Posts Tagged ‘Drug War’

This Week in Drugs (Jan. 28, 2011)

Amid the horrific violence seen in Mexico over the course of President Felipe Calderon’s drug war, the nation’s capital had become a safe refuge for Mexicans fleeing drug war violence in the country’s extremities. But according to the LA Times, the Mexican military has increased its presence in Mexico City recently, raiding a hotel and a house in middle-class districts and arresting one suspected member of the Zetas cartel.

The Mexican government has vowed not to back down in the fight against La Familia drug cartel despite the criminal organization claiming to have dissolved itself, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Mexican officials remain skeptical on the mysterious banners making the claim, believing it could be a plot to divert focus from the cartel. Mexico’s security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, said “there would be no truce” with La Familia, however he did not comment on the banners in the state of Michoacan.

A group of middle-class Mexican women on pink motorcycles has begun handing out food and medicine to the poor in Ciudad Juarez, Reuters reported Monday. The motorcycle club that calls itself “Las Guerreras” (The Female Warriors) rides out on their hogs every Sunday to dangerous neighborhoods, handing out cash, medicines, food, clothing and even birthday cakes, all paid for out of their own pockets.

During her visit to Mexico this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Calderon’s fight in the drug war, calling it “courageous” and adding that there is “no alternative,” LA Times reported Tuesday.

Avelardo Valdez of The Houston Chronicle argues otherwise: “Failure to curb drug war exposes Mexico’s weakness.”

Surveillance video from last Friday at the U.S./Mexico border near Naco, Ariz., shows drug smugglers employing a catapult to launch small bales of marijuana across the border, ABC News reported. National Guard troops monitoring the surveillance cameras contacted Mexican authorities who arrived to find approximately 45 pounds of marijuana, the catapult and the SUV belonging to the smugglers who fled the scene before police arrived.

Federal officials said Tuesday they have busted a network of gun buyers and smugglers responsible for arming Mexican drug cartels, arresting 17 people named in a 53-count indictment, The Wall Street Journal reports. Authorities in Phoenix have busted gun-smuggling rings in the past—including last year’s seizure of 1,300 weapons that were heading south from Arizona and New Mexico. Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona called the smuggling and straw purchasing of weapons “a huge problem” for the state. “The drug cartels go shopping for their war weapons in Arizona,” Burke said. “One of Arizona’s top exports is weapons for drug cartels.”

During Thursday’s YouTube Q-and-A session, President Obama found out that a burning question on the mind of Americans is his stance on legalizing marijuana. Although he said he is not in favor of legalizing pot, he thinks that drug use should be looked at more as a public health problem than a legal issue.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne believes medical marijuana in the is subject to the state sales tax. One proposal would tax marijuana at a stunning 300 percent. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Farley, said the tax could reduce the amount that people who use medical marijuana: “We all know that not all this will necessarily go to sick people,” he told the Arizona Republic. Andrew Myers, executive director of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association said the tax would push medical marijuana out of reach of those who need it. 

So you think you know all the various conditions that people say can be treated with marijuana? Try this fun pot quiz.


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This Week In Drugs (Jan. 22, 2011)

With Amanda covering of the horrific Tucson shootings and my own trip to Mexico City, it’s been an eventful break for us here at, but the drug war never sleeps.

Police in Monterrey, Mexico found five mutilated bodies outside the wealthy city last Tuesday, part of a series of attacks that have killed 23 people. Reuters reports the bodies of the five men, their arms and legs chopped off, were dumped on a street in the town of Montemorelos just south of Monterrey. Part of the same string of killings, three brothers were killed in a drive-by-shooting while they were eating tacos, gunmen killed five men in a working class neighborhood, and a woman died of a heart attack after witnessing the multiple homicide. Nine others were killed within a span of 24 hours.

In a surprise move by President Alvaro Colom, hundreds of Guatemalan troops flooded the northern state of Alta Verapaz last month to combat Mexico’s feared Zetas drug gang in small towns near the border, Reuters reported. What the president has declared a “state of siege,” has been extended for another 30 days as the military struggles to block cartel destabilization and “recover governance in Alta Verapez.” Read more about the long reach of the drug war here and watch a video on Mexico’s increasing role in the production of our Meth here.

