2014: International Drug War Round-Up

The year 2014 witnessed considerable fraying of the international Drug War consensus—but the horrific violence that finally sparked this long-overdue reckoning continued to take its grim toll. On the upside, Uruguay registered its first cannabis clubs, and Jamaica is now studying a decrim initiative. In a very hopeful sign, regional bodies in the Caribbean and West Africa are following suit with studies of potential decrim or legalizaztion. And signs of the failure of the prohibitionist model kept mounting.

For a second consecutive year, opium cultivation in Afghanistan broke all previous records—despite some $7 billion spent by the US to combat Afghan opium over the past decade. Hashish busts at sea—especially the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean—also soared. Saudi Arabia went on a beheading spree, targeting drug convicts (as well as those found guilty of adultery, “sorcery” and other such wackery). ISIS (whose beheadings somehow sparked far greater media outrage) started eradicating the cannabis fileds of northern Syria, after the Syrian civil war had sparked regional hashish boom, with a profusion of militias needing narco-profits to fund their insurgencies. The same cycle that Afghanistan saw with both hashish and opium when the Taliban was in power before 9-11.

In Mexico, apparent police involvement in the “disappearance” of 43 college students from Guerrero state, who were turned over to bloody narco-gangs, sparked an angry nationwide protest movement against the “narco-state.” In Tamaulipas, right in the South Texas border, endemic street warfare continued—receiving little media coverage, because the local press is too terrorized by the warring cartels to report on the bloodletting. Across Mexico, mass “narco-graves” continued to be uncovered. When a wave of tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids started showing up at the US border, stateside xenophobes waxed hysterical, but the the mass displacement (sparked by narco-violence in Central America) was testament to the spectacular failure of the very Drug War policies many of those same pundits support. And despite claims of gains against Mexico’s leading Sinaloa Cartel—especially the bust of its long-fugitive kingpin Shorty Guzmán—the Sinaloa machine’s continued operations across the hemisphere became inescapably apparent. In Michoacán, an anti-narco vigilante force was incorporated into the “official” security forces.

Latin America continued to see bloody uprisings in its overcrowded prisons—with the most notorious case in Brazil’s Paraná state. Brazilian media revealed what was evidently a police extermination campaign against favela youth in Rio in the lead-up to the World Cup. Human rights groups revealed that police in the Democratic Republic of Congo are carrying out a similar campaign in Kinshasa. Colombia launched a “Transparency Plan” crackdown on corrupt agents of the National Police, but some two score arrests in such a notoriously compromised force is mere spit in the ocean.

There were also signs of hope tempered by continued “Drug War” oppression on the home front. Crunching 2013’s numbers in late 2014, the Justice Department found that cannabis arrests in the United States had declined compared to the previous year. But the UN Office of Drugs and Crime scolded Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia over the cannabis legalization initiatives passed on election day. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio instated a more lenient cannabis policy, but ghastly police abuses sparked citywide protests. Most notorious is the slaying of Eric Garner, who died at police hands after being accosted for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, but there were also cannabis-related cases—like that of a 16-year-old boy in Brooklyn pistol-whipped and beaten after being stopped on suspicion of pot possession. There were also accusations of “collateral damage” in militarized NYPD anti-gang sweeps in Harlem housing projects.

And raising fears about corporate cannabis in a post-legalization world, a Seattle-based equity firm announced plans to market a patented “Marley Natural” marijuana brand. Not sure what Bob woulda thought of that one…

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