Corruption, Violence, and Doom

The Mystery of the Tainted Cocaine, Part IV: Drug Prohibition, Human Suffering, and How One Act of Congress 100 Years Ago Set Us on a Global Road to Hell

Corruption, Violence, and Doom

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NARCO KINGPIN ARTURO BELTRÁN LEYVA Killed in a two-hour gun battle at his apartment complex on December 16, 2009, while other residents cowered in the gym.

I'm sitting on a couch with a Seattle drug dealer while he freebases heroin. Let's call him Jaybird. His apartment is mildly dingy but homey, in a basement romper room kind of way. Lighters, empty plastic bags, marijuana crumbs, pieces of metal jewelry (rings, earrings), and guitar picks are scattered across every available surface. Jaybird used to work in customer service, but has been a full-time drug dealer for several years—mostly cocaine and a little heroin for friends, though he can get you whatever you like. (I ask if that includes opium, and he says: "Oh, man. I wish I'd known. A friend of mine came through town with some opium just last week.") The business hasn't made him rich; it hasn't even made him not-poor.

He's worried that this article (the fourth and final piece in a Stranger series on the cocaine trade and a dangerous cutting agent called levamisole that has newly appeared in the worldwide cocaine supply) will make him even poorer. "Can you stop writing about cocaine for a while?" he has asked on multiple occasions. His regular customers began fretting about whether the cocaine he was selling them contained levamisole after the first piece was published, and some of his occasional customers stopped calling.

"You've got to stop writing these articles," he pleaded one time when we happened to run into each other on the street. "I'm not into murder, man, but you're messing up business and some people are upset—I don't want to see you get hurt."

Jaybird had forgotten I was coming over to his apartment in Mountlake Terrace and is just walking out the door when I arrive, saying he has something "important" to do. He leaves me sitting on his couch for 20 minutes while a dark-colored sedan picks him up, takes him somewhere, and brings him back. He bursts through the door, plops down on the couch, and pulls a small black baggie of heroin from a hiding place on his body (I won't say where, but I'll say I was surprised).

He smoothes out a piece of aluminum foil. He's holding a small glass stem about the size of a pen in his mouth. He sprinkles a little powder from the baggie onto the foil, heats it from below with a lighter, and sucks up the rising tendrils of smoke through the stem. The heroin bubbles and caramelizes. It smells like it's been cut with sugar.

We've talked about legalizing marijuana (he's pro), and I ask him, as he finishes his hit, whether he thinks all drugs should be legalized.

His eyebrows shoot up and he shakes his head. He's holding his breath.

"Why not?"

"Because people," he says, exhaling a huge plume of heroin smoke, "are fucking irresponsible."

A few nights later, I'm standing on a deck with a successful downtown businessman who sniffs cocaine several nights a week. (Some identifying details about the drug dealer and the businessman have been changed.) He used to be a daily user, but he's pulled back a bit. Only a few friends know about his habit, and some of his closest, longest-term friends have no idea. He's been following my series in The Stranger, but he says the potential dangers of levamisole (it can trigger an immune-system crash) haven't markedly slowed down his personal use. He doesn't know anybody who's gotten sick from tainted cocaine.

Does he, a serious but functional cocaine user, think his drug of choice should be legalized and regulated—at least so he wouldn't have to worry about whether his supply might make him sick?

"God no," he says, and takes a drag off his cigarette. "Cocaine fucks people up—plus, I'm a parent. When my kids become teenagers, I don't want them doing coke. It's convenient to have the law on your side when you're a parent."

I ask if he seriously thinks drug prohibition is going to keep his kids from using cocaine. After all, it hasn't stopped him.

"I don't know," he says and sighs. "I don't know. If I weren't a parent, it might be different—but you talk about legalizing drugs, and emotionally I get all eeeeeeeeee!"

A few days later, I'm talking to a retired Coast Guard captain who spent much of the 1980s working in the Gulf of Mexico busting drug smugglers. The Coast Guard, which had previously focused heavily on search-and- rescue and fisheries patrols, stumbled into the drug interdiction business by accident. "We'd go out to rescue someone," the captain says, "and there would be all this pot on board." On March 8, 1973, the Coast Guard cutter Dauntless, ported in Miami, found over a ton of marijuana on an American sailboat called The Big L. That was the beginning of the big time.

"People were generally ho-hum about search and rescue," he says. "Not that search and rescue was a ho-hum thing—it could be very dramatic—but if you brought in a big boatload of pot, it was a big news story." More importantly, it attracted serious money from the federal government, which was cranking up the drug war. "Commanders of Coast Guard vessels said to themselves, 'With drug busts, we're getting more mission recognition and more resources—and this is kind of fun!'"

He was a dedicated soldier in the drug war. "We'd get worked up about 'damn pot-smoking hippies trying to poison our schools' and all that," he says. "It was during the first Bush administration, and we just got pounded with that message." But then he found himself having to let go of crew members he liked and wanted to keep working with because they'd tested positive for marijuana. "I'd have good crew members, good sailors—good citizens who caused far fewer problems than people who abused alcohol—who, through drug testing, got caught in the net. And you begin to think, 'Well, this doesn't fit the stereotype we're hearing.' But then we'd come home from sea and watch Miami Vice and it would glamorize what we were doing, so it all fed into itself."

As his career went on, the captain—who happens to be my father, Ned Kiley, who had a 30-year Coast Guard career and retired as an O-6, the equivalent of a colonel in the army—started having quiet doubts about the ballooning bureaucracy around the drug-war industry, and the contractors and lobbyists encouraging the government to waste huge amounts of money on boats and airplanes and radar surveillance systems that weren't very useful. "Customs saw all this money and all these toys the Coast Guard was getting and wanted some, too—but they couldn't even take care of their boats. They were always broken. It was just bureaucracy run amok."

Then there were the people he was arresting at sea. "We'd get some actual bad guys," he says, most of them Americans. "Real low-life Gulf Coast types who were probably causing problems in other areas. But mostly you'd just get poor fishermen, poor Colombians, poor Hondurans. And you'd get some middle-class types who were just trying to pull some shit—we caught some poor couple's sailboat with 200 pounds of marijuana, which was a fairly small amount compared to what we were seeing."

On the morning of our conversation, he had been discussing with my mother a story in the New York Times about a major jailbreak by over 140 prisoners in Mexico (most of them accused of narco crimes—the prison director disappeared after the escape): "Your mother said, 'Oh, they should just legalize marijuana—all the cost and all the problems it causes are just way out of line.' And I agree with her! If two old farts like us—two conservative old farts—think we should legalize, then let's just get on with it!" (For the record, my parents are pro-legalization but not pro-drug. They've never taken an illicit drug in their lives and became supremely angry when I was in high school and they figured out that I was smoking pot with my friends.)

"Should the United States end prohibition on all drugs?" I ask.

"That's a little less clear," he says. "How would you do it? What would it look like? Maybe it would work—but I definitely think we should focus on treatment for drug addicts instead of punitive incarceration."

