Reefer Roundup: 6/17/11

Your drug war news, all in one place

Happy Birthday Drug War!
Happy Birthday Drug War!

This week it's Happy Birthday to the Drug War, drugs through the mail, a shoot-out on the border, and the death of a Marine in Tucson.


That's right, it's the big 4-0 for the Drug War, officially begun under President Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971. My how time flies, eh? And my, how very big its grown! Unfortunately, unlike many 40-year-olds, time has not imbued this baby with much wisdom. No, quite the opposite: Drugs are still readily available and people use them; despite millions of arrests, billions of dollars spent, and the countless families and communities ruined by the folly of carrying on such a war, nothing at all has changed.

The anniversary has sparked much commentary, so we'll hit a few highlights here:

Former President Jimmy Carter's thoughts on the topic can be found here. Suffice it to say, Carter's no fan of this War on Drugs. Recall that it was Carter who told Congress in 1977 that minor possession of pot should be decriminalized. His thinking? "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself." Sound advice, not yet followed.

Ted Gest, president of the Criminal Justice Journalists, has a nice piece in The Crime Report, summing up the state of the war – including a notable link to a Cato Institute debate on drug legalization.

And, definitely not to be missed is the new report on the Drug War from the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of former police, federal agents, prosecutors and judges who have had enough of the status quo. The report is skeptical of the Obama Administration's handling of medi-pot, of it's continued funding for the deadly war on cartels in Mexico – a battle that, Stateside, regularly claims the lives of both police and innocent civilians. "The real problem is the policy of drug prohibition itself," reads the report, "no less susceptible to abuse and waste than our parallel experiment with alcohol prohibition. That policy also yielded unprecedented (and predictable) rises in murders, overdose deaths, corruption and a disregard for the rule of law. It funded, armed and politically empowered a brutal underworld. It deprived hard-pressed taxpayers of fiscal relief. It did a lot of things, but it surely didn't prevent folks from drinking."


Ahh, those were the days, when you could install a bit of software, get yourself a few Bitcoins, and go hog wild, shopping online for illegal drugs to be sent directly to your home address. Now that the cat is out of the bag, and Congressional lawmakers are on the beat, the days of anonymous drugs purchased via the Internet's Silk Road website are headed the way of the dinosaur.

By now you've probably heard of Silk Road and/or read Adrian Chen's piece on Gawker about the underground, online illicit drug marketplace. (If you haven't, what's with you? Catch up with last week's big drug story here.)

The site uses Tor, a software that helps maintain online anonymity, and Bitcoins, virtual currency, to keep its transactions – you name it, you can buy it – on the down-low. In the wake of the Chen article, however, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are on the case. As reported by Reuters, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Joe Manchin, D-WVa., have written to Attorney General Eric Holder and Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart to lament the rise in use of Bitcoins, peer-to-peer currency that facilitates the illegal drug transactions, and to urge the feds to shutter Silk Road – "We urge you to take immediate action and shut down the Silk Road network," they wrote.

Doing that directly, of course, may prove difficult, since the site can shift from server to server, change its name, and still be accessible by Tor users. That's why lawmakers seem intent on cracking down on the Bitcoin exchange, which functions like a bank and thus has transactions that are traceable. "The DEA is constantly evaluating and analyzing new technologies and schemes perpetrated by drug trafficking networks," DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told Reuters. "While we won't confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations, the DEA is well aware of these emerging threats and we will act accordingly."


Texas Rangers, Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens, and U.S. Border Patrol agents interrupted smugglers on the border in Hidalgo County on June 9, as the smugglers were trying to move 1,500 pounds of pot across the river. The smugglers tossed rocks and then started firing weapons at the officers; the officers fired back, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, striking at least three of the smugglers, who fled back into Mexico. (Reportedly, the smugglers fired four rounds, prompting Texas agents to respond with some 300 rounds of ammo.)

DPS Director Steve McCraw this week told the Texas Public Safety Commission that over the last 18 months, drug smugglers in the Valley have run from police and have ditched their drugs in the river – a so-called "splashdown" – in an effort to escape back to Mexico, 55 times. The incidents, he told the PSC, have increased over the last several years. "Our officers already are seeing incidents where the cartels are using blocking and chase vehicles, throwing caltrops to puncture law enforcement tires, using organized boat recovery operations and conducting surveillance on law enforcement," McCraw said. "We are concerned about the escalation of violence against our officers." Homeland Security Today reports that the smugglers are believed to be members of the Gulf Cartel and that one member shot by Texas agents may have been killed. McCraw considers it "an attempted capital murder of both Texas police officers and Border Patrol agents," HST reports.


SWAT officers with the Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Department this week were cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the raid of a Tucson home that netted no drugs and left 26-year-old Jose Guerena, a Marine, dead.

The SWAT team broke into Guerena's home and almost immediately fired more than 70 rounds at Guerena because, they said, he pointed a firearm at them. Reportedly, however, Guerena – killed while standing in his hallway in his underwear – came to the door armed only after his wife reported that she'd spied armed intruders at their door. According to the police, they had to fire because Guerena was armed. To make matters worse, the team left Guerena without medical attention for more than an hour while they searched the home. They found only legal weapons. The official reaction to the episode seems nonchalant at best: "The officers were mistaken in believing Mr. Guerena fired at them," Pima County Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney David Berkman wrote in a report on the incident (as reported by the Drug Reform Coordination Network). "However, when Mr. Guerena raised the AR-15...rifle in their direction, they needed to take immediate action to stop the deadly threat against them."

Perhaps that could've been accomplished by not approaching the situation as they did, breaking down the front door with guns blazing. Just a thought. You be the judge. Video of the raid can be found here.

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Reefer Madness, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Drug Reform Coordination Network, marijuana, drug war, DEA, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Jose Guerena, SWAT, Silk Road, Bitcoins

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