Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

This Week in Drugs (April 2, 2011)

The Arizona health department released its final draft of medical-marijuana rules on Monday, The Arizona Republic reported. After a four month process, the state’s medical-marijuana program begins April 14 when patients can begin the application process through Arizona’s department of health services. Qualifying patients with certain debilitating conditions can receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from between 120 and 126 dispensaries throughout the state or cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants if they live 25 miles or farther from a dispensary.

Meanwhile, a Delaware bill legalizing medical marijuana cleared the Senate 18-3 on Thursday and now moves on to the House, BusinessWeek reported. Under the bill, with a doctor’s written recommendation, patients with certain serious or debilitating conditions that could be helped by marijuana would be allowed to possess up to six ounces.

MSNBC featured U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) this week, who supports legalizing marijuana. Polis said that legalizing marijuana would be a “death blow” against cartels, save money and lives. (Link to Polis’ page: Is a member of Congress’ support of legalization proof that drug policy reform has gone mainstream? MSNBC notes a Gallup Poll that shows support for legalization in the U.S. has gone up to 46 percent in 2010 from 31 percent in 2000.

America’s drug czar Gil Kerlikowske addressed calls for legalization in a q & a with Foreign Policy saying, “I’ve never seen any of the legalization arguments that say, here’s how it will work and here’s how we’ll regulate it. Heaven knows, we’re not very successful with alcohol.” Read the interview here.

A Texas jury has found two men guilty of kidnapping an American drug trafficker murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2009, the Associated Press reports. In this rare case of drug war violence spilling across the border, prosecutors say Cesar Obregon-Reyes and Rafael Vega broke into the house of Sergio Saucedo, bound he and his wife and kidnapped him in front of their children for a Mexican drug cartel. Saucedo was found dead with his hands chopped off on a street in Juarez, across the border from El Paso.

A United Nations report has called on the Mexican government to consider withdrawing the military from the streets following a sharp increase in human rights abuse claims since the Army was first deployed four years ago to fight drug traffickers, The Christian Science Monitor reports. The UN human rights office working group responsible for the report said the military and other government forces have become involved in an increasing number of cases of rape, torture, disappearance and arbitrary shooting. Because troops are tried in military courts instead of civil courts for rights abuses, most cases go unpunished. Calderón has sent a proposal to Congress to try cases of torture, rape, and disappearance in civic courts, but many say that change is not enough.

Mexico’s Attorney General Arturo Chavez resigned Thursday, in the face of  harsh criticism from women’s groups that he did little to solve hundreds of rapes and murders plaguing the state of Chihuahua, the San Francisco Examiner reported. Marisela Morales has been nominated to take Chavez’s place as the first woman to fill the post in Mexico’s history if confirmed by the Mexican Senate. Chavez, nominated in 2009, is the second attorney general to resign since Calderon took office in 2006.

U.S. lawmakers debated Thursday expanding border security and whether military involvement is necessary in fighting the Mexican drug war against cartels, UPI reports. Members of the House Homeland Security subcommittee were shown videotapes of Gulf and Los Zetas cartel members attacking military and law enforcement in Mexico. Both the House and Senate are writing bills for border security next year and expanding the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative designed to help the Mexican government battle the organized crime syndicates.

Finally, check out this eye-opening story from The Washington Post on the La Familia drug cartel, “Mexico’s drug lords fall, but war goes on.”


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This Week in Drugs (March 27, 2011)

Northern Arizona University associate professor Veronica Perez Rodriguez is reportedly safe after being briefly kidnapped in Juarez, The Arizona Republic reported. The 35-year-old anthropology professor was visiting her family last Friday when armed men abducted her in what is known as “express kidnapping.” Rodriguez was released in less than 24 hours, but it is unclear if she was forced to pay a ransom.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, approximately 230,000 people have been displaced by Mexico’s drug war, the Associated Press reports. The report is based on independent studies by local researchers; the Mexican government does not compile figures on people who have had to flee their homes because of turf battles between drug enterprises. “An estimated half of those displaced crossed the border into the United States, which would leave about 115,000 people internally displaced, most likely in the States of Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila and Veracruz,” the report states. According to the study, Mexico has done little in response to the mass displacement of its people, although a government census suggests an exodus in some areas.

Hundreds of Mexican news outlets agreed on Thursday to first-ever guidelines for covering the drug war that has drastically increased risks for journalists, The Los Angeles Times reported. Since Calderon’s term, 22 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, at least eight in direct response to reporting on crimes and corruption. The guidelines also urge news organizations to unite against threats to journalists, such as by jointly publishing stories. Under the 10-point accord, the companies should draw up standards for showing violent images such as decapitated bodies and provide more context when reporting on drug violence.

Fresh from a long and hard civil war, El Salvador is now struggling as Mexican drug gangs have begun utilizing the Central American nation’s new, U.S.-funded highway to traffic cocaine north, The Los Angeles Times reports. “El Caminito,” or the little pathway, is being infiltrated by street gangs with roots in Los Angeles and Mexican drug cartels using secretive networks left over from the civil war and the new land route to move drugs. Combined with El Salvador’s use of the U.S. dollar as official currency that makes it easier to launder money, the conditions set the scene of a new chapter in the violent turf wars of Mexican drug cartels.”

