Posts Tagged ‘Drug War’

This Week in Drugs (April 29, 2011)

Although the Justice Department said in 2009 that it would not prosecute medical marijuana patients, U.S. attorneys in California and Washington state have told officials they intend to enforce the federal laws that prohibit marijuana’s manufacture and distribution, The Arizona Republic reports. This news comes as Arizona officials begin implementing the voter-approved medical-marijuana dispensaries which took effect April 14. Although the news makes many investing in the medical-marijuana industry nervous, a spokesman for Arizona U.S. attorney Dennis Burke said the U.S. attorney plans to release a statement soon to clarify enforcement of federal law in Arizona.

Ahwatukee Foothills entrepreneur Dave Levine has invented the Cannabis Container Vending Machine and a heavy plastic container called the “Cann Can” – short for “cannabis can,” The Arizona Republic reports. The Cann Can contains “smoke shop” products like lighters, rolling papers, and pipes that dispensaries may not want to stock. Levine says the machine costs less than $2,700 and includes several sets of plastic cans that can be purchased empty and customized by dispensaries. “This is a way to avoid the inconvenience of a used-up lighter, or having to go buy different items on an a la carte basis,” Levine said. “The container holds everything a patient needs.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has announced his 2012 bid for the presidency, The Hill reports. Known for his “small-government” policies, Johnson rose to national prominence largely due to his advocacy of marijuana legalization. The libertarian-leaning former governor has made little effort to appeal to the more traditional parts of the GOP’s base, saying of his stance on legalization, “It is what it is. From the context of ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes,’ I’m the only politician that’s saying the emperor is wearing no clothes. That’s not such a bad deal.” Check out Johnson’s issue-oriented group titled “Our American Initiative,” here.

Mexico’s Highway 101 through the border state of Tamaulipas, once busy this time of year with families traveling to celebrate Easter together, has become an empty ghost highway, The Washington Post reports. As rumors spread that psychotic kidnappers are dragging passengers off buses and as authorities find mass graves amassing to more than 145 bodies, people began calling it “the highway of death.”

As Mexico’s mainstream media agrees to guidelines for covering the drug war, an anonymous blogger running the site “El Blog Del Narco” continues to break the goriest stories, Al Jazeera English reported. The blog pulls many unedited, gruesome pictures uploaded by citizens to social networking sites like Facebook. While presenting one side of the violent story of drug war violence, the blog has even posted the statements of a purported spokesman for the Gulf cartel, allowing for a new medium for communication between hit men, traffickers, dealers – and the people affected by their violence. Visit the NSFW Narco Blog here.

Residents of Mexico City’s upscale San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood discovered the dismembered body of a woman scattered over three blocks, The Associated Press reports. The discovery comes as authorities investigate the death of four women and a 14-year-old girl whose throats were slit in Acapulco over the weekend. All five worked at a beauty parlor in a neighborhood known for prostitution and drug dealing, according to the chief of detectives for the Guerrero state police. The mass killing of women is unusual in Mexico’s drug war but there is no indication that the two cases are related.

After five years and more than 34,000 dead in Mexico’s drug war, many Mexicans are organizing a movement called “ya basta” or “enough,” to bring an end to the violence, PBS NewsHour reports. Mexicans have gathered in marches and protests across the country in response to the violence that has killed thousands and displaced many more.

Illegal searches by the NYCPD occur very often but are rarely challenged in court, WNYC reports. Many defendants are told that they face “insurmountable obstacles when fighting marijuana charges” and the illegal searches that often lead to their arrests. More than 50,000 people have been arrested in New York City for marijuana possession last year and a great deal of the arrests take place in the police precincts where the most “stop-and-frisks” occur. More than a dozen men arrested told WNYC they were arrested for marijuana possession through illegal searches, none of which challenged the illegal search in court.

The US government said today that it would increase aid to Mexico’s state police in it’s anti-drug operations with a $500 million aid increase under the crime-fighting Merida Initiative, AFP reported. Many experts believe the nation’s state police are the weakest link in the fight against drug cartels due to a high rate of corruption. A statement after a meeting attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa condemned the “criminality and violence” of the drug war. This comes as the number of victims unearthed from mass graves in northern Mexico has risen to 279, Reuters reports.