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper had an even more dramatic change of heart about drug policy. Stamper remembers himself in his early career, a San Diego beat cop in the 1960s, as "a gleeful drug warrior making drug arrests, many of them for small possession of marijuana. I thought I was doing God's work." He had what he calls his "personal epiphany" in 1967, when he busted into a house in an affluent suburb to arrest a 19-year-old.

"I gained entrance in a manner that would be rejected today: 'knock and notice.' I tapped lightly on the door and whispered 'San Diego police,' then kicked his door in—sent it flying—and in the foot race to the bathroom, I beat him just before he made the second flush." Stamper scooped up some stems and seeds from the toilet and arrested the boy, who, on the ride to the jail, casually asked if they could stop at a store for some chips. The police radio was crackling in the background with far more serious crimes: robbery, car prowl, domestic violence. This was Stamper's road-to-Damascus moment. "I sorted through my mental inventory of what I was doing and thought: 'My God. This is just some 19-year-old kid who was in his parents' home—I've done damage to the house and damage to the Fourth Amendment, and this arrest will be a disservice to him for the rest of his life.' Meanwhile, I could've spent my time dealing with some kind of serious predatory crime."

Stamper quietly chewed over these thoughts until the early 1990s, when he began to speak out to business and chamber of commerce types. He began arguing that we should legalize all drugs. "The more sinister they are, the greater the justification for regulation instead of prohibition," he says. "A regulatory model would give the government, imperfect as it is, the first opportunity since the beginning of the last century to exercise some control over the drug trade. In recent years, we have reduced tobacco consumption by roughly half without a shot being fired. But in trying to reduce the black market for cocaine and heroin, we get guns, torture, beheadings, people being incinerated..."

In short, these two former drug warriors, who spent their careers trying to enforce prohibition, think we should legalize part of or all of the drug trade. But the heroin-smoking dealer and the coke-snorting professional lean toward prohibition.

What the fuck?

Tobacco use was responsible for 435,000 deaths in the United States in 2000, according to a 2004 issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association. The same year, all illegal drug use was responsible—directly and indirectly—for 17,000 deaths. When I started working on this series, I thought, like most moderate liberals: Yes, legalize pot, that's obvious. But heroin and cocaine and meth and the rest—aren't those drugs kind of dangerous?

The more hours I spent in the library, in research laboratories, in alleyways, and on couches interviewing addicts, dealers, policymakers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, doctors, and academics, the more I came to agree with Stamper—as well as former Mexican president Vicente Fox, former UK drug czar Bob Ainsworth, Spain's former (and, to date, longest-serving) prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, and members of Mexico's Social Democratic Party, who have been attacked by anonymous gunmen and Molotov cocktails after campaigning for legalization.

The mystery of why a cattle-deworming drug called levamisole is being cut into the world's cocaine supply is just a footnote in the drug war's century-long history of corruption, violence, addiction, and doom.

We will always have drug users, drug abusers, and drug producers—just like we'll always have casual drinkers, alcoholics, and distilleries. We cannot change that. What we can change is the level of violence and cruelty associated with the drug trade by elevating it to the legal market, where business disputes are settled with the rule of law instead of with machine guns and chain saws.

The only way out is to legalize—and regulate—everything. Pot, heroin, cocaine, meth: everything.

30,196 Dead (and Counting) in Mexico

It is hard to know how many people around the world have gotten sick and/or died due to levamisole poisoning. U.S. law enforcement agencies estimate that 75 percent of the cocaine supply is being cut with levamisole, but the Centers for Disease Control stopped keeping track of levamisole-related hospitalizations and deaths in April. Levamisole test kits conceived by Nathan Messer at Dance- Safe, created by Dr. Mike Clark at Harborview, and distributed by The Stranger in late 2010—with help from DanceSafe and the People's Harm Reduction Alliance—show the Seattle cocaine supply contamination at closer to 85 percent. (Each test kit contained an anonymous survey with questions about rock and powder cocaine purchases throughout the Seattle area. So far, respondents have written in from Bremerton to Green Lake to the Central District—and one from Toronto.)

The human toll in Colombia, where most U.S.-bound cocaine is manufactured, and in Mexico, where the cocaine travels on its way to the U.S., is abundantly clear. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported a conservative estimate of 30,196 drug-war-related deaths in Mexico alone since 2007, when Mexican president Felipe Calderón and George W. Bush, with the help of the U.S. Congress, agreed to crank up the drug war with the Mérida Initiative. Thirty thousand one hundred ninety-six deaths is the equivalent of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers 10.9 times. Or an 11-night, sold-out run at Carnegie Hall in which every seat is stuffed with a corpse.

A few of those deaths:

October 19, 2009: Police find the body of Perla Pérez Tagle, a young human rights worker, at an intersection in Ciudad Juárez (pop. 1.4 million). Her bound and gagged body shows signs of torture and is covered by a blue plaid blanket. Her head is nearby, in a red plastic bag.

December 16, 2009: In the wealthy tourist destination of Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Spring (pop. 350,000), narco kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva is killed in a two-hour gun battle at his apartment complex while residents cowered in the gym. In the following months, the city is taken over by narcos: "Bodies have been hung from overpasses, dumped outside police headquarters, or left on busy streets with their faces skinned," according to the Associated Press.

October 25, 2010: Police find the body of a plump old woman near her home in Nuevo Laredo (pop. 348,387). Her severed head, covered with frizzy gray hair, is tucked between her legs and one of her severed fingers is stuck into her mouth. A handwritten sign propped up by her body declares: "A esta pinche vieja la matamos por 'relaje'... esto les va a pasar a todos los pinches 'relajes.'" ("We killed this fucking old woman for snitching... this will happen to all the fucking snitches.") The message is signed in blood with a "Z" for Los Zetas—a squad of paramilitary narcos with one of the nastiest reputations in the drug war. The leaders of Los Zetas were originally trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, to fight the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. Later they were deployed against the narcos in Tamaulipas, but decided that they'd get a better deal working for the narcos than trying to stop them.

November 15, 2010: The entire population of Ciudad Mier (pop. 5,423) is evacuated after war breaks out between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas' former narco employers. The breaking point for many families comes when—after months of firefights, bodies in the streets, and torched businesses—a well-known local man is chopped into pieces and hung from a tree in the town square.

December 3, 2010: The Mexican army arrests Edgar Jimenez Lugo, a 14-year-old assassin nicknamed "El Ponchis" who has confessed to four murders. El Ponchis, a U.S. citizen, becomes a symbol of narco ruthlessness after BlogdelNarco.com releases home videos of the boy and some friends torturing a prisoner, gagged and suspended from the ceiling, while they laugh and take pictures on their cell phones. On one YouTube video, a boy believed to be El Ponchis answers a question by saying: "When we don't find the rivals, we kill innocent people, maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver." A prison director in Ciudad Juárez tells a reporter from Time magazine that teenage assassins are a new trend for the narcos, since "these kids are cheap, bloodthirsty, and they know the government can't punish them much."

