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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: War On Drugs
Posted: February 8, 2021 at 11:08 am
Legislation that decriminalizes the possession of all illegal drugs goes into effect in Oregon on Monday.
Approved by voters in November, the measure says the state will fine offenders and offer addiction treatment instead of prison time. By addressing drug use as a public health issue rather than a crime, this historic change takes a sledgehammer to the war on drugs, says Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Drug users need help, not punishment, she says, yet drug possession is the most common reason for arrest in the U.S. This legislation disrupts the relationship between getting help and getting in trouble.
As someone who was a social worker, I recognize that people make different choices when they want to make those choices, she says. Punishing people has never been an effective deterrent when it's come to complex human behavior.
People dealing with addiction have limited treatment options in jail or prison, she says, whereas remaining part of their community helps folks maintain dignity and sovereignty to make better choices.
Under Oregons new legislation, decriminalizing all drugs includes substances such as heroin, cocaine and meth. Opponents argue that by removing a major disincentive to do drugs, the law could fuel more drug use.
With more Americans dying from drug overdoses than ever before, Frederique says treatment and community resources need to be funded. Decriminalizing drugs sends a message to Oregonians that help is available, she says.
There's been so much cognitive dissonance about what the message is. Is it tough love or is it love? she says. And what I say is love is not supposed to hurt.
And Oregon isnt alone: Vermont, Colorado, Washington, California and Virginia are also looking into decriminalizing drugs.
I think more people are looking at this than people realize because everyone recognizes that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, she says. So let's stop investing in that and let's actually start investing in community well-being.
Julia Corcoranproduced and edited this interview for broadcast withTodd Mundt.Allison Haganadapted it for the web.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 11:08 am
Nathan Crabbe| Opinion editor
Americas longest war needs to finally come to an end.
No, not the war in Afghanistan, although U.S. military involvement there has thankfully been winding down after nearly two decades.
Im referring to another massively expensive and ultimately futile effort by the federal government. Nearly 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon declared an all-out offensive on drug abuse that would come to be called the "war on drugs."
The declaration ushered in an era of mass incarceration that failed to prevent drug abuse, instead devastating communities that it was supposed to help. In recent years reformers have thankfully moved to decriminalize drug possession and properly treat addiction like a public health issue.
Reforms have been made to marijuana laws across the country, with marijuana fully legal for adults in 11 states and legal for medical purposes in 34 states. Now Oregon is going further with a drug decriminalization measure that voters passed in November and took effect Feb. 1.
The measure reclassifies the possession of small amounts of drugs including cocaine and heroin as a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine, which offenders can avoid by agreeing to a health assessment. It also directs more funding to drug treatment.
At the same time, the federal government appears poised to change its approach as well. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in December to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, which leaders of the newly Democratic Senate recently indicated they support.
Here in Florida, similar changes are unlikely (unless voters force the issue, like they did in legalizing medical marijuana by passing a 2016 ballot measure). The state Legislature did legalize industrial hemp in 2019, which had the unintended consequences of causing prosecutors to drop marijuana cases because labs and drug-sniffing dogs couldnt tell the difference.
Alachua County and Gainesville commissioners have long advocated for local reforms, with mixed success. Former State Attorney Bill Cervone pushed back against their attempts to decriminalize pot possession and instead created his own pre-arrest deflection program, which allows his office to keep certain low-level offenses out of the criminal justice system.
But Cervone and the city of Gainesville were unable to agree on a memorandum of understanding on the program, leaving the task to his successor, Brian Kramer. After city commissioners expressed frustration about the situation at a recent meeting, Kramer wrote a letter questioning why the agreement has been held up and saying that he was open to expanding the program.
No one should be jailed or face other criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs. Expanding the local pre-arrest program is a good step, as long as determining who is eligible is being done equitably.
But local, state and federal officials need to go even further and ensure that addiction is treated as a public health matter rather than a criminal justice issue. The war on drugs has wasted enough money and lives.
Nathan Crabbe is The Suns opinion and engagement editor.
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Posted: at 11:08 am
A new coalition of progressive groups is calling on New Jersey officials to decriminalize drugs in a bid to redirect funds used on policing and incarceration back to communities.
Abolish The Drug War New Jersey the coalition founded by a bevy of progressive groups, including New Jersey Policy Perspective, the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, the Latino Action Network, Fair in New Jersey and the state branch of the ACLU, among otherswants to strip criminal penalties from drug use and focus those funds toward local groups in communities of color.
Criminalization of drugs has only served to increase police violence, stigmatize drug use, and limit future opportunities through criminal penalties, which disproportionately impact Black and brown people. To achieve meaningful racial and social justice in New Jersey, we must take a public health and restorative justice approach in addressing drug possession and use, ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said.
State lawmakers in December approved a bill reducing penalties for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms and are jockeying over bills to decriminalize and legalize recreational marijuana use. Gov. Phil Murphy has yet to sign the mushrooms bill.
The coalition hopes to enable programs to reduce harm in such communities and help release inmates held on drug crimes that have historically disproportionately targeted Black and Brown residents.
New Jersey lawmakers must understand that, for decades, oppressive drug laws have dehumanized and harmed the very communities they are sworn to serve, New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy said. The people of this state support decriminalization efforts as we saw most recently in Novembers election. Now its time for Trenton to step up to the plate and build a system that addresses drug use with humanity, compassion, and restoration.
