The American Bear


Is the End of Marijuana Prohibition the End of the War On Drugs? Probably Not. | Bruce Dixon

The forty years of so-called “war on drugs” has been the rhetorical excuse for a nationwide policy of punitive overpolicing in black and brown communities. Although black and white rates of drug use have been virtually identical, law enforcement strategies focused police resources almost exclusively upon communities of color. Prosecutors and judges did their bit as well, charging and convicting whites significantly less often, and to less severe sentences than blacks.

The forty years war on drugs has been the front door of what can only be described as the prison state, in which African Americans are 13% of the population but more than 40% of the prisoners, and the chief interactions of government with young black males is policing, the courts and imprisonment. Given all that, the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition, first in Colorado and soon to be followed by other states ought to be great good news. But not necessarily.

Ask yourself, what would it look like if policymakers wanted to end the prohibition of marijuana, but not necessarily the the war on drugs. What if they desired to lock down the potential economic opportunities opened up by legalizing weed to themselves and their class, to a handful of their wealthy and well-connected friends and campaign contributors? What if they wanted to make the legal marijuana market safe for predatory agribusiness, which would like to claim lucrative patents on all the genetic varieties of marijuana which can be legally grown, as they already try to do with other crops?

If they wanted to do those things, the system in place in Colorado today would be a good start. In Denver today, low income property owners can’t just plant pot in the back yard or on the roof in hopes of making one mortgage payment a year out of twelve, it doesn’t work that way. Ordinary households are limited to 3 plants per adult, and for reference only the female plants are good for smoking, and prohibited from selling the weed or the seed. To participate in the marijuana economy as anything but a consumer requires background checks, hefty license fees, a minimum of hundreds of thousands to invest, and the right connections. All this currently drives the price of legal weed in Colorado to over $600 per ounce, including a 25% state tax, roughly double the reported street price of illegal weed.

So to enable the state to collect that tax money, and the bankers, growers and investors to collect their profits from marijuana taxed by the state and regulated in the corporate interest, cops and judges and jailers in near future, in Colorado and in your state as well, figure to be just as busy as they always have been the last forty years, doing pretty much what they’ve always done… conducting a war on illegal drugs, chiefly in the poorer and blacker sections of town, with predictable results.

The end of marijuana prohibition is not designed to create jobs in our communities, nor is it intended to shrink the prison state. Our ruling class simply does not allow economic growth that they can’t monopolize, and the modern prison state has never been about protecting the public from drugs or crime. Prisons and our lifelong persecution of former prisoners serve to single out, brand and stigmatize the economic losers in modern capitalist society, so that those hanging on from paycheck to paycheck can have someone to look down upon and so that they might imagine that this vast edifice of inequality is, if not just, inevitable.

Grant Program May Incentivize More Weed Arrests Among Blacks - COLORLINES


Black Americans were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana posession in 2010, even though the two groups smoke weed at similar rates, according to new federal data. The American Civil Liberties Union cites the Edward Bryne Justice Assistantship Grant Program as one possible reason for the disparity. The program incentivizes increasing drug arrest numbers by tying the statistics to funding. Law enforcement then concentrates on low-income neighborhoods to keep those numbers up.

More at the Atlantic Wire:

The argument resonantes with criticism of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program, which overwhelmingly targets young, black or latino men in the city (and, indeed, demonstrates a racial disparity in arrests for marijuana possession). But as the ACLU and the Times show, the problem of racial bias in arrests for possessing a drug that is, after all, gaining acceptance across the U.S., is a national one. the ACLU found a bias in “virtually every county in the country,” they told the Times, regardless of the proportional population of minorities in that county.

Back in 2010 the NAACP called the racial discrepency in weed arrests a “civil rights issue.” One year later, to mark the 20th anniversary of the U.S. War on Drugs, author Michelle Alexander told a crowd of 1,000 at Harlem’s Riverside Church back in 2011, “The enemy in this war has been racially defined. The drug war, not by accident, has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.”

To see just how that war has played out in communities of color, check out our infographic [at the link].

(Source: afrometaphysics)

Western leaders study 'gamechanging' report on global drugs trade | The Observer

European governments and the Obama administration are this weekend studying a “gamechanging” report on global drugs policy that is being seen in some quarters as the beginning of the end for blanket prohibition.

