Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
Ioan Grillo writes in the NY Times:
Mexico City — WHEN the Mexican Army actually allows journalists to watch its soldiers in action, it’s often to see them burning marijuana crops. It’s strictly for show, but it’s fun. You get to fly in a military helicopter over the Sierra Madre, then touch down to see troops posing with their rifles as they walk into green marijuana fields. And the highlight: You watch hundreds of pounds of grass go up in flames.
Mexican soldiers have been conducting this ritual for decades, and the photos have come to define the country’s war on drugs. But amid a wave of drug policy reform, those photos may soon disappear from news pages and be relegated to historical archives.
Speaking last month at the United Nations special session on drugs, President Enrique Peña Nieto said he wanted to relax the nation’s marijuana laws. He has since sent Mexico’s Congress a bill to legalize medicine that contains cannabis, allow people to carry an ounce of marijuana without being prosecuted, and free some prisoners convicted on marijuana charges. “We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years,” he said.
Mr. Peña Nieto is new to the drug-reform game. Only last year, he said he was against legalizing marijuana, and at one point said he was not even going to attend the United Nations session.
What happened? He seems to have realized (or been advised) that it is better to be on the side of inevitable change. The proposal follows the rapid loosening of drug laws in the United States: Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, and 20 more states now permit it as medicine. The president’s shift also follows a November ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which held that the government had no constitutional right to arrest people for their “civil right” of growing cannabis.
And more is coming soon. In November, Californians could vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana. If America’s richest state, and one on the border, votes yes, it will have a huge impact on Mexico. Why would the Mexican government want to crack down on traffickers taking marijuana into California if it were fully legal there?
Various Mexican politicians and activists have come out in favor of wider marijuana legalization. Among them, . . .
Canada is not only talking about legalizing marijuana (much as alcohol was long ago legalize), but also now will stifle the illegal trade in heroin by making it legal via a prescription. When will the US wake up? Philip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:
Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable.
“A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine,” the statement said.
The move is yet another reversal of hardline Conservative drug policies by the Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was elected last fall. The Trudeau government has pivoted sharply away from Conservative positions in favor of mandatory minimum drug sentences and against marijuana legalization, and now is moving to undo Conservative efforts to block the limited use of prescription heroin.
Canadian scientists had laid the groundwork for prescription with the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), which first tested “heroin-assisted maintenance” in Vancouver a dozen years ago, and which was followed by the Study to Assess Long-Term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness (SALOME) between 2005 and 2008. SALOME examined whether giving hard-core heroin users heroin was more effective than giving them methadone.
SALOME showed that the users in the study were more likely to stay in treatment, reduce other illegal drug use, engage in fewer other illegal activities and have better physical and mental health outcomes if given heroin than if given methadone. But when that study ended in 2008, researchers were faced with the ethical dilemma of cutting off the patients whose lives were being improved by prescription heroin.
The doctors began applying for, and receiving, permission under the Special Access Program, and Health Canada approved those applications in 2013. But that infuriated the Conservatives, and then-Health Minister Rona Ambrose introduced new regulations to bar doctors from prescribing “dangerous drugs” such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD.
Former SALOME participants launched a constitutional challenge to the ban and in 2014 won a temporary injunction giving them the right to continue to receive prescription heroin while the case was being decided. Now, with Health Canada’s move, the federal government will no longer attempt to block prescription heroin. . .
Drug usage is a medical issue, not a criminal issue.
Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:
Roughly half of the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted.
Drug war money has become a notable source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure windfalls benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.
Opposition to the marijuana legalization initiative, slated to go before voters in November, has been organized by John Lovell, a longtime Sacramento lobbyist for police chiefs and prison guard supervisors. Lovell’s Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, a committee he created to defeat the pot initiative, raised $60,000 during the first three months of the year, according to a disclosure filed earlier this month.
The funds came from groups representing law enforcement, including the California Police Chiefs Association, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s Issues PAC, and the California Correctional Supervisor’s Organization. Other donors include the California Teamsters union and the California Hospital Association, as well as Sam Action, an anti-marijuana advocacy group co-founded by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Mass., and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum.