The US’ seeming indifference to Mexico’s violent drug war has enraged frustrated Mexicans, according to Reuters. Even with today’s increase in aid the support pales in comparison to the more than $1 trillion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. With an increasingly brutal war raging south of the border, Mexican historian Enrique Krauze told Reuters the Merida Initiative is “almost an insult.” Krauze said Mexicans can expect ten years of war “on [their] own,” adding, “The Obama administration has been a huge disappointment for us.”

Should Washington provide more aid to Mexico? Is the drug war winnable? Tell us what you think and check out The Economist’s interactive map of Mexico’s drug war violence.

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The rest of the story: Is U.S. drug policy or gun policy responsible for Mexican violence?

Several major media outlets reported Friday that the Mexican government had retained a U.S. law firm to explore a possible civil suit against U.S. gun manufacturers. Phoenix’s 12 News interviewed me about the potential lawsuit and the flow of weapons and ammunition south from Arizona to Mexico. (Video above.)

The reporter wanted to know: Are U.S. guns and ammunition ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels? How do you know? Who bears the blame?

The only thing she used from me was a short soundbite: I told her there was no way to definitively say what percentage of cartel firepower comes from the U.S. but there is no doubt that there are thousands of guns from the U.S. being used against soldiers and innocents in Mexico.

I went on to give a far more nuanced explanation about the role of U.S. guns in Mexican violence — and where the real blame lies for the deaths in Mexico.

First, are U.S. guns and ammunition being used by Mexican cartels? Yes. I’m not sure why this is up for debate. Every few days I see a press release like this one on Friday, which announces the conviction of a Tucson man for attempting to export 9,000 rounds of ammunition to Mexico. The ATF says that thousands of guns found in Mexico have been definitively traced by their serial numbers back to U.S. gun shops. I’ve personally seen hundreds of guns and boxes upon boxes of ammunition that were sold in the U.S. and recovered by federal officials in Mexico or intercepted on their way there. (Look, I know there is the whole Project Gunrunner controversy but that appears to be a result of investigative overzealousness — not proof that cartels get their weapons from China.)

Do cartels get all their firepower from the U.S.? Of course not. Most? Who knows (I don’t). But the bottom line is that there are U.S. guns and ammunition ending up in the hands of bad guys in Mexico. And those weapons have been turned against Mexican law enforcement and could be turned against Americans, too.

Some gun rights advocates will argue vociferously that cartels don’t get their weapons from the U.S. because they fear the backlash will result in restrictions on the second amendment right to bear arms. The contention that some make that the Obama administration is lying about guns found in Mexico or at border check points so that he can “take away our guns” is ludicrous. Obama has been president for more than two years, including time with a Democratic Congress. And he hasn’t done a darn thing to restrict gun sales. He has backed away from his support for a renewed assault weapons ban (which was at one point a bi-partisan idea supported by George W. Bush). Obama even blocked an emergency rule change from the ATF a few months ago that would have applied the same reporting requirements when someone buys multiple assault weapons (in border states only) that are now in place for handguns. He hasn’t taken any action on the so-called “gun show loophole” either.

Just because you don’t like the possible policy solutions, doesn’t change the underlying facts: U.S. guns are ending up in Mexico.

So who’s to blame? I’m eager to see what kind of case the Mexican government puts together against gun manufacturers. Do gun manufacturers know some of their weapons end up in Mexico? Sure they do. [Did you know that Colt makes a whole series of .38 Supers that appear designed for the Mexican gang market with names like "El Presidente" and "El Patron"? You can even find some named after Malverde, the "patron saint" of drug traffickers. Those guns are status weapons among cartel brass, federal officials tell me.] Still, while semi-automatic assault weapons and .50 BMG sniper rifles popular with the cartels increase the magnitude of the bloodshed in Mexico, they are certainly not the cause of it.