Publication of the Organisation of American States (OAS) review, commissioned at last year’s Cartagena Summit of the Americas attended by Barack Obama, reflects growing dissatisfaction among Latin American countries with the current global policy on illicit drugs. It spells out the effects of the policy on many countries and examines what the global drugs trade will look like if the status quo continues. It notes how rapidly countries’ unilateral drugs policies are evolving, while at the same time there is a growing consensus over the human costs of the trade. “Growing media attention regarding this phenomenon in many countries, including on social media, reflects a world in which there is far greater awareness of the violence and suffering associated with the drug problem,” José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the OAS, says in a foreword to the review. “We also enjoy a much better grasp of the human and social costs not only of drug use but also of the production and transit of controlled substances.”

Insulza describes the report, which examines a number of ways to reform the current pro-prohibition position, as the start of “a long-awaited discussion”, one that experts say puts Europe and North America on notice that the current situation will change, with or without them. Latin American leaders have complained bitterly that western countries, whose citizens consume the drugs, fail to appreciate the damage of the trade. In one scenario envisaged in the report, a number of South American countries would break with the prohibition line and decide that they will no longer deploy law enforcement and the army against drug cartels, having concluded that the human costs of the “war on drugs” is too high. [++]

As ever, the utter failure of American drug policy is taken by the establishment as evidence that persisting is of even more importance. The policies the United States pursued in Mexico as part of our increased role there coincided with a huge uptick in violence and no reduction in the supply of Mexican drugs? By God, let’s hope that the Mexicans don’t decide to try something completely different! It’s the most irrational status-quo bias you’re likely to find. Conor Friedersdorf

[In 2006] Bush agreed to help [new president Felipe Calderon], and the Merida Initiative, a $1.9 billion aid package for military training and equipment and judicial reform, set the framework for a new level of U.S.-Mexican cooperation. In a little-noticed move, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence took a leading role in the U.S. effort to defeat the cartels, signaling the importance of intelligence in combating organized crime. By then, cartels had begun employing assassination squads, according to Guillermo Valdes, who was CISEN director at the time. CISEN discovered from a captured videotape and a special analytical group it set up that some of the cartels had hired former members of the U.S.-trained Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibiles, to create sociopathic killers who could behead a man, torture a child or immerse a captive in a vat of acid. Anxious to counterattack, the CIA proposed electronically emptying the bank accounts of drug kingpins, but was turned down by the Treasury Department and the White House, which feared unleashing chaos in the banking system.

U.S. role at a crossroads in Mexico’s intelligence war on the cartels | The Washington Post

Two things to note here. First, the blowback from “US-trained Guatemalan special forces” going on to “create sociopathic killers” - old story, new setting.

Second, preventing the CIA from blocking the bank accounts of kingpins for fear of “unleashing chaos in the banking system” speaks volumes about the priorities of the U.S. government.

From the Guardian, April 2nd, 2011 “How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico’s murderous drug gangs”:

… At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse. “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

Going back to the Post piece, we see the results of the Merida Initiative:

… In deference to their visitors, the U.S. briefers left out the fact that most of the 25 kingpin taken off the streets in the past five years had been removed because of U.S.-supplied information, often including the location of top cartel members in real time, according to people familiar with the meeting. …

Also unremarked upon was the mounting criticism that success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.

Meanwhile, the drug flow into the United States continued unabated. Mexico remains the U.S. market’s largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and the transshipment point for 95 percent of its cocaine. …

So, in order to avoid “unleashing chaos” in the banking system by freezing the assets of the cartel kingpins, i.e. admitting that some of the nation’s largest banks were insolvent but for laundered drug money, Bush and Calderon pursued a military/paramilitary and assassination policy, continued under Obama, resulting in the deaths of at least 60,000 people and 25,000 disappearances over a 7 year span which did nothing to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

But at least the banks are OK.

Meanwhile, ending prohibition - the main driver of violence - isn’t even on the table.

(The drug war sounds insane because it is insane.)