December 27, 2010: The Press Emblem Campaign, based in Geneva, reports that 14 Mexican journalists have been murdered in the course of their work this year, making the drug war a more dangerous beat than reporting on Iraq, where eight journalists were killed in 2010. And on this date, two days after Christmas, six family members age 16 to 34 are found floating in the crater of an abandoned mine in the small town of Urique (pop. 984).

December 29, 2010: Around midnight, several cars pull up near a club in Acapulco (pop. 718,000). Men step out of the cars, fire shots into the club, and festoon its entrance with over 40 severed body parts, including chopped-up torsos, severed hands holding severed genitals, and flayed heads. The men drape two skinned faces over stanchions in front of the club, where they hang like rubber Halloween masks.

Some suggest that Mexico's drug-war dead are solely casualties of the cocaine and opium trades. That is plainly false: In the past two months, U.S. agents have found underground storehouses holding tens of tons of pot connected to tunnels under the United States/Mexico border. And in a Reuters story on December 14, unnamed U.S. agents claim to have found acres of greenhouses where narcos were growing high-quality, top- dollar "B.C. bud" instead of the long-derided "Mexican ditch weed." The marijuana trade, as innocent as it looks when you're buying a bag of grass off of a hippie, has blood in its wallet, too.

Those 30,000-plus dead present a major problem for the government of Mexico, which seems helpless to do much about it. The narco chaos could spark another revolution. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has argued that the drug war has deeply corrupted Mexican police and military, as well as the rule of law. In 2010, at least two cities—in addition to the abandoned Ciudad Mier, which no longer has a city government—fired their police forces. The citizens of Ascension in the state of Chihuahua and Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos decided that, owing to corruption, they would be better off enforcing the law themselves. And in early December, citizens of Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan mounted a demonstration against the government and for the narcos. An Associated Press photograph from the protest flew around blogs and newspapers—that of a grave-faced little girl with pigtails and bangs holding up a handwritten sign that said: "La Familia Michoacana somos mas que un estado." ("La Familia Michoacana [a narco cartel]: We are bigger than/better than a state.")

In Mexico, thanks to the U.S.-funded drug war, the narcos have achieved in a few years what Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas could only dream about: In towns large and small, north and south, they have mounted a strong, palpable challenge to the authority of the Mexican federal government.

A Racist History

The narcos are not a separate entity from the government in the way that, in the U.S., the Bloods or the Crips or Capone's gangsters are separate from the government. In Mexico, the narcos are fused with the government—the police, the military, the senators. They share the same DNA.

This fusion began, perhaps, with Colonel Esteban Cantú Jiménez, a military caudillo who ruled Baja California Norte in the early 20th century with political connections and a private army of 1,800. Colonel Jiménez immediately saw the profit possibilities of the U.S.'s Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which began the U.S. prohibition of opiates and cocaine. He took a cut of the illegal opium trade until he was smacked down by the Mexican government in 1920—but then secured amnesty via a former military colleague.

The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act came about because, around 1900, American newspapers, physicians, and politicians began to promote the idea that a white powder was a threat to white supremacy.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article announcing, "Negroes in the South are reported as being addicted to a new form of vice—that of 'cocaine sniffing' or the 'coke habit.'" Newspapers picked up the story and amplified it, claiming that cocaine turned black men into rapists of white women, as well as expert marksmen. (See "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are a New Southern Menace" from the February 8, 1914 issue of the New York Times.) A 1910 federal report stated that "Southern sheriffs believed cocaine even rendered blacks impervious to .32-cal. bullets (as a result many police departments switched to .38-cal)."

Cocaine plus black people equaled a white supremacist's nightmare.

Dr. Hamilton Wright, Theodore Roosevelt's national opium commissioner, railed against opium use with similarly racist arguments. During the 1909 International Opium Commission in Shanghai, he said: "One of the most unfortunate phases of smoking opium in this country is the large number of women who have become involved and were living as common-law wives or cohabitating with Chinese in the Chinatowns of our various cities." (Interestingly, the physician and researcher Stephen R. Kandall has concluded that the majority of early opium addicts in the U.S. were women—who had been prescribed opiates by their doctors for "female problems.")

Riding the wave of racist drug hysteria, five-time congressman Francis Burton Harrison—a lawyer, member of the Democratic Party, and son of a mathematician from New Orleans named Burton Harrison who served as the private secretary to Confederate president Jefferson Davis during the Civil War—proposed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. It was voted into law on December 17, 1914, shortly after Harrison had resigned from Congress to serve as the governor-general of the Philippines.

In name, the Harrison Act (by sheer accident, I happen to be writing this paragraph on the 96th anniversary of its passage) purported to tax and regulate the sale of opiates and coca products. In reality, it was a way for the federal government to get a stranglehold on the U.S. drug trade. (That's why people know it as the Harrison Narcotics Act and not the Harrison Tax Act.) The Act went so far as to prohibit doctors from prescribing maintenance doses to opiate addicts. That provision was challenged and changed in the 1925 Supreme Court case Linder v. United States, in which the court decided that the federal government could not directly control medical practice—which is why we have methadone treatment programs today.

During the debate, Representative Thomas Upton Sisson (D-Mississippi) most bluntly articulated the purpose of the Harrison Act: "The purpose of this bill—and we are all in sympathy with it—is to prevent the use of opium in the United States, destructive as it is to human happiness and human life."

The destruction to "human happiness and human life" by pre–Harrison Act opium and coca use has been dwarfed—by orders of magnitude—by the destructiveness of the post–Harrison Act drug trade.

The Harrison Narcotics Act paved a global road to hell. Not just for the United States (from kids slinging drugs in the Chicago projects to overdosed celebrities in Los Angeles), but for Afghanistan, where the Taliban has propped itself up on the opium and heroin trade; for Myanmar, where an abusive military dictatorship funds itself by being the second-largest source of opium poppies and a new powerhouse of meth and ketamine production; for Laos, where geography and new highways make the country an ideal smuggling nexus for everything and the locals have developed a recent fondness for meth; for the favelas of Brazil; for Morocco, where I have personally seen hillsides covered in marijuana plants "protected" by bored-looking teenagers toting around AK-47s; for the Dominican Republic, which has become a major transit point for cocaine and heroin bound for the U.S. via Puerto Rico; for Colombia, where cocaine production has paid for a brutal 40-year war between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, the government, and narcos (the war has displaced 3.3 million people from their homes, or 7.2 percent of the country's population); for Ghana and Mali and other West African transshipment points for European-bound cocaine; and for pretty much every other country on the planet.

Observers such as Dominic Corva, a geographer at the University of Washington who has done extensive research on the cocaine trade, predict that as the Colombian and Mexican meat grinders become more violent, more troublesome, and less profitable, the cocaine production and smuggling market will move from Latin America to Africa.

According to a New York Times story from 2000, the Irkutsk region of Siberia went from 200 cases of HIV to at least 5,000 in a single year after heroin was introduced but drug-safety education was not. And several articles, from a 1985 Wall Street Journal story to a 2008 story in the Dartmouth College student paper, have described indoor marijuana horticulture at research stations in Antarctica.

Despite prohibition's best efforts, drugs are everywhere.

