Posts Tagged ‘legalization’

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.


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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: Is a member of Congress’ support of legalization proof that drug policy reform has gone mainstream? MSNBC notes a Gallup Poll that shows support for legalization in the U.S. has gone up to 46 percent in 2010 from 31 percent in 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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This Week in Drugs (March 5, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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 (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 (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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In AZ: Calling for a “genuine” debate on medical pot

It is so seldom that we get honesty in drug war politics. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer has been talking about imaginary drug cartel beheadings for months. And we all know that marijuana is a “gateway” drug (or isn’t it?).

That’s why I was so pleased while reading The Arizona Republic recently to see the head of the campaign to defeat Proposition 203, Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative, call for a “genuine discussion.” (You know, an honest debate about reality, devoid of propaganda and scare tactics.)

Then I saw why Carolyn Short said she was leading the “Keep AZ Drug Free” fight against medical marijuana: because her stepdaughter is a meth addict. She also trotted out problems in other states with far different medical marijuana restrictions than would be in place in Arizona. There goes that “genuine discussion” thing. (Read E.J. Montini’s completely unskeptical column here.)

Last week, while I was on vacation, it got worse. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall spoke out about her concerns with the measure at a Tucson City Council meeting. When the medical marijuana campaign manager got up to correct her misinformation, it was so bad that one local television station insisted that LaWall was set up for embarrassment.

Here’s the “genuine” reality: Arizonans voted to legalize medical marijuana 14 years ago, the same year as voters approved it in California and by a larger margin. The Legislature blocked the law, voters reauthorized it, but a wording error kept Arizona’s law from going into effect. (It said doctors could “prescribe” marijuana, which is against federal law, instead of “recommend.”)

In the meantime, 13 more states legalized medical marijuana with vastly different regulations. In California, nearly anyone with $150 can get a prescription for pot. In Arizona, truly sick people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses or the side effects of chemotherapy risk felony arrest. (Read my Phoenix Magazine story about the genuinely sick patients I met at an underground medical marijuana co-op in Tucson here and a previous blog post on medical marijuana and Mexican drug cartels here.)

In November, Arizonans will get to vote on a medical marijuana initiative that would probably be the strictest in the nation. It is not the panacea desired by pot activists. (As a reporter I attended a Phoenix NORML meeting last year where a heated debate broke out over support for the measure by members who thought it didn’t go nearly far enough.)

  • Under Arizona’s proposed measure, most sick people would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana. That drives most pot activists crazy. You could only grow your own if you live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.
  • While Short and LaWall both talked about the vague conditions and lax regulations that allow not-so-sick people in some other states to qualify for medical pot, that wouldn’t be the case under Arizona’s law. You would have to be suffering from a “a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition” or its treatment (i.e. chemotherapy). (Read the measure yourself here. See #3 under the “Definitions” section.)
  • At the council meeting, LaWall resorted to a powerful NIMBY scare tactic: She noted that there were 545 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles “more than the number of Starbucks and Subway sandwich shops combined.” She failed to note that the Arizona initiative imposes a strict cap: a maximum of 124 dispensaries would be allowed statewide. Statewide. That’s a maximum of one dispensary for every 10 licensed pharmacies.
  • Then there is the contention that medical marijuana is the first step toward complete legalization. It took 14 years for California to take step number two then, and it is the only state that has moved forward with legalization. Proposition 203 campaign manager Andrew Myers says we should be able to consider the two issues separately, and he’s right. Medical marijuana shouldn’t be defacto legalization, but opposition to legalization shouldn’t halt the debate about medical use either. OxyContin, morphine and any number of much more dangerous and addictive drugs are legal by prescription and no one says that is the first step toward legalizing them for recreational use.
  • And then there is the marijuana to meth pipeline. The truth is that Short’s stepdaughter and every other meth addict probably did try marijuana first. And they probably smoked cigarettes. And drank alcohol. They may have raided their parents’ medicine cabinets and huffed their cleaning products, too. Plus they likely had sex, had emotional problems or body image issues. Some of them had bad parents or bad relationships or just really thought they would like the feeling of bugs crawling under their skin or look cooler with meth mouth. Who knows. But new research has disproven the whole “gateway” drug thing. And the statistics don’t hold up: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million Americans had used marijuana in the last month in 2007. Only 529,000 people had used meth.

I’m not advocating for passage of Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative. And there are legitimate arguments to be made against it. Frankly, as with immigration reform, I would prefer to see the federal government take action. The truth is that I agree with opponents: we need to be having an honest discussion.