How about gun distributors? Do they know some of their guns will end up in Mexico? Sure, some do. There are always bad actors, especially when there is a lot of money involved. But the U.S. government does not require gun distributors to do much: they run a brief background check and keep a file on who buys guns. They are asked to report anyone who seems suspicious, but the gun dealers I have talked to say that this can be hard for employees to discern: Do you report anyone who buys a lot of guns? Anyone who speaks Spanish? It is legal in Arizona (and any state without robust state gun laws) to buy as many semi-automatic assault weapons and as much ammunition as you like without a waiting period or any reporting to law enforcement or government officials whatsoever.

The gun industry does deserve some blame for blocking common sense measures that could curb some gun trafficking (such as requirements on gun shops to report bulk purchases of semi-automatic weapons, etc.). For some reason, gun advocates today insist that the second amendment is absolute in a way that even the first amendment isn’t. The first amendment gives Americans the right to peaceably assemble. Yet, no one goes crazy when you have to get a permit for a demonstration or a parade. The first amendment grants freedom of the press, yet the press doesn’t have access to cover everything public officials do. The first amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, but slander and libel laws are there to curb the parameters of what we can say.

But in today’s political discourse the gun lobby has such a stranglehold over the process that even common sense measures that in the past would have been supported by both parties are now portrayed as liberal extremism. The gun lobby has won unprecedented protection from public scrutiny (that even curbs the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press!). The so-called Tiahrt Amendments, for example, require the federal government to destroy all records of gun purchases within 24 hours and blocks the agency from sharing specific trace data on guns found at crime scenes (in the U.S. or Mexico) with the public or lawmakers. This is intended to shield the industry from possible lawsuits, but it ends up making it difficult for law enforcement to fight crime and gun trafficking. (Read the ‘Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ summary of the Tiahrt Amendments here.)

So does that mean that U.S. gun manufacturers are to blame for the nearly 40,000 deaths in Mexico in just over four years?

Look, guns are a means for people to commit violent acts. And, yes, easy access to sniper rifles that can tear holes through concrete and cars and semi-automatic assault weapons (which the ATF says can easily be converted to automatic in Mexico) helps the cartels fight the Mexican military. But while guns may be the instruments of battle, they are certainly not the cause of the war.

U.S. drug policy — not U.S. gun policy — is responsible for deaths in Mexico.

People are dying in Mexico because U.S. drug policies have not worked, and our international strategy to fight drugs has pushed drug distribution into Mexico. For more than 40 years, we have been fighting a losing war on drugs. We have not succeeded in curbing drug use, but we have filled our jails and prisons with drug users. We have not won the war against production and distribution, but we have moved the theater of battle. By pushing drug distribution into Mexico, we brought the battle to our border, into a country that was already plagued with poverty and corruption. The fact that the drug cartels are exploiting our gun freedom and using American guns against our national interests in the drug war is another consequence of failed U.S. drug policy.

The inconsistencies and loopholes in U.S. gun laws that have enabled cartels to arm themselves with American weapons and increase the level of violence are important to debate and deal with.  (Read more about my take on gun laws here.) But we should not be fooled into thinking that if we completely stopped the flow of U.S. weapons south we will end the bloodshed in Mexico entirely. The cartels will find weapons elsewhere as long as they have an endless supply of money from black market sales of drugs. If the last four decades of the drug war should have taught us anything it is this: if we defeat the cartels in Mexico new narcos will pop up somewhere else to replace them.  And if we seal the U.S.-Mexico border, the supply of drugs will find another way in — through Canada, via the skies or the seas or produced here at home.

I told the TV reporter: I know you want to be talking about gun policy, but if you are asking me who is to blame for the deaths in Mexico we should be talking about U.S. drug policy. Not surprisingly, that part didn’t make the story.

Read More:

Crawford On Guns: Gun Laws and Trafficking to Cartels

Inside The Phoenix Gunshow: No Hassle to Buy Assault Rifles

Get Your Guns: Inside the Phoenix gun show

The Iron River: As concerns mount over the potential for Mexican drug cartel violence to spill over the border, a steady flow of firearms south from Phoenix is helping give the cartels their lethal firepower

More…

–AJC

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This Week In Drugs (April 18, 2011)

Thursday was the first day that patients could apply for medical marijuana cards in Arizona. More than 100 people applied, mostly for chronic pain. Read more from The Arizona Republic here.