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Posted: at 11:08 am
The war on COVID-19 has a lot in common with the war on drugs. Just as it is unrealistic to believe we can ever achieve a drug-free society, it is unrealistic to believe we can achieve a COVID-free society. While case numbers seem to be ebbing right now, and vaccinations are revving up, the risk remains that new, more virulent and contagious strains will emerge, resistant to the vaccines and to the immunity derived from having already been infected. Humans are social animals, and as people resume the in-person interactions they psychologically need and crave, new outbreaks are prone to occur.
This pandemic has a way to go before it runs its course. Even then, we can expect COVID-19 to remain a part of life for the foreseeable future.
It is time to embrace a strategy long advocated by reformers who deal with risky substance use and addiction: harm reduction. Harm reduction is nonjudgmental. It focuses on reducing the harm associated with the use of certain drugs and away from an abstinence-based approach that so often fails. Harm reduction is not a difficult concept for medical practitioners to grasp. When doctors prescribe medications to overweight, borderline diabetic, hypertensive patients who are unable or unwilling to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to correct their health problems, they are practicing harm reduction.
In the case of substance use, harm reduction uses methods such as needle exchange or syringe services programs, safe consumptions sites, anonymous drug testing for contaminants and potency, and medication-assisted treatment for dependency or addiction with drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine, or even pharmaceutical-grade heroin to prevent withdrawal and stabilize life.
It is unrealistic to believe COVID-19 can be eradicated. Only one virus that infects humans has ever been eradicatedsmallpoxand that took 200 years. The likelihood is that COVID-19 will become endemic, making oscillating or seasonal appearances. Dealing with this reality via oscillating lockdowns is unsustainable.
We have already seen some of the harms resulting from the abstinence-based approach to the pandemic. These harms are not only economic, though poverty is a social determinant of health. Children are losing out on developing critical social and cognitive skills due to school closures, and poor children in inner cities have been hit the hardest. Children and adults are experiencing mental health deterioration. Suicides are increasing, as are drug overdoses. Many illnesses are going undiagnosed that will lead to increases in late-stage cancer and other medical problems in coming years. Income disparities are widening. Pockets of rebellion against pandemic policies are multiplying and respect for public health and governmental institutions is fading.
We need to move away from an abstinence-based approach and adopt measures that allow us to return to as much of a normal life as possible.
A key harm reduction tactic is vaccination. Even as new variants develop, the immunity derived from vaccination or from previous infection means that a recurrent COVID-19 infection is much less likely to be severe or require hospitalization. Vaccination also reduces spread by moving the population toward herd immunity. As vaccinations increase, it becomes reasonable for people to resume dinner parties, home gatherings, and other social activities providing all involved have been immunizedeither with a vaccine or by having survived infection.
Coexisting with the virus means mask-wearing will still make sense in dense crowds with unknown people who might be carrying the virus. And we should keep our distance from vulnerable friends or family members when outbreaks occur. It also means frequent hand-washing. This might be a good time to abandon the handshake for good.
A centrally planned, one-size-fits-all approach will be inequitable and ineffective. Government should provide updated and accurate information so that individuals and private organizations can devise their own best practices. Restaurants, theaters, shops, and other places of business should have leeway to develop their own evidence-based safety measures, free of micromanagement from governmental authorities. The consuming public will reward or punish these establishments based on results. The same goes for protecting the most vulnerable, such as those in nursing homes. Public health agencies should provide useful guidance but should minimize micromanagement.
As hospital wards and intensive care units begin to decompress and the number of newly confirmed cases heads down, this is a good time to think about how to live in a world in which COVID-19 is endemicone in which viral flare-ups are inevitable. If we look at the future through the lens of harm reduction then hopefully these flare-ups will mean just a temporary inconvenience from a flu-like or cold-like illness for the overwhelming majority of us.
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The PNP Chiefs’ Scorecard on the War on Drugs; Bato Tops in the Number of Kills – Vera Files – Vera Files
Posted: at 11:08 am
On January 31, 2021, Sen. Ronald Bato dela Rosa told the press that he was optimistic he will soon have a new US visa.
A year earlier, he confirmed to the media that his US visa was canceled. Neither he nor the US embassy in Manila said why and when it happened. The senator surmised that his role in Pres. Rodrigo Dutertes drug war may have been the reason behind it.
In pique, or so he made it appear, President Duterte abrogated the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US -- a decision that has not really taken effect since he eventually backtracked and suspended the termination of the VFA.
Dela Rosa was Dutertes chief of the Philippine National Police when drug-related killings reached unprecedented scale. That Duterte has almost thrown away a key security agreement in defense of his former PNP chief, speaks not only of the closeness of Dela Rosa and Duterte but of how invested this presidency is in the PNP chief in waging war on drugs.
Table 1. Summary of drug-related killings per PNP Chief.
Since the start of the Duterte administration in July 2016, five PNP chiefs have taken their turn in leading Dutertes war on illegal drugs: Dela Rosa, Oscar David Albayalde, Archie Francisco Gamboa, Camilo Cascolan, and Debold Sinas.
