by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the
government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be
enforced." — Albert Einstein
Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, And Nick Gillespie Have Intense Discussion About Operation Fast and Furious
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran a series of “gunwalking” sting operations between 2006 and 2011. This was done under the umbrella of Project Gunrunner, a project intended to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico by interdicting straw purchasers and gun traffickers within the United States. “Gunwalking” or “letting guns walk” was a tactic whereby the ATF knowingly allowed thousands of guns to be bought by suspected arms traffickers (“gunrunners”) working through straw purchasers on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.
The stated goal of allowing these purchases was to continue to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key figures in Mexican cartels, in theory leading to their arrests and the dismantling of the cartels. The tactic was questioned during the operations by a number of people, including ATF field agents and cooperating licensed gun dealers. Operation Fast and Furious, by far the largest “gunwalking” probe, led to the sale of over 2,000 firearms, of which nearly 700 were recovered as of October 20, 2011. A number of straw purchasers have been arrested and indicted; however, as of October 2011, none of the targeted high-level cartel figures has been arrested.
Firearms “walked” by the ATF have been found at violent crime scenes on both sides of the Mexico–United States border, including scenes involving the deaths of many Mexicans and at least one U.S. federal agent, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The “gunwalking” operations became public in the aftermath of Terry’s murder. Dissenting ATF agents came forward to Congress in response. As investigations have continued, the operations have become increasingly controversial in both countries, and diplomatic relations have been damaged as a result.
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Versus War on Drugs Debate: Is it time to end the war on drugs?
On March 13, 2012, Intelligence Squared hosted the first installment of Versus, the Google+ Debate Series: “It’s time to end the war on drugs.”
Participating in this debate were current and former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia; Sir Richard Branson; Russell Brand; representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Julian Assange; and more.
Regardless of whether this debate provides an accurate representation of the anti-legalization side, it’s interesting that even those in this debate who condemn drug use and reject legalization all agreed that treatment and rehabilitation are better alternatives to criminalizing drug users.
Another thing that struck me as a breakthrough is the increasing recognition and acceptance that drug users make up a significant portion of functioning, law-abiding citizens who (contrary to mainstream rhetoric) do not succumb to a life of addiction and crime. Participants pointed out that those occasional drug users should be left alone, as they tend to pose no harm to others. The individuals who need help are the addicts, and our resources would be better spent on treating these people for their disease (after all, alcoholism is considered a disease) rather than going after nonviolent, recreational drug users.
Despite this being a two hour long event, me and my sad excuse for an attention span were able to watch this debate from start to finish. I highly recommend it.
Peter Hitchens is a Mail on Sunday columnist and author, and Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks.
Peter Hitchens: Taking drugs is itself wrong, and that is why they are illegal. One of the reasons we don’t address this is because of the extreme selfishness of our society in which so many people imagine that their own pleasure trumps everything else. Julian Assange said that he was sovereign over his own body. Well, maybe he doesn’t have anybody who cares about him. But if your family has to put up with you after you have destroyed your mental health or in some other way deeply damaged yourself by taking drugs, then you and they will discover that you are not an island and that you have responsibilities to other people. If there is no other force apart from the law which will deter you from taking that semi-suicidal step, then the law needs to be there.
Moderator: Julian Assange, what do you make of Peter Hitchens’ statement?
Julian Assange: Well, I was just about to say, I couldn’t believe that you gave that twat the last word.
There’s a certain form of Calvinism about the different types of drugs that we see. For example, nicotine [and coffee], which make one work harder and work faster and burn out faster, are perfectly legal. But those drugs which make one relax or make one more imaginative, those drugs are made illegal. And that’s Western European Calvinism. Of course, we can all see the problems with severe heroin addiction, [and that] the solutions so far have not worked. So we need a time of sensible, scientific, regulatory experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t work.
Watch the debate here
Moderator: You heard from Sandeep Chawla (Deputy Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) that drug use would go up as a result of an end to the war on drugs. Can you [respond]?
Russell Brand: I suppose it’s kind of obvious that if something is more freely available, more people would do it. If we all lived in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, perhaps we would eat more chocolate. But what I’m saying is, the situation they’re describing is the one that currently exists. There is already prohibition against drugs, and it candidly, palpably, obviously isn’t working. And also, there’s no problem with people taking drugs if they’re not drug addicts. If people don’t have a drug problem, let them take drugs. The problem is some people have defective personalities, like me, that if they take drugs, it’s problematic…If we fundamentally categorize those people as criminals, that’s the wrong way of addressing it…We need to approach people altruistically and lovingly, not treat them as criminals. Because the inevitable social and criminal problems that come from drug use are a result of their criminalization. That’s the problem.
Watch the debate here
Did you see the debate? A debate with a host of celebrities: Russell Brand, Sir Richard Branson; world leaders, and eminent opinion formers. Oh, and Peter Hitchens was in attendance. A debate of such magnitude would surely not creep under the radar? Especially given the gravitas of the contested subject?
Under the heading of ‘The War on Drugs Has Failed’ - and hosted by Intelligence Squared, the debate is a must watch for anyone remotely interested in societal issues. Luckily, the full video will be available to view soon. The drugs debate has never been given such a platform, and it just goes to show how ripe the discussion now is.
A poll dovetailed the whole event, and the end results: 95% of the web vote, and 64.5% of the auditorium were in favour of reform. But there was some interesting subtext to the debate.
The panel were divided into for and against reform, and yet there was a large amount of common ground between the two sides. For example, it was almost unilaterally agreed upon that incarceration for drug users was no longer just. This in itself is a heartening step forward. Seemingly, there was also a popular consensus - from both sides - that cannabis really has no place in the ‘war on drugs’. The debate as a whole was centred around hard drugs.
Young, Black and Male in America | Room for Debate @ NYT
Would pulling back on draconian drug laws be enough to fix the disproportionate number of black men behind bars? What else needs to be done?
Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition was one of eight participants in yesterday’s debate: “Ending the drug war won’t be a cure-all for racial disparities in our society, but it is a necessary first step.”
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"If you want an example of just how mainstream [marijuana legalization] is becoming, take a look at the Costco Connection, a lifestyle magazine that is distributed to eight million Costco members and read by close to 20 million people. The March issue asks the question “Should Marijuana Be Legal?” with the Drug Policy Alliance’s executive director Ethan Nadelmann arguing yes and Robert DuPont, founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse arguing against.” (via Tony Newman for The Huffington Post)
Ron Paul’s comments on the drug war from Saturday’s NH debate
"I’m the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country. It’s in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites, and yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted, imprisoned, way disproportionately…If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws which are being so unfairly enforced."
Barney Frank Educates George Will and Paul Ryan on Marijuana Legalization
"It’s a great embarrassment for the conservatives that they want to tell people…’Who can I have sex with? Who can I marry? What can I read? What can I smoke?’ You guys—on the whole, not all of you—but the conservatives are the ones who intrude on personal liberty there."
Should the US Legalize Drugs?
Debate between Bush’s drug czar John Walters and Glenn Greenwald at Brown University
Allen St. Pierre of NORML and David Evans of the Drug Free America Foundation duke it out on MSNBC