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by Peter Moskos

February 27, 2015

We Got Another Kingpin! (15)

It's amazing there are any drug kingpins left since we've gotten so many of them.

It seems there was one last to get: "La Tuta." Now he's history. (I'm a bit disappointed in the monicker. "The teacher" is a pretty lame nickname by drug lord standards, I have to say. We may not be running out of kingpins, but they may be running out of good nicknames.)

"The most wanted drug lord in the country," according to the NYT.

I guess Mexico is now safe. Surely this marks the end of the drug war. What a relief.

Fight Police Brutality

No point here. I just like old pictures. From Shorpy.com.

Washington, D.C., circa 1925. "Protesters" is all it says on the caption card for this National Photo glass negative showing what seems to be a meeting of the "Communist Party Young Communist League."

Body Cams and the mean streats of Basingstoke

The BBC has a short (2 min) and surprisingly informative clip on body cameras. But the real reason I'm posting this is because this attack on a police officer took place in Basingstoke, England. Now you may know Basingstoke for its roundabouts (traffic circles)... actually you probably have never heard of Basingstoke. And that's OK. But I know Basingstoke because the wonderful people of the Hampshire Constabulary let me walk and bike around with them in the fall (autumn) of 2011. I was at Bramshill, the National Policing College. Good times. (Bramshill was recently and shamefully sold to save money.)

Sgt. Kerry Lawrence was attacked last July. According to the BBC, she has since resumed full duties. I wish her the best.

For what it's worth, I remember asking a police officer in Hampshire, "when was the last time a Hampshire officer was killed on duty?" Whomever I asked pondered for a moment (and asked if car crashes counted. I said no) and then, taking a sip from his cuppa, replied, "I don't think ever." That is pretty typical for over there. It's not that there's no crime or violence in Basingstoke, but on Halloween, one big worry is the illegal sale of flour or eggs to people under 16.

For what it's worth, the unprovoked and near fatal attack on Sgt Lawrence received a sentence of three years. That low (for America) sentence length is also pretty typical over there.

The quoted reaction by Hampshire police officers:
"I know it was an extremely traumatic experience for Sgt Lawrence and her family and it also had a significant impact on her team and others at Basingstoke Police Station.

"I am pleased that the courts have recognised the seriousness of this offence in the sentence passed today."

"Police officers accept that they perform a dangerous and unpredictable job.

"I am pleased that the judge has given an appropriate sentence for this vicious and unprovoked attack on PS Lawrence."
Things are different in foreign lands, I tell you.

Here are few pics I took back in 2011. Only the bikes are in Basingstoke. The others are in the surrounding rural area, which looks like a friggin' magical kids' story book!

February 23, 2015

Prop. 47's effect on jail time

From LA, where Proposition 47 reclassified many crimes as misdemeanors. Drug arrests are down by about one-third. Property crimes are up nearly 10 percent. The problem seems to be this: "The new law specifies that the financial savings on the incarceration side be reinvested in truancy, drug treatment and mental health programs. But that provision does not take effect until mid-2016."

I'd be curious how much and how they determine how much money is being saved by fewer arrests (in court, corrections, and police).

February 6, 2015

This is what rational drug policy looks like

The other day my wife and I visited a friend from way back who now works in a coffee shop. Actually a famous one, the Bulldog, which is soon to celebrate it's 40th anniversary.

Mostly I just love how a legal and regulated drug trade becomes, well, boring.

There actually is a worker on duty who is registered by the city as a drug dealer. Along with having to get a standard cafe operator's license, the city A) checked his criminal background and B) made sure his money is legit. That's it. They also gave tips in the standard cafe license class (along with, you know, the usual: keep hot, hot, and cold, cold, and don't cross-contaminate) on how to run a business and keep accounts and deal with labor issues. Here, as long as you play their game, they actually want you to succeed.

What's odd about the coffee shop business is that the business is legal, the drugs they sell are legal in all but name, but the store is only allowed to have 500 grams (1 lb) of weed in stock at any given time (that's strange, but whatever). So they constantly get re-upped. And at that point in the supply trade, from the guy supplying the coffee shop and up the wholesale ladder, the drugs are illegal. Odd. Also, I think, now there has to be a dedicated drug dealer. Years ago you could order coffee and a joint from the same guy. Now, or at least here, one employee makes the coffees and handles all the business except the drugs. The other sells the drugs. Whatev... It works for the Netherlands. And yes, no tobacco smoking inside a business. That's illegal.

This looks a lot better than prohibition, even Dutch prohibition.

