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
The legacy of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured in a new documentary that premiered at the South by Southwest festival over the weekend. The modern-day Public Enemy Number One emerged from over a decade in hiding at his climactic arrest two weeks ago.
The film, Legend of Shorty, a collaboration between filmmaker Angus MacQueen and Peruvian journalist Guillermo Galdos, follows MacQueen and Galdos on their journey in search of Chapo. According to Guardian film critic Henry Barnes, the pair demonstrated “extraordinary access to the cartel” as they explored Mexico’s Golden Triangle, where they witnessed “batch loads of cocaine, meth and marijuana being prepared for transport” and “surreal meetings with Chapo’s inner circle, including a lunch date with his mum.”
The last line of the film is Galdos saying, “They got to him before he agreed to give us an interview.” The world’s biggest drug dealer was captured by authorities before the pair could sit down with him.
After over a decade of hiding, the notorious leader of the Sinaloa cartel — the biggest cartel in history, an operation responsible for trafficking an estimated 25% of the illegal drugs that enter the U.S. — was finally put behind bars in February.
Like everything else about him, the details about Chapo’s capture are pretty outlandish. The notorious drug pin, who has been ranked one of the most powerful people in the world by Forbes, has been living it up while Mexican authorities and the DEA were busting their buns trying to find him since he escaped from a high security prison in 2001.
He was captured at Mazatlán, a beach resort outside of Sinaloa, where authorities discovered he had spent his massive drug fortune on 16 houses, 43 vehicles, and four ranches. He was also packing major (and pricey) heat — with 97 long arms (like rifles and such), 36 handguns, two grenade launchers and a rocket launcher.
How did one of the world’s most wanted people manage to evade authorities for over a decade, despite living in such extravagant means? Tunnels — burrowed between seven of his houses, with steel doors connected to the shower of each of the homes. The first photo above shows one of these secret entrances to the tunnels.
Check out this video of a CNN reporter walking through Chapo’s underground tunnels
Watch a clip from Legend of Shorty
Mexican high school student Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo, 16, died from drinking highly concentrated liquid methamphetamine at a San Diego border crossing as he tried to persuade inspectors that it was only apple juice, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday.
The teen, described as “an average student” with “no discipline problems” by his principal at Cobach Siglo XXI, had been carrying a shoulder bag with two small bottles of the amber-colored liquid meth as he walked alone into the San Ysidro pedestrian crossing area from Mexico on Nov. 18. The bottles initially went undetected, but when he was asked about them a second time while in custody about visa issues, he took “a big sip” in an attempt to prove the liquid wasn’t meth. Shortly after, he began screaming in pain about “the chemicals,” yelling in Spanish, “My heart! My heart!” He died hours later at a hospital from acute meth intoxication.
Children are caught with meth several times a week at San Diego crossings, an “alarming increase” according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement representative. They are typically paid $50 to $200 a trip. To avoid detection, meth is dissolved in water and disguised in juice bottles, windshield wiper fluid containers, and gas tanks. It is later converted back to crystals.
This trend coincides with the increasing supply of Mexican meth in the U.S. San Ysidro, the port of entry Acevedo was passing through, is the nation’s busiest border crossing and has emerged as a major corridor for smuggling meth in the past five years as Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel has increased its presence in the area. The cartel dominates the Asia-Pacific-Mexico-U.S. meth trade, controlling 80% of the market, according to a Mexican security report released in April. Their estimated revenue from meth sales is about $3 billion a year.
Obama Reduces Sentences of Eight Crack Cocaine Offenders
President Barack Obama reduced the sentences of eight people convicted of crack cocaine offenses on Thursday, using his power of clemency to make a statement about what the administration believes is an overly punitive criminal justice system.
