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Obama Plans to Extend Merida Initiative in Drug War Fight

When Mexico's President, Felipe Calderon, came to Washington this week, he urged the U.S. to be more helpful in the war on drugs. He asked that Congress reinstate the assault weapons ban (for which Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn took him to task, saying "Moreover, the Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation.") Calederon also criticized Arizona's immigration law. And he said the U.S. has a moral obligation to help Mexico fight the cartels.

In 2007, former President Bush got Congress to approve the Merida initiative, designed to to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, with a whopping $1.3 billion budgeted for Mexico from 2008-2010, ten times the amount budgeted in prior years.

Merida is set to expire in September, 2010, and Obama is now asking to extend it a year and provide an additional $310 million for FY 2011.

So where did the money go? Mostly, it turns out, nowhere. [More...]

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Obama To Unveil New Drug Control Policy

The media continues to tout the Obama Administration's new drug control policy, to be released today, as a big progressive change that favors treatment over enforcement.

As I wrote last week, that's only half the story. The new policy (available here in its last draft form) also strongly opposes the legalization of marijuana, contains yet more money for the war on drugs and law and border enforcement, and urges states to adopt a zero tolerance policy for driving with any amount of an illegal controlled substance in one's system. (Marijuana stays in one's system for about 30 days. You can see where this is headed.) The policy also states its intention to go after indoor marijuana grows and ramp up forfeitures of cash by treating large amounts as if it were drugs. It also urges health care providers to ask patients more intrusive questions about drug use.

Do we need more money for treatment and prevention? Of course. But why does it always have to be accompanied by ratcheting up the war on drugs with more of the same ill-advised enforcement policies?

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Drug Czar and Obama Make Strong Statement Against Legalizing Marijuana

Newsweek has a copy of the March, 2010 draft of the much delayed National Drug Control Strategy (available here.) It makes a strong statement against legalizing marijuana.

Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects , and legalization would only exacerbate these problems. (my emphasis.)

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Drug Czar Goes to Congress, Describes Some Shift in War on Drugs

Gil Kerlikowski, Obama's Drug Czar, testified Wednesday before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. His prepared statement is here. The hearing was titled, "ONDCP's Fiscal Year 2011 National Drug Control Budget: Are We Still Funding a War on Drugs?"

Here's the statement of Ethan Nadelman, Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance.

Last May, Kerlikowski also advocated a change in the war on drugs, which has been a failure. At Thursday's hearing, he stressed treatment over incarceration.

The problem? Kerlikowski's new policy looks too much like the old one. [More...]

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U.S. Drug Agents to Be Embedded in Mexico

The next step in the war on drugs: Embedding U.S. drug and intelligence agents agents in Mexico.

The increasingly close partnership between the two countries, born of frustration over the exploding death toll in Ciudad Juarez, would place U.S. agents and analysts in a Mexican command center in this border city to share drug intelligence gathered from informants and intercepted communications.

...Until recently, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to share sensitive intelligence with their Mexican counterparts for fear they were either corrupt or incompetent. And U.S. agents have been wary of operating inside Mexican command centers for fear they would be targeted for execution

The cost: In addition to the $1.4 billion aid package to Mexico, President Obama is asking for an additional $310 million for drug war aid to Mexico.

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ICE, Customs & Border Agency Ramps Up Drug Busts

I saw a headline yesterday that said ICE agents arrested 457 people in 83 cities last week in coordinated raids that were part of the largest anti-drug operation the agency has ever conducted. Of the 457 people arrested, 151 were U.S. Citizens.

I checked ICE's website and here's the press release. The headline is "476 gang members, associates and other criminals were put on ICE during Project Big Freeze." Gang members? That's a headline grabber. The key word is "associates" and "other criminals." If you run a car repair shop and your phone number is dialed from a gang member's phone, you can be called "an associate." It's a term that means nothing. If you have a DUI or a theft record, you are an "other criminal."

They throw around the favored phrase de jour: "Transnational criminal street gangs."

"Project Big Freeze is the largest nationwide ICE-led enforcement operation targeting transnational gangs with ties to drug trafficking organizations."

So who'd they get? A cartel leader? A narco-terrorist? Not quite. According to the press release, the three big catches were:[More...]

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Senate Passes $447 Billion Funding Bills

Bump and Update: The Senate passed the $447 government funding bills as part of a $1.1 trillion total appropriations package. Some highlights are here.

***

Sat. 12/12/09: The last hurdle was cleared today and the Senate will vote tomorrow on the $447 billion 2010 appropriations bill. The bill is composed of six separate measures.

Here's the one on crime funding. While there is prevention money in the bill, there's also a lot of funding for the War on Drugs.

Combating Illegal Drugs: $2 billion, $81 million above 2009, to combat illegal drugs through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These funds will provide for 128 new DEA positions to help stop the flow of illegal drugs across the Southwest border and to investigate, disrupt and dismantle major Mexican drug cartels.

The FBI does pretty well too, including lots of money for surveillance: [More...]