Mexican journalist Marcela Turati Munoz has compiled the stories of victims of the drug war in her new book, “Fuego Cruzado,” Spanish for ‘crossfire.’ CNN reports that Turati hopes the book, for which she interviewed the families of slain victims in 10 states across Mexico, will give voice to the innocent victims of drug war violence and encourage others to “reflect on what happened before and think about what type of society we are forming, with so much suffering, so much pain and so many losses.”

A journalist on the other side of the conflict, Emilio Gutierrez Soto arrived at a federal court Friday to plead his case for U.S. asylum, claiming he fled across the border with his 15-year-old son after receiving death threats for his critical coverage of the military in Mexico’s bloody drug war, the AP reports.

AFP reports that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make a one-day visit to Guanajuato, Mexico on Monday to discuss tackling Mexico’s violent drug gangs and the financial crisis with Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.

Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox, once known for being hard on crime and drugs in particular, told Time that his views have shifted dramatically in favor of complete legalization of the production, transit, and sale of prohibited drugs. “Prohibition didn’t work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple,” Fox says. While there have been countries in the past who have decriminalized the personal possession of many drugs, none has ever legalized them fully due to rigid U.N. treaties. Fox says the country cannot wait for the whole world but should instead plow on with reform.

To read about the results of Portugal’s 10-year experiment with the decriminalization of all drugs, listen to NPR‘s story here.

Arizona legislators are moving to pass a bill that would classify synthetic cannabis as a dangerous drug prohibited for sale, transfer, or use under Arizona’s Criminal Code. To read more about synthetic cannabis (a.k.a. “Spice”), check out my story on the DEA’s temporary nationwide ban here.

Sold under the same guise as synthetic cannabis, which is marketed as “incense,” a synthetic drug sold as “bath salt” is flying off the shelves of head-shops across the nation reports. A psychoactive stimulant in the form of a white powder that is snorted, the packaging of brands like “Blue Silk,” “White Lightning” and “Mojo Diamond” all say they are not for human consumption, making it available legally.

In Utah, police shot and killed a man within seconds of storming his parents’ home in a drug raid that resulted in a small amount of pot and an empty vial of what may have contained meth. Todd Blair, 45, raised a golf club when the narcotics strike force entered his house. Within seconds, without demanding he drop the club or raise his hands, Sgt. Troy Burnett fired three shots, killing Blair. To read the full story from the Salt Lake Tribune, click here. To see the video of the raid, go here.


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This Week in Drugs (Dec. 17, 2010)

Arizona’s state health agency released draft rules today on medical marijuana, legalized in November by voters’ approval of Proposition 203. (Read the draft rules here.) Among other things, the rules require that patients have an existing relationship with a physician or that they see the same doctor for their marijuana recommendation as they do to treat their condition — which would help to scale down the number of doctors whose practices center around marijuana. The rules also clarify what we’ve been pointing out to critics for a while: the only kind of chronic pain that counts in Arizona is pain associated with a debilitating disease or illness. The Arizona Republic does a good job of explaining the draft rules here. The public now has three weeks to comment on the proposed regulations.

The Los Angeles Times‘ editorial board delivered a well-earned slap down to Obama’s drug czar this week for blaming increased marijuana use by teens on medical marijuana and California’s failed Proposition 19 to legalize recreational pot. The newspaper points to a spring study that shows no increase in marijuana use by teens in states where medical marijuana is legal. And, indeed, the proof is undeniable that prohibition hasn’t stopped marijuana use: “There’s little evidence that continued criminalization has discouraged teen drug use, but better education might,” the newspaper writes.

The Obama administration is taking a logical (albeit probably overdue) step to stem the flow of assault weapons to Mexico by proposing a temporary requirement that gun dealers near the border report multiple sales of assault weapons. The feds already track multiple handgun sales, but not of semi-automatic weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s used by cartels for battles with the Mexican army. The National Rifle Association has already called out the move as an assault on the second amendment, according to The Washington Post. Read my take on our inconsistent and illogical gun laws and the “iron river” of guns flowing to Mexico here.

U.S. diplomatic cables published to WikiLeaks show Cuban frustration with Jamaica’s lack of response to drug smuggling to the United States, CNN reports. According to the cables, Cuban officials “collectively and continually … express frustration over the GOJ’s [Jamaica's] consistent ignoring of Cuban attempts to increase the flow” of drug-related information between the two countries.