A bill to authorize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington is in trouble after the Department of Justice threatened to prosecute medical marijuana businesses and the state employees who license them. The bill, which has already passed both chambers of the Legislature, came in response to pressure from municipalities to regulate dispensaries that began popping up after the state’s 1998 initiative legalizing medical marijuana. Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday that she cannot sign the proposal because of the federal threat to prosecute state employees, but she said she would work with legislators on a new bill.

Meanwhile, in Canada, an Ontario court has declared the country’s prohibition of marijuana unconstitutional because it bars some sick individuals from finding relief from their suffering by using the drug. Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, however patients testified that doctors were reluctant to prescribe it. The government has three months to fix the law before marijuana would become legal. Read editorials on the issue from The Toronto Star and The Winnepeg Free Press in favor of ending prohibition.

An Arizona gun dealer was allegedly encouraged to sell guns to suspected cartel gun traffickers by agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives – a revelation that came out this week in the continuing fall out over the agency’s Project Gun Runner. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released an email from the gun dealer on Thursday, which appears to contradict contentions by the ATF that they never let guns knowingly be transported into Mexico. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is looking into the program, which was apparently intended to nab higher level gun traffickers and cartels leaders.

A Texas congressman wants Mexico’s six major cartels to be classified as terrorist organizations, CNN reports. Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has introduced a bill that would give law enforcement greater ability to go after the cartels’ financial property and lead to harsher punishments to those who provide material support for cartels. The Arellano Felix organization, Los Zetas, Beltran Leyva, Familia Michoacana, Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel/New Federation would be categorized as terrorist organizations under the plan. Read McCaul’s editorial published in The Arizona Republic on Friday.

After the discovery of the mass grave in Tamaulipas, the U.S. government issued a warning to employees and citizens for the first time that they could be the targets of drug gang attacks in three Mexican states. The warning, published on April 8 by the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, was the first warning of its kind, according The Wall Street Journal. U.S. Officials said they had “information that Mexican criminal gangs may intend to attack U.S. law-enforcement officers or U.S. citizens in the near future in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí.” In the past both governments have assured Americans in Mexico that they were not the targets of drug gang violence.

A leader of the Zetas cartel, Omar Martin Estrada (a.k.a. “El Kilo”) was arrested Saturday in connection with the discovery of the mass graves in the Tamaulipas city of San Fernando. So far 145 bodies have been found at graves around the city, which was also the location of massacre of 72 mostly Central American migrants last year. Sixteen local police officers are being questioned in the case, accused of protecting cartel murderers. Seventeen others allegedly connected to the Zetas cartel were also arrested.

The prosecutor in charge of state homicide investigations in Juarez was gunned down outside his home. Mario Ramon Gonzalez Chavarria, 31, was shot in his car on the way to work Friday morning, The El Paso Times reports.

As that kind of horrific violence builds in the Mexican drug war, it is changing the nation’s language. The Associated Press looks at the unique language of drug violence. For example, how a body is found determines the slang word for it: “encobijados” – wrapped in a blanket, “encajuelados” – stuffed in the trunk of a car and “encintados” – suffocated with tape. Read more here.

The drug war violence has also taken it toll on limes. The costs of limes have quadrupled in Mexico City markets to $4 a kilo (2.2 pounds) in December and January, The Christian Science Monitor reports.  Drug gangs meddle in the supply chain and require payments from lime growers.

-AJC

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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: fearlesscampaign.com/drugpolicy) 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.”

-DR & AJC

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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.

-DR & AJC

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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.