The Size of the Drug Trade

Estimates about the size of the drug trade and its costs are obviously politicized and highly unreliable—Colombian guerrillas have estimated the world drug trade to be 20 to 30 percent of the world economy, and published estimates from members of the Orejuela family (formerly of the Colombian Cali Cartel) claim that drug trafficking involves 12 percent of the U.S. labor force. But it would be in their interest to overestimate their importance.

Still, the Associated Press recently put the cost of the drug war at $1 trillion over the past 40 years and coaxed Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's drug czar, into admitting that "in the grand scheme" the drug war "has not been successful. Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified." In an October editorial for CNN, Evan Wood, founder of the International Centre for Science and Drug Policy, put the cost of the U.S. drug war at $2.5 trillion—more than twice the Associated Press estimate—and cited Nobel Prize–winning conservative economist Milton Friedman: "There are some general features of a socialist enterprise, whether it's the post office, schools, or the war on drugs. The enterprise is inefficient, expensive, very advantageous to a small group of people, and harmful to a lot of people."

No matter how you play with the numbers, one thing is clear—the drug trade is making big money for the criminal side. Otherwise, it wouldn't be worth the risk (life, limb, loved ones, lifetime imprisonment). And it's been lucrative for law enforcement, too: from Colonel Jiménez in the 1910s on down to contemporary Mexican officials and their relatives (the brother of Carlos Salinas, president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994, was convicted of arranging a hit against their brother-in-law) to the military-industrial business lobbyists who convince the Coast Guard and Customs to buy expensive enforcement toys.

"How much economic benefit has the drug war produced for the private sector?" asks Dominic Corva, the University of Washington geographer. "It's not just profits, it's jobs—sales jobs, accounting jobs, transportation jobs, agricultural jobs, and so forth. Obviously, no one has any remotely reliable estimate, but I bet it would dwarf the financial costs—thus making it a hell of a taxpayer- subsidized industry, a transfer of public funds to private."

Who pays for all of this? We do. Not just drug users who subsidize the crime side, but workaday U.S. taxpayers who subsidize the law enforcement side. Despite the billions of dollars we've spent trying to make them disappear, American drug users are not disappearing.

Plus, there are the human costs to U.S. families disrupted by drug incarcerations, or innocents slaughtered not by narcos in Mexico or Colombia but by law enforcement officials in the United States.

Take the story of Esequiel Hernandez Jr., an 18-year-old goatherd living in Texas, a mile from the border. On May 20, 1997, he was tending his family's goats and carrying a .22-caliber, pre-WWI rifle that he routinely had with him to defend the goats against rattlesnakes and wild dogs, according to his family. The U.S. Marines on drug patrol were carrying M-16s. Dressed in ghillie suits (a kind of shaggy camouflage that makes the wearer look like a Sasquatch), the marines spotted Hernandez watering the family goats and stalked him for 20 minutes before the boy, according to the marines, fired a single shot. It's unclear whether he was shooting at a tin can or at the marines—or whether he was even aware he was being watched. Maybe he thought the four creatures in ghillie suits were hairy monsters. Whatever happened, Hernandez was shot and the U.S. government paid his family $1.9 million to settle a wrongful death claim. No evidence has ever been presented that Hernandez was involved in the drug trade, and the marine who shot Hernandez was never charged. He was the first American civilian to be killed by the American military since the Kent State massacre.

Or take Kathryn Johnston, the 88-year-old Atlanta woman who, when she saw men breaking into her house of 17 years, fired a shot into the ceiling. Unbeknownst to her, the men were undercover narcotics agents, who fired 39 shots back, killing her. Once the agents realized she was innocent—they had falsely claimed to have purchased cocaine at her house in order to get a no-knock warrant—they planted marijuana in her basement, framing the dead woman. Eventually, the agents' stories came to pieces. In 2009, three years after killing Johnston, three officers were sentenced for manslaughter. It came out at the trials that other Atlanta police officers have used similar tactics.

What Most Pro-Legalization Arguments Are Missing

For too long, the critique of drug prohibition has been framed selfishly—it's all about us and our liberty and our right to seek pleasure however we see fit. A passage from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty is a favorite in pro-legalization editorials published everywhere from the Economist to High Times:

The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. In the part that merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

But let's set aside that abstract selfish stuff for a second. Put aside the facts about domestic costs for law enforcement. Put aside the fact that the U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, that the number of people in jail on drug charges has increased twelvefold since 1980, that (in 2000) 22 percent of U.S. prisoners were in for drug charges (according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, each prisoner costs roughly $22,600 per year).

Also put aside the fact that every state in the union is in a major budget crisis, many of which could be solved altogether by legalizing, regulating, and taxing the drug market so states like Washington wouldn't have to ax health care for children and job programs for adults with developmental disabilities. (Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron estimates that legalization, through a combination of law enforcement savings and tax income, would put $76.8 billion per year into the U.S. economy.)

Let's think about the rest of the world for a moment.

One law, passed in 1914 and designed to save lives, has resulted in uncountable deaths: from the deaths that result from the dangers of unregulated product (which results in overdoses and dangerous cutting agents like levamisole and costs taxpayers every time an uninsured person winds up in the emergency room) to the extraordinary violence of the extralegal market (where people settle disputes with machetes and bullets instead of lawsuits).

The argument that prohibition is a profound and catastrophic failure has already been made by intelligent people across the political spectrum: the middle-of-the-road Brookings Institution (in 2008), economist Miron (for the past 15 years), even John D. Rockefeller Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who donated between $350,000 and $700,000 to the temperance movement (that's between $3.8 million and $7.7 million in 2010 dollars). After years of watching the alcohol prohibition laws, he had to admit that they simply didn't work. In a letter printed on the front page of the New York Times in 1932, he wrote:

When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

In 2008, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Representatives Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Howard Coble (R-NC), celebrating the 75th anniversary of repeal. Oddly, the language in the resolution doubles as an excellent argument for ending all prohibitions. The resolution pointed out that

passage of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" in the United States, resulted in a dramatic increase in illegal activity, including unsafe black market alcohol production, organized crime, and noncompliance with alcohol laws.

Dramatic increase in illegal activity? Check. (Those 30,000-plus deaths in Mexico since 2007.) Unsafe black market? Check. (Levamisole is one tiny example of how prohibition laws make drugs more dangerous.) Organized crime? Check. (Drug gangs in Mexico are holding entire cities, states, and law enforcement agencies hostage—see also the Taliban, the Bloods, the Crips, Latin Kings, and the Salvadorian gang MS13, which is currently helping run the cocaine trade to Seattle and has distinguished itself with cruel machete murders and by calling out hits on U.S. federal agents.) Noncompliance with the law at every level? Obviously.

Why does the logic of that 2008 resolution apply to alcohol but not to other drugs? I call Congressman Coble to ask him and I get through to his press liaison, Ed McDonald. "It's ironic you should call with that question today," he says. "Right now, I'm in North Carolina in a beautiful vineyard owned by Richard Childress, the NASCAR driver. You know Richard Childress?"

Not really.

"Anyway, we're having a party for the staff: There are these beautiful buildings, acres of beautiful vineyards..."

