The United States has focused its efforts on the criminalization of drug use. The government has, to no avail, spent countless billions of dollars in efforts to eradicate the supply of drugs. Efforts of interdiction and law enforcement have not been met with decreases in the availability of drugs in America. Apart from being highly costly, drug law enforcement has been counterproductive. Current drug laws need to be relaxed. The United States needs to shift spending from law enforcement and penalization to education, treatment, and prevention.
History of U. S. Drug Policy
Drugs first surfaced in the United States in the 1800’s. Opium became very popular after the American Civil War. Cocaine followed in the 1880’s. Coca was popularly used in health drinks and remedies. Morphine was discovered in 1906 and used for medicinal purposes. Heroin was used to treat respiratory illness, cocaine was used in Coca-Cola, and morphine was regularly prescribed by doctors as a pain reliever.
The turn of the century witnessed a heightened awareness that psychotropic drugs have a great potential for causing addiction. The abuse of opium and cocaine at the end of the 19th century reached epidemic proportions. Local governments began prohibiting opium dens and opium importation. In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act required all physicians to accurately label their medicines. Drugs were no longer seen as harmless remedies for aches and pains.
The Harrison Narcotics Act, passed in 1914, was the United States’ first federal drug policy. The act restricted the manufacture and sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and morphine. The act was aggressively enforced. Physicians, who were prescribing drugs to addicts on “maintenance” programs were harshly punished. Between 1915 and 1938, more than 5,000 physicians were convicted and fined or jailed (Trebach, 1982, p. 125.) In 1919, The Supreme Court ruled against the maintenance of addicts as a legitimate form of treatment in Webb et al. v. United States. America’s first federal drug policy targeted physicians and pharmacists.
In 1930, the Treasury Department created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry J. Anslinger headed the agency until 1962 and molded America’s drug policy. Under his tenure, drugs were increasingly criminalized. The Boggs Act of 1951 drastically increased the penalties for marijuana use. The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 created “the most punitive and repressive anti-narcotics legislation ever adopted by Congress. All discretion to suspend sentences or permit probation was eliminated. Parole was allowed only for first offenders convicted of possession, and the death penalty could be invoked for anyone who sold heroin to a minor (McWilliams, 1990, p.116).” Anslinger was critical of judges for being too easy on drug dealers and called for longer minimum sentences. He established a punitive drug policy with a focus on drug law enforcement.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics also used propaganda as a preventative measure. They created myths and horror stories about drugs. Marijuana was blamed for bizarre cases of insanity, murder, and sex crimes. Anslinger said that marijuana caused some people to “fly into a delirious rage and many commit violent crimes (McWilliams, 1990, P. 70).” It is puzzling that Anslinger and the FBN fabricated such tales, while there existed less dramatic, but true horror stories connected to drug abuse. The propaganda of the 1940’s and 1950’s was often so far-fetched that people simply didn’t believe the government’s warnings about drugs.
The 1960’s gave birth to a rebellious movement that popularized drug use. The counterculture made marijuana fashionable on college campuses. Other “hippies” sought to expand their minds with the use of hallucinogens like LSD. Many soldiers returned from the Vietnam War with marijuana and heroin habits. In short, the demand for drugs in America skyrocketed in the 1960’s.
The Johnson Administration, in reaction to a sharp rise in drug abuse, passed the Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966. The act specified that “narcotic addiction” was a mental illness. The law recognized that the disease concept of alcoholism also applied to drug addiction. Drug use, however, was still considered a crime. The act did not have a major impact because the small amount of funding that was appropriated for treatment couldn’t meet the increasing demand for drugs in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The act did pave the road for federal expenditures on drug abuse treatment.
The Modern Drug War
In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. He proclaimed, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive (Sharp, 1994, p.1).” Nixon fought drug abuse on both the supply and demand fronts. Nixon’s drug policies reflect both the temperance view and disease view of addiction.
Nixon initiated the first significant federal funding of treatment programs in. In 1971, the government funded the then experimental and enormously controversial methadone maintenance program. In June 1971, Nixon addressed Congress and declared, “as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand (Sharp, 1994, p.27).” In this statement he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of interdiction and eradication are destined to fail.
Unfortunately, Nixon failed to listen to his own advice. Nixon launched a massive interdiction effort in Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in 1973. They initiated Operation Intercept, which pressured Mexico to regulate its marijuana growers. The U S government spent hundreds of millions of dollars closing up the border. Trade between Mexico and the U. S. came to a virtual standstill. Mass amounts of Mexican crops headed for the U. S. rotted, while waiting in line at the border. In the end, Nixon achieved his goal of curtailing the supply of Mexican marijuana in America. Columbia, however, was quick to replace Mexico as America’s marijuana supplier.
The interdiction of Mexican marijuana was the government’s first lesson in the “iron law of drug economics (Rosenberger, 1996, p.22).” Every effort the U S government has made at interdiction since Operation Intercept has at most resulted in a reorganization of the international drug trade. Heavily monitored drug routes have been rerouted. Drugs enter the United States through land, sea, and air. Closing our borders to drug smugglers is an impossibility as long as the demand exists.