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“There is no easy way”: Guest Opinion from head of Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance

Editor’s Note: Last week, I blogged about my recent interview with Cameron H. Holmes, a senior litigation counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office who will soon leave for his new job as staff director of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance. In a comment on that post, a reader “TheRealBillC” disputed some of Holmes’ claims, contending that Mexican cartels would not resort to such violence if the government backed down. Holmes, who I suspect hears that sort of argument a lot, responded to me directly with a lengthy email.  In the email, Holmes addresses everything from the change in strategy by the drug cartels, which he says are more accurately referred to as “criminal enterprises,” to reasons why he believes drug legalization is not the answer to address violence in Mexico. I was granted permission to publish the email only if I agreed to run it verbatim, without editing or trimming. Please note that the views expressed here do not reflect my own opinions. However since Holmes is a pre-eminent expert on border issues, I felt like his thoughtful and informed ideas were worth sharing. Please comment and let me know what you think.


Email from Cameron H. “Kip” Holmes to Amanda J. Crawford, editor at


I am afraid I must disagree with your commenter. My primary thesis is that the Mexican criminal enterprises (“CEs”)(it is misleading to call “drug cartels” because they are not primarily price-setting entities and they are not just about drugs—they are primarily opportunistic multi-crime criminal enterprises) pose a serious threat to U.S.-Mexican trade, which in turn poses a serious threat to the economic health of Mexico and therefore of our hemisphere. Defending these trade routes should therefore be our primary focus.  In the short term, this means focusing U.S. and Mexican investigation and prosecution on the CEs’ trade-based criminal activities and redoubling our efforts to treat and prevent drug use.  In the long term, it means focusing our efforts on helping Mexico strengthen and defend its core democratic institutions, such as its judicial system, its press, and its law enforcement agencies. Ultimately, success will come down to the U.S. public’s recognition that use of Mexican-supplied drugs is killing our hemisphere, and the Mexican people’s continuing belief in their government’s ability to maintain the rule of law.  If either of these fails, Mexico will descend into economic ruin and political instability, and large parts of the U.S. economy, particularly in the Southwest, will sink with it.

The writer, TheRealBill, does not deny that the CEs are engaging in organized criminal activity that bleeds trade-related activity, such as diverting petroleum products, hijacking cargo, or kidnapping business leaders.  Rather, the writer seems to believe that the CEs will somehow intentionally stop such activities just short of the point that would “shut that door.”  But it does not matter what they intend to do. What matters in the context of injury to the Mexican economy is the result of what they actually do, even if they have no idea how that will effect the overall economy.  A pack of wolves may decimate a deer population without a thought about what that may mean to the wolves years hence.  They act like wolves because that is their nature, and CEs act like CEs because that is their nature.

The idea that CEs’ will pull up short of shutting off the economy displays ignorance of how CEs’ leadership operates.  Organized crime leaders stay in charge by inspiring and fostering the loyalty of their immediate inner circle.  Without this loyal inner circle, they are subject to sudden and successful challenge by contenders for their dominant role.  Keeping a loyal inner circle involves several factors, the most important of which is making financial opportunities available to the most loyal. Turning away apparent economic opportunities is an invitation to that inner circle to look elsewhere for leadership.  There is always another contender waiting in the wings for a shot at the top spots.  Also, where one group does not exploit an opportunity, another similarly placed group will.  When traditional Mafia dons balked at trafficking in narcotics, they were replaced by leaders who would.  Once criminal opportunities are identified, leaders must exploit them or risk being replaced (which generally involves death).  There are no beneficent organized crime leaders because that is not the nature of such organizations, just as there are no shrinking violet alpha male wolves because that is not the nature of wolf packs.  So the diversification of the Mexican CEs’ criminal conduct will continue as long as the economic opportunities are there and will take whatever advantage of those opportunities that they can get away with.  These opportunities will continue to expand as long as the power of the representative government declines relative to that of the CEs. The causal relationship between the violence in Mexico and President Calderon’s law enforcement efforts is irrelevant to the magnitude of the present risk of economic crisis.  It does not matter who started the escalation of the violence except as that relates to useful strategies to avoid economic catastrophe now.  The writer’s thesis is that “When Calderon decided to call in the military and up the violence, the cartels responded move for move.”  His conclusion from this false assertion is the false deduction that, “When the government backs down, the cartels will go quiet again.” However, the rise of the newly aggressive and power-acquiring CEs was not caused by Calderon’s administration, and in any event, to the extent that increased law enforcement has some violent repercussions, the Mexican government cannot simply “back down.”

