Tag Archives: narcotics

Road trip!

If you want good, cheap pot, apparently you want to take a ride to Nova Scotia.  (h/t Daily Dish)

I have no idea when people are going to figure out that our current drug policy does nothing except strengthen criminal organizations.  Since ‘getting tough’ has been tried and found wanting, how about we try to take away their profits (and I’m not talking about those silly seizure laws).  Legalize and take away their most profitable revenue source through a better quality product, available in a safe environment and a decent price.

Kvick Tänkare

Nice video about the war on drugs (h/t daily dish)

The reliability/credibility ratings most intelligence personnel use in the U.S. is bunk and information to that effect has been known since 1975.

I want one….now!  And please don’t burst my bubble by telling me how impractical it is.

I have no idea what this game will be but the promo video has a 1984 feel to it and I’m a sucker for distopian entertainment….

Yesterday the Swedes officially ended conscription and are now converting to an all volunteer force.

Machine teaches men what it feels like to menstruate.  And why would I want to know that?  I also don’t know what it feels like to have hemorrhagic fever, is some knucklehead going to make a simulator for that too?


Two good articles on Yeman out recently….

The first from the Guardian about how the production of Qat (or Khat) is threatening the water supply of that country.

Most experts predict Sana’a, the fastest-growing capital in the world at 7% a year, will run out of economically viable water supplies by 2017. That is the same year the World Bank says Yemen will cease earning income from its oil, which currently accounts for three-quarters of the state’s revenues.

The cost of water in some suburbs of Sana’a has tripled in the last year, and armed conflicts over water resources around the city are increasing.

The water situation is so serious that the government has considered moving the capital, as well as desalinating seawater on the coast and pumping it 2,000 metres uphill to the capital.

Of course, that article came just a few weeks too late.  After all, after a brief flurry of panic (Yemen is the next Afghanistan!) nobody is now talking about it:

Most of the reporters who landed in Yemen shortly after the failed bombing have left the country. If you search Google News for “Yemen,” you’ll get 24,100 results for January. For February? Just 593 — many of them wire stories or items from the handful of blogs that regularly cover the country. The contrast is even starker on TV news, where the word “Yemen” was uttered exactly twice on U.S. evening newscasts in February, both times in the context of the bombing plot.

Kvick Tänkare

The Swiss stole my heritage!  It should be a ‘Roman’ army knife.  Hey, is that the thanks we get for civilizing you mountain dwelling primitives?  (Only kidding.  You guys make great chocolate. Just don’t shoot me.)  Now, tell me this isn’t an amazing marketing opportunity.  How many of us wouldn’t buy a working, functional replica of this?  H/T Kotare.

Lunghu has an amusing chart which riffs off of our brilliant color coded threat advisory system.  How would such a system look if developed in other countries?

Usually when someone dies from a heroin overdose, demand for that brand spikes (‘That guy died from it?  Must be good shit!)  Well, in either an attempt to kill off heroin addicts in Britain or just give them a new kind of rush, heroin is found to be laced with Anthrax in the U.K.  The public health system has put out the following warning:

“Heroin users are strongly advised to cease taking heroin by any route, if at all possible, and to seek help from their local drug treatment services. This is a very serious infection for drug users and prompt treatment is crucial,” he said.

Yeah, anthrax in their heroin is going to be what makes them finally see the light and kick their habit.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I saw this link (mea culpa!) but it was so crazy I had to include it here.

A British company called ATSC are selling a device which can detect guns, ammunition, bombs, drugs, contraband ivory, and truffles…The ADE 651 uses “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction” and can detect these things from a kilometre away, through walls, under the ground, underwater, or even from an aeroplane 5km overhead.

No police force or security service anywhere in the developed world uses them. But in 2008, the Iraqi government’s Ministry of the Interior bought 800 of these devices – the ADE 651 – for $32m. That’s $40,000 each, rather brilliantly, and they’ve ordered a further shipment at $53m. These devices are being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq, to look for bombs.

Well, I think it’s safe to leave Iraq now.  Clearly, the inmates are running the asylum.

Maybe it’s because I’m reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but this sounds eerily like a Scandinavian murder mystery…

Another nail in the prohibition coffin?

The Washington Post has an interesting opinion piece by Peter Moskos showing an alternative system to our drug war.