Law enforcement officials in Minnesota, Washington, and other states that have debated relaxing the laws surrounding marijuana have said that they stand to lose money from reform. Police receive federal grants from the Justice Department to help fund drug enforcement efforts, including specific funding to focus on marijuana.
Asset forfeiture is another way law enforcement agencies have come to rely on marijuana as a funding source. Police departments, through a process known as asset forfeiture, seize cash and property associated with drug busts, including raids relating to marijuana. The proceeds from the seizures are often distributed to law enforcement agencies. From 2002 to 2012, California agencies reaped $181.4 million from marijuana-related asset seizures. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014, pot legalization in Washington state led asset forfeiture proceeds to go up in smoke.
Law enforcement lobbyists in Sacramento, including Lovell, have steered Justice Department grants into marijuana eradication. Last year, Lovell successfully worked to defeat measures to reform asset forfeiture in California.
Prison guard unions have also played a part in defending lucrative drug war policies. In California, the prison guard union helped finance the “three strikes” ballot measure in 1994 that deeply increased the state prison population. In 2008, the California prison union provided funds to help defeat Proposition 5, a measure to create prison diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug problems. . .
That was certainly Timothy Leary’s hope: he was convinced that LSD trips with good guidance could significantly reduce recidivism, and he did indeed drop acid with imprisoned convicts. He confided to one, while they were tripping, that he was somewhat fearful, and the convicted laughed. “Hell, I’m terrified, in here with this crazy doctor and I don’t know what he’s going to do.”
I actually met Leary at a party held at Trip Hawkins house. Hawkins was then the CEO of Electronic Arts and I was working on a program (never published), so was at the party. I also met at the same party Thomas Disch, the science-fiction writer. Disch really wanted to meet Leary, but seemed a bit shy, so I took him over and introduced them. Leary knew Disch’s work and had been impressed, so it was sort of interesting to see the two, each impressed by the other and a little in awe, start to converse.
But to the issue: Joshua Rapp Learn writes in Motherboard:
That’s the implication of a new study, which found that 42 percent of US inmates whohadn’t taken psychedelic drugs before doing time were arrested within six years of their release for domestic battery—compared to 27 percent of those who had taken drugs like acid, mushrooms and ecstasy.
It’s a small, observational study, and a lot more research is needed. Even so, “it adds to growing evidence that these substances may have positive effects,” Zachary Walsh told me. Walsh is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and the lead author of the study in The Journal of Psychopharmacology.
He and his coauthors interviewed 302 adult inmates at a county jail in Illinois. All of them had a history of substance disorders, and 72 percent had past histories of violent crime (though not necessarily domestic violence). After they were released from jail, these researchers monitored the men through FBI records and other sources for an average of six years, checking for any domestic violence arrests.
Most of the men—about 56 percent—had tried hallucinogens before, while another 13 percent had a disorder relating to psychedelic drugs, according to Walsh. Most had used “classic psychedelics” like LSD, magic mushrooms and to a lesser extent mescaline and DMT. This study was initiated in the early 2000s, and the date may be a sign of the times: only 45 percent had tried what researchers classified as “a-typical,” or less common, psychedelics, including ecstasy, special k (ketamine) and angel dust (PCP).
“Maybe there are some personal health benefits to these substances,” Walsh said.
The reason why the inmates who have tried hallucinogens tended less towards domestic violence than other drug users is difficult to say based on these results, but Walsh said that it may have to do with the nature of the experiences the drugs afford.
“The experiences of unity, positivity, and transcendence that characterize the psychedelic experience may be particularly beneficial to groups that are frequently marginalized and isolated, such as the incarcerated men who participated in this study,” he explained in a release.
He also says . . .
As I recall, Leary found that using LSD reduced recidivism by about 40%. Taking the drug seemed to relax the rigidity of outlooks and assumptions, allowing one to find a new and less unpleasant mindset.