Mexican officials announced this week that more than 30,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched his escalated drug war in 2006. About 12,500 people were killed from January-November 2010, compared with 9,600 in all of 2009, the Associated Press reports. The BBC reports Ciudad Juarez’ death toll has reached 3,000 for the year; 10 times the figures for 2007. In the past three years, 7,386 people had been killed in Ciudad Juarez. CNN looks at the new numbers in light of a new report from the Stratfor global intelligence company that shows the violent cost of the government’s efforts to take down cartel leaders. While dangerous individuals are eliminated, the efforts also upset the balance of power and lead to more bloodshed: “This imbalance has increased the volatility of the country’s security environment by creating a sort of vicious feeding frenzy among the various organizations as they seek to preserve their own turf or seize territory from rival organizations,” the report says.

The populace response to the death of a Mexican drug lord this weeks shows the complexity of the relationship between some cartels and citizens. Slain cartel leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez (a.k.a. “The Craziest”) of La Familia Michoacana was mourned as a religious leader after being gunned down by authorities. His cult-like cartel bills itself as the protector of the Michoacan state. A peace march organized by the local government turned into a rally in support of Gonzalez, the Associated Press reports. Read the CNN profile of Gonzalez here.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government’s corruption case against 35 local officials for working with La Familia has fallen apart and all but one of the suspects has been released, The Los Angeles Times reports.

For once, the United States is exporting something marijuana-related to Mexico: growing techniques. Reuters reports on new more sophisticated production practices pioneered on marijuana in the U.S. that are now being used to produce higher-grade marijuana in Mexico. As part of the article, Reuters emphasizes that U.S.-sold marijuana provides the bulk of the cash used by cartels to finance their violent battle against the Mexican government.

An Afghan drug lord now facing narco-terrorism charges was a U.S. informant, The New York Times reports. The article illustrates the conflict the U.S. faces in fighting terrorism and the global drug war at the same time.

A video of pop-star Miley Cyrus smoking the natural herb, salvia, has been swirling around the internet. Salvia divinorum, also known as Diviner’s or Seer’s Sage, is a psychoactive plant smoked for its dissociative effects and hallucinatory experiences. Legal in Cyrus’ home state of California, it has been banned in states like Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, North Dakota, and Delaware. See the TMZ video here.

The Open Society Institute* posted an interesting blog this week on the vilification of pregnant women who use drugs. The international non-profit points to governmental scare tactics in places like Russia that are not based in science and only serve to further marginalize women and prevent them from seeking treatment.

The Drug Policy Alliance and other criminal justice reform groups are asking supporters to fast on Dec. 22 and sign a petition to urge President Obama to create an “effective process” to review applications for commutations and grant sentence reductions to federal prisoners serving overly harsh time for drug violations and other crimes. Read and/or sign the petition here. Recently, Obama granted his first pardons, but did not take action, as some had hoped he would, to reduce sentences of people convicted before changes this year to alleviate some of the disparity between punishments for powder verse crack cocaine.


*Full disclosure: Amanda J. Crawford is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute, which helps to support her work on

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This Week In Drugs (Dec. 10, 2010)

It looks like country music legend Willie Nelson will probably not see jail time after he was arrested Nov. 26 for possession of marijuana. Border patrol agents in Texas boarded Nelson’s tour bus and found marijuana allegedly belonging to the singer. At first, it appeared Nelson, who had a prior arrest for marijuana, would see several months in jail. But the pot weighed less than expected, and fell just within the limit for a misdemeanor. After Nelson’s arrest, he told CelebStoner that people should form a “Teapot Party” that would “lean a little to the left” and work to legalize marijuana. As of Friday evening, the “party” had nearly 42,000 fans on Facebook and chapters around the globe.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution this week condemning the cultivation of illicit marijuana crops on federal parklands and urging the Office of National Drug Control Policy to come up with a strategy to dismantle Mexican drug cartel operations on federal land. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, said on the House floor that he believes the only way to stop the cultivation of marijuana on public lands is to legalize and regulate it — a sentiment also expressed by drug policy advocates in response to the resolution.

Check out the Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann’s take on the future of drug policy reform from this week in The Nation.

The Obama administration is gearing up to crackdown on California’s medical marijuana industry. California Watch reports that the administration has warned the city of Oakland that a plan to allow indoor pot farms to grow medical marijuana is a violation of federal law — part of a larger shift in federal strategy to clamp down on the state’s medical marijuana industry.

