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Chronicle AM: Petition to Fire DEA Head Gains Traction, Colombia OKs Medical Marijuana, More (11/12/15)

There are now more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to fire DEA head Chuck Rosenberg over his medical marijuana comments, Denver thinks a thousand pot shops is enough, Colombia will allow medical marijuana, and more. 

Coca and cocaine production is on the upswing in Colombia. (
Marijuana Policy

ResponsibleOhio Isn't Going Away. The group behind this month's defeated marijuana "monopoly" legalization initiative isn't going quietly into that long good night; instead, ResponsibleOhio is now trying to craft an initiative that can actually win. The group seems to understand that its plan to limit commercial grow opportunities and its bud-headed mascot, Buddie, were real turn-offs.

Denver Moves Toward a Moratorium on New Pot Shops. The city is proposing changes to its marijuana ordinances that would effectively halt new marijuana stores from opening for the next two years. The city currently has more than a thousand licensed operations, and that's enough, city officials said. "We have enough marijuana in Denver," said Ashley Kilroy, Denver's executive director of Marijuana Policy. "Basically, we’re saturated." The only exceptions would be some 85 medical marijuana businesses that were licensed in 2013.

Medical Marijuana

Petition to Fire DEA Head for Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke" Now Has 16,000 Signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

Kansas City Hospitals Deny Cannabis Oil to Epileptic Patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Prosecutors Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. County prosecutors from across the state lined up Wednesday to testify against House Bill 347, which would eliminate asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. They called the tactic "a vital tool" in going after drug traffickers during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more flavor.


Colombia Will Allow Medical Marijuana. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said today that the country plans to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana. Legalization will only apply to medical and scientific uses of the plant, he clarified. Pot possession is already legalized under Colombian Supreme Court rulings, but this move will allow for commercial medical production.

Colombia Retakes Title of World's Largest Cocaine Producer. Colombia is back on top in the cocaine production sweepstakes, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The organization puts Colombian production last year at 175,000 acres, compared to 109,000 for Peru, and 31,000 for Bolivia. The UN estimates Colombian cocaine production will increase 52% this year, in part because of the end of aerial eradication and in part because peasants believe that a looming peace deal between the government and the FARC will see benefits for farmers who abandon their crops, so they are planting coca. 

Chronicle AM: Portland Nixes "Green Light District," Afghan Opium Decline, More (10/15/15)

No pot tourism district for Portland, at least for now; New Jersey gets a fifth dispensary, Croatia legalizes medical marijuana, Afghan opium production fell by nearly half last year, and more.

Afghan opium production declined last year, for the first time in years, says UNODC. (
Marijuana Policy

Portland City Council Rejects Marijuana "Green Light District." The city council has rejected a proposal to create a concentration of marijuana businesses in a downtown "Green Light District" as a bid to attract cannabis tourists and to keep shops out of residential areas. The city currently requires a 1,000-foot buffer between pot shops, and the failed move would have lifted that requirement. Mayor Charlie Hales said the measure could be brought up again later.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Gets Fifth Dispensary Today. The state Health Department said Wednesday it had issued its final permit for Breakwater Treatment and Wellness, a dispensary in Cranston. It opened today.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Appeals Court Throws Out Car Seizure for $20 Worth of Weed. The state Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court decision saying that police in Westland were justified in seizing a woman's vehicle after she was busted with a gram of weed while doing pizza deliveries -- but not because the seizure was on outrage on its face. Instead the court held that because the marijuana was an unanticipated tip from a customer, the car should not have been seized because she hadn't used it with the intent of purchasing drugs. Click on the link for more.


UNODC Reports Big Drop in Afghan Opium Production. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Wednesday that Afghan opium production last year declined by nearly half (48%), from 6,400 metric tons to 3,300 metric tons. The decline is the first after years of steady increases in poppy cultivation, and UNODC said it resulted from better cooperation between police and Afghan policymakers, a smaller area under cultivation, and lower yields.

Peru's Air Force Accused of Turning Blind Eye to Cocaine Flights. The Peruvian defense minister announced Wednesday that he would investigate allegations of corruption in the military after the Associated Press reported days earlier that cocaine flights were taking off unimpeded in an "air bridge" to Bolivia that moves a ton of cocaine a day. The air bridge is from the VRAEM -- the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers -- in south-central Peru, now the country's leading coca and cocaine producing area. The Peruvian government in August approved shooting down suspected drug planes.

Croatia Approves Medical Marijuana. The Croatian government has approved the use of medical marijuana for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer, epilepsy, and AIDS. The marijuana will be distributed through pharmaceutical companies, and patients will be limited to 0.75 grams of pure THC per month. Home cultivation will not be allowed.

