Did Somebody Mention Science?

While campaigning for president Barack Obama said he would put science above politics. In contrast to then President G. W. Bush, Obama was going to let science determine America’s drug policy. The states, being laboratories for democracy, would experiment with different models without federal interference. That hope was smashed last month when the Justice Department sent out a memo warning state officials that they might be subject to prosecution if they get involved with medical marijuana even if it is  legal in that state. This Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowskiwas followed up by last week’s announcements from the DEA and the Administrations  that, contrary to practically all scientific opinion, marijuana has no medical uses and needs to be classified in the same category as Heroin. So much for science.

More than a decade ago the government commissioned The Institute of Medicine (IOM) to do a study on marijuana to determine if there was any scientific basis for the claims that were then surfacing about marijuana’s medical uses. The result of the study? The IOM determined that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety “all can be mitigated by marijuana.”

The Lancet Neurology reports that marijuana’s active components “inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm.” The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that marijuana may help with nausea, loss of appetite, pain and insomnia. Marijuana’s use for various medical problems is recognized by The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Nurses Association, and a long list of medical providers but of course we all know that when it comes to medical matters nobody knows better than a cop.

The Department of Defense alone has spent $6.1 billion since 2005 to help detect planes and boats heading to the U.S. with drug payloads, as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations. Of course the numbers spent by domestic law enforcement dwarfs that.

It’s not only the military and law enforcement that benefits from the drug war. Did you know that the majority of U.S. counter-narcotics contracts are awarded to five companies: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT and ARINC. Counter-narcotics contract spending increased 32% over the five-year period, from $482 million in 2005 to $635 million in 2009. DynCorp, based in Falls Church, Va., received the largest total, $1.1 billion.

Two reports released recently criticize the government’s growing use of U.S. contractors, which were paid more than $3 billion to train local prosecutors and police, help eradicate fields of coca, operate surveillance equipment and otherwise battle the widening drug trade in Latin America over the last five years. “We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that wrote one of the reports

Within the past few weeks I also ran across a quote allegedly made by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the reported head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Mr. Lorea said

“I couldn’t have gotten so stinking rich without George Bush, George Bush Jr., Ronald Reagan, even El Presidente Obama, none of them have the cojones to stand up to all the big money that wants to keep this stuff illegal. From the bottom of my heart, I want to say, Gracias amigos, I owe my whole empire to you. Whoever came up with this whole War on Drugs,” one of his lieutenants reports he said, “I would like to kiss him on the lips and shake his hand and buy him dinner with caviar and champagne. The War on Drugs is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and the day they decide to end that war, will be a sad one for me and all of my closest friends.

Rationalization, It’s a powerful thing. The president must have gone through a thought process similar to this: Yes… I know we’ve spent over a trillion dollars on this drug war… I know it doesn’t prevent anyone from using drugs … I know hundreds of thousands have died on both sides and as “collateral damage” fighting it. …  I know how the drug war has worked to fill our prisons and courts with mostly non-violent drug offenders… I know of the carnage it causes on America’s streets, ruined neighborhoods, the broken families… I know that the overwhelming majority of those incarcerated for drug offenses are black or latino… I know how the drug war impinges on all American’s civil rights… I know all that but… gee… many folks are making money from it and that’s a good thing”.

I guess it’s safe to assume that this administration values money and politics over science and knowledge. That’s not the way I want my president to think.

Safe As Milk

Always looking out for our safety the government has cracked down on the milkman. It seems a dairy run by the Amish in Pennsylvania was selling raw, unpasteurized milk to people who asked for it because they believe it’s healthier for them than pasteurized milk. They like natural milk as people have been drinking for thousands of years. Nobody complained. This was just good, old-fashioned business… making the customer happy by selling him what he wants. So why did the Feds raid the dairy?

It seems that the Food & Drug Administration thinks raw milk is harmful and should not be drunk. It may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria but since these people have been buying the raw milk for several years now and nobody has complained it would seem this milk is safe.