Students at Columbia University woke up Tuesday morning to police cars, drug dogs and battering rams in a raid on fraternity houses in which five students were arrested and charged with running a campus drug ring. The raid, dubbed “Operation Ivy League,” resulted in the arrest of five students who allegedly sold a variety of drugs, including Adderall, marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and LSD-laced Altoid mints, CNN reports. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) blasted the raid as an example of the overly harsh response to drug use, which we cannot “arrest our way out of.”

A 14-year-old hitman for the South Pacific cartel was captured and arrested last Friday on his way to the Cuernavaca airport, Time reported. Known by his nickname, “El Ponchis,” San Diego-born Edgar Jimenez Lugo told Mexican authorities he was on his way to visit his stepmother when he and his older sister were detained. Jimenez says he was kidnapped at 11 and was forced to commit the murders and decapitations of  four men for the SPC. Officials have warned that cartels would hire teenagers to do their dirty work, a trend that has been seen more and more throughout the course of the drug war violence in Mexico.

Four people were killed, including a teenager, and seven people were wounded after nearly 500 shots were fired in separate attacks on a pair of drug rehab centers in Juárez on Sunday night. Meanwhile, officials in Acapulco are teaching school children how to duck for cover if they hear gun fire, Reuters reported.

Soldiers killed six gunmen across the border from Texas in the northern state of Tamaulipas on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that soldiers also seized 24 assault rifles, five grenades, two grenade launchers and three bulletproof cars following the incident. The bodies of four men were also found in Cancun Tuesday night although police say they were found in neighborhoods far from where U.N. Climate Change conference is taking place.

As drug war violence rages on in Mexico, the nation’s capital has become the eye of the hurricane to which many small business are fleeing in an attempt to escape “the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts,” The US Daily reports. Some 5,000 business owners fled to Mexico City recently from states near the U.S.-Mexico border.

For a look at the drug war’s effect on the Mexican state of Michoacan, see the Reuters timeline here.

Read intelligence consultant Sylvia Longmire’s CNN editorial comparing drug cartels to terrorists here.


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This Week In Drugs (Dec. 3, 2010)

According to classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the U.S. has lost confidence in the Mexican army’s competence and ability to win the drug war, the UK’s reported. This comes in stark contrast to the insistence by Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his administration that the state is succeeding in winning the drug war that has been responsible for more than 28,000 deaths in four years. The documents show a growing panic in the Mexican government and the fear that it could “lose” entire regions to drug trafficking organizations.

USA Today is reporting on the growing number of women working for criminal gangs in Mexico, participating in everything from extortion and kidnapping to murder.

Meanwhile, a report by the National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that criminals smuggle between $18 billion and $39 billion each year across the Southwest border into Mexico. The El Paso Times reports that U.S. agents have seized about $41 million in cash leaving the United States at border crossings but without full-time inspections of outbound traffic, they have seized only a fraction of the cash smuggled south.

Methamphetamine production continues to be a problem — both in Mexico and in the U.S. Last week, The Washington Post reported that Mexico is now the number one source of meth in the United States. Then, this week The Wall Street Journal countered with this story on the rise of meth labs in rural areas of the U.S. — in part due to interdiction efforts in Mexico.

With drug war violence continuing to rage in Mexico, Fox News is asking why the Obama administration is ignoring the drug war. See Greta Van Susteren’s report here.

Others are criticizing President Obama for not acting more boldly when he issued his first presidential pardons this week. Politico reports that four of the nine pardons were for people convicted of cocaine-related offenses. However Obama did not act to reduce lengthy sentences related to the controversial crack vs. powder sentencing disparity. And Politico notes that, ironically, some of the people pardoned served relatively minor sentences compared to the lengthy sentences they would receive under current mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for drug crimes.

Police and military in Rio de Janeiro launched a massive sweep of the Alemao favela complex in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday morning in search of drug gang leaders and their illegal products. The complex, a labyrinth of slums that is home to numerous drug gangs, was stormed by 2,600 police and soldiers with armored vehicles. At least 35 people have died, 174 arrested and 123 detained since surge began last Sunday. The effort comes as the city and others prepare for Brazil to host the 2014 World Cup soccer matches and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Also in Brazil, a surprising discovery when authorities busted a Brazilian drug lord: he turned out to be a Justin Bieber fan. Perez Hilton is reporting that authorities discovered an oversized mural of the youthful pop star and tween heart throb when they busted a man considered one of the areas top drug traffickers.