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UK Drug Reform Group Releases Blueprint for Legalization

Transform, a UK think tank and drug reform organization, released a new book today, After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation. The executive summary is here(pdf.)

As to Transform:

Transform’s vision is a world in which the War on Drugs is over, and effective and humane systems of drug regulation have been established.

Its "medium term goals":

  • To explore alternatives to drug prohibition, and build trust in models of regulation
  • To bring together a coalition calling on governments and the UN to count the cost of current drug policy
  • To reframe the drug policy debate within a wellbeing perspective that considers the impact of policy on human rights, human security and human development

Some highlights in this BBC article. [More...]

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U.S. Imports Cartel Snitches From Mexico, Violence Follows

The U.S. has been importing snitches from the Mexican cartels into the U.S., providing them with homes and new lives. Of course, some will be discovered. What happens next? Murder on the front lawn.

But in order to fight the drug traffickers, federal anti-narcotics agents have brought Mexican cartel members north of the border, to use them to gather intelligence and build cases.

ICE is arranging visas for them. And not playing nice with other law enforcement agencies, contributing to the violence: [More...]

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Sen. Leahy Delays U.S. Drug War Aid to Mexico

Sen. Patrick Leahy, skeptical of a State Department report glossing over Mexico's human rights violations with respect to the war on drugs, has delayed U.S plans to send big bucks there to aid in Mexico's fight against traffickers.

The State Department intended to send the favorable report on Mexico's human rights record to Congress in advance of President Obama's visit to Guadalajara for a summit of North American leaders this weekend, U.S. officials familiar with the report said.

That plan was scrapped after aides to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, told State Department officials that the findings contradicted reports of human rights violations in Mexico, including torture and forced disappearances, in connection with the drug war.

Maybe we can get some Senators to scrap the funding permanently. The money could be used so much better at home, for health care, education and starting the transition from over-incarceration to greater reliance on alternatives like drug and mental health treatment and vocational training for inmates, to help reduce the risk of recidivism.

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An Illustrated History of U.S. Drug Czars

Richard Cortes at Vanity Fair has an illustrated history of U.S. Drug Czars in the War on Drugs. It begins:

The United States spends nearly $50 billion each year on the war on drugs, to little avail: illegal drugs remain prevalent, and drug-funded groups continue to spread violence from Mexico to Afghanistan. The new White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, says he wants to end the drug war, but other men in his position have tried and failed to do just that. In this illustrated history, Ricardo Cortes shows how science, politics, ego, and scandal transformed a public-health initiative into a century-long military campaign.

He begins in 1914 with the Harrison Act, but the first sketch is of Henry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, who led a public campaign against marijauana. [More...]

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Obama Ramping Up War on Drugs at Northern Border

President Obama has a Border Czar named Alan Bersin. His official title is "special representative for border affairs." In an interview with the Associated Press , he discusses the increased number of border agents along the Canadian border to fight the war on drugs.

The U.S. Border Patrol has tripled the number of agents along the 5,500-mile border in recent years, with hundreds more soon to be deployed. Unmanned U.S. surveillance aircraft are being tested for use over the frontier, and video surveillance towers are going up around Buffalo and Detroit. Multi-agency, binational law enforcement teams operate in 15 regions from coast to coast.

...."Technology necessarily will play a more important role," he said. "You'll want more extensive use of surveillance systems, coupled with communications channels. And partnerships become a very important part of the strategy - federal, state, local and cross-border."

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Obama DOJ to Allow More ICE Agents to Make Drug Busts

Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate today the Administration will begin allowing more ICE agents to make drug busts.

So much for a new direction for the War on Drugs. Where's our legislation ending the crack disparity and eliminating some mandatory minimums? Obviously, on the back burner, once again.

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Reasons to Legalize "Hard" Drugs

(Guest Post by Boulder, CO criminal defense attorney Lenny Frieling:)

In a large South American country, a farmer looks out from his veranda over his two main crops. On the right side of the rutted dirt, row upon row of coffee are growing in the high mountain air. To the left, coca grows in equally ordered rows. Both crops require tending, and both require some degree of processing to yield roasted coffee beans on one side, processed cocaine on the other.

Both are transported to the United States. In addition to the shipping expenses, the coffee requires the payment of various tariffs, while the coca shipments are accompanied by gangs, bribes, guns, and related violence, to the extent that some towns in Northern Mexico are “owned” by drug cartels. Coffee arrives on US grocery shelves at $6 to $12 a pound. Cocaine arrives at around $44,000 a pound. [More..]

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Our New Drug Czar on Legalization: An Emphatic "No"

Via Tom at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: New drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was on KUOW radio today, talking about his new role.

He called the idea of legalization "waving the white flag" and said "legalization is off the the charts when it comes to discussion, from my viewpoint" and that "legalization vocabulary doesn't exist for me and it was made clear that it doesn't exist in President Obama's vocabulary."

Regarding marijuana, he said, "It's a dangerous drug" and, regarding its medical benefits, he said, "we will wait for evidence on whether smoked marijuana has any medicinal benefits - those aren't in." [More...]

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