By JUDITH S. SAMKOFF, SCM, and SUSAN P. BAKER, MPH
Abstract: Deaths in the United States classified as
unintentional poisoning by drugs and medicaments fell
from 14.7 per million population in 1975 to 8.8 in 1978,
a 40 per cent decrease. Seventy-three per cent of this
drop was attributable to a reduction in deaths coded to
opiates and intravenous narcotism. These two categories
accounted for 38 per cent of all unintentional drug
deaths in 1975 but only 15 per cent in 1978. There was
no simultaneous increase in other drug-related deaths,
including suicides, to account for the reduction in deaths coded to opiates. The highest mortality rates
and the greatest variation in mortality during 1970-78
occurred in 20-29 year old non-White males. Racial
and sex differences in opiate poisoning mortality,
notable early in the decade, were greatly reduced by
1978 due to a relatively larger decline in mortality of
males and non-Whites. Time trends in mortality from
opiate poisoning appear to coincide with variations in
the amount of heroin smuggled into the country. (Am J
Public Health 1982; 72: 1251-1256.)
During the nine years studied, there were 67,851 deaths in the United States ascribed to poisoning by drugs, of which 22,826 (34 per cent) were classified as unintentional (Table
1). The annual number of deaths from unintentional poisoning by drugs and medicaments rose from 2,505 in 1970 to a high of 3,132 in 1975, then dropped to 1,906 in 1978.
Between 1975 and 1978, the mortality rate per million population
declined by 40 per cent, from 14.7 to 8.8.For all ages combined, mortality was twice as high in
non-White males as in White males, and 1.5 times as high in
non-White females as in White females (Table 1).
Among 20-29 year old Whites, no decline in mortality
occurred until the second half of the decade, and then it was
limited to males (Figure 2). In non-Whites, on the other
hand, the decrease began in the first half of the decade and
reversed temporarily in 1974-1975. The drop in mortality
was greater among non-White males than among non-White
females. 1976-1977 U.S. health report
US DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND WELFARE
Drug dependence accounted for a Greater proportion
of emergency room visits for blacks and other
Minorities than for whites.
By Tom LoBianco, March 24, 2016
Washington (CNN): One of Richard Nixon's top advisers and a key figure in the Watergate scandal said the war on drugs was created as a political tool to fight blacks and hippies, according to a 22-year-old interview recently published in Harper's Magazine. "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper's writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday. "You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Ehrlichman's comment is the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep the White House. It's a stark departure from Nixon's public explanation for his first piece of legislation in the war on drugs, delivered in message to Congress in July 1969, which framed it as a response to an increase in heroin addiction and the rising use of marijuana and hallucinogens by students. However, Nixon's political focus on white voters, the "Silent Majority," is well-known. And Nixon's derision for minorities in private is well-known from his White House recordings. The comments come as there has been a marked shift in attitudes toward handling drug use -- ranging from the legalization of marijuana in various states to White House candidates focusing heavily on treatment as an answer to New Hampshire's heroin epidemic while they were campaigning across the state. Ehrlichman died in 1999, but his five children questioned the veracity of the account.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws are the statutes dealing with the sale and possession of "narcotic" drugs in the New York State Penal Law. The laws are named after Nelson Rockefeller, who was the state's governor at the time the laws were adopted. Rockefeller had previously backed drug rehabilitation, job training and housing as strategies, having seen drugs as a social problem rather a criminal one, but did an about-face during a period of mounting national anxiety about drug use and crime. Rockefeller, a staunch supporter of the bill containing the laws, had Presidential ambitions and so wanted to raise his national posture by being "tough on crime." If this strategy worked, he would no longer be seen as too liberal to be elected. He signed it on May 8, 1973.
Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (57 g) or more of heroin, morphine, "raw or prepared opium," cocaine, or cannabis or possessing four ounces (113 g) or more of the same substances, was a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. The original legislation also mandated the same penalty for committing a violent crime while under the influence of the same drugs, but this provision was subsequently omitted from the bill and was not part of the legislation Rockefeller ultimately signed. The section of the laws applying to marijuana was repealed in 1977, under the Democratic Governor Hugh Carey.
The adoption of the Rockefeller drug laws gave New York State the distinction of having the toughest laws of its kind in the entire United States — an approach soon imitated by the state of Michigan, which, in 1978, enacted a "650-Lifer Law," which called for life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole for the sale, manufacture, or possession of at least 650 grams (1.43 lb) of cocaine or any Schedule I or Schedule II opiate.
In 1977 President Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. In a speech to Congress he said, “penalties against possession of the drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself (Rosenberger, 1996, p25).” Although Carter endorsed lenient laws towards marijuana use, he was against legalization. Carter’s drug policy was focused on the supply front, with most funding going to interdiction and eradication programs.
Marijuana decriminalization did not fail, but failed to be realized. Carter’s presidency witnessed a sharp increase in cocaine use. From 1978 to 1984, cocaine consumption in America increased from between 19 and 25 tons to between 71 and 137 tons. The demand for cocaine increased as much as 700 percent in just six years (Collett, 1989, p. 35). Marijuana was widely connected to cocaine as a feeder drug. Thus, the federal and state governments moved away from marijuana decriminalization.