After a year-long investigation involving ordering the raw milk under an assumed name and having it shipped by the dairy to another state and who knows what else the FDA agents, accompanied by a warrant, several U.S. marshals and a state police trooper, raided the dairy farm at 5 a.m.

One of dairy’s customers said she started looking for raw milk when her oldest daughter began to show signs of a digestive problem and could not tolerate pasteurized milk. She first did what’s called cow sharing, which is when a group of people buy shares in owning a cow, and pay a farmer to board and milk the cow. But the state of Maryland outlawed that and she was forced to look elsewhere for raw milk. That’s when she became a customer of the Pennsylvania dairy farm’s raw milk. “We like the way they farm, we love their product, it’s super-high-quality, they’re wonderful. It’s just a wonderful arrangement,” she said.

Keeping an eye on food and drugs is a good and legitimate function of government. Mis-labeling food or drugs should be a crime. Customers need to know what they’re buying. Inspecting beef to ensure that rats aren’t defecating on it is a good thing. If you are allergic to an ingredient in some product it’s important to show that on the label. That’s good. But interfereing with an arrangement between two parties that are perfectly content with their arrangement is an example of our government overreaching. Even if one of these people gets sick from raw milk remember… they were warned of its potential danger and drank it anyway. And what about all those folks who love sushi which often contains raw fish? 99.9% of the time it’s harmless but there is a chance it could make you sick. Perhaps the FDA should ban sushi? Perhaps they should just ban the sale of fresh fish? After all, someone may decide to eat it without cooking it and get sick.

Bolivia vs. the UN

There’s something interesting going on in Bolivia these days. Much of Bolivia is high. Not because of their drug use but because most of it lies at altitudes of over 10,000 feet above sea level.  Lake Titicaca is 12,500 feet above sea level. Altitudes like these make labor difficult and the locals have chewed the leaves and drunk the tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. The plant is a mild stimulant, reduces symptoms of altitude sickness, and makes work possible for the Bolivians. It is also the plant from which cocaine is made.

In it’s natural state coca leaves are quite harmless. It was, as most of you know, used in Coca-Cola before its being replaced by caffeine. Even today, with America in the throes of the “war on drugs” the US State Department cautions travelers about altitude and suggests it might help to drink some coca tea… just don’t bring any home. Their website says ” Coca-leaf tea is a popular beverage and folk remedy for altitude sickness in Bolivia. Possession of this tea, which is sold in bags in most Bolivian grocery stores, is illegal in the United States.

In 1988 an international anti-drug treaty was signed. Bolivia was told to get rid of it’s coca. Bolivians said “Wait a minute! The Inca population has been using this plant for hundreds, probably thousands of years. We can’t just eradicate it overnight.” The UN agreed to give them a few years. The years have passed but the coca is still all over the place. In 2008, Bolivia enshrined in its Constitution the coca leaf as a cultural heritage. Boxes of teabags containing coca tea are available everywhere. There are soft drinks containing coca. The Bolivian president, himself a former coca grower, said that just because Americans demand the leaf to be refined into cocaine and abuse it that is no reason for Bolivians to change our way of life. Coca tea generates no problems in Bolivia and he won’t allow American DEA agents to operate in Bolivia. You’ve got to admit he has a point. If the UN started a war against hamburgers would America tolerate foreign agents raiding cattle farms and closing down Burger Kings?

So now the UN has a problem. The heavy-handed anti-drug efforts by the US as it conducts its futile war on drugs has resulted in most Latin American countries moving in the opposite direction to protect their sovereignty. Many have recently legalized personal possession of small amounts of all drugs. Will they stand together and succeed in changing the treaty?

Obama steps up US involvement in America’s Longest War.

The US is now using high-flying drones in its efforts to combat drugs. So far the drones are being used only for surveillance. They fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet and can surveil up to 40,000 square miles of territory in a day. They cannot be readily seen by drug traffickers - or anyone else - on the ground. As of yet international law prevents them from being used as they are in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East to actually destry targets but that could change.

