Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama Laughs Off Question on MJ Legalization

Provides zero argument for saying no to legalizing Cannabis for economic relief or job creation before compliant audience.

THE PRESIDENT: Can I just interrupt, Jared, before you ask the next question, just to say that we -- we took votes about which questions were going to be asked and I think 3 million people voted or --
DR. BERNSTEIN: Three point five million.
THE PRESIDENT: Three point five million people voted. I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy -- (laughter) -- and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy -- (laughter) -- to grow our economy. (Applause.)

What does such a reaction say about the type of people handpicked for attending such an event?

And what does it say about Obama?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leaves of Wrath Led US To Blackmail WHO

during the Clinton Administration over-riding WHO and US Congress Office of Technology Assessment

Leaves of Wrath Led US to Blackmail WHO
Final Episode in the Tug-of-War Between the US, the UN and Bolivia’s Coca Leaf?

Bolivian President Evo Morales is on his way to Vienna, but he can’t bring coca leaves to chew for comfort on the plane — not even a bit of coca shampoo to shower with at the hotel. He might have his last chance to change that, once he sets foot at the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Austria’s capital city this March 11th. The CND is the policy-making body at the United Nations that deals with illicit drugs — and the medicinal coca leaf, native to Bolivia, is considered to be one of them.

According to the UN website, ministers and top anti-drug officials from the CND Member States will be meeting to discuss issues ranging from preventing drug abuse to adopting a plan of action to “counter the world drug problem.” But for former coca farmer Morales and other coca leaf activists, the problem lies with the UN’s decisions — particularly the one that put the coca leaf on the UN’s list of the most strongly controlled illicit substances.

For years, activists have been trying to to remove coca from the top UN list of illegal substances and change the international perception of coca as being synonymous with cocaine. President Morales himself sent an official letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon exactly one year ago, announcing he would try to take the coca leaf off the UN’s list.

But the list of controlled substances can only be changed by the 53 governments of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, “taking into account the recommendation made by the World Health Organization, based on a scientific review of a substance,” says Beate Hammond, Drug Control Officer of the Secretariat of the International Narcotics Control Board.

Hammond claims that in 1993, the WHO Expert Committee confirmed that the coca leaf belongs in the top list because “cocaine is readily extractable from the leaf.” She adds, “We are not aware of any facts that have come to light to justify a reversal of the scheduling status of coca leaf.”

But some are saying the reason those facts have not come to light has little to do with facts, and a lot to do with faulty studies — and a bit of blackmailing.

Yanking the Problem by the UN’s Roots

The roots of this thorny issue go back to 1961, when governments signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to establish a single apparatus for international drug control. Another goal of the 1961 Convention was to “phase out the traditional consumption of drugs” like coca throughout the next 25 years, says a source from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“Everyone who signed and ratified it is bound by it,” affirms the UNODC source. According to Article 3 of that convention, controlled substances are not only those substances that can be abused, but also the substances that can be converted into a drug, explains Hammond.

While Hammond says the original 1961 Convention included the coca leaf on the list based on “the views on this matter expressed by the World Health Organization,” Sdenka Silva, co-founder of the Coca Museum in La Paz, says the original WHO study that is the basis was merely “based on observations.”

The most recent WHO study was legitimate, but it was ignored, says Dr. Jorge Hurtado, director of the Bolivian branch of the International Coca Research Institute. He says that in the 90s, studies by the WHO denied the addictive nature of the leaf and reaffirmed the coca leaf’s healthy attributes, including the leaf’s ability to allow the absorption of oxygen into the brain.

But this time the UN didn’t care about what the WHO had to say, because the US didn’t like it. Minutes from the 48th World Health Assembly in May 1995 cite the US government’s disapproval of the WHO study’s most recent findings about the coca leaf. The report cites US government representative Mr. Boyer warning that “if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programs should be curtailed.” He then “asked for an assurance that WHO would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study.”

Mario Argandoña, a Bolivian psychiatrist from the WHO Programme on Substance Abuse, participated in the study and wrote a report describing the study’s positive findings about the coca leaf. He says a few days after the 48th World Health Assembly meeting, the US embassy representative for the WHO, Dr. Ken Bernard, visited him in his Geneva office “to tell me that his government was investigating to see whether the WHO study had received financial support from Bolivian drug traffickers.” Dr. Bernard added that US scientists had proof that the traditional use of the coca leaf had led to brain atrophy in 14,000 Indigenous Andeans. “My answer was that the funding for the study came from Italy and the USA,” recalls Argandoña. “Regarding the scientific study about brain atrophy, I told him that the ethical thing to do would be to publish such a study.” Their meeting ended there.

Even Better Than the Real Thing

Dr. Jorge Hurtado tries to dispel ideas that coca is bad for the brain and any other part of the body. He affirms that as early as the 70s, research from Harvard University showed that the Bolivian coca leaf contains more vitamin A than any fruit and has more calcium than milk.