In 1981, President Reagan gave a speech mirroring Nixon’s admission that fighting the supply side of the drug war was a losing proposition. He said, “It’s far more effective if you take the customers away than if you try to take the drugs away from those who want to be customers.” Reagan, like Nixon did not heed is own advice. The average annual amount of funding for eradication and interdiction programs increased from an annual average of $437 million during Carter’s presidency to $1.4 billion during Reagan’s first term. The funding for programs of education, prevention, and rehabilitation were cut from an annual average of $386 million to $362 million (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 26).
Reagan’s demand side initiatives focused on “getting tough” on drugs. The program became known as the “zero tolerance” program, where punitive measures against users were emphasized. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse gave the drug user full accountability. Drug users were to be prosecuted for possession and accordingly penalized. Although some block grants were given for drug treatment, the rehabilitative efforts were insufficient to meet the overwhelming amount of drug abuse. Reagan’s demand side drug policy largely reflects the colonial, or moralist view of addiction.
Despite headlining innovative drug policies, Clinton has largely continued the Republican’s supply sided drug policy. In the 1995 budget, Clinton earmarked an extra $1 billion for both the demand and supply fronts of the government’s drug policy. Clinton attracted the media’s attention when he doubled the spending for rehabilitation and prevention programs. However, more substantial increases were made for eradication programs and law enforcement. The 1995 budget included $13.2 billion for drug policy. $7.8 billion was spent on supply sided efforts, while only $5.4 billion was spent on education, prevention, and rehabilitation. Although Clinton did increase the percentage spent on the demand front of the drug war, his policy clearly reflects supply sided tactics (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 51).
It is important to note that Congress has a significant influence on shaping America’s drug policy. The Republican 104th Congress successfully killed many of Clinton’s attempts to spend more on the demand side. Even the Democratic 103rd Congress of the early 1990’s fought shifting the drug policy towards prevention and rehabilitation. Both Democratic and Republic Congresses overwhelmingly favored continuing with supply sided efforts.
Although Clinton didn’t significantly change the direction of U S drug policy he presented some innovative proposals. Clinton encouraged Community Action Programs and grass roots organizations to participate in the demand side of the drug war. However, of the $1 billion given to the Community Empowerment Program only $50 million was allocated to drug education, prevention, and treatment (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 63). Thus, the potential of the programs was never realized.
By Breda Smyth, M.D., M.P.H.,a Valerie Hoffman, Ph.D., M.P.H.,a Jing Fan, M.D., M.S.,a and Yih-Ing Hser, Ph.D.a
To examine premature mortality in terms of years of potential life lost (YPLL) among a cohort of long-term heroin addicts.
This longitudinal, prospective study followed a cohort of 581 male heroin addicts in California for more than 33 years. In the latest follow-up conducted in 1996/97, 282 subjects (48.5%) were confirmed as deceased by death certificates. YPLL before age 65 years were calculated by causes of death. Ethnic differences in YPLL were assessed among Whites, Hispanics, and African Americans.
On average, addicts in this cohort lost 18.3 years (SD = 10.7) of potential life before age 65. Of the total YPLL for the cohort, 22.3% of the years lost was due to heroin overdose, 14.0% due to chronic liver disease, and 10.2% to accidents. The total YPLL and YPLL by death cause in addict cohort were significant higher than that of US population. The YPLL among African Americans was significantly lower than that among Whites or Hispanics.
The YPLL among addicts was much higher than that in the national population; within the cohort, premature mortality was higher among Whites and Hispanics compared to African American addicts.
Margaret Warner, Ph.D.; Li Hui Chen, Ph.D.; Diane M. Makuc, Dr.P.H., Robert N. Anderson, Ph.D.; and Arialdi M. Miniño, M.P.H.
Poisoning is the leading cause of death from injury in 30 states. In 2008, poisoning was the leading cause of injury death in the following 30 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Key findings: In 2008, poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in the United States and nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs. • During the past three decades, the number of drug poisoning deaths increased sixfold from about 6,100 in 1980 to 36,500 in 2008.• During the most recent decade, the number of drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics more than tripled from about 4,000 in 1999 to 14,800 in 2008. • Opioid analgesics were involved in more than 40% of all drug poisoning deaths in 2008, up from about 25% in 1999.• In 2008, the drug poisoning death rate was higher for males, people aged 45–54 years, and non-Hispanic white and American Indian or Alaska Native persons than for females and those in other age and racial and ethnic groups.
PBS Newshour - Sep 29, 2017
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s hard to grasp the full scope and scale of the opioid crisis we’re in the midst of. The numbers are staggering. Almost half-a-million Americans have died in the last 15 years from an overdose, and the majority of those involve opioids. On average, 91 Americans are still dying every single day. In that same period, the rate of addiction to opioids has shot up by almost 500 percent. And the availability of addiction treatment hasn’t kept up at all.
So, how did we get here?
Most experts say this crisis began in the 1990s, when some doctors and medical associations argued that, for generations, their profession had ignored the problem of chronic pain, which had caused unnecessary suffering for millions of patients. They started pushing the idea that pain be seen as the fifth vital sign, something to be checked as often as blood pressure, and treated accordingly. At roughly the same time, the pharmaceutical industry, which was eager to boost sales of its new class of painkillers, like OxyContin, told doctors that these new drugs could be used without fear of their patients becoming addicted.
