This Week In Drugs (Nov. 19, 2010)

Across the border from southeast Texas, the Mexican town of Ciudad Mier has become a ghost town after some 300 families were forced to flee the violent turf war between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, National Public Radio reported. The Lions Club in the nearby town of Miguel Aleman has been made into a shelter for fleeing residents, making it the first refugee camp of the Mexican cartel war. According to Mier residents, all but a dozen of the town’s 6,500 residents have fled the violence.

Mexican police detained a minor last Friday and are looking for another in connection with disturbing photos and videos posted online depicting torture and murder by supposed Gulf Cartel executioners, the Associated Press reported. Pedro Luis Benitez, the attorney general of central Morelos state, commented on the trend of increasingly younger cartel gunmen: “It is easy for [the cartels] to give them a firearm, making it appear as it if were a plastic weapon and that it is a game, when in fact it is not,” Benitez said. Mexican President Felipe Calderon also commented on the use of young mercenaries by the cartels: “In the most violent areas of the country, there is an unending recruitment of young people without hope, without opportunities.”

Amid the rampant drug cartel violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s medical workers are increasingly at the front lines of the drug war the AP reported. According to Physician Ramon Murrieta Gonzalez, the president-elect of the Medical College of Mexico, 15 doctors have been shot to death in Ciudad Juarez in the past two years, more than 250 Ciudad Juarez doctors now commute across the border from El Paso, and 30 percent of the city’s private practices have closed. “We are in the middle of a war without choosing to be,” Murrieta said. “Commandos assassinate wounded men in the hospital – once in the surgical suite while they were operating on the patient. This is a grave danger to the entire country.”

In a recent interview with CBS, Calderon told Peter Greenberg that the United States’ drug consumption is largely to blame for the drug war raging to the south. “My concern is, according to the official data in the United States, consumption of drugs is growing every single year. Second, at the same time the United States is the largest provider of weapons to criminals in Mexico,” Calderon said. (See the segment from Calderon’s interview here and read more about the flow of arms to Mexico here.)

In the U.S., though, the government wants you to believe we’re winning the drug war, and they’re pledging to keep fighting it in the same way. DEA nominee Michele Leonhart, a Bush holdover who is widely abhorred by drug policy reformers, is one step closer to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. In a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Leonhart reiterated her opposition to marijuana legalization and pledged to continue to enforce marijuana laws, even in states where medical marijuana is legal. Drug reform groups hoped she would face tough questions about the agency’s actions on medical marijuana, but that did not materialize. Instead Senators grilled her on DEA rules that make it more difficult for some nursing home patients to get prescription medications.

In the aftermath of the historic consideration of marijuana legalization in California, the DEA reissued a guide coaching parents and opponents to legalization. “Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization” takes on what the agency describes as “myths about drug legalization” and boasts of progress in fighting drug use and trafficking. You can see the guide here.

Meanwhile, a study in the British Journal of Criminology reports of the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal. Described as one of the first evidence-based examinations of drug decriminalization, the study found that decriminalization did not lead to increases in drug use, as predicted. “Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding.” Read the study here.

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