As Peace Negotiations Advance, Colombia Revamps Drug Policy [FEATURE]

Marking the end of an era, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday unveiled a new policy for dealing with coca cultivation and cocaine production, one that will rely on crop substitution and alternative development, with manual crop eradication only to be used as a last resort.

harvesting the coca crop in Colombia (
Santos then flew to Havana, where he met with leaders of the leftist FARC guerrillas and Wednesday announced an agreement on a transitional justice deal that should lead to the end of the world's longest-running insurgency by March 2016. The agreement on how to deal with combatants in the nearly half-century long civil war is the latest in peace talks that have been going on in Havana since November 2012. Negotiators had already forged agreements on the thorny issues of land reform, the FARC's political participation after peace is achieved, and how to deal with illicit drug production.

Colombia's years-long policy of attempting to eradicate coca crops by spraying fields with herbicides will be history at the end of this month. That policy was backed and financed by the United States as part of its multi-billion dollar effort to defeat drug trafficking and, later, to defeat the FARC.

Despite the billions spent, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, according to the US government. While production is down from record levels early this century, it rose 39% last year to about 276,000 acres. Figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show a lower extent of cultivation (170,000 acres), but echo that it is on the increase. According to UNODC, the increase was 44% last year.

The plan announced Tuesday, the Integrated Plan for Crop Substitution, has as its goals reducing the crime associated with the drug trade by reorienting policing efforts toward processing, trafficking, and money laundering -- not harassing peasants -- improving state capacity through the improvement of social, economic, and political conditions in the countryside, and dealing with drug consumption with a focus on human rights, public health, and human development.

It sets out six foci:

  1. Social Investment. That will include state and private spending on roads, energy supply, water supply, and investment in public health and education.
  2. Crop Substitution. A phased-in plan with community involvement that will create socio-economic stabilization and create new income opportunities. Agreements will be made with whole communities, not individual growers. Once a community has agreed to crop substitution, voluntary coca eradication will begin. If there is no agreement to eradicate, the government will do it manually, by force.
  3. Interdiction. Interdiction will continue, but in concert with the priorities of local communities and farmers. The plan also envisions "strengthening the legal tools available to fight the illegal drug business."
  4. Investigations and Prosecutions. The government will give top priority to going after "intermediate and top links of the drug trafficking chain," not peasant farmers.
  5. Prevention and Treatment. The new plan will emphasize youth prevention, as well as drug treatment using "programs founded on evidence." The plan calls for an increase in the quantity and quality of drug treatment offered.
  6. Institutional Reforms. The plan will create a new agency for alternative development in illicit cultivation zones. The agency will establish metrics for success, which will be made public on a regular basis.

The government's plan is in line with the recommendations of its Advisory Commission on Drug Policy in Colombia, which in a May report, called for drug policy to be based on evidence and the principles of public health, harm reduction and human rights, with effective state institutions to coordinate policy implementation. Combating the drug trade should focus on trafficking organizations and money laundering, and peasant coca growers should be offered alternative development, not criminal prosecution, the report also recommended. (The report and the issues it addressed were recently discussed at this " target="_blank">Brookings Institution event.)

Aerial eradication ends at the end of this month. (
"With this program we hope to have a twofold result: reducing the illicit cultivation and improving the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of peasants," Santos said in a speech from the presidential palace.

The plan will focus on the southern provinces of Narino and Putumayo, "where there are some 26,000 families that produce coca," Santos said. "Work will be done to construct roads, schools, health clinics, aqueducts and service networks," he added, noting that coca cultivation is most extensive in areas where the state is weakest.

While the government will seek agreements with communities to voluntarily eradicate their coca crops, "if an agreement is not reached, forced eradication will be resorted to," Santos warned. Forced eradication has led to conflict between farmers and eradicators in the past, with nearly 200 eradicators killed in attacks from unhappy peasants or guerrillas of the FARC, which has taxed and protected coca cultivation in areas under its control.

When Santos arrived in Havana Wednesday he was sounding optimistic, both about the new approach to coca cultivation and about the prospects for peace.

"We've already started. And if we can move forward now, imagine how much we could move forward if we do away with the conflict," said Santos. "We've already talked with the FARC about joint plans for the substitution of crops. Imagine what this means. That the FARC, instead of defending illicit crops and the entire drug trafficking chain, will help the state in their eradication. As the slogan says, with peace we will do more," Santos said.