The rise of the present CE’s is the result of numerous parallel events and trends.  To name a few, the arrival of many Mexican criminals in the U.S. in the 1990s permitted Mexican drug organizations to rely on Mexicans to distribute their drugs, rather than on Columbians or other groups.  Vertical integration of the distribution chain brought more money to the Mexican organizations.  At the same time, U.S. and Columbian pressure on Columbian drug organizations weakened them vis-à-vis Mexican organizations.  The Zetas arrived on the scene in the late 1990s, bringing military tactics and a new ruthlessness and opportunism. As an example of the ruthlessness, over 100 people died in drug violence in Nuevo Laredo alone in January-August 2005, long before Calderon’s inauguration.  As an example of opportunism, it is the Zetas who began the petroleum diversion and who have played a large part in the expansion of drug smugglers’ role in human smuggling. The maquiladoras (factories in Mexico at which goods are assembled for export in to the U.S. with favorable duties/tariffs) brought many unemployed Mexican young men to northern Mexico, away from their families, churches, and villages and therefore ready for recruitment into criminal organizations and related street gangs, and eager to prove themselves.  The sharp decline of the economies of the U.S. and Mexico in 2008 magnified this available pool of soldiers.  With many strangers available as soldiers, leaders are not as constrained about violent confrontations with rival gangs as they had been when their conflicts meant their own relatives may die or be injured, and brutality became more acceptable.  The evolution of diversified criminal organizations in Mexico is not a one-cause process.

Nor are the CEs’ tactics “move for move” responses to law enforcement. While it is obvious that CE conduct and law enforcement conduct drive each other to change, and no one doubts that escalation is a two-way process, it is misleadingly shallow analysis to attribute present CE tactics to Mexican law enforcement, whether before or after Calderon’s initiative. The CEs’ tactics are clearly intended to undermine representative government by instilling fear and lack of confidence in the Mexican people.  It is simply irrational to say that beheadings, murders of reporters, murders of mayors, postings of murders and threats on the Internet, ads for criminal gang recruitment in the newspapers, murders of and death threats to clergy, “taxation” (extortion) of city residents, or car bombings, are responses to law enforcement.  If they were responses to law enforcement, they would be done in the U.S. in response to law enforcement.  They are not done in the U.S. for the simple reasons that the CEs are not now contending for control of cities or areas of the U.S., as they are in Mexico, and they do not believe they could avoid prosecution for such crimes in the U.S., as they do in Mexico.  The writer is wrong about causation and wrong about the CEs’ tactics and goals, so he is wrong about his simplistic solution of “backing down.”

In the present circumstances, it is not really possible for the Mexican government to back down. While it has long been believed by some in the U.S. that Mexican government officials accepted bribes to allow Mexican drug and human smugglers to operate with relative amnesty, that was in the context of the crimes of drug and human smuggling.  The crimes have changed.  They now include diversion of petroleum (owned by the government and therefore by the people), hijacking cargo, kidnapping business people, extorting insurance companies, extorting whole cities, and atrocious murders, including of clergy, journalists, and political leaders.  No government can look the other way in connection with such conduct, no matter what the bribe amount offered. Nor would the CEs accept a return to the former order, even if could be offered.  As explained above, once the CE has enjoyed the criminal benefits of operating in a governmentally challenged area, a leader who proposed to his inner circle that the group should limit itself to drug and human smuggling and abandon the other criminal opportunities would not remain the leader for very long.  The alpha wolf who will not lead the pack on the trail of fresh blood will lose his leadership position to a contender.

It would be nice if legalization of drugs were a panacea by which the violence could be stopped and the strength of Mexico’s representative government restored.  This is simply not possible.  I am referring to economics, not politics.  Please consider the economics of, say, a hypothetical “National Cocaine Corp.” (“NCC”), a new business formed to sell hypothetically recently legalized cocaine in the U.S.  As the first order of business, NCC must get an FDA permit after showing the purity of the product and the conditions of its manufacture in a clean plant under closely monitored conditions, under the watchful eyes of various doctors, chemists, and quality control experts.  Next, NCC must pay for insurance against the inevitable lawsuits a la the massive suits against Big Tobacco.  Next, NCC must set its prices based on its payment of massive taxes, again like alcohol and tobacco, but undoubtedly much higher. But the Mexican CEs won’t have any of these expenses.  Bottom line: there is no legal product that can match the price of good old smuggled drugs. In addition, some young people, say, under 21, will inevitably be deemed too young to use the drugs legally, again like alcohol and tobacco.  This market would not be available to NCC, but the CEs would keep selling to this market.  So the Mexican CEs would stay in business and would continue smuggling the same products, but for a larger market because the products are “legal” (not their own smuggled products of course, but that’s of no concern to them because they have always been selling illegal products).