Supreme Court rules immigrants cannot be deported for minor drug offenses


In a decision issued Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that immigrants living in the U.S. cannot be deported for minor drug crimes absent the presence of a large quantity of a controlled substance or direct evidence of a sale.

“We must decide whether this category includes a state criminal statute that extends to the social sharing of a small amount of marijuana,” Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote for the court’s 7-2 majority in Moncrieffe v. Holder (PDF), ruling in favor of a Jamaican man who was deported over possession of 1.3 grams of marijuana.

The ruling is aimed at clarifying that, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the “aggravated felony” classification does not apply without evidence of distribution. The ruling could also influence judges’ thinking on cases in states where penalties for distributing a controlled substance are broadly applied by authorities even to offenders caught with small amounts.

In the case, Jamaican national Adrian Moncrieffe, who’d lived in the U.S. legally since age 3, was deported after accepting a plea deal on a minor marijuana offense that he believed would keep him out of prison.

He was pulled over in 2007 by police in Georgia and caught with 1.3 grams of marijuana, and charged as a drug dealer despite the lack of evidence that he sought to distribute the drug. However, Moncrieffe’s attorney did not inform him that a guilty plea would endanger his immigration status, because the law considers any “aggravated felony” to be a trigger for deportation. When he signed the plea, federal authorities immediately moved to deport him.

“This is the third time in seven years that we have considered whether the Government has properly characterized a low-level drug offense as ‘illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,’ and thus an ‘aggravated felony,’” Sotomayor added. “Once again we hold that the Government’s approach defies ‘the ‘commonsense conception” of these terms.”

Dems call for federal commission on marijuana


Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) on Thursday introduced a bill to create a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy, which would examine the conflicts created by state laws that allow marijuana use and the federal prohibition on marijuana.

“Regardless of your views on marijuana, it’s important that we understand the impact of current federal policy and address the conflict with those state laws that allow for medicinal or personal use of marijuana,” Cohen said.

“This conflict is only going to continue to grow over the next few years, and we must provide certainty to the millions of individuals and businesses that remain caught in a web of incompatible laws,” he said. “A national commission would provide us with the information we need to create sensible policy going forward.”

The new commission would study how federal laws should be reconciled with state laws, the cost of the federal prohibition on marijuana, and how the federal government should place marijuana in the schedule of the Controlled Substances Act.

It would also examine the health impacts of marijuana, and racial disparities and other consequences related to marijuana possession.

Cohen noted that a national commission on marijuana use was set up in 1971, and it released a report in 1973 that called for the decriminalization of the drug.

“In the four decades since the Shafer Commission, however, the federal government has only expanded its War on Drugs and continued to prohibit the use marijuana,” a statement from Cohen’s office said.

Cohen’s bill is cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients to Prevent Abuse | Lawrence Rafferty

I have seen the suggestion before that Welfare recipients need to be drug tested to make sure that taxpayers are not paying for the drug habits of those evil poor people. I have even seen relatives allude to it in messages on social media sites and I have witnessed friends championing the idea in personal emails. I always wondered why some people think that the poor must be abusing the state and federal aid programs and therefore must have drug tests to insure that the taxpayers money is not being wasted. While I agree that taxpayers money should not be wasted, I have not seen any benefit from forcing people to be drug tested before they receive their aid payments.

The State of Florida tried this from 1999 to 2001 and reintroduced it in 2011. The Florida plan was subsequently struck down by the courts because there was no evidence that poor people abused drugs more often than their wealthier counterparts. “The state of Florida passed an almost identical testing procedure that ran from 1999 to 2001 and was reintroduced in July of 2011 that was struck down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta the following month, citing the fact: ‘there is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a “concrete danger” that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.’” Crooks and Liars Does it surprise you that it took the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals before this expensive and intrusive process was ended in Florida?

The Florida experience proved to be a costly waste of taxpayers money according to the Tampa Tribune. “The Tampa Tribune investigated the results of those July 2011 drug tests and found that “96 percent proved to be drug free”, another 2 percent never bothering to complete the lengthy application process, and 2 percent actually failing drug testing. At an average cost of $30 per test, the state was hemorrhaging tax dollars at a rate of “$28,800-$43,200 monthly”… FAR out pacing the supposed “savings” from preventing drug-abusers from gaming the system to buy drugs.” Crooks and Liars The failure of this idea in Florida did not prevent or dissuade the Texas State Senate from unanimously passing an even more draconian plan to screen and drug test welfare recipients.

