Bill Weinberg's blog

Big Cannabusiness: Reconciling the Recreational Boom and the Medical Marketplace

CannabusinessOn New Year’s Day, as retail sales of cannabis went legal in Colorado, the state's dispensaries registered well over $1 million in sales. Despite cold and wet weather, most of the 36 shops that opened that day reported long lines, with some customers waiting outdoors for hours. By the end of the first week, by which time another dozen retail outlets had opened, the figure was a whopping $5 million. More than 100 dispensaries in the Centennial State have now received licenses for retail cannabis sales and over 500 are eligible to apply. More are applying every day.

"A new industry is developing in a nascent state in Colorado," says Rachel Gillette, director of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "We're not just talking about retail sales, but a lot of other types of business associated with it—construction companies, HVAC contractors, nutrient companies, lighting and equipment sales, packaging, printers, labeling, marketing materials, websites, marijuana tourism, attorneys, payroll companies… This could represent a lot of jobs."

Mexico claims another blow against cartels: how real?

Posted on October 16th, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , .

MexicoMexico claimed another capture of a long-fugitive cartel kingpin Oct. 9, when Vicente Carrillo Fuentes AKA "El Viceroy" surrendured without a shot after being recognized by federal police at a checkpoint in Torreon, Coahuila. A bodyguard in the car was also taken into custody. El Viceroy, top boss of the Juárez Cartel, was one of Mexico's most wanted fugitives, and the US was offering a $5 million  reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction. (CNN, Oct. 9) However, like Héctor Beltran Leyva of the Beltran Leyva Organization, who was apprehended just days earlier, the Viceroy headed a crime syndicate that was already in decline—squeezed out by the twin behemoths of the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas.

Sequel needed

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , .

Dean BeckerDean Becker, a former reporter at non-commercial KPFT in Houston, has produced a worthwhile if deceptively named book in To End the War on Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press and Public. Rather than the activist how-to manual promised in the subtitle, it is a series of interviews with leading lights in the drug policy reform movement. And rather than explaining how, they are mostly making the case as to why the "drug war" must end.

Mexican cartel wars winding down?

Posted on October 2nd, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , .

MexicoMexican authorities on Oct. 1 claimed another coup against the cartels, announcing the arrest of Héctor Beltran Leyva, last remaining kingpin of the Beltran Leyva Organization—the declining crime machine that once controlled much of the west and central parts of the country. Beltran Leyva was taken into custody by army troops "without a shot fired" as he dined in a seafood restaurant in the tourist town of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato state. (LAT, Oct. 1) The capture follows that earlier this year of the Sinaloa Cartel's long-fugitive jefe máximo Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo"—marking another score for President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his supposed new and more sophisticated policy against the cartels.

Narco-counter-coup in Guinea-Bissau?

Posted on September 25th, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , .

AfricaTwo years ago, a military putsch in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau was dubbed a "narco-coup," with reports claiming the civilian president had been removed for his unwillingness to turn a blind eye to lucrative cocaine smuggling rackets by commanders of the armed forces. On Sept. 16, BBC News reported that the leader of the coup, armed forces chief Gen. Antonio Indjai, was dismissed by the new president, Jose Mario Vaz, who came to power following elections and a return to civilian rule earlier this year. Reuters suggests international pressure was behind the move. Indjai was replaced with Gen. Biague Na Ntan, described as a confidant of Vaz. Reuters notes that he is an ethnic Balanta like Indjai, which could smooth over resentment from the ethnic group that makes up about 60% of the army and security forces but just 25% of the population.

Saudi Arabia goes on beheading spree

Posted on September 19th, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , .

Middle EastWhile ISIS has sparked global outrage with its beheading of journalists (and less global outrage for its beheading of captive Kurdish and Syrian fighters), US ally Saudi Arabia has been gone on a beheading spree of its own. We've noted that Saudi Arabia is among the Middle Eastern nations responsible for a global execution spike. Al Jazeera reported on Sept. 2 that Saudi Arabia carried out more than one execution per day in the first three weeks of August. The Saudi Ministry of Justice has announced the execution of 26 since Aug. 4. In the seven months prior to that date, 15 executions were carried out, bringing the total number to 41 so far this year. Drug charges have been prominent. Four were beheaded in the southwestern city of Najran on Aug. 18 after being convicted of smuggling "a large quantity of hashish" into the country. The Saudi Press Agency boasted that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and his government are taking aggressive measures againts the "social ill of narcotics" and meting out punishment "according to Sharia." Creepily, a man was beheaded Aug. 19 in the northern city of Qurayyat on charges of "sorcery." Amnesty International denounced what it called a "disturbing surge" in executions in the desert kingdom. "The Saudi Arabian authorities must halt all executions," the group said, adding that some beheadings were "reportedly on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture."

Fortune magazine ranks top five global cartels

Posted on September 17th, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , .

Shadow WatchWell, this is really cute. With refreshing honesty, Fortune magazine on Sept. 14 issued a list of the "Fortune 5"—the biggest organized crime groups in the world, ranked by their annual revenue estimates. No sources are given, but the Fortune editors presumably relied on international law enforcement intelligence. The results are slightly surprising for those of us who grew up in the era of the Sicilian Mafia and Medellín Cartel. Brave new crime machines have long since eclipsed these entities from the global stage, and far outstripped their earnings from human trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, prostitution and (above all) drug smuggling. In the number one slot, by a mile, is Yamaguchi Gumi, a wing of Japan's Yakuza, with revenue estimated at $80 billion. A distant second is Russian mafia group Solntsevskaya Bratva, with revenue at $8.5 billion. Three and four are two Italian outfits that have long superceded Sicily's Cosa Nostra: the Camorra, based in Naples, with revenues of $4.9 billion; and the 'Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, with revenues of $4.5 billion. Number five is Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, with revenues of $3 billion.

ISIS to attack US through Mexico —not!

Posted on September 14th, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , .

ISISHere we go again. Francis X. Taylor, under-secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security on Sept. 10 that operatives of the extremist jihadi movement variously known as ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State have discussed infiltrating the United States through the Mexican border. "There have been Twitter and social-media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility," Taylor said in response to a question from Sen. John McCain, who wanted to know if any ISIS chatter had been intercepted that "would urge infiltration into the United States across our Southwestern border." But Taylor said he was "satisfied that we have the intelligence and the capability at our border that would prevent that activity." And when pressed further, he admitted: "At present, DHS is unaware of any specific, credible threat to the US homeland from ISIL." This weasily flipping gives the media the opportunity to play it however they want. So the liberal Huffington Post headline reads "DHS Doesn't Think ISIS Is Plotting Attack Through US-Mexico Border," while the establishmentarian Bloomberg goes with "Islamic State Talked of Entering US Through Mexico."

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