In Pinal County, Ariz., more than two dozen people have been detained in recent weeks and thousands of pounds of marijuana have been seized in the Vekol Valley, the Arizona Reublic reports. On November 17, the Deputies arrested a 17-year-old boy and seized 12 bundles of marijuana. The next day, the drivers of three trucks believed to be headed to pick up illegal immigrants on I-8 were arrested. Later the same day, authorities observed seven people carrying large burlap bundles of marijuana on their backs near I-8. For a complete list of arrests and seizures in the past week, see the story here.

Soon, a new drug will be regulated by the DEA: the herbal incense known as Spice, which is often described as synthetic marijuana, will soon be illegal. The agency announced that this month they would finalize rules to ban the chemicals used to make the substance, which has been legally sold in smoke shops in Arizona and most other states but which has been the subject of increasing scrutiny and outlawed in 15 states. The federal ban is temporary and begins on Christmas Eve. Read more here.


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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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This Week in Drugs (Nov. 12, 2010)

by David Robles

Results from the Nov. 2 general election in Arizona are still coming in, with medical marijuana Proposition 203 now within 725 votes of winning as of Friday afternoon. Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell told The Associated Press that provisional ballots were leaning in favor of the measure. The gap has narrowed significantly since election day, when the measure was failing by about 7,000 votes. There were approximately 59,000 outstanding ballots left to count as of Friday afternoon. UPDATE: Prop. 203 passed!

Will California’s failed Proposition 19 launch a global conversation about marijuana prohibition? Reuters had an interesting post-election analysis on the measure here.

Gulf cartel leader Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas, or “Tony the Storm,” was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, on Friday according to the Associated Press. The next day, gunmen from the rival Zetas gang hung messages mocking his death. The Zetas, a gang of hit men formed more than a decade ago by former Mexican soldiers, split from the Gulf cartel earlier this year. President Obama called his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon on Saturday “to reaffirm United States support for Mexico’s efforts to end the impunity of organized criminal groups,”  according to a statement from the White House. More than 31,000 people have been killed in Mexico since Calderon took office and launched his cartel crackdown in December 2006.

This week saw a continuation of the flagrant drug war violence in Mexico with at least 20 murdered over the weekend in Ciudad Juarez, the AP reported Monday. Seven men believed to be attending a family party were gunned down Saturday night and 11 others were killed the same day, including two whose bodies were found dismembered. Two Juarez police officers were gunned down in their patrol car on Sunday.

As the Mexican army’s role as Mexico’s chief policing force increases, reports of human rights violations have followed suit, according to Al Jazeera English. The National Human Rights Commission reported more than 1,800 violations allegedly committed by the army in 2009, a more than 800 percent increase since President Calderon took office in 2006.

A 12-year-old boy known only as El Ponchis, or “the cloak,” is allegedly working as a hired assassin for the South Pacific Drug Cartel leader Jesus Radilla, according to The Sun. Macabre videos of the boy depict him clubbing a man with a weapon marked “CPS” (Cartel Pacifico del Sur), posing with a rifle by a dead body, and slitting the throats of gang enemies nearly to the point of decapitation.

The ATF’s anti-gun trafficking initiative, Project Gunrunner, has “significant weaknesses,” according to a Department of Justice report Tuesday. The report criticized the ATF for focusing on less important gun dealers and “straw purchasers”rather than higher-level traffickers, smugglers, and the “ultimate recipients of the trafficked guns” in Mexico, Reuters reported, along with unsystematic sharing of intelligence with partners in the U.S. and Mexico. (Read our past coverage of gun trafficking to Mexico here.)

On Tuesday U.S. federal appeals court judge Juan Torruella told an audience at the University of Puerto Rico that legalizing marijuana and perhaps other drugs is a better way to combat drug abuse and crime. Nominated to be a federal judge by President Ford and elevated to the appeals court by Reagan in 1984, Judge Torruella believes legalization is the only “realistic” alternative following the loss of the drug war at great societal cost, according to AP.

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This Week in Drugs (Nov. 5, 2010)

By David Robles

As of Friday mid-afternoon, Arizona Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana had narrowed its loss to about 4,600 votes, according to campaign manager Andrew Myers. Myers told CrawfordOnDrugs he is optimistic the measure will pass because early ballots are trending in favor of medical marijuana. There remain about 300,000 early and provisional ballots left to count, he said.