U.S. Border Patrol agents recovered more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana in two separate incidents Thursday, the Associated Press reported. Ajo Station agents used surveillance to locate 31 bundles of marijuana hidden in brush in the first incident. In the second, agents followed a suspicious vehicle later found abandoned containing 30 bundles of pot.

Months after the release of the first Wikileaks cables, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned last week, The Economist reported. Although the Mexico City cables were “milder than most,” a furious Felipe Calderón criticized Pascual’s “ignorance” and believed he should go. Pascual’s assessments of Mexico’s mishandling of the drug war and the “grey” senior members of Calderón’s National Action Party, his relationship with the daughter of a leading opposition politician and the fact that he is an expert on the delicate subject of failed states likely all contributed to his ousting.

Four men straw purchasing guns in North Texas bought more than $100,000 in assault rifles over the past six months, including one that was used in a shootout in Mexico that killed eight, federal authorities allege. NBC reports that the men are accused of purchasing 129 assault rifles since October, usually two at a time, that have been used in Mexico’s bloody drug war. They face federal charges of conspiracy to deal firearms without a license.

Federal regulators are forcing banks on California’s North Coast to investigate the financial transactions of clients who may be dealing marijuana, including many operating legally in the medical marijuana industry, according to The Press Democrat. Bringing the local banks into the drug war and instructing them to spend time and money in search of illegal activity has led some banks to simply close the bank accounts of medical marijuana dispensaries to avoid the hassle.

A Las Vegas medical marijuana advocate was arrested in a raid of her house after Metro Police suspected she and her husband of selling marijuana, 8 News Now reports. Medical marijuana patient Rhonda Shade says about  40 mature plants were confiscated by police. Read more here. Read about recent medical marijuana raids by the DEA in West Hollywood here and in Montana here.

Meanwhile, a new report shows medical pot sales have grown to rival Viagra, Time reports. Sales have reached $1.7 billion in states where it is legal, compared to annual Viagra sales of $1.9 billion. The report’s editor, Ted Rose, “noted that 1 in 4 Americans lives in a state in which medical marijuana is legal, and that nearly 25 million people in those states have medical problems for which the drug can be prescribed.” Rose projects sales to reach $8.9 billion in five years.

A new study by CUNY Professor Harry Levine and attorney Loren Siegel shows New York City has spent $75 million arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana in 2010 alone. Each arrest costs at least $1,000 to $2,000 and 50,383 people arrested for marijuana in 2010. Most of the marijuana confiscated is found through controversial “stop and frisk” practices. The NYPD made 600,000 recorded “stop and frisks,” and many additional unrecorded stops last year.

As of Thursday evening, all ten representatives and all five senators of Seattle’s state legislative delegation has gone on the record in support of taxing, regulating, and legalizing marijuana, Slog reported. The unheard of uniform support for legalization in Seattle represents a significant shift in the mainstream acceptance of marijuana.


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This Week in Drugs (March 5, 2011)

Agent John Dodson of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has spoken out against the “Fast and Furious” program, saying it lets guns “walk” into the hands of Mexican cartels, CBS reports. The program, intended to track guns to the hands of criminals in order to build a case, allows straw-purchased guns to move into Mexico, something Dodson’s ATF bosses have denied. The gun that killed a U.S. immigration official in Mexico last week has been traced to a gun smuggling ring operating near Dallas, The Associated Press reported. After the bad press, ATF’s Chief Public Affairs officer sent an internal memo to ATF Public Information Officers in an effort to “lessen the coverage of such stories in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF.”

The Mexican military arrested three junior officers and 10 soldiers near Juarez last week in connection with the trafficking of 928 kilograms of methamphetamine and 30 kilograms of cocaine, the AP reported. With corruption notoriously widespread among Mexican police, many worry it may spread to the country’s tens of thousands of troops pitted against the drug cartels. Mexico’s defense secretary said in a statement that all 13 have been convicted of drug and organized crime charges in the trafficking of the more than $120 million worth narcotics, CNN reported.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon has said WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables concerning Mexico’s handling of the drug war has caused “severe damage” to its relationship with the United States, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The State Department’s criticism of the Mexican government contributed to Calderon’s frustration, particularly one that suggested Mexican military officials had “risk-averse habits.” Although Calderon suggested tensions were such that he could not work with the American ambassador, he met with President Barack Obama this week in a meeting characterized as one to “mend fences,” NPR reported. They unveiled a deal on Thursday that would end a nearly 20-year ban on Mexican trucks crossing the U.S. border. Read more from The Wall Street Journal here.

While Calderon was in the U.S., 17 bodies were found in the state of Guerrero and gunmen killed four in Ciudad Juarez, PBS reports. Two Pemex oil workers were also murdered on Thursday near the Texas border, according to Reuters. Unsurprisingly, the violence has taken a toll on tourism in many parts of Mexico. Read more here. In spite of warnings from American officials, college students are once again heading south of the border for spring break. Read more from CBS here.

