in war, between the military and members of criminal organizations."