California’s attention-getting Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults was defeated Tuesday, thanks in part to the elderly, reported. According to a tweet from AP’s Jennifer Agiesta, six in 10 California voters under 30 say they voted “yes” while seven in 10 seniors say they voted “no” on Proposition 19. Although the  marijuana measure was defeated Tuesday, many proponents of marijuana policy reform believe that marijuana legalization is a matter of when, not if. Plans for new campaigns to legalize the drug by 2012 have materialized not only in California, but Colorado as well. Although the outcome is unknown, marijuana policy has become a mainstream issue.

Read more here.

Despite the astounding number of accidental deaths related to prescription drug abuse (seven every day in Florida), Gary Martin of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office told addiction prevention and treatment professionals attending a conference on prescription drug abuse that “the misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana abuse as a drug problem.” U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske (who called for an end to the “War on Drugs”) told the Broward and Palm Beach New Times that legalizing marijuana would not answer the country’s problems, saying, “Marijuana is not medicine…Treatments should be determined by scientists and not by voters.”

According to a new British study that takes societal effects into consideration, alcohol is more destructive than crack cocaine and heroin. The study evaluated and ranked substances on how destructive they are to users and society as a whole. Heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine were the most lethal to users, but alcohol ranked above heroin and crack cocaine as having the most dangerous wider social effect.

The drug war saw a particularly eventful week with the seizure of 30 tons of marijuana following the discovery of a tunnel between Mexico and California. The San Diego Tunnel Task Force discovered the 600-yard underground tunnel after observing suspicious activity involving a tractor trailer truck later found to be carrying 10 tons of marijuana packed in large cargo boxes. The tunnel connects a warehouse in Tijuana to the warehouse in Otay Mesa and is equipped with a rail, lighting, and ventilation systems.

The bodies of 18 men found in mass grave outside Acapulco may solve the mystery of 20 men who were whisked away by gunmen in late September shortly after arriving in Acapulco on vacation, the Los Angeles Times reported. In a grainy Youtube video, two beaten, bruised men confess to killing the group of 20 and reveal where they are buried. On Tuesday, police checked an anonymous telephone tip that lead to the discovery of two corpses believed to be the men who appear in the video. The 6-by-12-foot mass grave was found near the men who had an attached note that attributed their murders to a drug-trafficking gang operating in the area.

Expreso de Matamoros daily reporter Carlos Alberto Guajardo Romero died today during a confrontation between Mexican federal agents and armed gunmen in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, making him the 66th Mexican journalist killed since 2000.

At least three main papers in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state, across from Texas, are being forced to print press releases from the Zeta cartel, Global Post reported. The press releases began arriving by email to police reporter who acts as the Zeta liaison with the press. Newspaper editor Martha Lopez says “stories” often attempt to make the Mexican army look bad, such as stories about army human rights abuses. “Some of those stories are accurate in a small way, but they are exaggerated. Sometimes they are not true,” Lopez said.


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This Week in Drugs (Oct. 29, 2010)

This week was particularly bloody in Mexico, with several attacks on civilians who had no apparent connection to drug cartels. More than 50 people died in a series of attacks: Gunmen opened fire at a house party in Juarez killing 14 last friday, many of them teenagers. Two days later in Tijuana, 13 people were lined up and executed inside a drug rehabilitation clinic by gunmen who stormed the building. On Wednesday, gunmen opened fire on a carwash in the city of Tepic, Nayarit, leaving 13 dead. Six men are dead as a result of a shootout Thursday before dawn in Mexico City’s notorious Tepito neighborhood. (The Guardian notes that this was the only killing in which the victims may have been connected to drug trafficking.)  The same morning, four people  were killed outside Ciudad Juarez after gunmen opened fire on a bus taking workers home from a border factory. Nine police officers were also killed Thursday in Jalisco after gunmen ambushed a police convoy. The New York Times reports that the attacks “forced the government to concede that innocents are being swept up in the violence.”

AZ Gov. Jan Brewer

It looks like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer might just have landed one of those cartel beheadings she was talking (lying) so much about a few months ago. The Arizona Republic says police are investigating whether suspects wanted in a murder and beheading in Chandler have ties with a drug cartel. Originally, it was suspected as a ritual killing. (More from the Associated Press here.) Brewer also continued to exploit border violence for political gain this week with a new commercial knocking the federal government for putting in new warning signs about dangers on federal lands. While Brewer is quick to “stand up” to the feds by defending state rights in relation to immigration law SB1070, she won’t stand up for state rights if Arizona doctors get in trouble in the wake of a new medical marijuana law here, capitol scribe Howie Fischer reports.

