Posts Tagged ‘Jan Brewer’

Arizona Medical-Pot Suit Dismissed by Judge

by Amanda J. Crawford, Bloomberg News

A U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit asking the court to decide whether Arizona could carry out its medical-marijuana law without subjecting state workers to federal charges.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claimed the voter-approved measure contradicted federal law and put state employees, who are charged with approving medical-marijuana dispensaries, at risk of prosecution. Her administration refused to approve dispensary applications pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

In her ruling yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix said the state failed to establish a “genuine threat of imminent prosecution.”

Read the full story on here.

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Arizona Medical Pot Offices Stand Empty After Brewer Sues Feds

by Amanda J. Crawford, Bloomberg News

When self-described serial entrepreneur Ian Christensen looks around the white-walled medical office he plans tolease in Paradise Valley,Arizona, he sees opportunity. Now all he needs is some pot.

Like hundreds of other would-be marijuana moguls, Christensen courted investors, hired attorneys, negotiated leases, cleared zoning hurdles, purchased equipment and sank tens of thousands of dollars into plans to pioneer an industry Arizona voters created by referendum in November.

Then Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican who opposed the initiative, sued the federal government and would-be dispensary operators in a case that may have implications in California and the 14 other U.S. states that have authorized medical pot. She wants a federal judge in Phoenix to decide whether the state can implement the law without its workers facing federal charges or whether U.S. law trumps the statute entirely.

“They put the dispensaries out of business before we ever started,” Christensen said last week as he toured the office.

. . . Read the full story on here.

Read my latest work for Bloomberg News here.

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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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Profit vs. justice: Private prisons, SB1070 & the hijacking of criminal justice

NPR today reported a disturbing tale about how private prison lobbyists helped to craft and push for Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, to help pad their bottom lines. If you haven’t heard/read the story by my old friend Laura Sullivan about how capitalism – not justice or public safety – may have motivated the law, check it out here.

The beginning is haunting:

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

“The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger,” Nichols said. “He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman.”

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

“They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

“They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

The story reveals campaign contributions from private prison corporations to SB1070 sponsors and says prison lobbyists helped craft the measure during meetings with the special-interest-driven American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Though threads of this story, including ties between Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s staffers and private prison firms, had already been out there, Sullivan connects the dots more clearly than before.

Arizona Republic reporter Casey Newton has been poking holes in the story all day via Twitter, noting, among other things, that SB1070 had been several years in the making. And legislators like House Speaker Kirk Adams have blasted it. Adams, also via Twitter, called the story “pathetic” and a “gross distortion.” (Newton, by the way, has my old job covering the state legislature and prison system at the paper. While there I wrote about legislators’ private prison connections and the corporate influence of ALEC.)

But I think, no matter how much of a role private prison lobbyists played in drafting and pushing SB1070 specifically (I definitely believe there was a lot of fear and hate motivating the law, too!), the NPR story today provides disturbing insight into how laws are made and how the administration of justice in our country has become a profit-generating industry.

Over the last few decades, our system of justice has been radically transformed. The number of people in prison has skyrocketed, primarily due drug war laws and mandatory minimum prison sentences passed by politicians. Decisions about who goes to prison and for how long are now made, for the most part, by politicians who set the rules and prosecutors who decide the charges. Judges, who once were charged with making sure punishment fit the crime, have had their hands tied by legislative restrictions.

People who support that shift in control over the justice system point out that politicians are accountable to the people in a way that judges are not. And, indeed, efforts by politicians to win over the electorate with “tough on crime” campaigns are just about the only sure-fire tactic in politics. Political careers have ended because the person couldn’t shake the allegation that they were “soft on crime” (Michael Dukakis is a famous example) and been made by pledges to impose extreme punishment on the criminal pariah of the day (SB1070 = illegal immigrants). That pressure alone has created a system of justice that doesn’t always make a lot of sense: drug users sometimes serve longer prison sentences than rapists. Perverts in Arizona who look at kiddie porn often serve longer than the creeps who actually molest children.

But politicians are also far more susceptible to the influences of corporations and special interest. The multi-billion dollar private prison industry in our country realizes profits for each additional person locked up and for every additional day they are behind bars. It doesn’t strain credulity to believe that they push for things like SB1070 and drug laws that help their business model.