-DR

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This Week in Drugs (Feb. 25, 2011)

Federal authorities have launched a nationwide crackdown on drug cartels following last week’s murder of a U.S. agent in Mexico. Arizona’s acting Special Agent in Charge, Doug Coleman, said several hundred DEA agents teamed up with hundreds more federal and local officers, resulting in 31 arrests. “The overall message here is that we as U.S. law enforcement are going to do something when we see that a cartel in Mexico is going to target U.S. agents,” Coleman told The Arizona Republic. By Thursday morning, law enforcement nationwide had seized more than $4.5 million in cash and nearly 20 guns, arrested more than 100 people and confiscated about 23 pounds of methamphetamine, 107 kilograms of cocaine, 5 pounds of heroin and 300 pounds of marijuana. Read more about the crackdown from The Washington Post here.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon will meet with President Obama next week to address the drug war’s increasing violence, especially the murder of a U.S. agent near Mexico City, Business Insider reports. Mexican defense officials told The Wall Street Journal the attack was a mistake in identity, however some believe the agents may have been targeted by the cartel. Either way, U.S. lawmakers are considering ways of arming U.S. agents in Mexico, something that has not been allowed since a 1990 agreement. Read more from Fox News here.

The Pinal County (AZ) Sheriff’s Office reported Wednesday morning the arrest of 102 suspects and the seizure of 3,200 pounds of marijuana after a four-day operation in the Vekol Valley and Silver Bell Mountain areas, The Arizona Republic reports. The drug and human trafficking-focused operation also resulted in the recovery of seven stolen vehicles and 12 firearms.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill Tuesday outlawing the sale of synthetic marijuana, commonly known as ‘Spice,’ the Phoenix Business Journal reports. The federal and state government are moving to make Spice and its sister compounds, once legally sold at smoke shops, illegal.

Months after Butte County, Calif., law enforcement coordinated raids on seven marijuana dispensaries, the District Attorney’s Office has yet to file criminal charges or return confiscated money to the dispensary owners, Toke of the Town reports. More than 100 law enforcement officers on served search warrants June 30 on seven marijuana dispensaries and 11 residences.

A 10,000-square-foot hydroponics store enthusiastically marketing itself as the “Wal-Mart of weed” will open tomorrow in Sacramento, The Sacramento Bee reports. The first national franchise for a company that bills itself as a supply and training destination for legal pot growers, weGrow attracted national attention for its unfettered embrace of pot culture.

Washington’s largest newspaper, The Seattle Times, published an editorial last Friday calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana in the state of Washington. According to Seattle’s alternative news site The Stranger, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske contacted the newspaper to speak personally with the editorial board after the editorial appeared. Seattle Times editorial writer Bruce Ramsey told The Stranger that the White House called “right after our editorial ran, so I drew the obvious conclusion… he didn’t like our editorial.” The meeting, scheduled for next Friday, hasn’t stopped The Seattle Times from publishing pro-pot editorials like one urging House Speaker Frank Chopp to allow a hearing on House Bill 1550, state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson’s bill to legalize marijuana and sell it through the Washington state liquor stores.

A man in Fitchburg, Mass., became the 10th to die in US drug enforcement operations this year after being shot by a state trooper on Tuesday, StoptheDrugWar.com reports. According to the police, 21-year-old Roger Padilla refused to pull over, leading the trooper on a brief pursuit to a cul-de-sac. The trooper stepped out of his black, unmarked SUV and repeatedly commanded Padilla to exit. According to police, Padilla began driving his car toward the trooper at which point he was fired upon and killed.

New Colombian criminal bands are springing up to take over cocaine production and fill a void created by the U.S.-backed drug war, Reuters reports. Linked to former paramilitary groups, the gangs have slaughtered human rights activists, public officials and civilians, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Finally, the wealthy Mexican city of Monterrey has become a ‘city of massacres’ as drug war violence erupts in the streets. Watch the PBS NewsHour video here:

-David Robles

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This Week in Drugs (Feb. 19, 2011)

On Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on two U.S. special agents near Mexico city, killing one and wounding the other, PBS NewsHour reports. Special agent Jaime Zapata was shot and killed driving a black SUV on a central Mexico highway. Agent Victor Avila was wounded and discharged from a hospital on Wednesday. It was unclear whether the agents were targeted specifically or not, although according to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, new information suggests it was a sanctioned hit by the Zetas drug cartel and not a rogue incident, CNN reported. Reuters says Tuesday’s attack puts fresh pressure on Washington to take action in the rapidly advancing drug war. Read more on these increasingly limited options here.