The eight men and women to whom he offered clemency had each already served more than 15 years in prison for drug offenses that did not involve violence. Most will now be released in April, and one, Ezell Gilbert of Florida, who was convicted in 1997 for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, will be released immediately.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama said in a statement, in reference to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, a law which significantly narrowed the enormous disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses but did not apply retroactively. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
To date, Obama has used his clemency powers far less than other presidents. Thursday’s announcement marks the first time a president has commuted sentences of a group of inmates who would have received much shorter sentences had they received their punishments under current laws and sentencing policies.
Thanks to The Guardian
Drug Conviction Can Lead to Lifetime Ban From Food Stamps and Welfare
Thanks to mid-90s drug paranoia, a felony drug charge could earn you a lifetime ban from federal assistance programs like food stamps and welfare. Back in 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, but few people were aware of an obscure provision that permanently bars anyone with a felony drug charge from receiving aid from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). While most states that chose to enforce the bans allow exemptions to people with minor drug charges or those who undertake a drug treatment program, 12 states still enforce a permanent zero-tolerance ban that has had a disproportionate effect on single moms and minorities.
Some might say the bans are fair because they apply only to the individual with the drug charge, and not the entire household. But the truth is that even if just one person in a household is banned, the rest of a family relying on federal assistance must share the burden of making up for this loss. And thanks to realities like single moms making up the majority of single-parent households and minorities disproportionately being arrested for drug crimes, they’re the groups taking the brunt of assistance bans as well.
Mexican Drug Cartel Selfies Show the Pouty Side of Crime
The drug war was bizarre and unsettling enough before we found out about these cartel selfies from “Broly Banderas,” who is allegedly a member of the Caballeros Templarios, or “Knights Templar” cartel. Apparently the Knights Templar love their social media and are as self-obsessed as the rest of us…except with more drugs and gory violence.
Krokodil Is Not Invading America
In the past month, sensational headlines about the arrival of the “flesh-eating, zombie apocalypse” drug, better known as krokodil, in the United States have caused a bit of a panic on this side of the world. Headlines like “Flesh-Eating ‘Zombie’ Drug ‘Kills You From the Inside Out” and “The Most Horrifying Drug in the World Comes to the U.S.” appeared to herald a chilling new age in America’s drug wars.
But according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, they have yet to see a confirmed case of krokodil — a morphine analogue that acts similarly to heroin but with a shorter high — in the U.S. and blames the krokodil hysteria on misinformation and myths propagated by the media. “To date none of our forensic labs have analyzed an exhibit that contain desomorphine,” Rusty Payne, a DEA spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “We have nothing to indicate that it’s out there.”
On September 23, two emergency room patients were sent to the Banner Poison Control Center, a private clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. They told Dr. Frank LeVecchio, the Center’s co-medical director, that they’d developed open sores after trying a drug called krokodil. Before waiting to receive the lab test results, LeVecchio spread the word to fellow toxicologists and the media. “As far as I know, these are the first cases of [krokodil] in the United States that are reported. So we’re extremely frightened," he told CBS5 in Phoenix. "Where there is smoke there is fire, and we’re afraid there are going to be more and more cases." Soon as you know it, Reuters and CNN had picked up the story, and the rest of the world ran with it.
According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at Phoenix House — a non-profit alcohol and drug rehab center — the alleged American krokodil cases are easily explained. ”We don’t have a krokodil epidemic, we have a heroin and painkiller epidemic,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is not a new problem. There are serious medical infections that come from injecting drugs.”
In Russia, krokodil has become the next best thing to heroin. Reports of its use there date back to 2003 when Russia started a major crackdown on heroin production and trafficking. Users resorted to a homemade alternative: krokodil, which is made by mixing lighter fluid, codeine, paint thinner, and eye drops, among other things. It earned its reptilian nickname by turning its users’ skin scaly, eating them from the inside, and rotting the brain and limbs before precipitating a painful death.
Thanks to The Daily Beast
Uruguay is poised to become the first nation to legalize and regulate the production, sale and consumption of weed. This would place Uruguay at the vanguard of liberal drug policies, surpassing even The Netherlands, where recreational drugs are illegal but a policy of tolerance is in place.