The reality is that our criminal code and criminal justice system has been skewed in the service of political points and corporate profit — and that is impacting the fabric of our society and many individual lives. That reality should be horrifying in itself: it goes far beyond just SB1070 and the NPR story and speaks volumes about the institutional challenges facing meaningful criminal justice and drug policy reform.


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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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This week in drugs (Sept. 24, 2010)

A stunning investigation by the Phoenix New Times this week sheds doubt on the story of a Pinal County, Ariz., deputy who claimed he was injured in a desert shoot-out this spring with drug smugglers armed with AK-47s. The incident came during the heated debate over Arizona’s tough new immigration law, SB1070, and it helped propel outspoken Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to national limelight in support of the measure and in blasting the Obama administration over border security. A panel of pathologists and other experts poked major holes in the deputy’s story. (The New Times also quotes an investigator who points out that it never made much sense for this incident — purportedly a shoot-out with criminals — to be used to ratchet up the immigration debate.)

Meanwhile, another Arizona politician’s distortions about drug cartel crime could lead to Zombie marches in Phoenix. A couple Facebook groups have popped up recently connected to Gov. Jan Brewer’s bogus claims that the Arizona desert has been beset by headless bodies. Headless Halloween in AZ – Just say “NO” to Jan Brewer pledges to stage “headless” events throughout Phoenix to oppose Brewer’s campaign for governor.

Facebook is still not playing ball with the national marijuana legalization campaign Just Say Now.  The group this week launched its on-line store, where it will raise money for and awareness of the campaign with hemp T-shirts, pro-legalization buttons, etc. The all-powerful social media site, which already had rejected the group’s campaign ads because they included the image of a pot leaf, won’t let them advertise the store either. The campaign says it created ads with the “obviously offensive plant leaf” blurred out, but they were still rejected.

A new poll out this week has California’s Proposition 19 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana favored to win. Public Policy Polling found the measure was favored by voters 47 percent to 38 percent, with a remarkable 14 percent of voters undecided. In an analysis on their blog, the pollsters noted that the measure polls along less partisan lines than other issues in the election. While it did better among Democrats (56 percent in favor; 28 percent opposed), it still had sizable support among Republicans (30 percent in favor; 57 percent opposed). “That’s a lot more division within the ranks of both parties than we’re seeing on a lot of stuff,” the pollsters wrote. They also noted that enthusiasm for the measure among voters under the age of 45 could help drive turnout for Democratic candidates. If gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown  and Senate candidate Barbara Boxer win “they may have the marijuana initiative to thank for driving turnout from folks who would otherwise have been drop off voters in a midterm,” the pollsters wrote. (More on this poll and past polls on the initiative from The Atlantic.)

The Obama administration both opposes legalization of marijuana and has “a dubious view of medical marijuana,” a drug policy adviser told those gathered at a drug court conference in Montana this week. According to the Billings Gazette, Kevin Sabet, special adviser for policy at the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said legalizing marijuana will lead to more use, more arrests for drug-related behavior and won’t deal a heavy enough blow to drug gangs. He added that the Obama administration favors an approach to marijuana and the drug war that combines treatment with law enforcement.

In Mexico, where the fall out from the drug war is most acute, the murder this week of the mayor of the small Mexican town of Doctor Gonzalez has raised the death toll to 10 Mexican mayors assassinated in the past year.

Journalists, who have been a significant target of cartel violence, are trying to figure out what to do. After last Thursday’s murder of a 21-year-old photojournalist, the newspaper El Diario de Juarez ran two front-page editorials (seen here) directed to the drug gangs of the city. According to the BBC, the newspaper asked the cartels: “We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.” With more than 30 journalists dead in Mexico since 2006, El Diario says there is no story worth dying for anymore.

Last Saturday in Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the body of the photographer’s alleged murderer, himself executed and beheaded in a white Nissan Altima. The man’s head was left on the roof of the car with a copy of El Diario de Juarez on the dashboard. The body was found inside the car. According to Borderland Beat, Mexican police say the message left at the gruesome scene identifies the body as the photographer’s killer.

