Reefer Roundup 2/23/11

Your drug war news all in one place.

Drug czar says drugs are public health issue, but the proposed drug war budget says otherwise
Drug czar says drugs are public health issue, but the proposed drug war budget says otherwise

This week we've got news of a medi-pot bill filed by an Austin rep, the 411 on California running out of money for drug treatment, the real cost of prohibition, and more!

MEDI-POT POISED TO PASS? PROBABLY NOT:

First up, this news: Austin Dem Rep. Elliott Naishtat has again filed his medi-pot bill, this time as House Bill 1491, but it's pretty much the same bill Naishtat has been trying to get traction with for the last few sessions. The measure is a conservative one – no creating dispensaries here, no sir! Rather, Naishtat's modest proposal is that the state create an affirmative medical-related defense to marijuana possession. The bill would also bar the state from going after a doctor who suggests that medi-pot might benefit a patient.

Of course, I wouldn't go holding my breath or anything for lawmakers to jump on board with this – even though not jailing sick pot users might actually help to save some money. Forget that: This is still a state unnerved by real drug war reform. Indeed, last session Naishtat's bill wasn't even called up for a hearing.

Still, if there's one thing we know about Naishtat it's this: He'll keep on banging his head against the medi-pot wall – and we love him for it.

NO MONEY FOR TREATMENT:

The Contra Costa Times is reporting that the Golden State is outta funds to support the mission of Prop 36. The initiative, passed in 2000, provides first- and second-time non-violent drug offenders the chance to go to treatment instead of jail.

The prop was very popular with voters – 61% gave it the nod a decade ago – but with the state facing its budget crisis there's no money to fund it. The prop was allocated $120 million per year for five years before funding began to slide – just $108 million was set aside in 2008-09 and a measly $18 million was allocated for 2009-10, and lawmakers zeroed out the funding for this year.

The problem, of course, is that this is a "must" fund program, meaning it would take another vote to repeal it. But whether that would save any money certainly isn't clear – if not treatment, after all, then there's jail. And jail ain't cheap.

Dem Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed funding for the 2011-12 budget, but how that will shake out remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the daily reports that the waiting lists for treatment are growing longer by the day.

DEATH FOR OIL?

Unless Egyptian officials regain some sanity, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo finally issues him a new passport, Egyptian-born American Mostafa Soliman may face the death penalty abroad if convicted on a drug trafficking charge.

The drug he was peddling? Non-drug hemp oil. For real. Apparently the Egyptians – not unlike the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – doesn't understand that industrial hemp isn't a drug.

According to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, Soliman operates a company called Health Harvest. He's lived in the U.S. for 40 years but holds dual citizenship with Egypt; he traveled there to oversee the arrival of his hemp oil shipment. Apparently that was a big mistake: When it arrived in December, the customs officials translated "hemp oil" as "hash oil," the DRCNet reports. Since there's no Arabic word for "hemp" and everything cannabis related is simply referred to as cannabis, he was jailed on trafficking charges. (With unrest in Cairo, Soliman made it out of jail, but he's still in legal limbo and hasn't been able to get home.) "Even the Egyptian drug enforcement people told me they knew it wasn't hash oil," he told the DRCNet in a phone interview. "But they said they had to follow procedure."

Read more about Soliman's ordeal here.

RIDDLE ME THIS:

Here's a riddle: If U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, head of the White House Office of National Drug Policy, actually thinks that a "public health" approach to prohibition enforcement is such a good idea, why is his proposed ONDCP budget so full of the same-old, same-old drug war spending?

It's a mystery. A real mystery.

In a Huffington Post opinion piece, Kerlikowske writes this: "public safety isn't the only thing threatened by drug use; drugs also pose an extremely complex and dynamic challenge to public health. And the public safety community cannot bear the full weight of addressing drug use and its consequences. The result of our engagement with the American people is the Obama Administration's National Drug Control Strategy -- a shift in how we address drug control, by restoring balance in our efforts and treating drug addiction as a brain disease rather than a moral failing."

But in his proposed budget, Kerlikowske's office is asking for an increase in funding, to the tune of $26.2 billion total for fiscal year 2012 – but just $9 billion of that would go to fund treatment, and just $1.7 billion would go to fund abuse-prevention efforts. Meanwhile, the super ineffective National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is still sucking at the government teat to the tune of a proposed $45 million budget. That's just $5 million less than is being asked to fund the Second Chance Act, which helps to fund treatment-instead-of-prison efforts, in addition to other offender-related efforts. Indeed, drug and mental health courts would be funded with just $57 million.

Meanwhile, under the proposal domestic law enforcement efforts would get a bump in funding, to more than $9.5 billion. Interdiction efforts – that is, those oh-so-successful trafficking interruption efforts – would get a bump to $3.9 billion. And, as always, there's the pot to go to our international drug trafficking prevention efforts, which get a boost to more than $2.1 billion.

With so much going to the same failed strategies, it's hard to find much meaning in the czar's lip service to public health. I'm just sayin'.

You can read the drug war budget highlights here.

RIDDLE ME THIS, PT. 2:

Here's another noodler. According to the Austin American-Statesman, lawmakers are eyeing the drug seizure war chest as a possible source of funds for border security.

Dept. of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw says that his agency has seized from the border areas $140 million in drug funds since 2006; with additional resources – that is, officers and checkpoints – the state could increase its take by some 12%, the daily reports. "The money, the cash is out there," McCraw said.

Of course, securing additional resources – that is, more officers and establishing more checkpoints – actually costs money.

So, exactly how seizure-for-enforcement might play out, of course, remains to be seen.

It is interesting to note, however, that as lawmakers lament the violence along the border, they're also contemplating passage of several gun-related bills that would easy restrictions on gun ownership – including a bill that would exempt Texas-made firearms and accessories from federal regulation. I imagine that would go real far to decreasing border violence, right?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Drug War, Reefer Madness, Reefer Roundup, Gil Kerlikowske, marijuana, industrial hemp, DRCNet, HB 1491, Elliott Naishtat, medi-pot, medi-mari

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