As a police officer, I responded when citizens called 911 to report drug dealing. Those calls didn’t tell me much, though, because I already knew the drug corners. And what could I do? When a police car pulls up to a drug corner, the corner pulls back. Dealers, friends, addicts and lookouts walk slowly away…

But soon enough I’d have to answer another 911 call for drugs. And when I left, the crew would reconvene. One of my partners put it succinctly: “We can’t do anything. Drugs were here before I was born, and they’re going to be here after I die. All they pay us to do is herd junkies.

As I’ve said many, many times, that’s a function of our current law enforcement regime.  Departments (and officers) are rewarded for making arrests and seizures of illegal material.  The easiest people to arrest are drug users, who are committing a crime by possessing and using drugs as well as the numerous crimes of opportunity they engage in to acquire more drugs so they overwhelmingly are the ones who get arrested.

But, arrests shouldn’t be an end in themselves.  The goal should be reduced crime and increased public safety.  Making arrests the only tool we use to get there would be like…using military force to solve every diplomatic problem we encounter.

Without declaring a war, authorities there have managed to lower addiction rates, limit use and save lives. The United States, by contrast, spends $50 billion a year on its war on drugs and leads the world in illegal drug use, with millions of Americans regularly using marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy.

In Amsterdam, the red-light district is the oldest and most notorious neighborhood. Two picturesque canals frame countless small pedestrian alleyways lined with legal prostitutes, bars, porn stores and coffee shops. In 2008, I visited the local police station and asked about the neighborhood’s problems. I laughed when I heard that dealers of fake drugs were the biggest police issue — but it’s true. If fake-drug dealers are the worst problem in the red-light district, clearly somebody is doing something right.

The results are telling. In America, 37 percent of adults have tried marijuana; in the Netherlands the figure is 17 percent. Heroin usage rates are three times higher in the United States than in the Netherlands. Crystal meth, so destructive here, is almost nonexistent there. By any standard — drug usage rates, addiction, homicides, incarceration and dollars spent — America has lost the war on drugs.

Now, I’ve talked to people who give me the old “Yeah, but that wouldn’t work here.  Our population is different.”  Like all those windmills and wooden shoes makes a kindlier, gentler breed of criminal.  I’m not sure that’s it at all, however and suspect that it might have a lot more to do with all of the unexamined assumptions we have about crime, criminals and deterrence.  Of course, it’d be nice to actually try an alternate approach to see if it works without having to worry about a bunch of yahoos screeching about how we’re just coddling criminals.

But that, in itself, is a telling response.  I wonder if crime prevention figures into how most people think about criminal justice or if crime punishment is more important.

Still, the fact that these sorts of discussions are happening more frequently is a good sign.  maybe we can get away from this hamster on a wheel drug war and start the serious work of making our neighborhoods, towns and cities safer.  As Moskos says about the Dutch:

Police in the Netherlands are not involved in a drug war; they’re too busy doing real police work.

One step backwards or forward?

This AP story about counter-narcotics activities in Afghanistan was a frustrating one to read:

But the economy of this village sputtered to a halt last year when the government began aggressively enforcing a ban on opium production. Villagers were not allowed to plant their only cash crop. Now shops are empty and farmers are in debt, as entire communities spiral into poverty.

The villagers say they did as the government told them, and planted their fields with wheat, barley, mustard and melons. But these crops need more care than the tough opium poppy, which will bloom with little water or fertilizer.Most of the wheat fields yielded little because the farmers couldn’t afford to fertilize the land. Even where yields were decent, farmers say they could have earned between two and 10 times more by planting the same land with opium.

Ok, let’s chalk that ’10 times’ earnings estimate up to exaggeration.  Still, the point is true.  With poor irrigation, land, transportation infrastructure and available markets Afghan farmers (dirt poor in the best of times) are going to have to work that much harder to make ends meet.

Weren’t we supposed to be applying the principles of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan?  This certainly doesn’t sound like we’re trying hard to win over the local population:

Villagers say desperation is pushing hundreds to immigrate to neighboring Iran, where they work as day laborers. Farmers throughout the region are also sinking deeply into debt.

Oh…and listen to this jackass:

“These poor farmers are going to get stepped on and get hurt in this effort,” says former Drug Enforcement Agency official Doug Wankel, who organized the U.S. counternarcotics effort here in 2003. “But it’s a pain that has to be endured for the good of the masses.”