On average, these are the numbers of those killed in the drug war during each PNP chiefs term: under dela Rosa, three every day, under Albayalde, two; under Gamboa, one; under Cascolan, one; and under Sinas, as of December 2020 at least, two a day. This is from the data gathered for the project, Violence, Human Rights, and Democracy in the Philippines by the UP Third World Studies Center and the Department of Conflict and Development Studies of the University of Ghent. These averages are a conservative count that are based on media reports that rely mostly on the police as the primary source of information.
But there appears to be a significant number of drug-related killings the media were not able to report. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, on January 30, 2021 reported that from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2020 there were 6,011 persons who died during anti-drug operations. The project, on the other hand, recorded 3,470 drug-related killings.
Each PNP chief made his own calculations on how best to conduct Dutertes war on drugs. What remains clear is that, based on our data, the number of minor players (pushers and users) killed far outnumbers those designated as high-value targets. The ratio stands at 1:5.
Other important details: out of the 3,470 killings, 2,511 of the victims were killed by law enforcers either in official or unplanned anti-drug operations. There were 54 victims of non-state agents, 752 were killed by unidentified assailants, and 153 by unknown assailants.
Figure 1. Summary of drug-related killings during Ronald Bato Dela Rosas term as PNP Chief.
Of the five PNP chiefs that served Duterte, Dela Rosa, to date, served the longest: 656 days. His ties with Duterte go back to their Davao days, when Dela Rosa served as the citys police chief from January 2012 to October 2013. He implemented the prototype of Oplan Tokhang, then called Oplan TukHang, alongside Duterte as mayor. This operation sought to stop the illegal drug problem in the city by knocking at the house of each known drug suspect and pleading with them to surrender. In a Rappler report, dela Rosa, who staunchly believes that illegal drugs are the root of heinous crimes, claimed that it was a success. He said drugs in the city went down by 60 percent. This claim is put in doubt by a 2016 Philippine Star report that designated Davao CIty as the countrys murder capital from 2010 to 2015.
In the first month of Tokhangs implementation, with the PNP under Dela Rosas command, 310 persons were reported killed in official anti-drug operations and vigilante-style killings in the country. It remains the highest number of drug-related killings reported in a month.
In fact, one has reason to believe that drug killings committed by law enforcers intensified with the release of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1 Series of 2016 for Operation: Lawmen. It institutionalized rewards for law enforcers who conducted successful anti-drug operations.
Throughout Dela Rosas term, changes were made to refine Project Double Barrel. For instance, on October 26, 2016, Oplan Double Barrel Alpha was instituted as a reinvigorated anti-drug drive supposedly targeting high-value targets particularly in the entertainment and government sectors. Of those killed in the drug war during Dela Rosas term, six percent were identified as high-profile targets.
While this development in the PNPs operational plan does acknowledge 1,725 drug suspects killed in the preceding months, these served less a starting point for measures to prevent further killings. Instead, in an Inquirer report on the revitalized Double Barrel project, PNPs then Director for Operations Camilo Cascolan, who also later became PNP chief, restarted the casualty count on October 26. He said this will give the drug war a fresh start and for enforcers to do their best again just like from the start.
A lot have happened in between Double Barrel Alpha and its succeeding iteration Double Barrel Reloaded. For one, South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo was kidnapped and killed by members of the PNP inside the police national headquarters. This prompted Duterte to suspend Tokhang operations for a month and a half (January 30, 2017 - March 16, 2017).
Dela Rosa told the public safety and order committee of the House of Representatives on March 14, 2017 that Reloaded will be less bloody by rooting out what he called scalawags cops using the campaign to kill drug peddlers who might expose their involvement in the drug trade.
By the end of Dela Rosas term as PNP chief on April 17, 2018, at least 1,864 individuals were killed in official anti-drug operations and vigilante-style killings.
Information on the victims drug involvement often comes from police investigations, and inclusion in a drug watchlist is treated as evidence of links to illegal drugs. Under Dela Rosa, the police used 1,711 sources of information regarding the victims ties to the drug trade prior to the killing. In many cases, there were multiple sources, hence the total exceeds the number of victims slain by the police. Fifty-three percent or 914 were sourced from prior or ongoing investigations on the victim. Twenty-three percent or 398 came from a drug watchlist. The rest were gathered from records of previous arrests, convictions, or surrenders in drug-related crimes, as well as from an informant or from unidentified sources. Links of 280 victims to the illegal drug trade were unreported.
This staggering record of drug-related killings under Dela Rosas watch as PNP Chief, especially those where police were involved, has raised concerns from local and international human rights groups and media about the integrity of the police to spearhead the anti-drug campaign.
Dela Rosa should have left office on January 21, 2018 as he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. However, Duterte ordered him to stay indefinitely, citing problems still to be solved inside PNP. Dela Rosas term lasted until April 18, 2018. He was then assigned to head the Bureau of Corrections, to supposedly put a stop to the drug trafficking inside national prisons. He then ran and won as senator in the 2019 elections.
Figure 2. Summary of drug-related killings during Oscar David Albayaldes term as PNP Chief. Percentages are rounded and 0 pertains to a value greater than 0 but less than 0.5.