Comment: on another T.V. station covering this issue: a Black commentator tried to interject how different America was treating this latest Drug epidemic. In the 60s and 70s when it was associated with Urban Blacks, the call was to "Lock them up and throw away the Keys!" But today, when the epidemic is associated with Suburban and Rural Whites, the call is for TREATMENT in place of incarceration. The Black commentator was told that since the Opioid epidemic STARTED with LEGAL Grugs, the analogy didn't hold. In other words: if White American business is the producer - it’s okay. However, if Dark-skinned or other non-White people are the producers, then it’s a terrible crime, punishable by death or life in prison. (The White commentator said it with a "Straight Face").
By Ashley Welch, CBS News - October 17, 2017
The opioid epidemic ravaging the United States is taking a grim and growing toll. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 64,070 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. That's a 21 percent increase over the year before. Approximately three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths are now caused by opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions like fentanyl. A new report from Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on "critical issues in policing," puts those numbers into context. According to the report, more Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than the number of American lives lost in the entirety of the Vietnam War, which totaled 58,200. Ex-DEA agent: Opioid crisis fueled by drug industry and Congress The group says it is focusing its efforts on the opioid epidemic because "despite the groundbreaking work that police and other agencies are doing, the epidemic is continuing to worsen." The report also showed that the year's 64,070 drug fatalities outnumbered: The 35,092 motor vehicle deaths in 2015. AIDS-related deaths in the worst year of the AIDS crisis, when 50,628 people died in 1995. The peak year for homicides in the U.S., when 24,703 people were murdered in 1991. Suicides, which have been rising in the U.S. for nearly 30 years and totaled 44,193 in 2015. The data also shows that overdoses of synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl — which is 50 to 100 times stronger than the painkiller morphine — are driving the sharp increases in opioid overdose deaths.
The CDC identified 15,466 deaths from heroin overdoses in 2016, while 20,145 deaths were caused by fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. Additionally, a survey conducted by PERF of its member police chiefs earlier this year found half of the respondents reported an increase in fatal heroin overdoses in their jurisdiction in 2016 compared to 2015, and 45 percent reported an increase in drug overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl during that time. Twenty-three percent reported an increase in fatal overdoses due to prescription opioid medications. This is consistent with research suggesting that many people who become addicted to prescription painkillers often move on to heroin or synthetic opioids when it becomes too difficult to or expensive to keep obtaining prescription pills. A joint investigation by"60 Minutes" and the Washington Post this week spotlighted how an act of Congress actually helped fuel the epidemic of addiction. Whistleblowers revealed how the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, which was unanimously approved, derailed DEA efforts to crack down on suspect pharmacies that are distributing millions of pills in hard-hit communities."So it is clear that police and other criminal justice agencies, along with public health departments, drug treatment and social service providers, elected officials, and others, must step up their efforts to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, while helping addicted persons through the long and difficult process of getting free of opioid drugs," the authors write.
NBC News Maggie Fox, Erika Edwards. Sep. 15, 2017
More and more teens and young adults are showing up in emergency rooms addicted to opioids, researchers reported Friday. And they say their findings are probably only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the youths are not showing up because they’re addicted, the researchers said in a report for an annual meeting of pediatricians. They are coming in for some other reason and doctors are discovering they are also addicted to or dependent on opioids.
Courtney Nicole Howell mixed methadone with Children’s Tylenol and gave it to her 17-month-old daughter, Jaslynn.
The child died, and Howell was sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.
on Sunday, July 10th, 2016 in an interview on "Meet the Press".
"There is a challenge with America where we have invested, unfortunately, in a war on drugs, which has been profoundly painful to our nation, with a 500 percent increase in incarceration in our country, disproportionately affecting poor and disproportionately affecting minorities," Booker said. President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs in the early 1970s, and about 10 years later President Ronald Reagan strengthened the effort. A spokesman said Booker’s statistic comes from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization. It says the current incarcerated population is 2.2 million — including federal prisons, state prisons and local jails — which is a 500 percent growth over the past 40 years.
The state and federal prison population grew from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014, which is a nearly 600 percent increase. For comparison, the overall United States population has increased just 51 percent since 1974. The state and federal prison population remained fairly stable through the early 1970s, until the war on drugs began. Since then, it has increased sharply every year, particularly when Reagan expanded the policy effort in the 1980s, until about 2010. But how much of this increase is a direct result of the tougher drug laws? The effort resulted in the Drug Enforcement Administration's establishment, as well as policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and new asset forfeiture rules. It’s hard to say exactly how much of the increase can be attributed to these policies because it’s difficult to isolate the impact to any one cause, experts told us.
That being said, "a lot of people attribute the increase in incarceration to the war on drugs," said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. "While it's much more complicated than that, I suppose most would agree that it was the single biggest driver." In 1980, about 41,000 people were incarcerated for drug crimes, according to the Sentencing Project. In 2014, that number was about 488,400 — a 1,000 percent increase. More people are admitted to prisons for drug crimes each year than either violent or property crimes, found Jonathan Rothwell, a senior economist at Gallup. So drug prosecution is a big part of the mass incarceration story, he said.
Effect on minorities and poor people:
It is a well-established fact that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population. About 58 percent of all sentenced inmates in 2013 were black or hispanic, yet the two groups make up just about 30 percent of the total population. Research also suggests that when black and white people engage in the same illegal activity and have the same criminal history, black people are more likely to be arrested, more likely to face tougher charges and more likely to receive longer sentences than whites.