Chronicle AM: NM Legislature Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Ban, No Jail for Junkies in WA County, More (3/23/15)

A ban on civil asset forfeiture passes the legislature in New Mexico, there was a legalization demo in New Jersey and a medical marijuana rally in Tennessee, a UN agency says the herbicide used to spray Colombian coca crops causes cancer, and more.

Snohomish County, WA, is not jailing heroin addicts for nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses. (

Massachusetts Attorney General Opposes Legalization. Attorney General Maura Healey said today that while she supported a successful decriminalization initiative a few years ago, she doesn't support legalization. "I supported the effort to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana a few years ago, and I appreciated the motivation behind that move and ultimately, the law," Healey told Boston Herald Radio. "What I oppose though now is full legalization of marijuana." She said her views were informed by discussions with her counterparts in Washington and Colorado, who told her they had not seen a drop in drug trafficking and that people came from out of state to buy marijuana. A legalization bill is pending, and the state could see two different initiative campaigns next year if the legislature fails to act.

New Jersey Legalization Advocates Smoke Out in Trenton. More than a hundred people showed up for the "Spring Smoke Out" rally at the statehouse in Trenton Saturday. Led by veteran Garden State pot activist Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion, the group toked up amid chants of "One, two, three four, smoke, smoke, smoke some more!" and demanded an end to pot prohibition.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would allow for the use of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of epilepsy passed the Senate State Affairs Committee last Friday and now heads for a Senate floor vote. The measure is Senate Bill 1106. Another cannabis oil bill that would only allow an affirmative defense, Senate Bill 1146, also awaits a Senate floor vote.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Pre-Filed. State Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has pre-filed a bill that would allow for the use of marijuana for specified medical conditions, including seizure disorders, glaucoma, cancer, and the side effects of cancer treatments. The bill is House Bill 6. Last year, similar legislation failed to get out of committee in the face of opposition from law enforcement. The session begins April 13.

Tennessee Advocates in Smoky Mountain Medical Marijuana Rights Rally. Hundreds of people showed up for the Smoky Mountain Medical Marijuana Rights Rally and march in Johnson City Saturday. The rally comes as the state legislature considers a number of medical marijuana-related bills.


Bolivia Lashes Out at US Anti-Drug Report. The Bolivian government rejects the State Department's anti-drug report, released last week, which said the country is not complying with international anti-drug trafficking obligations."The report is unacceptable. The only thing it does is to put more obstacles to the hypocritical call to reestablish bilateral relations. This is the double standard policy that he US has and will always have," Government ministry spokesman Hugo Moldiz said.

Ten Killed in Mexico Cartel Attack on Police. Suspected drug gang members attacked a convoy of Mexico's newly militarized police force, the gendarmerie, in Jalisco state last Thursday, leaving five policemen dead, as well as three gang members, and two bystanders. It was one of the deadliest attacks on police since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December 2012.

UN Agency Links Herbicide Used to Spray Colombian Coca Crops to Cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a research arm of the World Health Organization, said last Thursday it had reclassified the herbicide glyphosate as a carcinogen. It cited what it said was convincing research showing that the herbicide creates cancer in lab animals and that it could cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans. Under a US-government supported program, Colombia has sprayed more than four million acres of land with the stuff in a bid to destroy coca crops. The Colombian government, however, expressed concern, but didn't say it was ready to stop the spraying. Eliminating cocaine "transcends" other concerns, said Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria.

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.


US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.


Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

children walking from home to school in Bamako, Mali (JoeyTranchinaPhotography©2014 Sète, France)
And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

West Africa
"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

drug, security, and insurgency analyst Vanda Felbab-Brown (
But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

Colombia, FARC Reach Accord on Drug Issues

The Colombian government and the Marxist guerrillas of the FARC have reportedly reached an agreement on how to deal with drug issues, the third item in a five-part agenda for peace talks that have ongoing in Havana since 2012.

Both Reuters and Business Week reported Friday afternoon that an agreement had been reached. Both cited Colombian government officials who spoke anonymously because the agreement hasn't been made public yet. And neither have the details.

[Update: The FARC and the Colombian government have now released a joint communique outlining the areas of agreement. They include programs for crop substitution, the end of aerial eradication--although the government maintains the ability to undertake it in extreme circumstances--a national drug use prevention education program, a national drug rehabilitation program, and Colombia challenging current drug control policies in international forums like the United Nations.]

The FARC has been at war with the Colombian state for half a century. Flush with profits from the coca and cocaine trade, it surged in the 1990s, but was beaten back by a vicious counterinsurgency led by the government of former President Alvaro Uribe and backed by billions of dollars in US anti-drug, and later, anti-terrorism assistance. Also aligned with the Colombian state were rightist paramilitary organizations involved in the drug traffic.