But most Bolivians know this just from experience. Bolivian miners survive hunger and sleep deprivation for long hours in the depth of the mines by chewing on coca leaves.

Coca is not only sacred for miners — but for Bolivians of all ages and walks of life. From the age of 11, Canedo amassed coca leaves into a protruding ball in one cheek to suck their juices out — an activity called ‘acullicar.’ Both his parents’ families are ‘acullicadoras.’ When Canedo visits his piece of land in the tropical Yungas region, he cultivates coca along with his family and neighbors. Back in La Paz, he often buys a bag of coca leaves at the market to share with his family. He chews on coca leaves at local bars and pubs and especially when he’s up late studying for exams or volunteering at the annual Coca and Sovereignty Fair, where everything from coca creams to coca pancakes is sold.

“Coca is part of us, it’s part of our identity, of our ideas, of our history,” says Jeannette Rojas, director of Comunidad Sagrada Coca, a local women’s music collective that seeks to honour Bolivia’s Indigenous heritage. “That’s why we call ourselves Sacred Coca Community,” she says.

“Coca is a symbol that has resisted and persisted for centuries. It’s the only thing that we’ve managed to preserve from European and Spanish destruction.”

Coca is present “in all the celebrations you can imagine: baptisms, marriages, village festivals, fertility, thanksgiving rituals” and important meetings, adds Silva.

Bolivians aren’t the only ones who know this. “Bolivia has produced coca leaf for traditional uses for centuries,” affirms a March 2007 International Narcotic Strategy Report released by US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

“Bolivians actually chew on the coca leaf for medicinal purposes,” acknowledges US Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson Michael Sanders. He recalls arriving at the El Alto airport, at more than 12,000 feet above the ground. “Because of altitude, a lot of people, including us, would get altitude sickness. They found one of the things that would curb the nausea and the altitude sickness was coca tea,” he says. “It wouldn’t get you high or anything like that, it would just assist with the symptoms of altitude sickness.”

Dr. Hurtado adds that the leaf contains two molecules that prevent addiction. And not only can the leaf prevent addiction, it can cure it, he says. Since 1984, he says he has been treating cocaine addiction with the coca leaf.

Cutting Supply Isn’t Enough

Whether curative or nutritional, what’s crystal clear is that coca leaves are not synonymous with cocaine. “Coca does not contain cocaine in its natural state,” explains Dr. Hurtado. Cocaine can only be derived from it through a specific chemical extraction process, he says, and a lengthy process is needed to transform the green leaves into the white powder.

Dionisio Nuñez, a Bolivian deputy and co-founder of the Coca and Sovereignty campaign thinks the cocaine problem in Bolivia is the direct consequence of cocaine consumption in the US and its inability to eradicate that problem domestically.

Even the DEA spokesperson agrees. “Do you like chocolate?” Sanders asked. “What if you said I’m not going to eat chocolate anymore? If everyone in the country said okay, I’m not going to eat chocolate, then there would be no such thing as Swiss chocolate because nobody would be buying it,” said Sanders.

“It’s the same thing with illegal drugs. Until the demand is gone, you’re always going to have that supply.”

Dr. Hurtado also blames the US for protecting the monopoly of multinational companies to access coca, referring to a special deal that the soft drink company had with the DEA to export coca. Article 27 of the 1961 UN convention clearly provides a loophole for Coca Cola to take advantage of, says Dr. Hurtado, adding that the UN protects the Coca Cola monopoly because “the UN is controlled by the US.”

Yet Hammond laughs about the idea of Coca Cola being allowed preferential treatment by the UN. “The 1961 Convention may permit the use and export of coca leaves for the preparation of a flavouring agent, which does not contain any (cocaine) alkaloids,” explained Hammond. “It is only under these limited conditions that these leaves may be exported,” but the alkaloids do not have to be removed prior to export.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian government struggles to find legal markets to export the coca leaf — to ensure less coca goes to drug trafficking and more goes to eating, soothing, washing and curing. If travelers like Morales want to bring coca teas, creams or candies as souvenirs to promote their local economy and heritage when they go on trips abroad, the coca leaf will need to be taken off the UN’s list by the CND.

Bolivian President Evo Morales will make his speech during the opening session of the CND March 11th. It starts at 10am at the Vienna International Centre and is open to the media.

Nadia Hausfather is a Humanities PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada and lived in Bolivia for eight months. Read other articles by Nadia.

5 comments on this article so far ...

Evo Morales Calls on Obama to Back Coca Campaign

Bolivia's Morales calls on Obama to back coca campaign
11 Mar 2009 15:26:16 GMT

By Sylvia Westall VIENNA, March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama should recognise traditional uses of the coca leaf because not all production becomes cocaine, Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Wednesday.

Morales, a former coca farmer, also called on participants at a United Nations drug policy meeting in Vienna to lift a ban on coca for some uses.

"My top aim (in coming here) is to defend coca, to fight for coca," Morales told a news conference through a German translator.