In a 2014 article, Rothwell found that the war on drugs has significantly impacted black people. He found that white people are more likely than black people to sell drugs and about as likely to consume them. Even so, black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more for drug possession. Minorities are disproportionately represented in the prison population, and some slightly dated research indicates poor people are, as well. Evidence seems to show that black people are more likely to be arrested for drug crime than white people, despite being equally likely to use and less likely to sell drugs.
By Ryan Grim, Matt Sledge, and Matt Ferner
LOS ANGELES — With the public in the U.S. and Latin America becoming increasingly skeptical of the war on drugs, key figures in a scandal that once rocked the Central Intelligence Agency are coming forward to tell their stories in a new documentary and in a series of interviews with The Huffington Post. More than 18 years have passed since Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb stunned the world with his “Dark Alliance” newspaper series investigating the connections between the CIA, a crack cocaine explosion in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, and the Nicaraguan Contra fighters — scandalous implications that outraged LA’s black community, severely damaged the intelligence agency’s reputation and launched a number of federal investigations.
It did not end well for Webb, however. Major media, led by The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, worked to discredit his story. Under intense pressure, Webb’s top editor abandoned him. Webb was drummed out of journalism. One LA Times reporter recently apologized for his leading role in the assault on Webb, but it came too late. Webb died in 2004 from an apparent suicide. Obituaries referred to his investigation as “discredited.” Now, Webb’s bombshell expose is being explored anew in a documentary, “Freeway: Crack in the System,” directed by Marc Levin, which tells the story of “Freeway” Rick Ross, who created a crack empire in LA during the 1980s and is a key figure in Webb’s “Dark Alliance” narrative. The documentary is being released after the major motion picture “Kill The Messenger,” which features Jeremy Renner in the role of Webb and hits theaters on Friday. Webb’s investigation was published in the summer of 1996 in the San Jose Mercury News. In it, he reported that a drug ring that sold millions of dollars worth of cocaine in Los Angeles was funneling its profits to the CIA’s army in Nicaragua, known as the Contras.
Webb’s original anonymous source for his series was Coral Baca, a confidante of Nicaraguan dealer Rafael Cornejo. Baca, Ross and members of his “Freeway boys” crew; cocaine importer and distributor Danilo Blandon; and LA Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Juarez all were interviewed for Levin’s film. The dual release of the feature film and the documentary, along with the willingness of long-hesitant sources to come forward, suggests that Webb may have the last word after all. Webb’s entry point into the sordid tale of corruption was through Baca, a ghostlike figure in the Contra-cocaine narrative who has given precious few interviews over the decades. Her name was revealed in Webb’s 1998 book on the scandal, but was removed at her request in the paperback edition. Levin connected HuffPost with Baca and she agreed to an interview at a cafe in San Francisco. She said that she and Webb didn’t speak for years after he revealed her name, in betrayal of the conditions under which they spoke. He eventually apologized, said Baca, who is played by Paz Vega in “Kill The Messenger.”
The major media that worked to undermine Webb’s investigation acknowledged that Blandon was a major drug-runner as well as a Contra supporter, and that Ross was a leading distributor. But those reports questioned how much drug money Blandon and his boss Norwin Meneses turned over to the Contras, and whether the Contras were aware of the source of the funds. During her interview with HuffPost, Baca recounted meeting Contra leader Adolfo Calero multiple times in the 1980s at Contra fundraisers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He would personally pick up duffel bags full of drug money, she said, which it was her job to count for Cornejo. There was no question, she said, that Calero knew precisely how the money had been earned. Meneses’ nickname, after all, was El Rey De Las Drogas — The King of Drugs.
“If he was stupid and had a lobotomy,” he might not have known it was drug money, Baca said. “He knew exactly what it was. He didn’t care. He was there to fund the Contras, period.” (Baca made a similar charge confidentially to the Department of Justice for its 1997 review of Webb’s allegations, as well as further allegations the investigators rejected.) Indeed, though the mainstream media at the time worked to poke holes in Webb’s findings, believing that the Contra operation was not involved with drug-running takes an enormous suspension of disbelief. Even before Webb’s series was published, numerous government investigations and news reports had linked America’s support for the Nicaraguan rebels with drug trafficking. After The Associated Press reported on these connections in 1985, for example, more than a decade before Webb, then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) launched a congressional investigation. In 1989, Kerry released a detailed report claiming that not only was there “considerable evidence” linking the Contra effort to trafficking of drugs and weapons, but that the U.S. government knew about it.
According to the report, many of the pilots ferrying weapons and supplies south for the CIA were known to have backgrounds in drug trafficking. Kerry’s investigation cited SETCO Aviation, the company the U.S. had contracted to handle many of the flights, as an example of CIA complicity in the drug trade. According to a 1983 Customs Service report, SETCO was “headed by Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, a class I DEA violator.” Two years before the Iran-Contra scandal would begin to bubble up in the Reagan White House, pilot William Robert “Tosh” Plumlee revealed to then-Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) that planes would routinely transport cocaine back to the U.S. after dropping off arms for the Nicaraguan rebels. Plumlee has since spoken in detail about the flights in media interviews. “In March, 1983, Plumlee contacted my Denver Senate Office and … raised several issues including that covert U.S. intelligence agencies were directly involved in the smuggling and distribution of drugs to raise funds for covert military operations against the government of Nicaragua,” a copy of a 1991 letter from Hart to Kerry reads. (Hart told HuffPost he recalls receiving Plumlee’s letter and finding his allegations worthy of follow-up.)