Mexican President Caldreron realizes that the 34,000 deaths in the past few years in Mexico are directly caused by the US demand for drugs but, instead of urging the US to end it’s failed drug policy thereby removing the huge profits currently available to the drug cartels, has asked for US help in ending the violence. President Obama has responded with the only kind of “help” the US seems to know how to give; police and military type assistance. The two presidents have agreed to push the limits of international law to allow greater Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Defense involvement in Mexico than ever before.

Much of the US involvement is still secret and Mexican and American officials say Mexico turns a blind eye to American wiretapping of the telephone lines of drug-trafficking suspects, and also to American law enforcement officials carrying weapons in violation of longstanding Mexican restrictions. Mike Vigil, a retired chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration told the NY TimesIt wasn’t that long ago when there was no way the D.E.A. could conduct the kinds of activities they are doing now, and the only way they’re going to be able to keep doing them is by allowing Mexico to have plausible deniability.” Mr. Calderón’s government is understandably cautious when it comes to just how the American intervention might be perceived at home. The Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign military and law enforcement agents from operating in Mexico except under extremely limited conditions. Mexican officials said the legal foundation for such activity may be questionable.

Of course, diplomatic issues aside, the US’s aggressive response to the drug problem hasn’t worked anywhere else and there is no reason to hope that it will work in Mexico. Recently the head of the US’s international supply reduction operations admitted that after a decade of Plan Colombia, (a similar type US operation involving the DEA, crop destruction, military efforts, surveillance, and all the rest), 97% of US cocaine is still of Colombian origin.

Legalizing and regulating these currently illegal drugs would start us on the road to reducing the harms they cause. With no more profits the cartels would be put out of business overnight and legitimate, taxable, government-regulated companies would take over the manufacture and sale of these drugs and America’s longest war, a war that has cost well over a trillion dollars since it began decades ago will end. Apparently though, Mr. Obama prefers to walk the safer path of failure.

Is One Dead ICE Agent Really a “Game Changer”?

About 34,000 Mexicans, including over 1000 children have been  killed in the past four years as a result of power struggles by Mexican drug cartels. The US, whose drug prohibition policies are the driving force behind these killings refuses to make any substantive changes to these policies. Now, after an American Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, was gunned down on a Mexican highway recently American law enforcement stepped up those same policies by launching a massive effort involving over 3000 officers making arrests in almost every major American city. They arrested more than 450 people suspected to have ties to Mexican drug cartels and seized 150,000 pounds of marijuana, 300 kilos of cocaine, and many weapons.

Obama administration officials called the killing of the ICE agent a “game-changer.” It certainly doesn’t seem like a game changer to me. It seems like more of the same. With these arrests US law enforcement has accomplished only one thing: they’ve created 450 job openings. The power struggles that loom as hundreds vie for these lucrative spots will ensure that the violence increases. Much of that violence will occur north of the border giving the administration en excuse to get support from an ignorant public for yet more police action to “secure our borders” and, as our Secretary of State recently said, arrest these foreign drug dealers trying to “addict our children”.

Fear of a big state like California legalizing marijuana has no doubt contributed to the administration’s reaction to this recent killing. Currently America is split on whether or not to legalize the drug and many politicians on both sides of the aisle are desperate to change that. If they can convince the ill-informed public to revert to their drug war mentality out of ignorance and fear, if they can play on the recently rising nativist ideas bubbling up in the Southwest, they hope to be able to preserve the staus quo for a few more years.

Preserving the status quo would also preserve the profits for law enforcement, the treatment community, the prison system and all the others currently benefiting from prohibition. It would also put off the likely inevitable decision to legalize for another administration to deal with. Of course preserving the status quo also means thousands more violent deaths in Mexico, millions more drug arrests in the US, billions more dollars spent on police and military “solutions”, and more incursions on American’s civil liberties. Apparently our administration sees this as a fair compromise.

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