The government of President Juan Santos has attempted to end the seemingly perpetual conflict by engaging in the peace talks. Santos is up for reelection later this month against a hard-line Uribe ally, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, whose position is that the FARC must agree to lay down its weapons before engaging in peace talks. This apparent progress in the slow-moving talks could help Santos when voters go to the polls on May 25.

While the FARC has refused a cease-fire while talks are ongoing, on Friday it also announced that it would temporarily cease operations in the days just before and after the election.

The FARC had entered this phase of the negotiations with a 10-point program on the drug issue, including special protections for coca producers, alternative development programs, development of licit uses for coca, poppy, and marijuana crops, an end to aerial fumigation of drug crops, and an to militarized drug law enforcement, decriminalization of drug producers, workers, and consumers, and recognition of problematic drug use as a public health, not a criminal justice problem.


Chronicle AM -- April 3, 2014

British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson is banned from the US for admitting using coke, decrim dies for the year in Maryland, CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move, the resort to the overdose drug naloxone is spreading rapidly, Guatemala's president wants to legalize marijuana and license poppies for the medical market, and more. Let's get to it:

UK celebrity chef Nigella Lawson is too scary to allow in the US because she admitted doing coke. (Brian Minkoff via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization Bill Killed; Task Force Will Study It Instead. Marijuana decriminalization is dead for the year in Maryland after a bill to do just that -- House Bill 879 -- died without a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, the committee, led by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario Jr. (D-Prince Georges), chose to form a task force to study the issue.

Washington State Will Issue First Marijuana Store Licenses by July, Impose Lottery System. Colorado is the only state where you can walk into a store and legally purchase marijuana, but not for long. Washington state regulators announced Wednesday that the first retail marijuana licenses will be issued "no later than the first week of July." The state has already issued licenses to eight growers. After eliminating retail license applications that did not return required documents or were incomplete, the state still has more than a thousand applications for the 334 stores it will allow to open, so it is imposing a lottery system to determine who gets those licenses.

Northern Mariana Islands Senate Ponders Legalization. The Senate of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US protectorate, discussed the possibility of legalizing marijuana Wednesday. The Fiscal Affairs Committee touched on legalization when discussing a decriminalization bill, and committee member Sen. Pete Reyes (IN-Saipan) said members had asked the Senate legal counsel to research Colorado's legalization model. "Yes, the committee is tinkering with the idea, whether it's a good idea to legalize it or not. But nothing is final. Nothing is decided," Reyes told The Saipan Tribune.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Patient Sues NJ Transit for Denying Him a Job. A former New Jersey Transit worker and medical marijuana patient who was denied a new position with the agency after testing positive for marijuana is suing in hopes of seeing marijuana recognized as a legitimate medication. Charlie Davis, 57, said he was denied both safety sensitive and non-safety sensitive positions with the agency. Courts in other medical marijuana states have generally upheld the rights of employers to fire workers who use medical marijuana even if it is legal.

Illinois Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow children to use high-CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy passed the Senate Wednesday. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 now heads for the House.

Minnesota TV Ad Attacks Gov. Dayton for Opposing Medical Marijuana. Patients and medical marijuana advocates have unleashed an aggressive TV ad targeting Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) for standing in the way of medical marijuana legislation. The ad features a St. Paul mother and her seizure-ridden child, whom Gov. Dayton told to just find medical marijuana on the street!

South Carolina House Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday passed a bill allowing people suffering from severe epilepsy to legally use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. House Bill 4803 is less restrictive than a Senate measure passed last week. It's unclear what happens next.

Harm Reduction

Louisiana House Committee Passes Bill to Allow Overdose Reversal Drug. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday passed a bill that would allow first responders to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). House Bill 754 now heads for a House floor vote.

Every Cop in New York Will Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Under a new initiative announced today by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), every state and local law enforcement officer in the state will be able to carry with them the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The Community Overdose Prevention program will provide police with kits containing two syringes filled with naloxone, two inhalers of the drug, sterile gloves and a booklet on using them. The cost of the kit is roughly $60. Each has a shelf life of about two years.

Some New Jersey Cops to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Police throughout Ocean and Monmouth Counties soon will be armed with a drug that can save heroin users from fatal overdose, launching a program officials hope will be adopted statewide in New Jersey. All 32 Ocean County police departments are participating in a pilot program backed by Gov. Christie, who said Wednesday that equipping police with the drug, naloxone (Narcan), would help save lives.