Dela Rosa personally recommended to Duterte then National Capital Region Police (NCRPO) Chief Oscar Albayalde to be his successor. They were batchmates and both belonged to the Philippine Military Academy Sinagtala Class of 1986. Albayade was reportedly chosen because he was tough and strict--just what the police needed according to Duterte. It was during his term as NCRPO chief that the whole Caloocan police was sacked for the murder of 17-year-old student Kian delos Santos and other unsolved killings.
On the day of his appointment as the new PNP chief, Duterte reminded Albayalde to further promote the governments war on drugs.
During his term from April 18, 2018 to October 13, 2019, a total of 1,096 drug-related killings were recorded -- a number comparable to figures recorded during Batos term. This is in spite of the PNPs release on January 29, 2018 of new Tokhang implementing guidelines that appear to ensure that the propensity to kill is suppressed, and cops who abuse their power are held accountable.
Its key provisions include: complying with the rule of law and human rights; the participation of representatives from the barangay council, human rights group, or the religious sector; encouraging use of body cameras; and for Tokhang teams to not engage hostile suspects. Furthermore, in a Sunstar report, PNP spokesperson Dionardo Carlos said that a one-strike policy will be observed, meaning a single violation of the guidelines by a Tokhang team would result in their precinct commander being relieved from his post.
Still an overwhelming 90 percent or 987 of the reported killings were committed by law enforcers. Cases involving the PNP as assailant make up 968 cases or 88 percent of those killed.
Of those killed by the police under Albayaldes term, a little over 99 percent or 963 were reportedly involved in drugs. In the five or less than one percent that were not reportedly involved, these include the deaths of Gian Habal and Kateleen Myka Ulpina, age six and three respectively, who were caught in the crossfires of police operations.
To establish the victims drug involvement, 1,105 sources were tapped. Eighty percent or 883 of these sources were prior or ongoing investigations on the victim, while 12 percent or 135 were drug watchlists. The rest were drawn from records of previous arrests, convictions, or surrenders for drug-related offences, reports from informants or unidentified sources. In 70 cases, it was not reported how the police determined the victims drug links.
Albayaldes supposed strict and strong leadership, however, apparently did not apply to men close to him. During a police anti-drug operation in 2013, when he was still the provincial chief in Pampanga, police officers dubbed as ninja cops, engaged in bribery with drug suspects and took more than 200 kilos of shabu. Albayalde was allegedly aware of this practice but even gave those involved in the anomalous raid favorable positions inside the agency. He, however, repeatedly denied these allegations in the Senate probe of the said incident.
Albayalde resigned as PNP chief on October 14, 2019, a few days before the end of his term on October 29, 2019. He went on a non-duty status until his mandatory retirement age at 56 on November 8, 2019. On January 16, 2020, he and the 12 police involved in the recycling of drugs in Pampanga were charged with graft.
This issue further tainted the PNPs reputation, and placed immense pressure on the next PNP chief to clean their name while still ardently putting the fight against illegal drugs at the forefront of operations.
Figure 3. Summary of drug-related killings during Archie Francisco Gamboas term as PNP Chief. Percentages are rounded and 0 pertains to a value greater than 0 but less than 0.5.
To fill the vacuum in leadership, the PNPs deputy chief of administration, Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa was named officer-in-charge on October 14, 2019. Duterte officially appointed him as PNP chief on January 20, 2020. Gamboa is a lawyer who belongs to same PMA class as the other 3 appointed PNP chiefs under Duterte. He is also known as one of the Davao cops and a close friend of Dela Rosa.
Gamboa said as the PNP chief and as a lawyer, he wanted that everything shall be above board and compliant with the requirements of due process, human rights, transparency, and public accountability. Like the other PNP chiefs, he vowed to intensify the war against drugs even amidst a pandemic. He was quoted as saying he would like to focus on high-value targets.
Reports would still show, however, that pushers comprise a large majority of the casualties --195 victims or 72 percent. Only 11 percent.or 29 victims were high-profile targets. Nonetheless, the drug war numbers under Gamboas watch seem to back his words. Compared to his two predecessors, a higher ratio of high-profile targets to pushers were killed during his term. The number of high-value or high-profile targets killed reached 11 percent compared to his predecessors six percent.
Information against the victims were gathered from 329 sources. Eighty-one percent or 265 of these were prior or ongoing investigations on the victim. Sixteen percent or 50 of these were a drug watchlist, three percent were their records of previous drug arrests, convictions, or surrenders.
Majority of the cases were recorded while the country was under the government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. In a previous Vera Files report, we recorded 53 drug-related killings from March 15 to May 5, 2020. Human Rights Watch reported a 50 percent rise in drug-related deaths in the country during lockdown from April to July 2020 compared to December 2019 to March 2020, based on the #RealNumbersPH data. Drug-related killings continue to press on as lockdowns ceaselessly get extended.
On September 2, 2020, Gamboa retired from his post. Many parts of the country remained under community quarantine then.
Figure 4. Summary of drug-related killings during Camilo Cascolans term as PNP Chief.
Because of his age, Gen. Camilo Cascolan served as PNP chief for only about two months before reaching mandatory retirement age on November 10, 2020. He took over from Gamboa on September 3, 2020. He was also part of the PMA Sinagtala Class of 1986.