He says he'll ask the congressman—who is feeling under the weather—my question and get back to me the next day.

"You know," McDonald says the next day, "I asked him, and he said pretty much what I said yesterday—that as a society we perceive alcohol to have a value that we don't apply to hard drugs. He sees a value that alcohol provides to society that he doesn't see provided by narcotics."

So it's about social perception? Nothing empirical? Just popular cultural notions?

"Yes, that's right."

So there you have it, straight from Representative Coble, who cosponsored the resolution to celebrate repeal and its attendant increase in product safety and decreases in violence and organized crime—the difference between prohibition of alcohol and prohibition of other drugs isn't about data and rational argument. When will American policymakers, and the American public, start to take these questions seriously—based on facts, research, and real stories, instead of the race-baiting bogeymen and puritan fictions of a century ago?

The impetus for this series was to investigate—with the assistance of law enforcement agencies, doctors, academics, policymakers, and drug dealers—why a dangerous chemical called levamisole is being cut into the world's cocaine supply. We have failed to figure it out. Some lab techs and high-level research-and-development narco scientists probably know, but they haven't been forthcoming.

Nevertheless, we have discovered something—the mystery of the tainted cocaine is a just a speck, a tenpenny nail holding down a single shingle on the giant, monstrous mansion of the drug war. When will we get serious about tearing down this house of horrors?

That's the real mystery. recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.


Comments (75) RSS

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"Nobel prize."
Posted by Editor on January 5, 2011 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Puty 2
Great article and a fucking amazing series. Just don't get shot before you win the awards you'll surely get for this. Maybe don't get shot after, either.
Posted by Puty on January 5, 2011 at 3:21 PM · Report this
Great article. I've heard it before, I know it's true, but it still feels good to hear someone say it. I wish this ran top billing on foxnews.com instead of here, because frankly, you're preaching to the choir.

Great sermon. But if we want this to change - wrong audience.

That said, like with so many issues today, we need our current population of old people to die and their political influence to die along with them. I don't know that you're going to change the mind of an conservative, avid voter over the age of 65. That is morbid and awful to say, and I'm not wishing an early death on anyone. Fact is, the generational divide on this, environmental issues, social issues like gay marriage, etc. is MASSIVE.

There are just too many 1980s conservative revolution types still in the halls of power and influence. And frankly, most of the previous century can be characterized by the fact that it was DECIDEDLY un-data-driven, emotional, and irrational.
Posted by nullbull on January 5, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Please- the dead body is a bit much. We get it. Thanks for the article, but it really disturbing as someone who has come across more than her share of dead people to see one every time I hit the web page. Thanks.
Posted by JB the NP on January 5, 2011 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Excellent work, Brendan. This whole series has been incredibly eye-opening and enlightening. Thanks to you and to all the people who have risked life and limb to provide the quotes within.
Posted by Cow on January 5, 2011 at 4:11 PM · Report this
But now, thanks to Science, there's hope!


See, once this vaccination is required for kids entering public school, it'll only be a few years before the scourge of contaminated cocaine is vanquished.

Unless somebody hacks the immunization program with a counter-vaccine...
Hey! This could become really profitable!
Posted by BiCycleRider on January 5, 2011 at 4:31 PM · Report this
JustSayGo 7
As Americans, we justify the drug war by being self absorbed hypocrites. Those of us using illegal substances believe that we can't make a difference, or that it's not their problem. Many smoke their drugs while they sit and laugh at the misfortunes of others being busted on Cops tv show for the very drugs they are imbibing in the "sanctity" of their living rooms.

Our society's government trades on the fact that it can continue to perpetuate these policies "in our best interest." We continue to be brainwashed or indifferent to the fact that this is causing our country to fall behind the rest of the world economically, as well as falling victim to other regime's secret agendas of flooding our country with their drugs as well as their criminals (ala MS13 and others).

There has been a growing constituency of users and sympathizers in this country for decades now...so much so, that it has become a majority, and yet the federal governement still believes that it has the right to dictate drug policy to the states of this union. The states up until recently have kowtowed to the feds because not doing so meant that federal funding would be cut for many state run programs...everything from roads, to education to (and especially) law enforcement. Now states such as California are realizing that, with even just "medical marijuana" initiatives, the state would benefit. The Federal Governement soon began threatening California. California, where almost a quarter of the population of this country lives!

The Feds have been suffering from parental hypocrisy for almost a century now; meaning "We have already said no, now we cannot shift positions, because how dumb will we look?" Of course it goes much deeper than that, with all of the lobbyists and special interest groups rallying to keep at least marijuana at bay. Meanwhile, we can see any number of pharmaceutcal drug companies pimping and pandering their own products across our televisions (are your kids singing the drug company commercials in the car yet?) Let's face it, we are now telling our doctors what to prescribe us, not the other way around, and they do it gladly, as the mechanization of corporate America gets what it wants from the Federal Government, and our country's citizens get rebuffed time and again as having alterior hedonist motives that smack of selfish desire instead of a selfless big picture attitude...but wait...we are the big picture aren't we? Aren't we Americans? Isn't our governement for the people and by the people for the good of we the people?
I thought not...
Posted by JustSayGo on January 5, 2011 at 6:01 PM · Report this
"Newspapers picked up the story and amplified it, claiming that cocaine turned black men into rapists of white women"

Where do "stereotypes" come from?

According to the US Department of Justice and the FBI, at least 37,000 white women are raped and/or sexually assaulted by black men annually in the USA. Less than ten black women are raped or sexually assaulted by white men annually.

One in three men in South Africa ADMIT to rape (often gang rape).


Again, where do "stereotypes" come from?
Posted by Where do "stereotypes" come from? on January 5, 2011 at 7:17 PM · Report this
gebbeth 9
why are his pants down?
Posted by gebbeth on January 5, 2011 at 8:13 PM · Report this
Amazing article, Mr. Kiley. It should be getting more comments than this. As I was reading it, I felt all of my reservations about total legalization slipping away. We are causing worldwide carnage because we refuse to be adult about our usage and prohibition.
Posted by Reader in Cali on January 5, 2011 at 9:28 PM · Report this
Great article!

There also just happened to be a related story on NPR this evening about the deluge of guns from America to Mexico:


@9 gebbeth, there appears to be a large bandage on his lower right hip, possibly necessitating pants removal.
Posted by MacGruber on January 5, 2011 at 10:55 PM · Report this
Great series. When you're hot, you're hot.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 6, 2011 at 12:14 AM · Report this
If Heroin was legal, convenient and safe to acquire, I'd be dead right now from shooting too much of it in my arm.
Posted by Too lazy to look for it on January 6, 2011 at 1:06 AM · Report this
DeaconBlues 14
@8: if black men are inherent rapists, wouldn't the claim that cocaine turns them into rapists still be false? You didn't think about this very hard, did you?
Posted by DeaconBlues http://radzillas.blogspot.com/ on January 6, 2011 at 1:20 AM · Report this
A conversation in a Customs House somewhere on the US-Mexico border.

First Customs Officer: They should legalize cocaine and heroin. With the tax money they could collect from junkies needing a fix the federal debt would go away in no time.