Ryan Devereaux reports in The Intercept of what is becoming a horror story:
Fouteen months after they arrived to investigate the disappearance of 43 college students, a panel of international experts is leaving Mexico, their case unsolved. Appearing at a press conference in Mexico City on Sunday, members of the independent panel, appointed by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, described a case tainted by government torture and deep prosecutorial mishandling.
Of more than 120 suspects arrested in connection with the students’ disappearance, 17 showed signs of torture, the panel reported. Of those allegedly tortured, five were key to the government’s account of the students’ fate, the experts said. The case has been riddled with media reports of suspects tortured into making confessions, and the words of Patricio Reyes Landa, whose testimony was made public in the report, offers a jarring description of the alleged abuse. Landa, a central suspect in the crimes whose confession was aired in nationally televised press conferences, said the description of his capture was a “lie.”
“They went into the house, beating and kicking,” Landa said. “They hauled me aboard a vehicle, they blindfolded me, tied my feet and hands, they began beating me again and gave me electric shocks, they put a rag over my nose and poured water on it. They gave me shocks on the inside of my mouth and my testicles. They put a bag over my face so I couldn’t breathe. It went on for hours.”
While the allegations of torture could thwart potential prosecutions in the case, they do little to explain what happened to the students. For that, the panel would need access to officials and evidence that it did not receive. The lack of access, the panel indicated, did not appear to be accidental. “The investigation had difficulties that are not attributable exclusively to the simple complexity of a case of this magnitude,” the report said.
From the outset, the Mexican government’s account of what happened on the night of September 26, 2014, has been the subject of withering criticism. According to the official story — once described by Mexico’s former attorney general as “the historical truth” — the students were intercepted by municipal police while attempting to commandeer buses in the city of Iguala, some three hours south of Mexico City. The students were then handed over to a local drug gang who drove them to a garbage pit where they were murdered and incinerated in a massive, makeshift funeral pyre, the government has contended.
As the initial details of the violence trickled out, the nation recoiled in horror. The students came from deeply impoverished backgrounds. Their school — officially known as Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos but better known as Aytozinapa — is a training college for aspiring teachers. The vast majority of the students attacked that night were freshmen who had little idea what they were getting into when they left campus. Not only were scores of unarmed students disappeared, but six people, a mix of students and bystanders, were killed in the process of their capture. One of the student victims was found beaten and bruised in the street; his assailants cut his face off. Within weeks, anger over the crimes led to fiery protests that soon spread across the country.
In May, The Intercept published a series of articles about the students’ disappearance, based on six months of investigation and more than two dozen interviews, including conversations with survivors of the attacks, as well as a review of state and federal records, including communications reports by Mexican security forces and sealed statements from municipal police officers and alleged gang members who were detained in the wake of the crimes. The Intercept found major inconsistencies in the government’s story. Rather than a local crime committed by municipal officials and their gangster accomplices, ample evidence, including the government’s own records, pointed to a wider circle of responsibility and a clear-cut case of enforced disappearance — a crime against humanity under international law.
Speaking at the press conference in Mexico City this weekend, members of the panel reiterated, for the second time, the core conclusions of investigative articles published by The Intercept and other news outlets. In a rebuke of the government’s narrative of a limited, local operation, the panel reported that it had uncovered new evidence of wider federal police involvement in the night’s events. Regarding the assertion that the students were collectively incinerated, the experts repeated their long-held position that this was not the case. “[The panel] has not a single piece of evidence to change its conclusion that the 43 students were not incinerated,” Francisco Cox, a Chilean member of the team, said.
The panel’s first report was published in September of last year. The 560-page document meticulously deconstructed the government’s account and presented the events that night for what they were: a hyper-violent, coordinated, multi-pronged ambush of unarmed civilians at multiple locations resulting in at least six people dead, 40 injured, and 43 disappeared, carried out with full knowledge, if not outright participation, of security forces at all levels, including federal police and the military.