Cascolan said that he will not allow human rights violations in the implementation of the anti-drug campaign under his watch, and that they will focus on high profile targets, in line with Oplan Double Barrel. He admitted that Oplan Tokhang, when it was implemented by some officers of the Philippine National Police became problematic, thats why there are a lot of cases that we are having right now against those PNP personnel who have violated the rule of law and human rights. Given his two-month term, Cascolan focused on building the capacities of drug enforcement units to collar high value targets as well as mitigate the abuse of power.
Under his watch, drug-related killings persisted as a result of both official anti-drug operations and vigilante-style killings. In two months, 66 drug-related killings were recorded, 74 percent or 49 of which were committed by the PNP, sometimes hand-in-hand with other agencies.
Fifty-nine sources of information were used to determine their drug links. Seventy-eight percent or 46 cited prior or ongoing investigations, 10 percent or six drew from records of previous arrests, convictions, and surrenders, 8 percent or five were drug watchlists, and three percent or two were reports from informants.
Figure 6. Summary of drug-related killings from the start of Debold Sinas term as PNP Chief to December 31, 2020.
Succeeding Cascolan, President Duterte appointed then Metro Manila police chief Gen. Debold Sinas; a decision that has confounded and angered many due to his involvement in a controversy on May 8, 2020. Metro Manila cops held a birthday party for Sinas, effectively violating the ban on large gatherings they are tasked to enforce under quarantine.
His background would reveal an even more insidious legacy. Before becoming Metro Manilas police chief, he held the same position in Central Visayas from July 18 to October 2019. Under his term, the Commission of Human Rights office in that region was alarmed at the rise in drug-related killings in the area. His performance in carrying out Dutertes war on drugs apparently was a decisive factor in his appointment as the PNPs new police chief.
In an interview with DZMM Teleradyo on November 11, 2020, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ao relayed Duterte's orders for the new police chief: The President gave emphasis to the war on illegal drugs and on the CPP/NPA/NDF. According to a report by CNN Philippines on November 5, 2020, Sinas leadership intends to use the drug war to target illegal drug sources instead of small-time users. Like previous chiefs who vowed to achieve a similar goal, Sinass current figures point to a different story. Alarmingly, the numbers hint at a situation similar to what his leadership had wrought in Central Visayas.
From his appointment until the end of 2020, a mere month and a half into his term, we have recorded 82 drug-related killings. Police accounted for 78 percent or 64 of these killings, which were sometimes carried out alongside the AFP or PDEA.
While data confirms high-profile targets were killed more than users, given that no drug user was reportedly killed yet, small-time pushers at the lower level of the drug trade still outnumber high profile targets killed by about four to one. Pushers compose 64 percent or 41 of the killings involving the police under Sinas while high-profile targets make up 17 percent or 11 of these cases.
As for the sources of prior information on their involvement, 82 sources were referred to in total. Prior or ongoing investigations on the victims compose 73 percent or 60 of these. Ten percent or eight were records of previous arrests, convictions, or surrenders for illegal drug activities, nine percent or seven were acquired from drug watchlists, and another 9 percent or seven were unreported sources.
Table 2. Summary of drug-related killings committed by non-state agents and unidentified assailants.
Four and half-years into Dutertes six-year term and five PNP chiefs later, hardly mentioned as a problem that must be solved were the killings reported to have been committed by non-state agents and unidentified assailants. The PNP chiefs, past and present, may swear to police their rank, to focus on high-value targets, but the still significant number of those killed in the drug war other than by armed state agents portrays the PNP leadership as ineffectual.
As worrisome is the data that most of the fatalities were known to the police as they have been previously investigated for involvement in the drug trade. This lends credence to a number of investigative reports alleging the PNP is contracting out the killings of drug personalities.
After four and a half years, the monthly and yearly tally of those killed in the drug war have indeed decreased. But the drop in fatalities seem to have no impact on the class of people getting killed. Despite repetitive pledges by PNP chiefs to get the bigger fishes of the illegal drug trade, low-level pushers still bear the greater brunt of this lethal campaign.
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War on use of mushrooms, cacti and ayahuasca has been called off in Cambridge by council order – Cambridge Day
Posted: at 11:08 am
Psilocybin mushrooms, an entheogenic plant, growing wild in Redding, California. (Photo: D.C.Atty via Flickr)
There was an easy win Monday in support of following the decriminalization of marijuana with decriminalizing entheogenic plants, which include such things as mushrooms, cacti and ayahuasca all natural substances that can be used recreationally as drugs, but also as treatment for medical conditions and addictions.
The City Council agreed 8-1 with an order written by councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler that the city make arresting adults with such substances amongst the lowest law enforcement priority (and that the city should call on the Middlesex County District Attorney to stop related prosecutions) and that no money or resources should go into such law enforcement efforts. Instead, the order calls for use and possession to be looked at in the context of public health.
The holdout was councillor Tim Toomey, who didnt offer his thoughts on the matter. But in offering approval, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councillor Dennis Carlone said they were grateful for how educational the motion had been.
Though entheogenic plants and substances have been used for hundreds of years for spiritual purposes, research has shown they have benefits for conditions such as PTSD, depression and for treating addictions to heroin and other opioids, which are on the rise during the pandemic, Sobrinho-Wheeler said.