It is also tempting to some to suggest that the U.S. could hide behind Mexico’s sovereignty and continue our ineffective and under-funded efforts.  But this is not an option.  The U.S. /Mexican economy is in many ways a single vessel.  If one side of it sinks, the other side sinks with it.  Yes, sovereignty is an issue that the U.S. must deal with in true partnership against our common enemy, but abandonment of our partner is not a proper way to recognize and honor its sovereignty. Here is the sober truth: the U.S. faces a substantial and immediate risk that the Mexican criminal enterprises will drive the U.S.’s neighbor into economic ruin in the next few years, accompanied by its political disintegration.  There is no easy “back down” solution and no “legalize drugs now” solution.  We must act decisively now to avert this, in close partnership with and following the leadership of the Mexican government, or invite the catastrophic consequences of a destabilized Mexico. Although U.S. public officials have kept their heads buried in the sand as the Mexican CEs evolved into what they are today, making the solution far more difficult than it would have been several years ago, it is no longer possible to ignore this economic threat.  It is going to be a very difficult and costly road.  It will require careful assessment of the options, none of which are easy or attractive, in an atmosphere unclouded by simplistic rhetoric relating to such things as sealing the border, legalizing drugs, or expelling illegal immigrants. It is time to put these impossible, ineffective, or irrelevant agendas aside and consider what must be done for the survival of our hemisphere’s economic health.  There is no easy way around it.


(Cameron H. Holmes)

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Just Say Now: bipartisan campaign to legalize marijuana

Ok, so for those of you plugged into drug policy, this is not new. But, hey, I went on a little two-week hiatus or, more specifically, a major magazine deadline stress-filled black out period. Now that I’m back on-line I thought I should update you about the campaign I referred to in my last post: Just Say Now.

Liberal blog site has teamed with Students for Sensible Drug Policy to launch what they call a national, bipartisan campaign calling for the legalization of marijuana. Here’s the Just Say Now campaign mission statement:

Our nation’s prohibition about marijuana has cost the country billions, resulted in a massive increase in incarceration rates, funded criminal syndicates, yet failed to stop people from using marijuana. It is a failed costly and misguided policy that must end now. We are a group of all individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and political leans that share the simple conviction that the marijuana prohibition must end. That is why we are promoting the legalization and sensible regulation of marijuana through grassroots organizing and direct democratic action.

As I mentioned in my last post, Firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher has been talking about legalization of marijuana in connection with drug violence in Mexico and border security concerns in the U.S. In an interview with The Atlantic, Hamsher outlined her reasons behind getting involved in the marijuana legalization movement:

Our drug policy on marijuana is causing increasing problems on a variety of issues. It’s exacerbating the immigration problem at the border, because it’s putting so much money into the pockets of drug cartels. They’re then using it to arm themselves and create tremendous crime problems, but it’s also placing a huge burden on our prison system and on our state budgets, in addition to the fact that it’s keeping people who would like to use marijuana for medical purposes from having access to it, and there’s tremendous popular support among young people for legalization, so it seemed like a good time to bring all these things together.

The campaign is starting out by focusing on the California initiative to legalize and tax marijuana (Prop. 19) and medical marijuana initiatives on ballots in three states: Arizona, Oregon and South Dakota. Read more from The Huffington Post here.


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Just Say Now? Calls to legalize marijuana gain steam

Drug cartels that make most of their profit from pot have turned Mexico in a warzone.

A struggling economy has highlighted the financial burden of our rapidly growing prison systems.

What if we could find a way to bankrupt the cartels, halt the growth of (and maybe even shrink) our prison population and find a new source of tax revenue? That’s the message behind the movement to legalize and tax marijuana — and the argument that the time is now.

Next month when NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) holds its annual conference it will play off the famous 1980s anti-drug slogan, with the title “Just say now.” (The conference will be held in Portland and will cover everything from medical marijuana and industrial hemp to marijuana cultivation and cannabis activism.)

California will be the first test case for legalization when the issue goes to the ballot in November. It is a campaign that has increased relevance as the Mexican drug war has grown ever more violent.

I still think that politicians in Arizona and nationally are playing a royal bait-and-switch with the issue, constantly talking about immigration reform/enforcement as the solution to drug violence at our border. I’ve ranted about this “border security disconnect” before. I was glad to see this point finally come out in the national media.’s Jane Hamsher was on MSNBC last week, making the case to legalize marijuana in order to financially undercut the Mexican cartels.

No matter how you feel about marijuana, prohibition and the drug war in general, these are issues that are worth discussing. The U.S.-led international drug war has escalated dramatically over the years with no measures of success and politicians continue to avoid talking about the issue.

Maybe drug prohibition is a debate best had without words? A new cartoon advocating to end marijuana prohibition has been getting thousands of views on YouTube in less than a week. Watch “The Flower” here (make sure you watch through the halfway point, where the cartoon turns dark):


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