Borderland Beat also reports that similarly displayed bodies were found yesterday in Acapulco. The bodies of the men were found seated in the back seat with their heads on the roof of the car. A message left behind said, “This happened to us for transporting guns.” One of the men was a native of Texas.

And the flow of drugs across the border continues, as do efforts to stop it. Customs and Border Protection reported seizing more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana this week in the Tucson sector alone along with millions of dollars worth of heroin, cocaine and meth being smuggled elsewhere. Check it out.


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Crawford on Guns: Gun laws and trafficking to cartels

Amanda Crawford with an AR-15 type assault rifle at a Phoenix pawn shop. (Photo by Laura Segall.)

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in drug war violence in Mexico in the last four years, sometimes within yards of the U.S. border.

This isn’t some remote war in a foreign land. It isn’t the product of cultural clashes, or a political uprising, or a corrupt government. This is a war of our doing: Mexico’s drug cartels are fueled by the consumption of illicit drugs on the U.S. black market. The Mexican government’s crackdown is funded, in part, by U.S. drug war money, with law enforcement officers trained and assisted by the U.S. government. And the drug cartels are armed with guns purchased on the U.S. consumer market.

For the October issue of Phoenix Magazine I looked at the significant role Phoenix is playing as a “gun locker” for the drug cartels. (Because of the relative lack of state restrictions, Arizona and Texas are now the primary suppliers of U.S. guns to Mexico.) The story is now available on news stands. You can read the feature story,“The Iron River” here.

I also went “undercover” at the Phoenix gun show, where I could have bought a dozen AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles with no background check or any paperwork whatsoever. Read the on-line exclusive “Get Your Guns” here. (In case you missed it, I also blogged about the gun show in July.)

Some things I learned that you might find surprising:

  • The federal government does not keep records or maintain a database of gun purchases. While the federal government requires licensed gun dealers to conduct an instant background check to look for felonies, they are barred by law from retaining that information.
  • If authorities find a gun at a crime scene in the U.S. or Mexico, they have to go the whole way back to the manufacturer and trace the gun through the distribution chain to the store where it was sold as new. Since many manufacturers are foreign, this process can take days or even weeks. If the gun was resold by the original owner, the trail often goes cold here. That’s why pawn shops are major sources of crime guns: it is really hard to trace them.
  • If authorities want to know what guns someone purchased, they have to go store to store looking through paper files that are organized chronologically by date of purchase. In the case I wrote about, the ATF went store to store with a photograph of the suspected trafficker, hoping to find workers who would remember when he bought a gun.
  • There is no background check or paperwork required for the purchase of ammunition in Arizona. You must be at least 18 years old and a legal resident, but they aren’t required to check — and they don’t. Think about this: You can go into a gun store and buy thousands of rounds of ammunition, including 100-round drum magazines for assault rifles, and there is no paper trail. But if you purchase cold or allergy medicines in Arizona, they scan your driver’s license and that information is stored in an electronic database.
  • If you buy two handguns at the same store in a five-day period, federal law requires the gun dealer to report the sale to the ATF. But you can buy as many assault rifles or other long guns as you want and there is no report. Authorities say it is not uncommon for someone to walk into a gun shop in Phoenix and buy 10 AK-47 type rifles at one time. Many gun dealers agree this is illogical. Several law enforcement officials told me that extending the multiple sales report to rifles would be the single biggest thing we could do to slow gun trafficking to Mexico. In the case I wrote about the guy got caught because he messed up and bought more than one hand gun.
  • Gun shows in Arizona and many other states exploit an exception in federal law that allows guns to be sold in private sales without a background check or any paperwork required. I could have loaded my little car with assault rifles at the gun show without any paper trail whatsoever. (Check out the links for the gun show stories above for more details.)
  • There is no “gun trafficking” crime per se. Under federal law, people are charged with lying on the federal background check form. Even if the guns can be traced to deaths in Mexico this charge usually carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison — lower than the sentences for drug smuggling.
  • The federal government has an amazing amount of data on gun crimes and trafficking, and you can’t see it. Fearing law suits against gun manufacturers, the gun lobby won a special exception that blocks the ATF from sharing this information with you or your elected representatives.