Plumlee flew weapons into Latin America for decades for the CIA. When the Contra revolution took off in the 1980s, Plumlee says he continued to transport arms south for the spy agency and bring cocaine back with him, with the blessing of the U.S. government. The Calero transactions Baca says she witnessed would have been no surprise to the Reagan White House. On April 15, 1985, around the time Baca says she saw Calero accepting bags of cash, Oliver North, the White House National Security Counsel official in charge of the Contra operation, was notified in a memo that Calero’s deputies were involved in the drug business. Robert Owen, North’s top staffer in Central America, warned that Jose Robelo had “potential involvement with drug-running and the sale of goods provided by the [U.S. government]” and that Sebastian Gonzalez was “now involved in drug-running out of Panama.”
North’s own diary, originally uncovered by the National Security Archive, is a rich source of evidence as well. “Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into the U.S.,” reads an entry for Aug. 9, 1985, reflecting a conversation North had with Owen about Mario Calero, Adolfo’s brother.
An entry from July 12, 1985 relates that “14 million to finance [an arms depot] came from drugs” and another references a trip to Bolivia to pick up “paste.” (Paste is slang term for a crude cocaine derivative product comprised of coca leaves grown in the Andes as well as processing chemicals used during the cocaine manufacturing process.) Celerino Castillo, a top DEA agent in El Salvador, investigated the Contras’ drug-running in the 1980s and repeatedly warned superiors, according to a Justice Department investigation into the matter. Castillo “believes that North and the Contras’ resupply operation at Ilopango were running drugs for the Contras,” Mike Foster, an FBI agent who worked for the Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, reported in 1991 after meeting with Castillo, who later wrote the book Powderburns about his efforts to expose the drug-running. Webb’s investigation sent the CIA into a panic. A recently declassified article titled “Managing A Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” from the agency’s internal journal, “Studies In Intelligence,” shows that the spy agency was reeling in the weeks that followed.
“The charges could hardly be worse,” the article opens. “A widely read newspaper series leads many Americans to believe CIA is guilty of at least complicity, if not conspiracy, in the outbreak of crack cocaine in America’s inner cities. In more extreme versions of the story circulating on talk radio and the Internet, the Agency was the instrument of a consistent strategy by the US Government to destroy the black community and to keep black Americans from advancing. Denunciations of CIA — reminiscent of the 1970s — abound. investigations are demanded and initiated. The Congress gets involved.” The emergence of Webb’s story “posed a genuine public relations crisis for the Agency,” writes the CIA Directorate of Intelligence staffer, whose name is redacted.
In December 1997, CIA sources helped advance that narrative, telling reporters that an internal inspector general report sparked by Webb’s investigation had exonerated the agency. Yet the report itself, quietly released several weeks later, was actually deeply damaging to the CIA. “In 1984, CIA received allegations that five individuals associated with the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE)/Sandino Revolutionary Front (FRS) were engaged in a drug trafficking conspiracy with a known narcotics trafficker, Jorge Morales,” the report found. “CIA broke off contact with ARDE in October 1984, but continued to have contact through 1986-87 with four of the individuals involved with Morales.” It also found that in October 1982, an immigration officer reported that, according to an informant in the Nicaraguan exile community in the Bay Area, “there are indications of links between [a specific U.S.-based religious organization] and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups. These links involve an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms, which then are shipped to Nicaragua. A meeting on this matter is scheduled to be held in Costa Rica ‘within one month.’ Two names the informant has associated with this matter are Bergman Arguello, a UDN member and exile living in San Francisco, and Chicano Cardenal, resident of Nicaragua.”
The inspector general is clear that in some cases “CIA knowledge of allegations or information indicating that organizations or individuals had been involved in drug trafficking did not deter their use by CIA.” In other cases, “CIA did not act to verify drug trafficking allegations or information even when it had the opportunity to do so.” “Let me be frank about what we are finding,” the CIA’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz, said in congressional testimony in March 1998. “There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.” One of the keys to Webb’s story was testimony from Danilo Blandon, who the Department of Justice once described as one of the most significant Nicaraguan drug importers in the 1980s.
“You were running the LA operation, is that correct?” Blandon, who was serving as a government witness in the 1990s, was asked by Alan Fenster, attorney representing Rick Ross, in 1996. “Yes. But remember, we were running, just — whatever we were running in LA, it goes, the profit, it was going to the Contra revolution,” Blandon said. Levin, the documentary filmmaker, tracked down Blandon in Managua. “Gary Webb tried to find me, Congresswoman Maxine Waters tried to find me, Oliver Stone tried to find me. You found me,” Blandon told Levin, according to notes from the interview the director provided to HuffPost.
Waters, a congresswoman from Los Angeles, had followed Webb’s investigation with one of her own. In the interview notes with filmmaker Levin, Blandon confirms his support of the Contras and his role in drug trafficking, but downplays his significance. “The big lie is that we started it all — the crack epidemic — we were just a small part. There were the Torres [brothers], the Colombians, and others,” he says. “We were a little marble, pebble, rock and [people are] acting like we’re big boulder.” Webb’s series connected the Contras’ drug-running directly to the growth of crack in the U.S., and it was this connection that faced the most pushback from critics. While Blandon may have been operating on behalf of the Contras early in his career, they charged, he later broke off on his own. But an October 1986 arrest warrant for Blandon indicates that the LA County Sheriff’s Department at the time had other information.
“Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in southern California,” the warrant reads, according to Webb’s orginal report. “The monies gained through the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo who is a high-ranking officer in a chain of banks in Florida. … From this bank the monies are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua.” Blandon’s number-one client was “Freeway” Rick Ross, whose name has since been usurped by the rapper William Leonard Roberts, better known by his stage name “Rick Ross” (an indignity that plays a major role in the film). The original Ross, who was arrested in 1995 and freed from prison in 2009, told Webb in “Dark Alliance” that the prices and quantity Blandon was offering transformed him from a small-time dealer into what prosecutors would later describe as the most significant crack cocaine merchant in Los Angeles, if not the country. His empire — once dubbed the “Walmart” of crack cocaine — expanded east from LA to major cities throughout the Midwest before he was eventually taken down during a DEA sting his old supplier and friend Blandon helped set up.
Levin’s film not only explores the corrupt foundations of the drug war itself, but also calls into question the draconian jail sentences the U.S. justice system meted out to a mostly minority population, while the country’s own foreign policy abetted the drug trade. “I knew that these laws were a mistake when we were writing them,” says Eric Sterling, who was counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and a key contributor to the passage of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, in the documentary. In 1980, there were roughly 40,000 drug offenders in U.S. prisons, according to research from The Sentencing Project, a prison sentencing reform group. By 2011, the number of drug offenders serving prison sentences ballooned to more than 500,000 — most of whom are not high-level operators and are without prior criminal records. “There is no question that there are tens of thousands of black people in prison serving sentences that are decades excessive,” Sterling says. “Their families have been destroyed because of laws I played a central role in writing.”
The height of the drug war in the 1980s also saw the beginning of the militarization of local law enforcement, the tentacles of which are seen to this day, most recently in Ferguson, Missouri. In an interview with The Huffington Post, former LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Juarez, who served with the department from 1976 to 1991 and was later convicted along with several other deputies in 1992 during a federal investigation of sheriff officers stealing seized drug money, described a drug war culture that frequently put law enforcement officers into morally questionable situations that were difficult to navigate. “We all started getting weapons,” said Juarez, who served five years in prison for skimming drug-bust money. “We were hitting houses coming up with Uzis, AK-47s, and we’re walking in with a six-shooter and a shotgun. So guys started saying, ‘I’m going to get me a semi-automatic and the crooks are paying for it.’ So that’s how it started.”
But Juarez, who served in the LA County Sheriff’s narcotics division for nearly a decade, explained that what started as a way for some officers to pay for extra weapons and informants to aid in investigations quickly devolved into greed. Since asset forfeiture laws at the time allowed the county to keep all cash seized during a drug bust, Juarez says tactics changed. “It got to where we were more tax collectors than we were dope cops,” Juarez recalled. “Everything seized was coming right back to the county. We turned into the same kind of crooks we’d been following around ... moving evidence around to make sure the asshole goes to jail; backing up other deputies regardless of what it was. Everyone, to use a drug dealer’s term, everyone was taking a taste.”
Between 1982 and 1984, Congress restricted funding for the Contras, and by 1985 cut it off entirely. The Reagan administration, undeterred, conspired to sell arms to Iran in exchange for hostages (of the Iran Embassy takeover), using some of the proceeds to illegally fund the Contras. The scandal became known as Iran-Contra. Drug trafficking was a much less convoluted method of skirting the congressional ban on funding the Contras, and the CIA’s inspector general found that in the early years after Congress cut off Contra funding, the CIA had alerted Congress about the allegations of drug trafficking. But while the ban was in effect, the CIA went largely silent on the issue. “CIA did not inform Congress of all allegations or information it received indicating that Contra-related organizations or individuals were involved in drug trafficking,” the inspector general’s report found. “During the period in which the FY 1987 statutory prohibition was in effect, for example, no information has been found to indicate that CIA informed Congress of eight of the ten Contra-related individuals concerning whom CIA had received drug trafficking allegations or information.”
This complicity of the CIA in drug trafficking is at the heart of Webb’s explosive expose — a point Webb makes himself in archival interview footage that appears in Levin’s documentary. “It’s not a situation where the government or the CIA sat down and said, ‘Okay, let’s invent crack, let’s sell it in black neighborhoods, let’s decimate black America,’” Webb says. “It was a situation where, ‘We need money for a covert operation, the quickest way to raise it is sell cocaine, you guys go sell it somewhere, we don’t want to know anything about it.’”
By Chris Pleasance for MailOnline - 17 October 2017
Updated Sep 18, 2013
White Americans are more likely than black Americans to have used most kinds of illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and LSD. Yet blacks are far more likely to go to prison for drug offenses. This discrepancy forms the backdrop of a new legislative proposal in California, which aims to reduce the disproportionate incarceration of black people in the state. Supporters of the bill, SB 649, point to some striking national data. Nearly 20 percent of whites have used cocaine, compared with 10 percent of blacks and Latinos, according to a 2011 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — the most recent data available. Higher percentages of whites have also tried hallucinogens, marijuana, pain relievers like OxyContin, and stimulants like methamphetamine, according to the survey. Crack is more popular among blacks than whites, but not by much.