Louisiana House Passes Harsh Heroin Sentencing Bill. The House voted 96-0 Wednesday in favor of a bill that imposes mandatory minimum prison sentence for heroin possession and increases sentences for heroin dealers. But first, it amended House Bill 332 so that, in addition to prison time, heroin users would also have to undergo court-approved drug treatment. Under the bill, heroin possessors would have to do at least two years in prison, while dealers would see their mandatory minimum sentence doubled from five years to 10. The bill now goes to the Senate.


Mexican Drug War Victims Criticize Lack of Progress on Tens of Thousands of Cases. Families of drug war victims who were hoping to see concrete policy shifts with the change of administrations a year and a half ago are growing impatient with the lack of progress on tens of thousands of cases of murders and disappearances. An estimated 100,000 Mexicans have been killed since former President Felipe Calderon turned drug prohibition policies into a militarized offensive. The whereabouts of another 26,000 are unknown. They are Mexico's "disappeared". Some are believed to have been kidnapped by criminals, others have vanished after being taken into police custody. Click on the link for the full report.

Guatemalan President Will Present Plan to Legalize Marijuana and License Opium Production. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said Wednesday his country could present a plan before year's end to legalize the production of marijuana and opium poppies. See our news brief today for more detail.

Albanian Cops Try Persuasion in Marijuana-Growing Village. Albanian Police peacefully visited the village of Lazarati this week in a bid to get school children to persuade their parents not to grow marijuana there. Lazarati is described as "a paradise for cannabis growers and criminals," and has been a no-go zone for police for nearly two decades. Villagers in the past have created armed groups to fend off eradication efforts, and even the kids didn't seem too keen on giving up the trade. "If you tell us to convince our parents not to grow cannabis, do you guarantee us that you will provide jobs for them? This is our way of life," one student replied.

British Celebrity Chef Nigella Lawson Denied Entry to US Over Cocaine Use Admission. Nigella Lawson was stopped from boarding a flight from London to the US because of her courtroom confession that she used cocaine. Lawson was never charged with a criminal offense over her confession, but the US can deny travel to foreigners who have committed offenses without being charged.

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

Editorial: Did Trey Radel Really Vote for Drug Testing?

One of the top political stories this week was the recent arrest of Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman Republican congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession yesterday and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. Last night he gave a press conference to apologize to the country and his constituents and family, and announced he would be taking a leave of absence to pursue counseling and drug treatment.
David Borden
Since the bust came to light, numerous headlines have circulated to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. But this is only true in a technical sense. As the text of these articles notes, unlike their headlines, the legislation Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the recurring major federal budget packages authorized every five years. Drug testing was a noxious but small part of the legislation, which also was a mechanism for continuing agricultural subsidies, for continuing the SNAP program itself, and many other things. There were Democrats who voted for the bill too, the roll call shows, some of them liberals who undoubtedly opposed the drug testing provision. Also, the amendment that got drug testing added to the Farm Bill was passed through a voice vote, and there is therefore no record of who voted for or against it. That means that Radel's vote for the Farm Bill could have been consistent with supporting drug testing of SNAP recipients, opposing drug testing, or having no position on it. There is no way to know without delving further. Politicians often have to vote for bills despite there being provisions they don't like, because they want an overall bill to pass.

Radel is also one of just three Republican sponsors of the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill to undo mandatory minimum sentencing by allowing judges to impose sentences below any specified minimums. Although mandatory minimums extend to more issues than drugs, it is drug offenders who are the principle targets of them. So Radel has actually done more than most members of Congress to try to at least reduce the use of incarceration in America, and for drug offenders in particular. A piece published on Tuesday in fact noted a number of statements Radel has made that express skepticism about drug war policies. It also noted that he has expressed opposition to marijuana legalization, so there are facts on both sides. On the other hand, most members of Congress are still likely to say they're not for legalization, despite our movement's recent victories and where opinion polls have gone, so I'm not inclined to attach much significance to that.

Radel news conference, 11/20/13 (TodayNews via YouTube)
That doesn't mean there isn't a valid lesson to be learned from the Radel arrest. A Politico article fairly described the incident as "bring[ing] up drug testing for food stamps." Nancy Pelosi legitimately made this point. Radel's Republican colleagues who are the main supporters of the drug testing amendment may deserve the hypocrisy charge. But it's less than clear that Radel does.

More important than piling on a member of Congress who probably doesn't deserve it, but more important in any case, is to make the points that the incident helps to illustrate about the discrimination and injustices inherent in drug war policies -- like drug testing poor people who don't use drugs more than anyone else, and throwing them out the window when they make the same mistakes in their stressful lives that many others who have easier lives make too.

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