The city, of course, cant legalize any drugs on our own thats up to the state and the federal government. But the city can deprioritize enforcement. The Department of Justice has made very clear that municipalities have this power, Sobrinho-Wheeler said, noting that Somerville had recently passed a similar measure with the support of its mayor and legal department. For this resolution, I reached out to [our] city manager, the solicitor and the police commissioner, and none had objections.
Science, psychotherapy and industry
Several people spoke during public comment about the move all in favor, and often on a scientific and financial basis.
The field of biotechnology itself owes a great deal to psychedelic-inspired scientific creativity, said Nicholas White, of Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, citing the double-helix structure of DNA, the invention of polymerase chain reaction and even the PCR test being used to test for Covid-19 infections. He said the industry had spent more than $500 million in 2019 on related work: engineering cannabinoids that produced bacteria. The Cambridge community in general will benefit, and then the biotech community specifically.
Francis Guerriero, a psychotherapist, said he had extensive experience in drug-related therapies and saw benefits and no detriments for his patients, while Boston resident Mike Overstreet said he knew two people in research trials with entheogenic drugs who had seen great results for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
We all know that the war on drugs has been a complete and utter failure, with policies that needlessly put police in harms way and doesnt just ruin lives, but ruins households and neighborhoods for generations to come, Overstreet said.
Also, Overstreet said, this really looks like its gonna be the next industry, following cannabis.
This post was updated Feb. 5, 2021, to correct that the biotechnology had investedmore than $500 million in 2019 on work related to entheogenic, not any specific company.
Please consider making a financial contribution to maintain, expand and improve Cambridge Day.
Posted: at 11:08 am
Since Mexicos drug war was declared in 2006, the tallies of the dead and disappeared have surpassed 250,000.
The past three years have been some of the most violent in Mexicos recorded history. It is no longer just drugs driving the violence. Cartels have turned to kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking and semi-legal enterprises with high profit margins and lower risks as part of their portfolios. This more diversified business model has proven just as deadly and it corrodes already-weak criminal justice institutions.
At the core of reimagining policies to help our Southern neighbor should be achieving robust government institutions and stronger rule of law. There are mountains of challenges in tackling these two issues. One of the criminal acts that affect the majority of Mexicans today is extortion.
There are several good reasons for shifting the focus to extortion over drugs. For starters, the war on drugs has been a failure. Focused mainly on a supply-side set of policies on both sides of the border, Mexico and the U.S. (through a foreign assistance package known as the Mrida Initiative) have militarized the fight against drug trafficking. These included the kingpin strategy of capturing cartel leaders and extraditing them to the U.S. This strategy led to the splintering of criminal organizations: from six in 2006 to nine large ones, approximately 24 medium-sized ones and up to 200 smaller groups today. Later versions of The Mrida Initiative recognized that providing resources to the military option (mostly equipment and hardware) did not work, but it set aside little if any funds for judiciary and law enforcement. Given that only about 10 percent of crimes get reported to law enforcement, the need to tackle organized criminals penchant for extortion is imperative.
Lawmakers on both sides of the border have relegated the issue of extortion to the margins, even though corrupt law enforcement collaborate with cartels in the practice. Demands for protection payments are wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of small and medium business owners in a range of locales, such as Celaya and Tijuana in Mexico. Finding little relief in law enforcement due to ineptitude, lack of resources or officers working at the behest of cartels, victims turn to each other to organize self-defense groups. In the worst-case scenario, business owners close shops and families move away. In some cases, they are killed. Mexican President Lpez Obradors security cabinet has continued to neglect the growing epidemic of extortion. His administration reduced or eliminated funding to state level anti-corruption offices intended to root out law enforcement officers benefiting from extortion this, despite the fact that he has focused a great deal of attention on national level anti-corruption initiatives. He has gone so far as to threaten to bring formal charges against former presidents. Such political gambits provide little relief to the victims of extortion.
We need to adopt a two-pronged policy to tackle extortion in Mexico. The first prong would recognize the realities of what it is like to live in an environment where many mid-tier and smaller cartels have branched into extortion and kidnapping because the two generate a quick and localized stream of money. Trafficking drugs is expensive and requires a great deal of logistics on the ground that these smaller criminal players do not have access to. They resort to extortion until they get access. U.S. officials can support Lpez Obrador with tools to boost intelligence capabilities as his government pursues these criminals as well as equipment and training to adequately investigate and prosecute them. The second prong of such a policy recognizes that extortion is facilitated by the routine entrenchment of impunity and corruption. Officials who are complicit in or tolerate such practices at municipal, regional and federal levels of government have to be held accountable.
To address extortion, U.S. officials, along with others in the international community, should encourage the government of Lpez Obrador to go beyond the political theatre of targeting former presidents for corruption and, instead, encourage him to set up an independent anti-corruption commission with teeth.
The playbook for such a commission is already in place in the recently defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala(CICIG). Across its 12 years in operation, this United Nations-backed body set the benchmark for what such a commission could do to tackle impunity in highly effective ways, bringing down a slew of high-ranking Guatemalan government officials on charges of corruption. They were so effective that the Guatemalan president opted not to renew its mandate, making the CICIG victims of their own success.