Said like only someone with a six figure salary, nice house and never a worry about getting his family enough to eat could.  Of course, the DEA has a brilliant record of counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan (production has gone up every year but 2005 since the war started) following up on their stellar jobs in Columbia, Mexico and the U.S.

Most of these actions seem to  be conducted by Afghan forces.  And the challange is that the Afghan government is still on the ‘crush the farmers‘ bandwagon.  I don’t know how much things have changed but in the past eradication efforts have been selectivly carried out based on who was or wasn’t making the appropriate pay offs to government officials or competing with the local governors opium operations.  Hopefully things are different now.

Still, it’s not all bad news.  American forces (with the exception of Mr. Wankel) seem to be sticking with their strategy (outlined earlier this month) that they would no longer target the fields of individual poppy farmers and move up the food chain to traffickers, processors and distributors instead.

This is a good step since farmers can still make money but I’d like to see it go farther.  The development of a purchaser which can compete with the Taliban for opium production would be another great way to put pressure on the group instead of just hunt and peck operations hoping to get a warehouse or two.  All those operations do is drive up the cost to the end user, regardless if we’re talking about speakeasy customers in the Depression or junkies today looking for some good H.  Rather, we should be harnessing the power of good old fashioned capitalism and either foster a pharmaceutical industry to develop opium based drugs for the developing world or (worst case scenario) have the government act as a buyer of the crop.  The farmers get their pay either way, don’t have to worry about government censure, and forces the Taliban to exert more of their resources just securing one of their primary funding sources.

The U.N. drug problem

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently held the 2009 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna (nice work if you can get it) and they published a whole host of reports to go with it.  I checked out two of them:  “Organized Crime and its threat to Security” and “World situation with regard to drug trafficking“.

The Organized Crime paper is interesting.  So interesting in fact that if all government documents were written like this I might stop reading books.  The frustration of the author(s) is palpable over the lack of rational governmental policy regarding narcotics production and distribution.  Page after page you can feel the author(s) struggling with their desire to slap some people around.  Their solution is rooted in both common sense in unrealism.

“…a number of countries now face a crime situation largely caused by their own choice.  This is bad enough.   Worse is the fact that, quite often their vulnerable neighbours pay an even greater price.”  [italic in original]

Yeah…can you see any politician running for office in the U.S. on this idea?  Hillary Clinton made huge headlines for stating the obvious just a few weeks ago.  Are we really prepared to take a good, long look in the mirror?

Why do states abandon masses of unemployed, illiterate youth that face no other option than a day of money, notoriety and death as foot soldiers in rag-tag armies of mafias and rebels? [italics original]

The challenge is to re-integrate marginalized segments of society and draw them into, rather than push them out of the law.

Uh oh…that’s starting to sound a little to bleeding heart to be good.  What a good time to mention Jim Webb’s prison reform bill:

We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.

Back to the U.N. report.

The author(s) take a very strong position against any sort of drug legalization, arguing that it “would be a cynical resignation of the state’s responsibility to protect the health of its citizens and tantamount to accepting that a portion of every generation will be lost to addiction.”

Unfortunately, the authors don’t explain how they came to draw their line in the sand where they did, allowing tobacco and alcohol to be acceptable.  In fact, their paper, perhaps unintentionally, makes a decent case for the legalization for marijuana and continued illegal status for other drugs.  In fact, I’d recommend reading it from both perspectives.

While other drugs require specific production processes which can create distribution chokepoints vulnerable to interdiction, “cannabis requires very little attention and grows virtually anywhere…[so] farmers can be difficult to deter since they invest so little in its cultivation.”  In fact, cannabis cultivation is so difficult to deter that its ease of production makes it unattractive to ‘high level criminals’ outside of Canada, Mexico, Morocco, Paragua, and Afghanistan.

The authors do tip a really big hat to the idea of a comprehensive approach to the narcotics problem:

Arrests and seizures are necessary, but insufficient. The principle behind them is to incapacitate offenders and to deter potential ones. But this is fruitless when social conditions continue to generate whole new classes of people with strong incentives to offend. Those willing to risk death by ingesting a kilogram of condom-wrapped cocaine pellets (for a few thousands dollars), are not put off by the risk of jail.

As they later note, however, that sort of thinking just isn’t popular in most places where everyone wants to be seen as the heir to the ‘Dirty Harry’ empire and be seen as ‘tough on crime’.