Bolivia is the world's No. 3 cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru. Coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, is used by millions of people in Bolivia and neighboring Peru to fight altitude sickness and stave off hunger. In its natural form, the leaf is also used in teas, in cooking and for religious ceremonies.

"We hope for support from President Obama for the decriminalization of coca," Morales said, adding that Bolivia is committed to the fight against cocaine and other drugs.

"The new U.S. president has similarities to me," Morales said, adding that he hoped Obama would help his years-long coca crusade because of what they have in common. "Before, nobody believed that an Indian could be president and nobody thought that a black man could be president of the United States," Morales said.

Morales, who has banned U.S. anti-drug agents from working in Bolivia, has said his country can fight cocaine trafficking on its own. He ordered the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to stop its work in Bolivia in November after accusing the agency of spying and conspiring to overthrow him.

A U.S. State Department report in February said Bolivian cocaine production increased rapidly last year due to greater cultivation and more efficient manufacturing methods. It said Bolivia had failed to live up to obligations under international agreements.

The U.N.'s crime agency chief said on Wednesday a 10-year anti-drug drive had partially backfired by making drug cartels so wealthy they can bribe their way through West Africa and Central America, and undermining security and development. [ID:nLB426950]
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Winston Man Dies at 68 of Cancer

from adulterated, misbranded Virginia Bright Leaf cigarettes;
called the industry “the biggest con of the 20th century.”

Alan Landers, Winston Man, Dies at 68

Published: March 3, 2009

Alan Landers, who started smoking at 9 and became a model for advertisements of Winston cigarettes and Tiparillo cigars, then contracted lung cancer and became a highly visible crusader against smoking, died Friday at his home in Lauderhill, Fla. He was 68.

Robin Levine Carns, a niece, said the cause was complications of treatment for cancer of the larynx, which Mr. Landers attributed to smoking, as he did his two lung cancers and heart disease.

As a foe of smoking, Mr. Landers billed himself as the Winston Man, in reference to his modeling for advertisements using the notoriously ungrammatical encomium “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” He visited hundreds of schools, made appearances for the World Health Organization and testified before Congress.

His argument was his personal story. He told of puffing through literally cartons of cigarettes in photographic sessions as he sought to achieve the ideal spiral of smoke while not letting ash at the tip of the cigarette exceed a quarter-inch. He said he was not warned of the hazards of smoking and called the industry “the biggest con of the 20th century.”

To dramatize his point, Mr. Landers would rip open his shirt to show scars from his operations.

In 1995, a spokeswoman for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company told The Associated Press that there were warnings on cigarette packages at the time of Mr. Landers’s modeling that he was free to read. Calls to the company’s public relations department on Tuesday were not returned.

Wayne McLaren, one of the models for the Marlboro Man, also became an antismoking spokesman before he died of lung cancer. Janet Sackman, who was once the Lucky Strike girl, has supported antismoking efforts since she lost her larynx and part of a lung to cancer.

Mr. Landers sued Reynolds in 1995, saying the company had exposed him to health risks without warning him, and the matter is finally coming to trial on April 13. His lawyer, Norwood S. Wilner, said Mr. Landers’s family was deciding how to proceed.

Mr. Landers was not part of a class-action suit filed in 1994 in Florida involving up to 700,000 smokers, which won a jury award of $145 billion in 2006. The State Supreme Court voided the award, saying each smoker’s damages must be decided individually. In February, a jury awarded a smoker’s widow $8 million in the first such decision.

Mr. Wilner said Mr. Landers was not included in the original class-action case because “we wanted him to be able to speak for himself.”

Alan Stewart Levine was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 30, 1940, and grew up watching movies; his twin brothers, who were ushers, let him in free. He told USA Today in 1995 that he began to smoke “before my bar mitzvah.” At 17, he joined the Army, which gave him a “smoke break” five minutes after each hour. He developed a smoking habit of two-and-a-half packs a day.

He went to New York, took acting classes and worked for several modeling agencies in succession. He appeared in magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan and GQ, and was once a centerfold in Playgirl. One of his biggest modeling jobs was with Reynolds, which he said paid him $3,000 to $5,000 a day.

In 1998, The Palm Beach Post reported that in a deposition Mr. Landers said he had modeled in Winston print advertisements only for a one-week shoot. Mr. Landers acknowledged this to the newspaper, as well as its report that he had once had a cocaine addiction and had pleaded guilty to two armed robberies.

Mr. Landers had small parts in television series and in Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall” and ran an acting school in Los Angeles for many years.

Mr. Landers, who never married, is survived by his brother, Jack Levine, of Destin, Fla.

Over the years, some people questioned how Mr. Landers could have been as ignorant of the dangers of smoking as he said he was, particularly after the surgeon general in 1964 officially reported that it caused cancer. He answered that his addiction was too strong, and the warnings not sufficiently forceful.

Mr. Wilner offered another possible explanation, one relevant to Mr. Landers’s lawsuit: “He knew a lot less than R. J. Reynolds did.”