Marijuana farmers in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley wielded weapons much stronger than pitchforks when government security forces threatened to destroy their crops on Monday. The government sent tractors and armored vehicles to flatten the illegal cannabis crops, but farmers retaliated with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars—ultimately forcing security forces to back down. There was an exchange of fire but no casualties were reported, although two security vehicles were bombarded with bullets. The Lebanese government has often tried to wipe out cannabis farms, but the farmers—many of whom rely on the lucrative crop to support their impoverished communities—are known to respond with aggressive defense tactics, most likely backed by well-funded drug traffickers. During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, Bekaa Valley produced up to 1,000 tons of cannabis and 50 tons of opium (used to make heroin) annually, but was ultimately eradicated under a UN program in 1993. Since that effort, the valley has re-emerged—but the government will not give the growers a free pass, and are rumored to be regrouping and organizing a new plan to take down the crops.
This is not your typical "rom-com." A US-based British scientist who thought he was heading to Bolivia to meet the woman of his dreams—a renowned "Czech model" he met online—now faces a possible 16-year jail sentence after he was allegedly suckered into smuggling two kilograms of cocaine on a flight from Buenos Aires to Peru. Paul Frampton, a professor at North Carolina University, had been chatting online from last November with a woman he believed to be Czech-born glamour model and former Miss Bikini World Denise Milani. But it turns out "she" was a male criminal posing as a model. The pair arranged to meet in Bolivia, where Frampton thought he would meet Milani, only to be told by a hotel employee to look after a suitcase belonging to her. After waiting fruitlessly in Bolivia for 10 days, he was told to fly to Buenos Aires and wait three days for a ticket to Brussels, where they would finally meet. It was at this point that Frampton's colleagues convinced him to fly home—but he was busted by airport officials when they found the drugs hidden in the lining of the suitcase. “The day I arrived in Bolivia I found out she wasn’t coming and I should have returned to the US straight away," says Frampton. "But I always see my projects through, as I do with my physics papers. She was my project. Perhaps I should have realized there was something strange going on.” How on earth did the man who makes a living off his mind fall for such a scam? Frampton's ex-wife Anne Marie says he has "an emotional age of three. The only thing he understands is science." Frampton is still locked up in a Buenos Aires jail, but his fellow scientists have written to Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, asking her to intervene.
Are internet addicts more prone to violence? Amid scrutiny of the internet use of Dark Knight massacre suspect James Holmes, a study from Taiwan suggests that people with narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder are far more likely than most to get hooked on the web. A research team led by Ko Hui-chen, chair of the Taiwanese Psychological Association and vice president of Asia University, surveyed 3,166 university students on a long-term basis, finding 10-15% of them to be addicted to the internet. But they found that an enormous 66.7% of the students with narcissistic personality disorder were “netaholics”—as well as 62.5% of those with antisocial personality disorder and 52.2% of those with borderline personality disorder. “Those with narcissistic disorder, antisocial disorder or borderline personality disorder are more eager to realize the dreams that can hardly be done in daily life by assuming the roles of the dream world though online games,” says Ko. She argues that while individuals should learn to control violent urges, online games-makers also bear some responsibility, for making it too easy for internet addicts to confuse the real and virtual worlds. Better classification and control of online games for sexual and violent content would help, she believes.
- Russia Slaps Ban on Alcohol Advertising in Media [BBC]
- Heroin Use Among Youngsters Growing Worse in Chicago [CBS]
- Handful of Olympians Already Test Positive for Doping [Globe and Mail]
- Leaf for Drug Cocktail Adds to Thailand’s Woes [New York Times]
- Brits Say No to Alcohol on Planes [Travelbite]
- Tea Party Nation Pres Says Obama Could be a "Gay Drug Addict" [Right Wing Watch]
- Tom Cruise Thinks Scientology Would Help Russell Brand with Addictions [Independent Online]
Come November, Washington will, along with Colorado and Oregon, have a marijuana-legalization initiative on the state ballot—and the pro-legalization campaign is gaining donations and momentum. Known as Initiative 502, Washington's measure aims to legalize the possession or sale of up to one ounce of marijuana—subject to steep taxation. Over the weekend, the pro campaign raked in an impressive $1.25 million in donations—bringing the current fundraising total to $2.95 million. Just four major donors supplied the latest funding: Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, an anonymous arm of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, travel guru Rick Steves and the ACLU in Washington. According to I-502 campaign manager Alison Holcomb, the donations will pay for a $1 million media blitz late this summer. A recent statewide poll provides more good news for the pro-legalization camp; it found that 55% of Washington residents currently support I-502, with 32% against. Some oppose the initiative not because they believe marijuana should remain illegal but because the hefty excise taxes imposed by I-502 could dramatically increase costs for medical marijuana patients.
The US war on drugs, which for years has focused on Latin America, is reportedly expanding into Africa. US forces are currently training counter-narcotic police in Ghana, and will soon be employing squads in Nigeria and Kenya too, as Latin American drug cartels are increasingly using African countries as hubs to smuggle drugs in to Europe. This is due partly to crackdowns on drug smuggling in direct staging points, like Mexico and Spain, and cartels are finding they can exploit relatively impoverished African countries—where they drive up corruption and instability further. "West Africa is now facing a situation analogous to the Caribbean in the 1980s, where small, developing, vulnerable countries along major drug-trafficking routes are vastly under-resourced to deal with the wave of dirty money coming their way," says top US counter narcotics official, William F. Wechsler. According to the UN, cocaine trafficking and consumption in West Africa have risen dramatically in recent years, contributing to instability in places like Guinea-Bissau.
In response, the US has contributed $50 million to counternarcotic programs in West Africa over the past year—a huge increase from the $7.5 million spent in 2009. The "vision" is reportedly to help African nations "catch up" to Latin American countries in terms of being equipped to handle the problem of drug trafficking. This aggressive expansion of anti-drug tactics into Africa is also a sign of the US shifting its attention towards the war on drugs, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and demand fewer resources. But critics are dubious, believing the US is using a "Wack-a-Mole" approach that will simply cause traffickers to move to other more unstable countries, instead of eliminating the problem. Some fear that the anti-drug efforts will result in more violence, mirroring the situation in Latin America, where traffickers have often responded brutally to crackdowns. "There is always blowback to this," says University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley, a drug war expert. "You start killing people in foreign countries—whether criminals or not—and there is going to be fallout."