I can’t tell if the authors are tilting at windmills here or see some reason for optimism.  Their recommendations are interesting and one about applying the lessons of tabacco reduction are a big reason why, respite what they write, I suspect there may have been some closet legalization fans among them.  After all, if you’re going to recommend a successful program for reducing the supply and demand of an addicting drug, why highlight the one which is univesally legal and so subject to the full weight of governmental and social controls if you’re a prohibitionist.

Kill ’em all!

The Armchair Generalist has an interesting post commenting on a rant by Eeben Barlow telling his readers that we need to stop pussy footing around when it comes to illegal drugs and kick some ass.

Fighting the illegal drug trade requires a strong strategy – a strategy that governments will not be afraid to implement, regardless of the human rights of the dealers, syndicates and cartels. It, additionally, requires a genuine desire to eradicate the problem. If the drug wars are to be won, it requires determination from governments to do exactly that. This requires courage and national will – character traits few governments seem to have.  It is time for governments to either take the politically correct avenue and legalise drugs or do the correct thing and fight it in order to stop it. If the decision is made to destroy this trade, then strong action is called for. This action should call for an intensification of real intelligence gathering and hard action to attack and destroy the dealers, syndicates and cartels.

I find it hard to believe that Barlow is such an idealist that he thinks things like the law of supply and demand and corrupt government officals can be overcome if we just all had the will.

If just implementing a strategy that didn’t worry about silly things like human rights was all it took to stop the drug traffickers than these places would be drug free.

If we’re going to wish for honest governments willing to forgo national and personal interest for the greater good of the world, drugs might not be a problem.  Either would war, environmental damage or greed.

You might as well put a pony on your list while you’re at it.

Cracks in the facade

In what looks like what may be the first federal baby step to ending prohibition, the Attorney General has issued a new policy saying they will go after marijuana distributors only if they are in violation of federal and state law.

This means that states which have decriminalized/legalized marijuana to a greater or lessor extent will now be the tripwire to determine if federal authorities get involved.

In the Bush administration, federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes even if the dispensaries appeared to be complying with state laws. The raids produced a flood of complaints, particularly in California, which in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana sales to people with doctors’ prescriptions.

Legalizing marijuana nationally is probably a non-starter for the foreseeable future but pushing it to the states has the advantage of appealing to both states rights/libertarian types as well as the anti-prohibition constituents.

Expect to see more states enact medical marijuana laws, especially if legislatures can figure out how to tax the proceeds.

Drugs, drugs, drugs (pt. 1)

I’m working my way through the latest National Drug Threat Assessment put out by the National Drug Intelligence Center.  My thoughts thus far:

Their section on marijuana is very disappointing.  After stating that production and potency of marijuana continues to climb is leaves out the very important questions of why or what impact existing or new medical marijuana/decriminalization laws have on production or usage.  I suspect we won’t see any ‘official’ big picture discussion of marijuana usage since our current position encourages current production trends and enriches the very drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) that we claim to want to fight.  At some point I think we’re going to need to decide which is more dangerous to public safety:  legal marijuana (with the risk that it might, like alcohol and tobacco, get in the hands of the young) or increasingly sophisticated criminal organizations which are sustained through illicit marijuana sales.  Note in both cases marijuana ain’t going away.

Speaking of which…Mexican DTOs are now identified as the ‘greatest organized crime threat to the United States’.

It’s starting to feel like an awards ceremony…’And the greatest organized crime threat goes to…Mexican DTOs!’

Continuing with the ‘greatest threat’ theme, cocaine is the ‘leading drug threat’, followed by methamphetamine and marijuana.  That’s right marijuana is more of a threat to society than heroin and prescription drugs.  This is where their shoddy methodology comes through.  They made this bold statement by surveying agencies around the country about which drug is the biggest threat and then just totaling up the answers.  That means (I think, their methodology section is pretty puny) that is New York City says their biggest drug threat, based on cost to public, number of deaths and associated crimes is cocaine and Podunk, Idaho says their biggest threat is marijuana based on the fact that someone had just watched ‘Refer Madness’ those each carry equal weight.

I could write, at length, about my frustrations with surveys conducted of law enforcement agencies but let me just take a deep breath and let it pass for now.

On the positive side…Their cocaine section is pretty good.  Particularly their ‘intelligence gaps’ and ‘outlook’ section.

More to come…