Second Customs Officer: Your in favor of something that would put you out of a job? You must be stupid Ricky.

First Customs Officer: But tobacco’s legal and we arrest more people for smuggling untaxed cigarettes than anything else. I’d still have a job.

The point is legalizing and regulating illegal drugs wouldn’t necessarily change things all that much. Anytime the government makes rules about anything it creates a black market, the stricter the rules the bigger the black market.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 6, 2011 at 4:50 AM · Report this
That photo is disgusting and entirely unnecessary. You could probably defend it as "showing the reality" of the situation but intimately it is disrespectful, sensational and intrusive.
Posted by Cletus on January 6, 2011 at 7:43 AM · Report this
17 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Great series. I do have one quibble, though. Much of this territory (especially as it relates to the Mexico) has been covered by journalist Charles Bowden. His books "Down By the River" and, most recently, "Murder City," document the rise of the Mexican drug trade under Amado Carillo Fuentes and then the descent into chaos after Fuentes' death in the mid-90s.

What strikes me about this and other reports of the violence in Mexico is that American journalists largely buy into the line that most of the murders in Mexico are committed by the narcos, when, as Bowden points out, a vast majority of those murders are committed by the Mexican military, a military that is supposed to be waging war on the gangs, not the citizens. Why do you think that the citizens of some Mexican cities support the cartels over the government/army? Because the Mexican government/army has a long, long history of exploiting and murdering its citizens, and the cartels, as brutal and imperfect as they can be, are sometimes the only reason that new churches and other community-based facilities are built. In short, the cartels actually invest some of their profits in the communities in which they operate.

I don't want to defend the narcos or paint them as misunderstood saints or something, but there are certain realities about Mexican life that this article (and most articles written by American journalists) simply fail to acknowledge.
Posted by diego on January 6, 2011 at 7:59 AM · Report this
Great series. I do have one quibble, though. Much of this territory (especially as it relates to the Mexico) has been covered by journalist Charles Bowden. His books "Down By the River" and, most recently, "Murder City," document the rise of the Mexican drug trade under Amado Carillo Fuentes and then the descent into chaos after Fuentes' death in the mid-90s.

What strikes me about this and other reports of the violence in Mexico is that American journalists largely buy into the line that most of the murders in Mexico are committed by the narcos, when, as Bowden points out, a vast majority of those murders are committed by the Mexican military, a military that is supposed to be waging war on the gangs, not the citizens. Why do you think that the citizens of some Mexican cities support the cartels over the government/army? Because the Mexican government/army has a long, long history of exploiting and murdering its citizens, and the cartels, as brutal and imperfect as they can be, are sometimes the only reason that new churches and other community-based facilities are built. In short, the cartels actually invest some of their profits in the communities in which they operate.

I don't want to defend the narcos or paint them as misunderstood saints or something, but there are certain realities about Mexican life that this article (and most articles written by American journalists) simply fail to acknowledge.
Posted by diego on January 6, 2011 at 8:04 AM · Report this
The only logical way forward is to legalize everything.
Posted by Legalize Now on January 6, 2011 at 8:39 AM · Report this
douchus 21

you make a valid point, but isn't that covered by the B. Kiley's stating that that the government (military) and narcos are in some respects one and the same? Maybe that needed a bit more pointed language to really convey what you're saying though.
Posted by douchus on January 6, 2011 at 9:11 AM · Report this
@nullbull - quote:"That said, like with so many issues today, we need our current population of old people to die and their political influence to die along with them."

Wow. Ageism is just as bad as racism, if not worse, as it encompasses an even larger sector of the population. God forbid you should ever grow old.
Posted by goodjuju on January 6, 2011 at 9:37 AM · Report this
23 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
Reposting as a registered user:

@nullbull - quote:"That said, like with so many issues today, we need our current population of old people to die and their political influence to die along with them."

Wow. Ageism is just as bad as racism, if not worse, as it encompasses an even larger sector of the population. God forbid you should ever grow old.
Posted by goodjuju on January 6, 2011 at 9:52 AM · Report this
I think the picture of the dead man is sad and disturbing. It's actually enough to make me think that taking illegal drugs (homegrown stuff excepted) is probably more immoral than buying something that you know was made in a sweatshop. Or maybe as immoral as buying something you know was stolen.

Maybe it's time the government started advertising this immorality as an approach to reduce demand. Maybe posters like this in night club toilets.

I think you would have to accept that while the 'War' continues then there is no way to clean up the Military.
Posted by Delay on January 6, 2011 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Why is this photo on the main page of The Stranger's website? Whatever the dead man's identity, this is disrespectful and exploitive. It encourages the worst kind of voyeurism.
Posted by doryphore on January 6, 2011 at 10:09 AM · Report this
JustSayGo 27
I have no problem with this violent image, as it serves as a good wake up call for most of us living in our safe little worlds.

The Stranger is an outspoken newspaper for a reason...it's reporting style, while not always gaining a consensus, makes one think.

Imagine living in a world where these images aren't merely photographs, but what you see on your walk to work.

While I understand the feelings by those that have posted against this image, I think it certainly calls attention to the serious nature of this article, and brings home a very palpable feeling to me at least.
Posted by JustSayGo on January 6, 2011 at 11:43 AM · Report this
biffster 28
Harry J. Anslinger & William Randolph Hearst are to blame for the cultural perception.
Posted by biffster on January 6, 2011 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Thank you so much for doing this series and this advocacy work. This series is responsible for making me rethink my perceptions about drug legalization and forced me to reprioritize my ethics - which is that no matter how badly addiction destroys lives, it is still better for more people to use drugs and fewer people to die. The history section was also quite informative for a neophyte such as myself. Thank you.
Posted by sahara29 on January 6, 2011 at 2:29 PM · Report this
procupcake 30
Fantastic series. I read it with interest, horror, and head-nodding agreement with every point. I too wish it had run in the SeaTimes, or another paper that doesn't normally claim the drug positive community among its readership. I was just having a conversation about the horrific WOD and wished that I'd had your series to site. Great job. I hope that more people will read it.
Posted by procupcake on January 6, 2011 at 2:40 PM · Report this


Children of rape are latest legacy of Haiti quake

By Jonel Aleccia and Meredith Birkett
An msnbc.com Special Report

A year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, women in Haiti’s still-teeming tent cities face yet another threat: sexual violence. With little protection from community or law enforcement, many have been violently raped, only to become pregnant with their attackers’ children.

Photojournalist Nadav Neuhaus traveled through Haiti’s tent cities last summer, photographing and interviewing dozens of residents in the camps that still house more than 1 million people. During a visit to Camp La Piste, home to 50,000 displaced people, Neuhaus noticed an unusually high number of pregnant women. A community organizer and a local midwife confirmed his worries: Many of the women were pregnant as a result of rape.

They came to Camp La Piste after losing parents, brothers and husbands in the earthquake, leaving them to fend for themselves in the sprawling squalor, where roving gangs of armed men terrorize residents.
Posted by Where do "unfair black rapist stereotypes" come from? on January 6, 2011 at 2:40 PM · Report this


The New York Times

Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War

BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.

Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.”
Posted by Where do "unfair black rapist stereotypes" come from? on January 6, 2011 at 2:42 PM · Report this

South Africa’s child-rape epidemic
Mar 2, 2010

"South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world, including child and baby rape, with one person estimated to be raped every 26 seconds, according to aid groups and local organizations.

In Khayelitsha, a sprawling, crime-ridden township of more than 500,000 people, many of the victims are children under the age of 10. "



Baby rapes shock South Africa

"Every day the newspapers bring awful revelations: a nine-month-old girl gang-raped by six men; an eight-month-old raped and left by the roadside. "
Posted by Where do "unfair" black rapist "stereotypes" come from? on January 6, 2011 at 4:24 PM · Report this


Rape Troubles Nearly All in South Africa

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Gallup survey of South Africans conducted March 21-April 7, 2009, reaffirms the extent to which the issue of rape plagues the country -- with 97% of residents calling it a major problem.

The Gallup survey results add to statistics from Interpol estimating that a woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa, and that one in every two women will be raped in their lives in the country. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18.

In a recent survey conducted by South Africa's Medical Research Council in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, one in four men admitted to having raped someone, and nearly half said they had attacked more than one victim. The report also found acts such as gang rape to be common because they are considered a form of male bonding, or a way to prove one's manhood or power."
Posted by Where do "unfair" black rapist "stereotypes" come from? on January 6, 2011 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Bravo! Also as much as I love Savage Love, this deserves as much attention, if not more. Oh well, jerking off is interesting, and nobody gives a shit how many Mexicans get beheaded.
Posted by anne77 on January 6, 2011 at 6:11 PM · Report this
Thank you for a well-written article, Brendan.
It really saddens me of all the widespread evil that is corporate Republican.

@3: nullbull: You're right--this spot on article SHOULD be on Bushiemedia-contaminated Fox News. Trouble is, nobody who buys their Tea-Bag bullshit would believe it. I think that to get the point across, we need to lock up every Republican pig and ignorant member of the Tea Party in a room, and subject all of 'em, gagged and bound, to repeated readings of Brendan Kiley's article until they scream for mercy.

Okay. I'm done.
Posted by auntie grizelda on January 6, 2011 at 6:17 PM · Report this
Hmmmmm....that could could take ANOTHER 100 years!
Posted by auntie grizelda on January 6, 2011 at 6:18 PM · Report this
Sorry--make that just one "could".
Posted by auntie grizelda on January 6, 2011 at 6:19 PM · Report this
Brendan, I am impressed with your ability to pack an insane amount of information into this article, while maintaining an engaging, evocative style. Nice work.
Posted by glassmongoose on January 6, 2011 at 7:07 PM · Report this
what does all that rape shit have to do with the article? second , maybe you could just stop doing drugs, finally the tea baggers have won.global warming scam failed . congress is lost. didn't you see them dragging nanci pelosi kicking and screaming from the room. you guys had your chance, the house is lost , the rest is next. obamas a gonner in 2012. so much for the revolution commiecrats. good luck on your next try, in a hundred years lol !
Posted by THE MIGHTY ERIC CARTMAN on January 6, 2011 at 7:41 PM · Report this
@40 you don't even make sense.
Posted by jaansdornea on January 6, 2011 at 9:08 PM · Report this
samktg 42
@41, He's a poe.

Goddam amazing series.
Posted by samktg on January 6, 2011 at 11:57 PM · Report this
I imagine Kelly O is bummed she didn't have this image for Drunk of the Week.
Posted by Arthurstone on January 7, 2011 at 12:31 PM · Report this
As a follow-up to this excellent series, I'd like to see The Stranger look into the sudden rush to outlaw synthetic weed in the wake of the car crash at the Market.

I've smoked my share of 'real' weed, but it never had me even close to passing out behind the wheel - especially at 11am. Is synthetic weed really that potent?

Posted by concours on January 7, 2011 at 3:34 PM · Report this
Great job, and perfect choice of picture, I think it should disturb people. I wish someone would could make a documentary out of this and show it in schools instead of that ridiculous DARE shit I grew up with. Even better, just like when someone gets a DUI and has to do alcohol education, when you get arrested for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc... you should be obligated to see all the carnage involved in making and distributing the product.
Posted by ssa on January 7, 2011 at 6:36 PM · Report this
all my ganja comes from northern cali, not mexico.
Posted by Clooz on January 8, 2011 at 3:04 AM · Report this
it won't change as long as all who've smoked pot stay in the closet about it. half the legislators smoke pot, yet continue knowing pot dealers are in jail....a third of america has smoked pot....yet you don't see people coming forward too much and saying so. you just can't lead a movement for social change if the affected people stay in the closet about it. we have more gay rights now only because gays came out of the closet, then the average american realized gays not scary freaks, but are the mom down the street and the guy who's an accountant -- boring. but pot smokers still act like little children afraid to come forward, afraid to demand that politicians who support them simply say YES I SMOKE POT IT'S NOT BIG DEAL. so, that conversation never happens ande the law and order scary mongering side wins the debate. you have to make pot familiar, known, boring, not scary. btw having a bunch of stoned hippy dippies leading the movement in a hempfest and with long hair and all that is exactly the wrong image to mesage. you want marcus welby smoking a joint on youtube then another 500,000 washingtonians putting their videos up on youtube saying pot is no big deal. you need 100 million conversations across america, you need swing voters realizing they already know 20 people who smoke pot, but right now all those people are hiding in the closet.
Posted by out with it on January 8, 2011 at 11:08 AM · Report this
Job well done on reporting this. If ever there was a greater call for ending prohibition, the grisly effects of the war on drugs that you highlight in this article certainly make the case.

As for those who feel that the picture is too extreme an image to publish, I'm glad The Stranger made the decision to do so.

The pics on BorderlandBeat/BlogDelNarco of the December 29th Acapulco nightclub display of skinned heads and chopped up bodies....now THAT's nasty!
Posted by Xanadu on January 8, 2011 at 11:31 AM · Report this
Job well done on reporting this. If ever there was a greater call for ending prohibition, the grisly effects of the war on drugs that you highlight in this article certainly make the case.

As for those who feel that the picture is too extreme an image to publish, I'm glad The Stranger made the decision to do so.

The pics on BorderlandBeat/BlogDelNarco of the December 29th Acapulco nightclub display of skinned heads and chopped up bodies....now THAT's nasty!
Posted by Xanadu on January 8, 2011 at 11:34 AM · Report this
slade 50
So you would have to target every alcoholic beverage maker and make a mandatory law for driving under the influence (Federal)?

Its not the legalization that the problem as it is the feeding frenzy for lawyers and the kicks in the teeth for politics in general as no one has the balls to face the machine that "IS" America for any of its poor failures at everything?

Come a big problem like a bad economy and the very first thing to Pansy out and go limp wristed and desert the American people is the American Government?

You make Heroin legal and the floor of congress will be a carpet of needles?

New Orleans has a Hurricane party as an F-5 monster named Katrina rolls directly at them and they don't even know if the water pumps work or not?