A similar, even more robust body in Mexico would begin the process of transforming the culture of impunity and signaling to individuals inside and outside of government that corrupt practices, such as facilitating extortion, will no longer be tolerated.
Taking on extortion as a more of a discrete problem than wholesale organized crime focuses official efforts on more manageable and realistic targets. Yes, the longer term and less evident incentives of institution building may not have the satisfying short-term results of military options, but they are more likely to improve the security situation in Mexico and, by extension, U.S.-Mexico relations.
Dr. Gladys McCormick is an associate professor and Jay and Debe Moskowitz chair in Mexico-US Relations at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
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Posted: at 11:08 am
For more than 50 years, America has been fighting the war on drugs, an endeavor that began under the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, who had the avowed purpose of arresting and incarcerating as many Blacks and other minorities as possible, especially for simple possession of marijuana.
The war on drugs has been a failure by any measure. Not only have we spent hundreds of billions of dollars on failed law enforcement efforts both in this country and around the globe, directly leading to the destabilization of many nations that has had profound effects both for those countries and ours, but it is fair to say that the drug war has destroyed the lives of more individuals, families, and communities than the drugs themselves.
Thanks to the war on drugs, the prison population in the United States exceeds every other nation on earth, both in terms of sheer numbers and based on population.
At long last, after 50 years of fruitless and costly failure, things are about to change.
Voters in the State of Oregon recently approved a ballot question that decriminalizes the possession of illegal drugs. Instead of throwing people in jail, the state will view drug use as a health issue, offering addicts treatment instead of prison time.
In Portugal, this approach has been used for 20 years. The result has been stunning. Drug overdose deaths and HIV and other drug-related infections have decreased dramatically. In addition, the removal of criminal penalties did NOT increase the rate of drug use.
The time has come for our society to acknowledge that the war on drugs, which was based on racism to begin with, must come to an end.
Oregon is leading the way and change is coming none too soon.
Posted: at 11:08 am
(Photo courtesy Claire Rich)
Ahhh, college. A time for learning, growing and maturing but also, a time for partying. Though not every college student partakes, the U.S. college experience is commonly associated with party-drinking and drug use (although this year is certainly different, considering COVID-19). While each school is unique, marijuana is the most prevalent drug on college campuses across the U.S. and as of 2019, its use is at the highest its been in 35 years among college students.
Marijuana has been in the news as of late due to recent legalization efforts. As of Jan. 16, 15 states have legalized marijuana use for adults, and 36 have legalized marijuanas use for medical purposes for those 21 and over.
Despite these legalization efforts, marijuana continues to be a source of mass imprisonment amongst the Black community. Despite comprising five percent of the worlds population, the U.S. holds 20 percent of the worlds prison population. In 2015, 80 percent of those residing in federal prison were Black or Latinx. An estimated 40,000 Americans are currently incarcerated due to marijuana-related charges.
Statistically, people of color are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use/possession despite Black and white people using marijuana at equal rates. As of 2010 in Iowa, D.C., Minnesota and Illinois, Black people were up to seven and a half times as likely to be arrested for the possession of marijuana.
In her novel The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes, Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.
The collateral damage of a marijuana conviction varies by situation, but it can lead to: loss of federal aid, loss of drivers license, felony disenfranchisement or even deportation. The booming marijuana industry is now worth billions of dollars, despite the massive number of people of color that are still serving prison sentences or have otherwise suffered from the collateral damage of various marijuana-related charges.
With the aforementioned statistics in mind, its clear that legalization is a social justice issue. That being said, our nation has to be extremely careful with how we undertake marijuana reformwe must keep racial justice at the forefront of our collective psyche.
A lot of people, with good intentions, are in favor of legalization because they view it as the end-all-be-all for racially motivated mass incarceration. In reality, people of color being imprisoned disproportionately for marijuana charges is just one of the many examples of inequality within our criminal INjustice system. The United States justice system is made up of two entirely different systems: one for the rich, white and powerful, and one for the poor, Black/brown and oppressed. To engage in productive drug reform, our nation must acknowledge that legalization does not simply solve the problem of racial inequality within our criminal justice system.
If not handled correctly, legalization efforts can exacerbate other systematic disparities. Liquor stores are a good model for what marijuana shops could become for low-income communities. Roughly eight times more liquor stores exist in low-income communities, heavily populated by people of color, in comparison to wealthier, whiter communities. Individuals living in these disadvantaged neighborhoods, with higher access to liquor stores, report more negative work, legal and health consequences than those in affluent neighborhoods.
If legalization is not handled correctly, low-income neighborhoods may become oversaturated with marijuana shops, as we can see with the number of liquor stores oversaturating these communities of color. This can already be seen in Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington: 40 to 45 percent of marijuana shops reside in communities where the average earnings fall into the bottom 25th percentile. People, specifically people of color, living in these communities will endure the negative impacts (i.e. potential memory loss, problems with learning, attention issues) of marijuana more intensely than those in affluent neighborhoods, which will only worsen racial inequality in our nation today.
As such, equitable marijuana policy must include the removal of criminal penalties for possession and marijuana use. However, its possible that legalization could simply exacerbate current systemic injustices. Therefore, lawmakers must be aware of the potential side effects that legalization may cause.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has publicly supported the legalization of marijuana, which I agree with, and they envision a nation where legalization is understood as just one solution to a symptom of systematic racism and mass incarceration, not a one-size-fits-all solution that resolves the roots of the issue of racism. So, what does equitable marijuana reform look like?