The experts had come to Mexico at the government’s invitation. With the authority to conduct an independent investigation and promises that the state would aid in making the necessary evidence and witnesses available, their presence offered a glimmer of hope that the most shocking crime in recent Mexican history might actually get solved. That hope sooncrumbled though.
Following their first report, the experts’ relationship to the government turned cold, according to an account members of the panel provided to theNew York Times. The government refused to make key interviews possible, including interviews with members of the military potentially present on the night of the students’ disappearance. Meanwhile, the experts themselves were attacked in media outlets close to the state, and an individual who appointed them became the target of a dubious criminal inquiry. Despite a sense that their job was not done, the experts were not offered an extension of their mandate. They are expected to leave Mexico in the coming days.
The search for the students has turned up scores of clandestine graves in the southern state of Guerrero, where the attack took place. To date, the remains of just one of the young men, 21-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio, has been positively identified. Exactly where his remains were found is deeply contested. The Intercept met Mora’s father, Ezequiel, on a rainy night on the Ayotzinapa campus. He was taking shelter beneath an awning. Violence, intimidation, disappearances — that’s how the government does business, Ezequiel explained. “It is their policy,” he said. “It is a narco-government. It is not a government that is for its people.” . . .
David Downs writes in Scientific American:
Speculation is growing about the possibility that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will review by summer its “Schedule I” designation of marijuana as equal to heroin among the world’s most dangerous drugs. Very few Americans know of or understand the DEA’s drug-ranking process, and a review of cannabis’s history as a Schedule I drug shows that the label is highly controversial and dubious.
Disgraced Attorney General John Mitchell of the Nixon administration placed marijuana in this category in 1972 as part of the ranking or “scheduling” of all drugs under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Cannabis has been there ever since. “As of today, marijuana has never been determined to be medicine,” says Russ Baer, staff coordinator in the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at the DEA. “There’s no safe, effective medical use, and a high abuse potential, and it can’t be used in medical settings.” This determination has come to be insulated by a byzantine, Kafkaesque bureaucratic process now impervious to the opinion of the majority of U.S. doctors—and to a vast body of scientific knowledge—many experts say.
“Of course cannabis has medical uses,” says University of California, San Francisco integrative oncologist Donald Abrams, one of the few researchers who have been able to obtain extremely limited, government-approved supplies of research cannabis for human trials. “It’s pretty clear from anthropological and archaeological evidence that cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years—and it was a medicine in the U.S. until 1942,” Abrams adds. “I’m an oncologist and I say all the time, not a day goes by when I’m not recommending cannabis to patients for nausea, loss of appetite, pains, insomnia and depression—it works.”
Marijuana’s placement in Schedule I did not happen in a vacuum, historians note. Overt racism, combined with New Deal reforms and bureaucratic self-interest are often blamed for the first round of federal cannabis prohibition under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which restricted possession to those who paid a steep tax for a limited set of medical and industrial applications. (Cannabis was removed from the official U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1942.) “In segregated America newspapers were saying, ‘this stuff makes white women and black men have sex,’” notes historian Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana.
The American Medical Association initially opposed prohibition. Cannabis was medically useful, says William Woodward, association counsel. “Congress being what it was at the time, you could ram things through just by bullshitting,” Lee adds. “Who’s going to be stepping up to the plate [in 1937] to defend a drug that blacks, Latinos and jazz musicians use?”
The Tax Act passed amid New Deal reforms, and the first marijuana peddlers were arrested and jailed that year. Science reared its head within a decade, though. In 1944 the La Guardia Committee report from the New York Academy of Medicine was the first in a long line of official bodies to question the prohibition. The committee found marijuana not physically addictive, not a gateway drug and that it did not lead to crime. But Harry Anslinger, head of the then–Federal Bureau of Narcotics, labeled the report unscientific and prohibition rolled on. “Every 10 years since then—although we’re a bit off schedule—some august governing body has reviewed the data and come up with the same finding [against prohibition],” Abrams says.