The bill, which was passed by Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies and will be taken up by the Senate, attempts to answer the questions that inevitably arise when debating drug policy: How will marijuana be regulated? Who will grow it? How can the country avoid cannabis tourism?
[…] The same debates about marijuana that exist in the United States — about medicinal properties, recreational use, the impact on the justice system — have been happening in Uruguay for a long time, according to Julio Calzada, secretary-general of the country’s National Committee on Drugs. The decision to push legislation to overhaul its drug policies did not come overnight.
"We have reflected on our problems," Calzada said, and the government felt that Uruguay’s tradition of tolerance and equality merited action on the marijuana issue.
Interestingly, it’s the government that’s pushing to legalize marijuana, not the people. Only 26% approve of the bill, while 63% oppose it, according to a recent poll of more than 1,000 Uruguayans. Calzada says the government “does not overlook public opinion” but believes it’s in the country’s best interest to go forward with the bill.
1. US Attorney General Eric Holder Gets “Smart On Crime”
US Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting last Monday in which he announced a major shift in criminal justice policy aimed at addressing unfairness in the justice system. Although the US has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners. Almost half of federal inmates are serving time on drug charges. “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder told NPR earlier this month. “There has been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”
The Justice Department sent a policy memorandum to all US attorney offices on Monday instructing federal prosecutors to exclude mention of specific quantities of illegal substances in their indictments for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no significant criminal history or ties to large-scale gangs or cartels. Additional new policies include increasing use of drug treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration and expanding a “compassionate release” program for inmates facing ”extraordinary circumstances” like old age or poor health who have served a significant part of their sentences and pose no threat to society. “We must face the reality that our system is, in too many ways, broken,” he said in his speech. “And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate—not merely to warehouse and to forget.”
These new approaches, which Holder calls the “Smart On Crime” initiative, aim to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and alleviate the cost to taxpayers. The attorney general cited the success of 17 states that have experimented with programs aimed at reducing recidivism—such as diverting drug offenders into treatment programs and expanding job training—instead of toward prison construction. States like Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky have experimented with ways to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. “While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in America’s overall prison population—including, in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year,” Holder said. “Clearly, these strategies can work.” (This bold reversal of the government’s tough-on-crime rhetoric was featured on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post on the day of Holder’s speech.)
According to the FBI, in 2011 there were 3991.1 arrests for every 100,000 people living in America. That means over the course of a single year, one in 25 Americans was arrested. The arrest rate for violent crime was just 172 per 100,000, and for property crimes, it was 531. That means that in 2011, one in 33 Americans were arrested for crimes that didn’t involve violence against another person, or theft of or damage to property. More people were arrested for drug crimes than any other class of crimes — about one in every 207 of us.
Multiple highway patrol officers in Texas have been captured by dash cams doing unconstitutional cavity searches on women’s genitals during traffic stops.
The shaken women have filed federal lawsuits. Lawyers and civil rights advocates say these cavity searches are standard policy among the Texas Department of Public Safety’s state troopers, despite their illegality—not to mention that they were conducted on the side of the road in full view of passing motorists.
beliebers, welcome to the good fight
April 9, 2013 — Today, a coalition of over 175 artists, actors, athletes, elected officials and advocates, [including Russell Simmons, Sir Richard Branson, Will Smith, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Scarlett Johansson, Ron Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Demi Moore, Eva Longoria, Michael Moore, Mark Wahlberg, Harry Belafonte, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cameron Diaz, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Chris Rock, Russell Brand, John Legend, DJ Pauly D, Mike Tyson, Rick Ross, Jon Hamm, Natalie Maines, Ludacris to name a few] brought together by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, presented an open letter to President Obama, urging him to double down on his efforts to change the United States’ criminal justice policy from that of a punitive, suppression-based model to one that favors evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation. According to Department of Justice data, the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens, both on a per capita basis and in terms of total prison population. More than 500,000 of the 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. are incarcerated for nothing more than a nonviolent drug offense.