All eyes are now on Tuesday’s election. reports that Oregon’s Proposition 74 to create a medical marijuana dispensary system faces an uphill battle. (The state already allows medical marijuana, but does not have a dispensary system in place.) In Arizona, Proposition 203 has a good chance of passing. As we reported last week, officials are already gearing up for passage by considering zoning and other regulations. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns released model zoning rules for municipalities this week.

Obviously, the biggest drug war election fight is in California. Polls on Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use have shown mixed results. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that there appears to be discrepancies in polls due to what pollster Nate Silver has dubbed the “The Broadus Effect”: voters polled by a live person are less likely to admit that they support legalizing marijuana than they would to an automated poll. (The “effect” is named after pot-loving Calvin Broadus, a.k.a. rapper-actor Snoop Dogg).

Billionaire financier George Soros donated $1 million to a drug legalization advocacy group in the push to legalize marijuana . Read Soros’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in support of Prop. 19 here.* Another major legalization contributor this week: Men’s Wearhouse chief executive George Zimmer.

If Prop. 19 does pass, the ACLU says the federal government has no basis to sue California. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the group makes the case that the proposition only removes state penalties for marijuana and that the federal government has no right to force states to have their own marijuana laws.

In anticipation of the possibility of marijuana legalization, Newsweek asked two advertising agencies to weigh in on what the legal marketing of marijuana could look like in the future. You ready for “Northern Lights” and “Mother’s Blend” brand names? Check out the slideshow of faux commercial pot companies here.

Finally, for your musical enjoyment, the family of reggae legend Peter Tosh officially endorsed  Prop. 19 this week, releasing a video featuring his famous anti-prohibition tune “Legalize It” in support of the measure. Check it out:


*Full disclosure: Amanda Crawford is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute, an international non-profit founded by George Soros. A fellowship grant from OSI helps to support

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This Week in Drugs (Oct. 22, 2010)

By David Robles

Authorities in Tijuana seized 105 tons of marijuana after a clash with suspected drug runners on Monday in what President Felipe Calderon says was the country’s largest marijuana seizure ever. Police seized more than 15,000 packages of marijuana and detained 11 people following the armed encounter that left a government agent and a suspected drug runner injured. (See Mexican officials incinerate the pot in this clip from MSNBC.)

During a recent panel presentation at the University of Texas at Austin, The Los Angeles Times‘ Mexico City bureau chief, Tracy Wilkinson, said reporting on the cartel violence in Mexico is no different than covering a war. Wilson explained that the foreign press struggles with three main obstacles when reporting on the drug war: getting sources  to talk, avoiding being made a pawn by one side or the other, and whether and how to use the “grisly images” and “horrific details,” according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog.

In the Mexican state of Chihuahua, a 20-year-old criminology student, Marisol Valles Garcia, was named the chief of police for the city of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero on Monday. No one else would accept the position of chief of police in the city where the former mayor and members of the local police force have been killed and at least eight people were murdered in the last week, MSNBC reported. Garcia said that her job would not be to fight the drug trafficking, which falls to the federal government, but instead will focus on preventative programs for schools and neighborhoods to make an impact on the community.

Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, told the Dallas News that he believes his country needs to take a new stance on U.S. migration and border enforcement. Sarukhan says Mexico needs to boost economic growth and job creation “to anchor those women and men with well-paying jobs in Mexico” and “ensure that every single Mexican that crosses the border into the United States does so with papers, through a designated port of entry, and legally.” These are two key courses of action that he says Mexico has been unwilling to do in the past.

A new poll shows California’s Proposition 19 to legalize medical marijuana for recreational use by adults might fail. The Los Angeles Times/USC poll found voters opposing it 51 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, The Press-Enterprise sought to clear up confusion about the measure with a question-and-answer story here.

All 30 of Arizona’s elected county sheriffs and county attorneys have come out against the state’s medical marijuana measure, Proposition 203, as have the two leading candidates for governor. Republican Jan Brewer and Democrat Terry Goddard both announced their opposition to the measure this week. Meanwhile, officials at the Arizona Department of Health Services are beginning to contemplate new regulations, since they would have 120 days following the certification of the election to put regulations in place.


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