The Tax Act’s mode of federal cannabis prohibition became illegal in 1969 with the case Leary v. United States, which found that purchasing a marijuana tax stamp amounted to self-incrimination. The verdict spurred Congress to repeal the Tax Act and replace it with the more comprehensive Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Marijuana was placed in Schedule I in 1971 provisionally, until the science could be assessed. But Pres. Richard Nixon saw pot prohibition as a way to destroy the antiwar left, according to clandestine recordings made by Nixon in the White House as well as statements from his staff to the press. Nixon convened The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (what became known as the Shafer Commission) to engineer scientific support for cannabis’s Schedule I placement. “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana,” Nixon said in tapes from 1971. “Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, domestic council? … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”
The Shafer Commission found in 1972 that cannabis was as safe as alcohol, and recommended ending prohibition in favor of a public health approach. But by then the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had been removed from the Treasury Department and merged into the U.S. Department of Justice—where Nixon’s ally, Attorney General John Mitchell, placed cannabis in Schedule I in 1972; that same year he resigned to head Nixon’s re-election committee. (He later stood trial in 1974 over the Watergate scandal and served 19 months of a prison sentence for conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice.] “You want to know what this was really all about?” Nixon aid John Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994, according to an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 2016. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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.”
Anyone can petition the DEA to reschedule any drug, Baer says. The DEA takes advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, the DEA’s administrative law judges, along with others, but “the buck stops here. We have final scheduling authority,” he says. “Really it comes down to science. That’s the foundation of the argument. We’re bound by that scientific and medical evaluation.”
Many would disagree. Decades ago the DEA’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young, recommended unscheduling cannabis in response to a petition from activist groups. Young ruled in 1988 that “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.” The DEA denied the petition anyway.
In 1999, in response to California medical legalization, the Institute of Medicine found that marijuana had medical uses and a relatively low potential for abuse, leading to another round of petitioning. The DEA denied a petition again in 2011, citing a lack of available research specifically on smoked marijuana in the U.S.
Researchers say this represents a classic catch-22, as the paucity of research is the direct result of a federal blockade on such research by the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). . .
Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:
The global war on drugs has proven “disastrous” and “humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.” So say more than 1,000 world leaders, including 27 members of the House of Representatives and six U.S. senators, in a letter to the United Nations ahead of a major international drug summit happening this week.
The letters signatories also include 24 current and former law enforcement officials, 37 members of the clergy, more than 230 health and medical professionals, and a colorful slate of celebrities, athletes and business leaders, including DJ Khaled, Michael Douglas, Tom Brady and Warren Buffett.
“The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights,” the letter states. “Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.”
The U.N. General Assembly will hold a special session on global drug policy in New York this week. The purpose of the meeting is to set the tone and focus of global drug policy for the coming decades.
The last time the U.N. held such a session was in 1998. Proceeding under the official motto of “a drug-free world — we can do it,” member states vowed to “promote a society free of drug abuse” and to “develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing” the production and use of illicit substances by 2008.
Since then, of course, a number of U.S. states have voted to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use. Portugal decriminalized the use of all illicit drugs. And the United States has seen an explosion in the abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin, and deaths caused by overdoses of those two drugs.
Reformers had hoped this week’s special session would represent a change of course for the international drug control regime. But if the draft declaration that will be discussed at the meeting is any indication, this is unlikely. The language about promoting a society “free of drug abuse” and the need to “eliminate” the production of drugs remains in place.
VICE News reported that several diplomats pointed to Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia as the primary opponents to changing the language.
“Basically, the bad guys had the upper hand” in negotiating the language of these documents, according to Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group. “They were able to make sure that nothing bold or stunning happened in these things.”
The irony of the U.N.’s inaction on drugs is that it makes it more likely member states will continue to chart their own paths forward on drug policy. State-level marijuana legalization in the United States has enraged the Russian director of the U.N.’s anti-drug program, but U.S. officials simply assert that the treaties allow for considerable “flexibility” in addressing drug issues. . .