The Austin Chronicle

Reefer Roundup: 9/9/11

By Jordan Smith, September 9, 2011, 5:50pm, Newsdesk

This week we've got lots of news from the feds (none of it particularly good), new drug laws on the books in Texas, and the connection between Facebook and crack.

Lets get to it.


Among the hundreds of new Texas laws that went into effect Sept. 1 are the state's new drug crackdowns. Specifically, the ban of both not-pot – the synthetic marijuana mimicker known as "K2" or "Spice" – and the powdery stimulant known as a "bath salts." Possession – or manufacture or sale – of either can now net you a hefty prison term: Indeed, possession of less than a gram can earn up to two years in a state jail; possession of up to four grams can turn up to 10 years in the pen; possession of between four and 400 grams can get you up to 20 years; more than 400 grams can net you life in the clink.

Just when you thought that Texas – what with it's hideous budget problems and all – might be getting smarter on drugs (or, as too many lawmakers see it, crime), it hasn't.


Or, more to the point, if the feds arrest or kill a drug trafficker, does that have any effect on the amount of drugs coming across the border?

In a word, no. So says the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination, in a intelligence memo emailed to Reefer by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. According to the memo, the "removal of key [cartel] personnel does not have a discernable impact on drug flows as determined by seizure rates."

Meanwhile, in another new report, August's National Drug Threat Assessment 2011 from the Dept. of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center, reveals that drug use is actually increasing and, notably, that Mexican cartels are actually strengthening their foothold in the U.S.

Hmmm.... Lets see if we understand this right: Removing cartel members doesn't have any effect on the flow of drugs into the country – and it appears they're actually strengthening their grip – and the number of drug users is on the rise. But still, we keep throwing millions – err, billions, really – at interdiction and prohibition efforts. Well, hell, that makes sense, right? Especially with that pesky deficit and crappy economy. Carry on! (Read the new threat assessment, here.)

This makes no sense, says LEAP's Terry Nelson, who is a retired CBP agent. "As someone who fought on the front lines of the failed 'war on drugs' for decades it is really no surprise to me that our prohibition policy isn't helping to achieve any reduction in drug trafficking," he said in an emailed release. "We should have learned this lesson decades ago with alcohol prohibition, but let's hope that the data in this new government report helps more members of Congress and Obama administration officials to realize that their 'drug war' strategy is an abysmal failure and that it's time for a new direction."

We can always hope.


More than four years after Drug Enforcement Administration Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner recommended that it would be in the public interest to allow U-Mass-Amherst professor Lyle Craker a license to grow a pot crop for use in regulated research, the agency's administrator, Michele Leonhart has, once and for all, rejected that finding, ending Craker's quest to increase and speed up research into the medicinal uses of marijuana.

Craker initially applied to grow the crop – for research that might end in the FDA approving medi-pot – in 2001. After three long years of stalling the DEA concluded in 2004 that the request should be denied. That prompted Craker, backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (a research group that seeks to develop government-approved uses drugs including LSD, MDMA, and pot), appealed the denial. That led to a hearing before Bittner and, ultimately, in 2007, her conclusion that Craker's petition should be granted.

That didn't exactly sit well with the DEA, and Leonhart rejected her judge's ruling. That led to yet a round of objections, filed by Craker's attorneys – ever the optimist, Craker told Reefer in 2009 that the "struggle is still in its beginning stages" – and to Leonhart's final decision on the matter, delivered Aug. 15, shutting down the Craker request.

In part, Leonhart says that concerns about "diversion" have prompted her to sit with her original conclusion. Given the great job the DEA and others are doing keeping drugs off the streets, the concern about diversion, from a controlled lab doing research is, frankly, laughable. Still, the conclusion is not surprising. You can read the whole sad Leonhart letter ruling, here.

Craker's only option now is to appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Read more about MAPS here.


We all know that FB is a bit like crack, right? Addictive and time-consuming with little to show for all that time invested. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who spend time on FB and other networking sites are actually more likely to drink or use drugs than are teens who don't spend any time on these sites. (Wait: there are kids that don't spend time online? What?)

That's right, this year CASA's annual back-to-school survey of teens and their parents regarding attitudes about drug use reveals that teens who spend time on social networking sites are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times as likely to drink and twice as likely to smoke pot as their non networking peers.

In fact, the world wide interwebs, and "suggestive" teen programming – like the gawd awful Jersey Shore and its ilk – are a cause of great concern to those at CASA: "This year's survey reveals how the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programming and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse," reads the report. (Among some of the more odd findings: 14% of teens who "spend no time on social networking sites" say they've seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs "on these sites.")

Dramatic? Yes. Over dramatic? Quite possibly. Still, the survey, as always, is an interesting read. You can check it out here.


As Reefer readers know, Texas has pretty horrid protections against asset forfeiture. But we're not alone. According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (the summary is here), there are now nearly 400 federal laws governing asset forfeiture – the government's ability to seize cash and goods from folks involved in a crime, or even those it alleges might be involved even if those individuals have no involvement in criminal enterprise whatsoever. In other words, take now, ask questions later. Last year, the daily reports, the feds' take reached more than $2.5 billion.

That's long been a concern in Texas, where protections against asset forfeiture are definitely lacking. Last year, the Institute for Justice gave the state a big fat grade of D- for its handling of asset forfeiture, which they say gives law enforcers a motive to "police for profit."

According to the WSJ, that's certainly the case, exacerbated in part by the fact that federal law allows the government to share its sometimes ill-gotten gains with local "cooperating" state and local agencies; in 2010 alone, the feds paid over more than $500 million to local agencies, a 75% increase over a decade ago.

The problem – or at least one of them – is that the lack of oversight over asset forfeiture can lead to things getting out of control. Consider the experience of drivers through Tenaha, Texas, who found themselves stolen from by cops who'd pulled them over for alleged traffic infractions – and it just so happens that a majority of those unlucky drivers were minorities. Victims of the Tenaha Take have sued city and county officials over the practice and late last month federal District Judge T. John Ward certified the plaintiffs and their suit as a class action. You can read the ruling, here.

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