They "should" make sharp objects illegal
Posted by slade http://www.youtube.com/user/guppygator on January 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM · Report this
Wow. This series is such a perfect example of what journalism should be, that I cried because most of it is not.

Maybe the commenter posting the links to stories about rape is suggesting a new topic you could look into? I can't wait to see what you write about next.

Thank you. And yes, the photo was called for.
Posted by LovedIt on January 8, 2011 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Great work Mr K, you should be shortlisted for a Pulitzer.
Posted by pHof on January 8, 2011 at 6:59 PM · Report this
The mighty Eric Cartman has come up with a novel solution to our drug problem, but I think "maybe you could just stop doing drugs" is a bit long winded. How about something like "Just say No"?
Posted by buttmonkey on January 8, 2011 at 10:18 PM · Report this
DeaconBlues 54
@53: make sure to introduce that campaign around the same time that one of the world's largest manufacturers of athletic clothing launches their "just do it" ad campaign, thereby confusing the shit out of everyone.
Posted by DeaconBlues http://radzillas.blogspot.com/ on January 9, 2011 at 2:44 AM · Report this
I know others have said this and I'm sure it's a fantastic article, but I REALLY wasn't happy to load up the Stranger and see such a horrific image of death on the main page with no warning. Some of us may be at work, some of us may have kids nearby, some of us may be sensitized from violent experiences, and some of us may be currently eating spaghetti bolognese. This is a weekly news and culture website, not Ogrish. Please show some respect for your readers and give us a choice here.
Posted by the_spiral on January 9, 2011 at 8:46 AM · Report this
P.S. Also, while the deceased clearly made choices that led him to here, his family does not deserve to have their dead loved one displayed on a public forum where they could stumble across this image at any time.

P.P.S. Amazing and thorough journalism. I would forward it to everyone I knew if the picture was removed or placed behind a warning.
Posted by the_spiral on January 9, 2011 at 8:56 AM · Report this
P.S. Also, while the deceased clearly made choices that led him to this state, his family doesn't deserve to have their dead loved one displayed on a public forum where they could stumble across the image at any time.

P.P.S. Amazing and thorough journalism. I would forward it to everyone I knew if the picture was removed or placed behind a warning.
Posted by the_spiral on January 9, 2011 at 8:57 AM · Report this
Great work. You should be shortlisted for a Pulitzer for this piece.
Posted by pHof on January 9, 2011 at 12:18 PM · Report this
Amazing article. I thought the first article provided some pretty strong evidence as to why levamisole is being used in cocaine...it's harder to detect, doesn't change the appearance of the powder, etc...It's been a while since I read that one, and I don't remember what other reasons were given but it seemed kind of cut-and-dried that levamisole was superior to baby powder or whatever, and so of course those greedy fucks are going to use it to stretch their product. But I guess this is just speculation.
Posted by small town housewife on January 9, 2011 at 9:53 PM · Report this
this is where too cool becomes uncool.
Posted by oi vey on January 10, 2011 at 4:39 AM · Report this
want to learn more? check the http://www.DrugWarRant.com/
Posted by fixitman on January 10, 2011 at 9:01 AM · Report this
fucking fantastic article...i liked this even better than the other ones because it tied everything together..leaves me in serious despair about when sanity is going to prevail though..
Posted by nastyrose on January 10, 2011 at 9:44 AM · Report this
Brendan, awesome work. Thank you.
Posted by Ballardistic on January 11, 2011 at 9:09 AM · Report this
YanaBanana 64
Absolutely stellar work! This series of articles should be widely distributed.

Thank you Brendan. I came here because of Savage Love but I have stayed because of your critical work. Bravo.
Posted by YanaBanana on January 11, 2011 at 10:33 AM · Report this
NaFun 65
@13 - what if it were legal, convenient, and safe to acquire exactly one day's dose at a pre-arranged time from a licensed pharmacist, and you had to use it right there in a supervised setting?
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on January 11, 2011 at 1:03 PM · Report this
PRS-1 66
I haven't read the article or even looked at the cover for a while because that picture it just too awful. Weegee showed some grotesque things yes, but they had beauty, told a story, and inspired emotions other than revulsion.
Posted by PRS-1 on January 11, 2011 at 4:35 PM · Report this
Sweeney Agonistes 67
I have to agree with Jaybird -- the thought crossed my mind a couple of articles ago that you might be pissing some people off. Which isn't a reason not to write, but a great reason to watch your back.

Be careful. You're valuable. And thank you.
Posted by Sweeney Agonistes on January 11, 2011 at 4:59 PM · Report this
@41: I think that's his point.
Eric the Mostly Gaseous Fartman has no sense.
Apparently he thinks it's his charm.
My guess is that he's also the poo guy in ANON as well. That's about his speed.
Posted by auntie grizelda on January 11, 2011 at 6:31 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 69
One of the best closing paragraphs I've ever read.

I don't necessarily agree, but given the quality of the perspective, I don't really have a disagreement to stand on. Which means: I'm off to the library to better inform myself and form a more complete opinion on the matter. And if that is the goal of true journalism, which it should be, then you sir have succeeded.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on January 11, 2011 at 11:10 PM · Report this
I question why the pants are down, why the ankles
are crossed? It appears that he may have also been raped,
in view of the pants and the body having been turned over.
This is very disturbing.
Posted by valerie0714 on January 11, 2011 at 11:12 PM · Report this
The whole series was excellent. The violence is a necessary aspect to story and the photo delivers..
Posted by fag on January 12, 2011 at 10:36 AM · Report this
NaFun 72
My guess as to why the pants are down is they were searching the body after he was killed.

Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on January 12, 2011 at 1:23 PM · Report this
Many, many people die every year in Mexico because of the War on Drugs. It's time to realize nobody is winning here except a lot of criminals. Luckily even the president of Mexico is finally realizing this. Time to change something! Check out some more info: http://www.dailysmoker.com/blog/mexico-l…
Posted by MichaelGreen on March 17, 2012 at 5:58 AM · Report this
Many, many people die every year in Mexico because of the War on Drugs. It's time to realize nobody is winning here except a lot of criminals. Luckily even the president of Mexico is finally realizing this. Time to change something! Check out some more info: http://www.dailysmoker.com/blog/mexico-l…
Posted by MichaelGreen on March 17, 2012 at 6:01 AM · Report this
As a Former Police officer and now retired Drug addict, problem user, alcoholic/ cokehead whatever you'd like to call it who is now sober/clean and does not use any substance, i agree with the Author what a great article ....the Drug war is a big useless waste the regular American is the loser here paying for it all , make it all Legal and tax it , regulate it. The taxed money should go towards treatment.... which is useless for someone who does not want to stop by the way. Alcohol although socially acceptable is just as bad as any of the Drugs if not the worst . In rehab the straight up Drinkers looked more torn up than anyone there including Hardcore Heroin users. To the Gung ho overzealous cops kicking down doors then kicking back cases of Bud really look at yourself man...This war has gone to far time to re evaluate.
Posted by Lucky 13 on April 23, 2012 at 8:00 PM · Report this

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