Still, blacks are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites, according to a 2009 report from the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. Of the 225,242 people who were serving time in state prisons for drug offenses in 2011, blacks made up 45 percent and whites comprised just 30 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Jamie Fellner, author of the Human Rights Watch report, offered an explanation for this discrepancy. “The race issue isn’t just that the judge is going, ‘Oh, black man, I’m gonna sentence you higher,’” she said. “The police go into low-income minority neighborhoods and that’s where they make most of their drug arrests. If they arrest you, now you have a ‘prior,’ so if you plead or get arrested again, you’re gonna have a higher sentence. There’s a kind of cumulative effect.”
Lawmakers in California hope to blunt that effect. Last week, both houses of the state legislature passed SB 649, which would give judges and prosecutors the option of charging people convicted of drug offenses with misdemeanors instead of felonies. Those offenders could then be sent to substance abuse treatment centers instead of prison or jail. Supporters of the bill, including its author, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), note that black adults represent one-quarter of all felony drug arrests in California, despite comprising just 5 percent of the state population. “One can take it to conspiratorial or racist theories or not,” Leno told HuffPost. “The motivation I don’t think needs to be determined. The results are the same: Our policy and lawmaking perpetuate a chronic underclass of citizens.” Former prisoners who were convicted of felonies often face steep official barriers to “the very things that are needed to keep one successful in recovery,” he added — namely, education, housing and employment.
The federal government can deny public housing assistance to anyone who has been convicted of a felony drug offense. Students who have been convicted of drug possession are barred from receiving federal financial aid and substantial education tax credits. And employers often require applicants to disclose their criminal histories, despite a growing nationwide movement to ban that practice. Not all drug offenses in California automatically result in felony charges. Methamphetamine, LSD and certain other drugs are known as “wobblers,” meaning that possession of those drugs can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The new bill would basically extend this “wobbler” approach to heroin, cocaine and most other drugs. Blacks use heroin and cocaine more than they use meth and LSD, which are primarily used by whites.
In recent years, states from New York to Texas have adopted reforms that resemble SB 649, and leaders across the political spectrum have pushed for changes to the country’s drug sentencing policies. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug offenders, citing “shameful” racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Yet some drug reform advocates worry that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) might not sign the California measure, noting that he has often seemed reluctant to embrace progressive criminal justice policies. Like other reforms aimed at reducing California’s prison population, SB 649 could help relieve the state’s budgetary woes, supporters say. Drug sentencing policies are widely blamed for the enormous size and costs of the country’s prison systems. And few prison systems are bigger or more expensive than California’s. At the height of America’s war on drugs, from the 1980s through the mid-2000s, more than 20 prisons opened in California, compared with just 12 between 1852 and 1984. California’s prison population increased more than fivefold in the later decades, and prisons now cost the state’s taxpayers close to $10 billion a year.
May 23, 2017
The overdose death outbreak across America is most notably in connection to the opioid epidemic. Law enforcement and health officials all over the country continue to combat the impact of heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse, and this issue is a consistent talking point. But opioids aren’t the only drugs that authorities are noticing for an increase with rates of use and overdose. Several state agencies in the U.S. have recently reported a spike in overdose deaths related to methamphetamine. Meth as an illicit recreational drug that goes by several street names, such as: Crank, Chalk, Speed, Tweak.
This substance usually comes in the form of a crystalline white powder, although other colors have been observed including brown, yellow-gray, even pink or blue. It is often described as odorless and bitter-tasting. Crystal Meth is a version of methamphetamine that can be made with simple ingredients from drug stores. It comes in clear crystals or chunks resembling ice and is most commonly smoked. Both forms of methamphetamine, and even amphetamine prescription stimulant drugs, are incredibly addictive and extremely dangerous substances.
New Crystal Meth Stats
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new statistics from 2015 (the most recent year for which federal data is available) that show: In 2014 there were 3,700 deaths from methamphetamine overdoses. More than 4,500 individuals died in 2015 from methamphetamine. That is an increase of 30%. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), methamphetamine use jumped from 3% in 2010 to 4% in 2015. That may not seem like much, but consider that in comparison to heroin use, which only rose from 1% to 2% during this same time period. Meth has become rampant in significant portions of the Midwest and in the South. For example, in Oklahoma: Methamphetamine was involved in more than 300 overdose deaths in 2016, It surpassed death rates for both Oxycodone and Hydrocodone… COMBINED! This huge upsurge in meth use has also prompted more people to seek treatment for meth addiction. For example, in the year 2015 more than 11,000 patients were admitted for treatment in Minnesota, which is nearly twice as many who sought help for meth addiction 10 years before. Other areas that had no previous history with serious meth use rates have also seen a spike in people seeking treatment for meth addiction.
At the end of the day, whether it is legal amphetamine or illicit methamphetamine, these chemicals are known to be dangerous and addictive. Even prescription drugs containing amphetamines are a risk factor. Depending on how the drug is used, issues related to these powerful stimulants may vary. Amphetamines that are crushed or injected will present different complications. The psychological and emotional effects are said to be the most difficult to overcome, while the cravings for the drug are exceptionally strong.
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