“On Wednesday, the Texas State legislature, currently composed of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, unanimously passed Senate Bill 11, which mandates that every Texan applying for food assistance through the TANF (Texas Assistance for Needy Families) program, submit to an undefined “screening process” and possible drug test before receiving benefits if the screener finds “good cause” to even suspect that person is… or is likely to… abuse any “controlled substance” — despite the fact that there is no evidence at all that people seeking assistance are more likely to do drugs. [++]


The New Inquiry Magazine, Vol. 15, “Weed”
From the Editor’s Note: 
There’s a zero percent chance that America is going to have any chat about weed without some giggles. Laughter isn’t just an effect of the drug; it’s the only rational response to a president who belonged to the smoking club “Choom Gang” and says he truly believes we should still imprison people for getting high. Here in New York, Michael Bloomberg jokes to the cameras about inhaling and enjoying it even as he uses prohibition to justify a street war against the city’s black and brown youth. So long as gay marriage corners the market on liberal self-righteousness, policy makers can still get away with laughing off pot. But if the president was right and weed helps you see through hypocrisy, bullshit, and cheap moralism, America is going to have to be as stoned as hell for this national conversation.
Read more


The New Inquiry Magazine, Vol. 15, “Weed”

From the Editor’s Note: 

There’s a zero percent chance that America is going to have any chat about weed without some giggles. Laughter isn’t just an effect of the drug; it’s the only rational response to a president who belonged to the smoking club “Choom Gang” and says he truly believes we should still imprison people for getting high. Here in New York, Michael Bloomberg jokes to the cameras about inhaling and enjoying it even as he uses prohibition to justify a street war against the city’s black and brown youth. So long as gay marriage corners the market on liberal self-righteousness, policy makers can still get away with laughing off pot. But if the president was right and weed helps you see through hypocrisy, bullshit, and cheap moralism, America is going to have to be as stoned as hell for this national conversation.

Read more

Stone Age Chronicles: 25 Years In Prison



A 46-year old Florida man, father of three, no prior criminal history, sold some of his unused pain pills to a sick friend that he thought was in a bind. His friend turned out to be a police informant. He is now serving 25 years in prison. Conor Friedersdorf opines:

It costs Florida roughly $19,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year. So I ask you, dear reader, is keeping non-violent first-time drug offender John Horner locked behind bars in a jumpsuit really the best use of $475,000? For the same price, you could pay a year’s tuition for 75 students at Florida State University. You could pay the salaries of seven West Palm Beach police officers for a year. Is it accurate to call a system that demands the 25-year prison term mad?

Here are his kids (via Friedersdorf):


John Horner will be 72 years old by the time he’s released. His kids will be in their 30’s when he sees them again outside of prison.

The Drug War rages on.

Florida’s really batting a thousand today.

(via odoriferouszephyrs)

It is simply by chance that the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has its headquarters in Lisbon. Frank Zobel works here, analyzing various approaches to combating drugs, and he says he can observe ‘the greatest innovation in this field’ right outside his office door. No drug policy, Zobel says, can genuinely prevent people from taking drugs — at least, he is not familiar with any model that works this way. As for Portugal, Zobel says, ‘This is working. Drug consumption has not increased severely. There is no mass chaos. For me as an evaluator, that’s a very good outcome.’ 'This Is Working': Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs | der spiegel

NYPD Spent One Million Hours, 440,000 Arrests on 'Marijuana Crusade'


According to a shocking new report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, in just over a decade the NYPD has used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time to make 440,000 arrests for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession, in what critics are calling “a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century.”

The report titled One Million Police Hours and authored by Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at Queens College, estimates that those detained in New York City for marijuana possession between 2002 and 2012 have spent roughly 5,000,000 hours in police custody.

The NYPD should be spending their time building communities, not tearing them down, said gabriel sayegh, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

“For years, New Yorkers from across the state have organized and marched and rallied, demanding an end to these outrageous arrests. And now we learn that the police have squandered one million hours to make racially biased, costly, and unlawful marijuana possession arrests. This is scandalous,” sayegh stated.