The 20-year-old who made headlines by becoming the police chief of her town has reportedly fled and is seeking asylum in the United States, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Marisol Valles Garcia, the police chief fled the city of Praxedis G. Guerrero and a single mother, has been receiving death threats from criminal gangs who wanted her to work for them for some time. It remains unclear if the reports of her fleeing are accurate.

Rights activists willing to speak out against the violence of the drug war are being targeted by violent cartel hitmen, Reuters reported. Their homes have been set ablaze, disabled family members have been murdered and children targeted, causing the very people willing to speak out to flee for their lives.

In Seattle, U.S. drug czar and former Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he doesn’t “think legalization arguments hold up,” The Seattle Times reports. Kerlikowske was in town to be the keynote speaker at the convention of the Seattle-based Science and Management of Addictions Foundation to talk about prescription drug abuse but many in the Emerald City had questions of a greener nature. “If legalization is a way to fund the country and states and cities, I think we’re making a significant mistake when we think it’s just a benign drug,” he said. But the local and national attitude towards legalization is shifting, according to a Pew Research Center poll.  Some 45 percent of Americans now favor legalization, up from 16 percent in 1990, while 50 percent remain opposed, down from 81 percent two decades ago. Outside of the event, protesters gathered to support the Times’ endorsement of legalization. “Gil, get with the Times,” one sign read. Read The Seattle Times‘ interview with the drug czar here.


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The Drug War & Civil Rights: ‘The New Jim Crow’

Has the War on Drugs replaced Jim Crow laws as the way to control blacks and other minorities in America?

Civil rights scholar Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor, argues this point The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In the book, she shows how the War on Drugs has replaced blatantly racist policies of the past but had a similar effect in keeping large portions of the black community as second-class citizens.

I had the opportunity to hear Alexander discuss her insightful new book at an Open Society Institute criminal justice conference in Austin this week.* Alexander’s critique of the history of the drug war should concern any equality-loving American.

In the 1980s, images of the crack epidemic in black communities flooded TV — a propaganda tactic, Alexander argues, designed by the Reagan administration to bolster support for the newly-escalated War on Drugs. Those images “forever changed who drug dealers and users are and what should be done with them,” she said. “And a tidal wave of punitiveness washed over America,” forever transforming law enforcement in our country.

While the American public was sold on the drug war as a way to fight violent crime, Alexander noted that the vast majority of anti-drug funding and law enforcement effort has instead gone toward busting non-violent drug users.

Today, the majority of young urban black men are either behind bars or have a felony record, according to her book. And the prison population in the United States has skyrocketed. Hispanics have also disproportionately been impacted by the drug war: “Although this drug war was born with black folks in mind, it is a hungry beast that has begun to demand all people of color,” Alexander said. (See Alexander discussing her book on “Democracy Now.” Read a recent article here.)

Civil rights organizations have been reluctant to take on the drug war and incarceration policies as primary issues. As one OSI staffer noted at the conference, drug users and felons aren’t quite the wholesome image that Rosa Parks was to build a movement around.

The California State Conference of the NAACP bucked this trend earlier this month by passing a resolution in support of Proposition 19, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in the state of California. California NAACP President Alice Huffman writes:

“As leaders of the California NAACP, it is our mission to eradicate injustice and continue the fight for civil rights and social justice wherever and whenever we can. We are therefore compelled to speak out against another war, the so called ‘war on drugs.’ To be clear, this is not a war on the drug lords and violent cartels, this is a war that disproportionately affects young men and women and the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow justice on poor African-Americans.”

The NAACP’s resolution coincided with the release of a report by the Drug Policy Alliance which documented major disparities in marijuana arrests between African Americans and Caucasians in California. In the 25 counties examined, blacks were arrested at double, triple or quadruple the rate of whites — a rate inconsistent with their percent of the population. This also occurs despite the fact that government studies show that young whites actually consume marijuana at rates higher than young blacks.

“The findings in this report are a chilling reminder of the day-to-day realities of marijuana prohibition and the large-scale racist enforcement at its core,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Racial justice demands ending this policy disaster and replacing it with a sensible regulatory system that redirects law enforcement to matters of genuine public safety. Proposition 19 is California’s exit strategy from its failed war on marijuana.”

The African-American community is certainly not in lockstep with the NAACP on this issue. In fact, some black pastors came out loudly against the California NAACP. According to the AP, Ron Allen, president of International Faith-Based Coalition, which represents 3,600 congregations, said he opposed the resolution because of the negative impact “illicit drugs” have had on the black community.

There is no doubt that what Pastor Allen says is true. But do we really think pot is what we’re talking about here? Lumping marijuana in with lethal drugs like heroine and crack is like punishing graffiti taggers the same as armed robbers.

Is it time to examine drug policy, mass incarceration and police practices that have put a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars?

*Note: Alexander was a 2005 Soros Justice Fellow with OSI. I am a 2010 Soros Media Fellow with OSI, which helps to support

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