The Director of Central Intelligence in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon was kidnapped and executed in the back of his government-issued armored SUV on Sunday night, Borderland Beat reported. Witnesses say they saw Homero Salcido Treviño kidnapped by alleged drug gang members who drove him to a central area of Monterrey and shot him five times before throwing a grenade into the director’s SUV.

Gunmen in Guadalajara opened fire and hurled a grenade into a crowded night club early Saturday, killing six people and injuring 37, the Associated Press reports. The attack came mere hours after a shootout between police and suspected gang members that left eight dead, including an innocent driver.

Early Saturday morning, the body of seven-year-old Antonio Rodrigo Jiménez Cortes was found in the Acapulco neighborhood where he lived, Borderland Beat reported. On his body was a handwritten note apparently directed at the boy’s mother that said, “This happened to me for stealing husbands and being a snitch.”

Increasing violence in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Acapulco continues to pale in comparison to Ciudad Juarez, “the most lethal place on earth,” according to PBS NewsHour. Read more here.

Despite copious negative PR regarding cartel violence in Mexico, spring break reservations from U.S. college students remain steady, the AP reports. Although violence in the most popular tourist areas is rare, Mexico’s tourism was dealt a heavy blow with the September attack on David Hartley and his wife on the Texas-Mexico border.

A Deputy U.S.  Marshal and a fugitive alleged crack dealer were killed in a shoot-out in Elkins, West Virginia, on Wednesday, StoptheDrugWar.org reported. Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller was shot and killed when U.S. Marshals and state police announced themselves and entered the house of Charles Edward Smith to serve a federal warrant. Smith opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding Hotsinpiller before a marshal and trooper returned fire, killing Smith. Hotsinpiller is the first marshal killed by gunfire since 1992, and his and Smith’s deaths are the eighth and ninth in U.S. drug law enforcement this year.

Mexican drug gangs are using U.S. public land to cultivate millions of marijuana plants in California’s Redwood forests, the AP reports. Employing armed guards, trip wires, and smuggled immigrants on grow operations of up to tens of thousands of plants is not out of the ordinary for Mexican drug gangs hoping to yield more than 30 tons of pot a year.

Federal authorities seized nearly 300 guns bound for Mexico and a federal grand jury has indicted 17 defendants in five cases of illegally trafficking firearms, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke announced Thursday. Watch CNN‘s report here and read more about the iron river to Mexico here.

An Associated Press review found that more than half the states are not complying with a “post-Virginia Tech” law that requires them to share the names of mentally ill people with the national background-check system to prevent them from buying guns.

An Oregon driver was arrested after his pit-bull mix threw a sock stuffed with marijuana and hashish out the window as the driver was being pulled over. The driver said he was trying to hide the marijuana when his dog began playing tug-of-war with the sock, causing it to fly out of the window. Those pricey training lessons aren’t looking so bad now, are they?

-DR

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This Week in Drugs (Feb. 11, 2011)

Updated and corrected 2/12/11

Sixteen men and women were added to the death count in Mexico’s bloody drug war on Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported. Six women and a man were shot in a bar in Ciudad Juarez after gunmen stormed the building. Earlier in the day, a shootout between soldiers and suspected cartel members left nine dead in the state of Zacatecas.

Cartel-hired hitmen are killing rivals and wreaking havoc in Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara, just as it prepares to host the Pan American Games, Reuters reports. Here in the state of Jalisco, where automatic gunfire and flaming blockades in the street were once inconceivable, the drug killings have more than doubled last year to almost 600, with about half of them in Guadalajara.

Mexican police found the bodies of five men who were dumped on the side of the road in Zacatecas after being executed with a shot to the head. A total of 41 people were killed over last weekend due to drug-related violence in Mexico, including two boys from El Paso. An estimated 34,200 people have been killed since Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in 2006.