“It is critical that we change both the way we think about drug laws in this country and how we generate positive solutions that leave a lasting impact on rebuilding our communities,” said Russell Simmons. “We need to break the school to prison pipeline, support and educate our younger generations and provide them with a path that doesn’t leave them disenfranchised with limited options.”
The coalition [of concerned activists, humanitarians and celebrities] suggests that the President continue to take a number of reformative actions, including extending the Fair Sentencing Act to all inmates who were sentenced under the 100-to-1 crack/powder disparity, supporting the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate), and supporting the Youth PROMISE Act.
Dr. Boyce Watkins added: “The letter is intended to be a respectful appeal to the Obama Administration asking that we develop productive pathways to supporting families that have been harmed by the War on Drugs. Countless numbers of children have been waiting decades for their parents to come home, and America is made safer if we break the cycle of mass incarceration. Time is of the essence, for with each passing year that we allow injustice to prevail, our nation loses another piece of its soul. We must carefully examine the impact of the War on Drugs and the millions of living, breathing Americans who’ve been affected. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.”
"I’m particularly concerned about how the war on drugs has destroyed the fabric of the black community in America. I grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in Queens that was destroyed by drugs. It was the heroin capital of Queens. Everybody shot dope. My friend in the eighth grade was shooting dope. I’ve seen the suffering first-hand and I’ve been involved in the suffering too. I used every drug there is, back in the day, but it didn’t make me a bad person: it just made me a sad person, a diseased person. It didn’t make me a criminal.
What would have made me a criminal is if I’d been arrested and sent to jail for 20 years, which could have happened easily. A great number of kids in my neighbourhood did go to jail, and they didn’t come out so well. They were educated in criminal behaviour, came home violent criminals, and became repeat offenders.”
John Horner, a 46-year-old fast-food restaurant worker, lost his eye in a 2000 accident and was prescribed painkillers. Years later, he met and befriended a guy who seemed to be in pain himself. His new friend asked if he could buy some of Horner’s pain pills. Naturally, the friend was a police informant. Prosecutors in Central Florida say Horner was ultimately paid $1,800 for pills. “My public defender told me, ‘They got you dead to rights,’” he said. “So I thought, ‘OK, I guess there’s no need taking this to trial.’” His story is recounted in a BBC News Service story about the problematic use of informants by U.S. law-enforcement agencies.
It’s an important subject and the article tackles it well.
But let’s focus here on the anecdote about Horner, because it gets at the utter madness of the War on Drugs. For the sake of argument, let’s presume he’s guilty of selling $1,800 of pain pills prescribed to him for an injury. Forget that he was arguably entrapped. Just look at the crime in isolation.
What sort of punishment should it carry?
You’ve got a 46-year-old employed father, with no criminal record, caught selling four bottles of prescription pain pills. “Under Florida law Horner now faced a minimum sentence of 25 years, if found guilty,” the BBC reports.
Twenty-five years minimum!
It costs Florida roughly $19,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year. So I ask you, dear reader, is keeping non-violent first-time drug offender John Horner locked behind bars in a jumpsuit really the best use of $475,000? For the same price, you could pay a year’s tuition for 75 students at Florida State University. You could pay the salaries of seven West Palm Beach police officers for a year. Is it accurate to call a system that demands the 25-year prison term mad?
Well. Prosecutors offered to shave years off his sentence if he became an informant himself and successfully helped send five others to prison on 25 year terms. He tried. But “Horner failed to make cases against drug traffickers,” says the BBC. “As a result, he was sentenced to the full 25 years in October last year and is now serving his sentence in Liberty Correctional Institution.”
"He will be 72 by the time he is released."
Meet his kids:How about a pardon, Governor Rick Scott?