As DPA states today, these arrests disproportionately affect black communities: “Even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates, over 85% of the people arrested and jailed for marijuana possession are black and Latino.”

sayegh continued:

I’m sure we can all think of more effective things for the police to spend their time on — imagine if NYPD committed one million hours to working with communities to stop gun violence or to pursue unsolved serious crimes. We stand with the Caucus and other leaders in Albany – both Democrats and Republicans – in demanding reform. The hour of change is upon us, and reform is long, long overdue.

Additionally, roughly 70% of those arrested for marijuana are younger than 30 years old, and over 50% are under 21 years old.

“These young people receive a permanent criminal arrest record which can be easily found on the internet by employers, banks, schools, landlords, and others,” DPA continued.

“We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights organizer with VOCAL-NY. “We can’t afford it in terms of the negative effect it has on the future prospects of our youth and we can’t afford in terms of police hours. It’s shocking that the same mayor who has been taking money away from youth programs and cutting other social services, is wasting tens of millions of dollars locking youth up through the NYPD’s marijuana arrests crusade. We need legislative action to fix this madness.”

“This report shows that people arrested for marijuana possession spend an average of 12-18 hours, just in police custody, and the vast majority of those arrested are young Black and Latino men from seven to ten neighborhoods in NYC,” said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator and Trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. “This is not just a crisis, but a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century. We are calling on Governor Cuomo to do the right thing, and exercise the moral and political will to address this injustice.”

The report arrives as New York State legislatures consider a drug reform law proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana in public.

New York City has made more marijuana possession arrests in recent years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg than under mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined.

(via randomactsofchaos)

Guns and Drugs: We Can Curb Gun Violence by Ending the War on Drugs

The American brand of power operates through a continuum of warfare: from Pentagon drone targets to mass school shootings and neighborhood gang battles, and exported across the border to the blood-stained streets of Ciudad Juarez. Yet in the political arena, the boundaries of public compassion have tightened while the global scale of the casualties continually expands.Sandy Hook shocked the nation because of the seeming freakishness of its carnage, but what should truly alarm us about guns in America is the banality of the drug-war-fueled violence that enforces profound racial, economic and social divides. For all the divisions in how gun violence is experienced by different communities, we’re all endangered by laws that erode humanity instead of securing it.

(Source: azspot)

Mexico drug war leaves 20,000 missing: report


More than 20,000 people have disappeared in Mexico over the past six years of a brutal crackdown on drugs during the government of former president Felipe Calderon, a civic group said.

Propuesta Civica (Civic Proposal) released a database on its website Thursday listing 20,851 people who went missing from August 2, 2006 to February 29, 2012. It said the figures were based on official data.

Among the missing were 11,201 men and 8,340 women, and about 500 others for whose gender is unknown.

Young people between the ages of 10 and 17 account for about a third of those who disappeared. About one-quarter of the victims was between the ages of 18 and 30.

The report also found a spike in the number of those who went missing last year — 7,813, up from 6,766 the year before.

Propuesta Civica said it obtained the figures thanks to a leak from a Los Angeles Times reporter.

The group warned that it could not distinguish between victims of possible violence at the hands of the government and those who perished in Mexico’s brutal drug war, which it called a “humanitarian tragedy.”

The data amounts to “one of the few sources of information to which civil society has access to begin to understand the true extent of violence in Mexico during the past six years,” Propuesta Civica said.

The database will help “build a historical memory of a process that is far from coming to an end: the violence in Mexico from the war against drugs,” the organization added.

During the Calderon government that lasted from December 2006 to December 1, the death toll from clashes between drug traffickers and between them and security forces was announced by the government on an irregular basis.

More than 60,000 people died in the war on drugs during the Calderon administration, even though [because, ed.] he deployed the country’s armed forces to battle drug gangs.

The report showed that Mexico City and the western state of Jalisco recorded the most disappearances.

The group noted some inconsistencies that require official confirmation. For example, certain regions that have seen growing violence in recent years were shown to have a relatively low number of disappearances, including Nuevo Leon and Sonora.

(via queerencia-deactivated20130103)