Look, I’m not a foe of the 2nd amendment. I’ve been around guns plenty. I’ve fired guns, and I’m not a bad shot. My ex-husband practically had an arsenal under our bed, and I was O.K. with that. (And gun advocates note: I haven’t even talked about the assault weapons ban. I understand it doesn’t make a lot of sense to ban guns based on how bad-ass they look.)

But the situation in Mexico has become dire. I have grown increasingly frustrated with conservatives howling about violent drug cartels at the border and then talking about immigration enforcement and SB1070 as the solution. Even if every Mexican immigrant were a drug mule (And just to be clear, Gov. Brewer: they are not) it is the demand for drugs and the easy supply of weapons that is perpetuating the violence. Do we really only care about the violence in Mexico if it spills across some arbitrary line in the desert? (If you believe Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, his deputies are already being outgunned on U.S. soil by the cartels.)

The reality is that talking about gun laws is just about as taboo as talking about drug prohibition. When I started asking about the inconsistencies in federal law and special exceptions to public records won by the gun lobby, a high-ranking ATF official pulled me aside to caution me: The NRA will come after you, he said. I put in repeated requests for comment to the office of Gov. Jan Brewer, an NRA darling. She talks an awful lot about the threat drug cartels pose to Arizona, but she has been M.I.A. on the issue of gun trafficking. (Gov. Brewer and Mr. Senseman: I’m still waiting for a call back.)

The reality is that we need to be talking about this. Right now. In Arizona and across the nation. We need to be having intellectually honest conversations about the drug war, including marijuana prohibition and overly harsh incarceration policies that are filling our prisons and bankrupting our states. And we need to be talking about guns.

I will explore some of these issues more in future posts and articles. And I’ll be on AZ Family Channel 3 TV next week. In the meantime, check out the story David Robles wrote for this site about a recent ATF gun trafficking sweep in Phoenix last week here.


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This Week in Drugs (Sept. 3, 2010)

by David E. Robles

(updated 9/4)

The Mexican federal police captured Texas-born drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a.k.a. “the Barbie,” on Monday. Valdez, who was fluent in both English and Spanish, earned his nickname because of his fair complexion and blue eyes. NPR reports that Valdez is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S. and is alleged to have either ordered or personally carried out hundreds of killings as the head of an assassination group for the Beltran Leyva cartel. He is expected to be extradited to the United States to prevent him from continuing to run the gang from within the Mexican penal system. (For a good laugh, check out this “photo” of his arrest.)

The arrest of Valdez — the third major suspected drug lord to be captured in the past 10 months — comes at a crucial time for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has been attempting to rally a beleaguered nation behind the increasingly bloody drug war. Many Mexicans, especially those nearest the violence, believe the Mexican government is losing control. (Recent incidents include the mass killing of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas state about 100 miles south of Brownsville, Texas; the assassination of Hidalgo mayor Marco Antonio Leal Garcia; and a shootout between the Mexican army and suspected drug cartel members in Tamaulipas that left 27 dead). Calderon insists that it is a price worth paying for victory in the drug war:  “If we want a safe Mexico for the Mexicans of the future, we must take on the cost of achieving it today,” Calderon said in his state-of-the-nation address, according to the Associated Press.

Efforts are being made to weed out dirty cops in Mexico’s notoriously corrupt federal police agency. Nearly 10 percent of the federal police force has been fired over the last year after failing checks put in place to detect possible corruption. According to the Associated Press, “Mexico’s approximately 35,000 federal police are required to undergo periodic lie detector, psychological and drug examinations, and the government routinely investigates their finances and personal life.” * (See update below on state department’s human rights concerns.)

Whether you believe Mexico is winning or losing the drug war that rages within it, the cruel consequences of the violence are undeniably taking a toll on innocent residents as well. On September 15, the bicentennial anniversary of Mexico’s independence, there will be no traditional gathering and celebrating in the main plaza of Ciudad Juarez. Mayor Jose Reyes announced the cancellation Monday, saying that although no direct threats have been received, it would be too dangerous for such large crowds to gather in what has become the most dangerous city in war-torn Mexico.

In Arizona, Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Carlos Molinares-Nunez, a.k.a. “El Caliche,” was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Tucson to 27 years in prison and fined $4 million for smuggling tons of marijuana into the United States. Arizona’s U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke called his sentencing a crippling  blow to his organization.

Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer admitted Friday what everyone has known for weeks: that she misspoke when she talked about beheadings in Arizona by drug cartels. The concession comes after Brewer’s dismal performance in a debate against Democratic challenger and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard in which Goddard tried to call her out on the statement. (See that part of the debate and how Brewer evades reporters’ questions about it afterward  here.)

According to a new study conducted by University of New Hampshire associate professors of sociology Karen Van Gundy and Cesar Rebellon, the “gateway” effect of marijuana has been vastly overblown. According to the study, “the strongest predictor of whether someone will use other illicit drugs is their race/ethnicity, not whether they ever used marijuana.” (And, despite higher rates of imprisonment for drugs among minorities, the researchers found non-Hispanic whites are more likely to use illicit substances other than marijuana.)  Van Gundy and Rebellon say: “In light of these findings, we urge U.S. drug control policymakers to consider stress and life-course approaches in their pursuit of solutions to the ‘drug problem.’”

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, this week outlined what he sees as the next steps in the fight for drug policy reform: to make the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity reform retroactive so that those already serving prison terms will be treated the same as those sentenced in the future, a broader reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences, and a national reform of marijuana prohibition laws. What do you think?

UPDATE 9/4: The U.S. State Department is withholding 15 percent of newly authorized Merida initiative funding to Mexico, urging the nation to make more progress in curbing human rights abuses. The agency authorized payment of $36 million in previously withheld funding on Friday, saying the Mexican government has met human rights requirements to receive that portion of the funding.

According to the AP: “We believe there has been progress, very significant progress, on human rights in Mexico, but as a policy decision — not a legal decision — we are going to wait on a portion of new funding because we think additional progress can be made,” said Roberta Jacobson, a deputy assistant secretary for Mexico and Canada at the State Department. Read the AP story here.

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Civil rights & a few sane moments on border security, drug policy

On Tuesday night – the day that the Department of Justice filed suit against the state of Arizona over its controversial new immigration law — I attended a civil rights forum hosted by my friend, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis K. Burke. The forum was held in South Phoenix with leaders of the city’s small African-American community in response to a run-in in March between a black city councilman and a white city cop. But the timing of the event meant that SB1070 was the issue on the minds of the press and many of those in the small audience. After too many platitudes by officials and community leaders there (de rigueur at an event like this), I was pleased that there were a few moments of cogent conversation about border security, SB1070 and drugs.

-A supporter of the new law referenced a recent video released by Gov. Jan Brewer, asking in a formal tone: “Are not our rights violated when we can’t go out now to our deserts because of signs saying drugs and human smuggling corridor?” Burke, a practiced politician and prosecutor who was chief of staff to former AZ Gov. Janet Napolitano, gave one of the most reasoned and balanced responses I’ve heard about the new law and the lawsuit his office helped to craft against his native state. He said he understood the frustration that many people feel over illegal immigration, noting his office’s amped up law enforcement efforts prosecuting immigrants and drug smugglers. But he said while there is frustration about the lack of action by the federal government “a state law can’t be a substitute for frustration” and “frustration doesn’t lead to constitutionality.” Burke acknowledged the criminal ties between organizations that smuggle drugs and humans. And he touched on the angry divisions that have defined this debate in Arizona and unfairly tainted opponents: “There can’t be a line drawn that says if you don’t support this (law) you support illegal immigration.”

-Elderly former City Councilman Calvin Goode criticized Gov. Brewer and others for turning the drug trade into a one-sided problem, brought by Mexicans into our state. “What are we doing in terms of people who abuse drugs in this country? It takes two to tango,” Goode said. Burke agreed: “It can’t be just a law enforcement issue … We have to focus on other prongs, prevention and treatment.

-A young Hispanic couple expressed concerns about racial profiling under SB1070. Victor Valtierra, 22, pointed out the simple economics of supply and demand in both illegal immigration and drug smuggling that too many politicians seem to ignore in the heated debate: “People are demanding drugs. People are demanding people to pay low wages.”

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Benson cartoon: Brewer, drugs and immigrants

Arizona Republic's Steve Benson takes on Brewer's bogus assertions


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