The Mexican police chief of Guadalupe, Erika Gandara, is still missing after being kidnapped two days before Christmas, Fox News reports. After her predecessor was murdered and decapitated, Gandara was the only applicant for the job.

First Hillary Clinton, now US Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal has called the Mexican drug war an “insurgency,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. Westphal suggested the US might need to send in troops, offending the Mexican government. He has since apologized and retracted his remarks.

As the war rages on, the shipping industry is getting nervous with cartels operating along important shipping lines. Read more from The Packer here.

Read more about the spread of the drug war into Guatemala here.

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette believes what happened in Egypt could happen in Mexico. “The situation in the Middle East commands attention because one spark could ignite the whole region. But Mexico is way beyond sparks. It is on fire.” Read more here.

A Denver man became this year’s seventh US drug war fatality on Thursday, StoptheDrugWar.org reports. Police say Richard Arreola was under surveillance as part of a drug investigation when he approached an undercover officer while carrying a”log gun” and a revolver. The officer radioed that he was being approached and then reported shots fired.

Montana’s House of Representatives voted this week to repeal the state’s six-year-old medical marijuana law. Supporters of the repeal argued that many people using medical marijuana in the state are not ill, CNN reports. Some opponents of the repeal are instead seeking tighter regulations on medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, police agencies in Arizona are gearing up to police abuses of the state’s new medical marijuana law, the Arizona Republic reports.

-DR

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This Week in Drugs (Feb. 5, 2011)

Mexican authorities in Guadalajara were scrambling Tuesday night to regain control of the country’s second-largest city after violent clashes between criminal gangs and police, the Associated Press reports. The suspected drug cartel gunmen used grenades and forced civilians out of their cars, using them as roadblocks on major streets. Fernando Guzman Perez, interior secretary of the state of Jalisco, said the seven coordinated attacks were likely in retaliation for  recent arrests of drug cartel members.

This prompted American officials to warn U.S. citizens not to drive at night in certain areas of Guadalajara, the AP reports. A message on the website of the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara posted  Thursday said the consulate had prohibited U.S. diplomatic personnel from traveling the highway to the airport at night, and that it “recommends that U.S. citizens consider similar precautions.”

The Ladies Professional Golf Association canceled the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico, over safety concerns regarding the violence from the drug war. LPGA spokesman David Higdon told the AP that its security firm “determined the safety issues were too severe” but the association hopes to return next year if conditions have improved.

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, the Mexican journalist who fled across the border after saying he received death threats due to his critical coverage of the Mexican military, spent seven hours pleading his case to Immigration Judge Robert Hough in El Paso before it was rescheduled for May 9, 2012. The AP reports that Gutierrez and his son were placed in immigration jail for seven months but that Gutierrez has obtained a work permit and is supporting his son and himself with odd jobs in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Border Patrol Agent Bryan Gonzalez was allegedly fired for talking to a fellow agent about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and stating his opinion on the matter of legalization of marijuana. Gonzalez has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his termination violated the First Amendment.

Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel has recently spoke out on America’s drug war by calling the government’s response a failure and advocating the end of drug prohibition, The Post & Courier of Charleston, S.C., reports. Ravenel, who is still serving a term of three years of probation for a 2007 cocaine conspiracy charge, called drug abuse a “medical, healthcare and spiritual problem, not a problem to be solved with a criminal justice model.”

The largest medical cannabis dispensary in Berkeley, Calif., the Berkeley Patients Group, owes the state $6 million in taxes and interest from three years when it did not pay, reports The 420 Times. The group disputed the tax in 2007 saying medical marijuana should be left untaxed like other medicines, but lost its case. Now, California wants the money.

Washington Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of Seattle has once again called for the state legislature to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over, My Ballard reported. Dickerson says legalization could generate $400 million every two years and ease the budget shortfall.

With Republicans in the House looking to limit spending in the next fiscal year, supporters of drug policy reform are suggesting cutting the DEA’s budget. Marijuana Policy Project’s Steve Fox told Talking Points Memo, “The entire federal budget dedicated to keeping marijuana illegal and carrying out all the enforcement measures to do so is really something that is long past its prime.”

-DR

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