To start, all those incarcerated for marijuana convictions must be released and their criminal records expunged; in this day and age, a criminal record is a massive barrier to leading a productive life. No one formerly incarcerated on marijuana-related charges should have to carry the burden of a criminal record. Youth offenses should never result in criminal intervention. Instead, states should focus on fact-based education on drug use; too often, youth drug education is centered around fostering fear. Its vital that policies are made to enforce equal distribution of marijuana shops, as opposed to them being oversaturated in communities of color, like liquor shops. Most importantly, all collateral consequences must be abolished, and lawmakers must ensure that people of color have equal access to the legal marijuana marketplace.
All of these policies will help ensure that legalization does not worsen the factors that contribute to racial injustice in America today. The legalization of marijuana is only one small step towards tackling the larger system of injustice perpetuated through mass incarceration.
If youre looking to get more involved or educated on the issue of mass incarceration, I highly recommend joining the Vanderbilt Prison Project (VPP). VPP is an organization dedicated to providing support to those affected by mass incarceration, organizing awareness campaigns to increase education on criminal justice issues and working towards creating significant change within Nashvilles prison system. As a current member of VPPs 2021 exec board, Im more than happy to discuss equitable marijuana and criminal justice reform further with anyone interested.
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Posted: at 11:08 am
We, in India, are debating one health crisis by bringing science and research to the foreground and, strangely, throwing science out of the window while debating another health-related disaster.Bring up the topic of the Covid-19 pandemic and the debate immediately shifts to the vaccine, the speed at which it has been developed and whether enough science has gone into it to make it safe. But bring up drug abuse in the country, and the focus immediately shifts to Sushant Singh Rajput, who was responsible for his untimely death and how many more film stars are likely to be questioned for smoking ganja. We dont ask how serious the drug problem is nationally, which states are worst affected, and whether we have adopted the right approach to fighting the menace.
If you believe that drug abuse cant be compared to the Covid-19 pandemic, do browse through Indias first-ever large-scale, nationwide survey of drug abuse, published in 2019 just before Covid-19 reached India. The Magnitude of Substance Abuse in India report by AIIMS Delhis National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre has established that there are roughly 63 lakh people in the country addicted to heroin and 25 lakh to pharmaceutical opioids. Another 50 lakh people are addicted to cannabis and 40 lakh to bhang.
And we havent even come to alcohol, which has roughly 5.7 crore people who have problems related to drinking while 2.9 crore who are dependent on it. Keep in mind that these numbers represent only the addicted and those with related problems. The actual number of drug and alcohol users is much higher.
By comparison, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen roughly 1.05 crore cases so far. Most of these people have recovered with the number of active cases till mid-January 2021 being a little more than two lakh across India. In sheer numbers, the drug abuse problem in India is worse than Covid-19. But the intention here is not to undermine the severity of pandemic. It is to highlight the fact that we have a serious drug abuse problem on our hands and to find a solution, we will need more than just a momentary emotional outburst over a film stars death.
Talk to authors of the AIIMS report and they will tell you some home truths. One, attempts to stop supply of drugs with brute policing have failed spectacularly around the world. The US War on Drugs is the best example. Trying to cut drug supply lines only led to a dramatic increase in the street price of drugs, encouraging smugglers to pump in greater quantities of deadlier drugs into the US.
This could be happening in India as well. Findings indicate that despite the existence of strict drug control laws and a multitude of agencies working towards drug supply control, a wide variety of the controlled drugs are being used and a sizeable number of Indians suffer from addiction to these drugs, the AIIMS report says. Results also indicate a shift in demand for psychoactive substances, from traditional, low-potency, plant-based products (opium) to more potent and processed products (heroin).
Instead, the focus should be on reducing drug demand. Countries like Portugal have decriminalised drug consumption. People caught with drugs for personal use are not sent to jail. Instead, they are counselled and provided mental health care support. It has led to a reduction in addicts.
Two, governments often get bogged down with the total number of people using drugs. Instead, they should focus on drug use disorders. Taking drugs is not as much a problem as addiction is.
And three, governments must categorise various drugs by the problems they cause and then devise a plan. Chasing ganja users is a waste of time. The AIIMS survey shows that the major drug problem category for India is opioids, and among opioids heroin is the biggest concern. In fact, many experts feel that Indias drug supply control measures are disproportionately geared towards seizing minor drugs and jailing petty users rather than catching the big fish smuggling deadly heroin. As one expert told this writer in Hindi, Ye chindi chor pakadne wali baat hai (we are only catching small fry).
The AIIMS report also points to the severe paucity of treatment facilities for drug and alcohol addicts in the country and the need for regional strategies for prevention and treatment. Just one single national level plan may not help. The drug problem in Punjab may differ from Mizoram.
As a first step in this, AIIMS experts have helped the Union government kickstart the Nation Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction. But, this is just the beginning of the fight. Real change will come when we, the citizens, will discuss drug demand reduction like we are discussing the merits and demerits of Covishield and Covaxin.
Views expressed above are the author's own.
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