Don't snort the white heroin!

So a few months ago in Amsterdam, a couple British tourists died from a drug overdose. The Brits are kind of like the canaries in a coal mine of tourists. Brits are usually the first to somehow kill themselves, if given the opportunity. (It has to do with alcohol.)

Anyway, they did die. It turned out that some guy on the street was selling heroin as cocaine. This is odd mostly because heroin is more expensive than cocaine, so the drug dealer probably didn't know what he was selling. But the end result is people snorted heroin, many went the hospital, and a few died.

So what do you as a tourist city do? Well most places would cover it up. Or make ads showing happy people having fun in the sun. Well there isn't much sun here, but jokes aside, what they did in Amsterdam is very impressive. It's what a rational drug policy looks like.

First of all, hard drugs (heroin and cocaine) are illegal here. So you can't go into a coffee shop and buy them. But as this city is a bit of a drug tourist destination, people come here wanting to do drugs. So like anywhere, they find a way to buy them.

As I have written, police spend effort cracking down on fake drug sellers. But these real drugs. Prohibition deaths. Because both the buyer and seller thought they were buying and selling something else.

So the city but up signs to warn tourists. It may seem like common sense, but what American city would do this? And it was an issue here too. I mean, who wants to see such signs in their beautiful city?

Of course the campaign to warn tourist more than the actual deaths became international news. Is this good for the city's image? Well, actually, probably, yes.

And nobody else died. That's kind of important.

Here's what the Mayor Van der Laan wrote on December 3, 2014. It's very rational. It's very Dutch:
Cocaine alert and reputation

For the past two months, seventeen predominantly young tourists fell victim to so-called 'white heroin'. Heroin, sold as cocaine on the streets, that is much more dangerous and therefore potentially deadly. Three young Brits died. An indescribable loss to their family members and friends.

People who say it is not allowed to use hard drugs are, of course, correct. Reality is, unfortunately, unruly. Many people do something illegal now and again. Even nice people, even people who could be our own family and friends. We cannot ignore that reality, and this is the foundation for our drug policy, which, at its core, takes drug usage as a health problem. Not criminalising it (as opposed to many other countries) makes room for education, safety testing and prevention. And this makes people who unexpectedly use too many or contaminated drugs, be able to apply for first aid, without worrying about being prosecuted.

We hope the police will find the perpetrator soon. In the meantime, our campaign will continue. There are 35 matrix signs with warnings to tourists. We know most young weekend tourists often arrive on Thursdays or Fridays. Special teams distribute flyers at Amstel bus station, Central Station, Schiphol Airport, and in the city centre.

In addition, we recommend the exclusion tests available at smartshops. They demonstrate whether or not you are dealing with heroin, but should not offer a false sense of security. This is why we are telling users very clearly that the test does not guarantee the drugs are safe to use.

Tourists have let us know they appreciate these efforts. Many are surprised we openly warn them of the dangers these drugs entail. I get a lot of questions about that. Don't you think it is bad for the city's reputation, all those warning signs and (inter)national media attention? people want to know. The answer to that question is 'no.' I would find it bad for the city if we did not do this. Amsterdam wants to do everything to prevent new victims. That is the least we can do.

Dateline: Amsterdam

I'm in Amsterdam. It's been three years since I've been here, which is the longest I've ever been away since 1991, when I first visited (and then lived in) this fine city.

Like New York or Chicago, Amsterdam has gentrified. A lot. The city is also less interesting. It's called vertrutting: dulling. There's a movement to "stop the verturtting of Amsterdam." It's like "keep Austin weird." It's also pretty much a lost cause. Compared the mid 1990s, Amsterdam is cleaner. It's more expensive. It's a lot less scruffy. The squat scene, for instance -- once a vital part of culture and nightlife (and housing) -- is dead. It used to be legal. It no longer is. The Red Light District is getting smaller and smaller. There is pressure to close down coffee shops (where you buy weed). And coffee shops, despite the fact they're here to say, are being shut down entirely in some areas (the Spui and Warmoestraat). Why? Nobody knows for sure. They're also not being allowed within 250 meters of school (300 meters in the rest of the country). This is a solution to a non-existent problem. And yet despite this, the city abides.

It's hard to say this still isn't a great place. Sure Amsterdam may be cleaner, richer, less working class, and less interesting. But I'm happy there's less dog shit to step in. And things get decided rationally here, by and large. And hell, compared to when I lived here in the 1990s, perhaps I'm cleaner, richer, less working class, and less interesting. So who am I to complain?