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Chronicle AM -- March 11, 2014

The District of Columbia could legalize marijuana at the ballot box this year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubles down on his support for medical marijuana with a new CNN special tonight, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week in Vienna is attracting a lot of attention, and more. Let's get to it:

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta "doubles down" on his support for medical marijuana. (via Share Bear on Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November. Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

Colorado Takes in $2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month of Legalization. The state of Colorado collected $2.01 million in retail marijuana sales and excise taxes in January, the first month of legal sales, the Department of Revenue reported Monday.

Missouri Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana in the Show-Me State got a hearing in the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee Monday. House Bill 1659, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), got a mixed reception in the hearing, with GOP lawmakers expressing skepticism. The committee took no vote and offered no timetable for further action.

Louisiana Marijuana Reform Advocates Rally on Capitol Steps in Baton Rouge. Although there is no legalization bill filed in Louisiana, legalization advocates rallied at the state capitol Monday to get their voices heard. The event was organized by Legalize Louisiana, which seeks to "decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana" in the Bayou State. Although there is no legalization bill this year, there are bills to decriminalize and to allow for medical marijuana.

Legalization Would Be a "Terrible Mistake," Says NYPD Commissioner. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday it would be a 'terrible mistake' to legalize marijuana and predicted problems for states that go that course. But he did say he supported medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doubles Down for Medical Marijuana; Special Airs Tonight. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who first saw the light on medical marijuana a few months ago, has reiterated his support for the herb's medicinal uses and will air a new special on the topic, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," at 10 p.m. ET on tonight.

In New Crackdown, Los Angeles Shutters A Hundred Dispensaries. More than 100 dispensaries have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing new rules restricting them, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday. In addition to the rules prompting scores of closures, Feuer said city lawyers had successfully fended off a host of legal challenges. In one closely watched case, they prevented a dispensary from opening in Mar Vista, securing a permanent injunction before it could set up shop.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled By Cops. A key lawmaker said Tuesday she doesn't see a path forward for legalizing medical marijuana after talks with law enforcement hit a standstill. Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said she had conceded to virtually all demands from law enforcement over the weekend but was still unable to get their support for her bill, House File 1818. Melin said she had no choice but to postpone a House committee hearing that would have been lawmakers' second look at the issue. "Law enforcement won't support any bill that would result in helping any patients," Melin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The governor has to get involved."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Passes Senate Committee. A bill that would require food stamp recipients suspected of drug use to pass a drug test to receive benefits narrowly passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has already passed the House. It's not clear if it now goes to another committee or to a Senate floor vote.

Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senator Manchin Joins Call to Overturn FDA Approval of Zohydro. US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has joined the call for the FDA to overturn its recent approval of Zohydro, a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for people suffering from chronic pain. It is the first ever single-ingredient drug to be approved by the FDA. Manchion joins Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of legislators, prosecutors, and medical groups seeking to reverse the decision. But the FDA and the drug's manufacturer say the drug is needed to treat chronic pain.

Drug Use

RAND Corporation Report Reviews Past Decade's Drug Use. A new report from the RAND Corporation, What America's Drug Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010, pegs spending on illicit drugs at $100 billion a year. It also notes that from 2000 to 2010, the amount people spent on cocaine dropped by half from $55 billion to $28 billion, reflecting dramatic decreases in the availability of cocaine after 2006: from approximately 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to about 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

International

UN Drugs Meeting Opens after Historic Reforms Shatter Consensus on Drug Control System. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opens its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms. This year’s meeting—which is taking place Vienna from March 13-21—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. For live updates, check out the CND Blog.

Report Finds UN Stuck in Denial Over Marijuana Regulation. A new report from the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory has been released in the run-up to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week. The report, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: the History of Cannabis in the UN drug control system and options for reform, unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalization, coffee shops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits. The report outlines specific options for reform and assesses their potential for success. These options include: WHO review and modification of cannabis scheduling; state parties amending the treaties; modifying the conventions 'inter se', e.g. between specific states only; or denunciation of the treaty and re-accession with a reservation (carried out recently by Bolivia in order to defend indigenous rights and the use of coca leaf in its natural form).

ENCOD Calls for UN to End the Drug War. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) will use the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to call on the UN to end the war on drugs. A delegation of five Encod members will join the debate inside the UN: Urki Goñi, chairman of Cannabis Social Club Urjogaberdea in the Basque Country, Spain, Doug Fine, author of 'Hemp Bound' and 'Too High To Fail: Cannabis & the New Green Economic Revolution', Dionisio Nuñez, Bolivian ex-minister of coca affairs, Janko Belin, Encod chairman and Joep Oomen, Encod coordinator. On Friday March 14 one of them will deliver a speech to the plenary meeting. ENCOD will also be reporting nightly from the sessions later this week on the ENCOD web site.

Legalization Won't Solve World's Drug Problem, UN Drug Chief Says.Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters Monday that while it is up to member states to decide "what needs to be done," legalization ain't it. "As the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world's) drug problem," Fedotov said. "It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay's parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions," he added.

UN Drug Chief Praises Iran Drug Fight Despite Executions. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said Monday that Iran's anti-drug efforts were "very impressive" and that Iran "takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs" even though human rights and harm reduction groups have criticized its frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offenders. Still, he added that UNODC opposes the death penalty and that he planned to raise the issue with Iranian leaders during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week.

War of Words: The International Narcotics Control Board vs. A Changing World [FEATURE]

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy's watchdog group, the International Drug Control Board (INCB) released its Annual Report 2013 today, voicing its concerns with and wagging its finger at drug reform efforts that deviate from its interpretation of the international drug control treaties that birthed it. The INCB is "concerned" about moves toward marijuana legalization and warns about "the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states."

"We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis," INCB head Raymond Yans said in introducing the report. "INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory."

For some years now, some European and Latin American countries have been expressing a desire to see change in the international system, and "soft defections," such as the Dutch cannabis coffee shop system and Spain's cannabis cultivation clubs, have stretched the prohibitionist treaties to their legal limits. But legal marijuana in Uruguay is a clear breach of the treaties, as Colorado and Washington may be. That is bringing matters to an unavoidable head.

After surveying the state of drug affairs around the globe, the 96-page INCB report ends with a number of concerns and recommendations, ranging from non-controversial items such as calling for adequate prevention and treatment efforts to urging greater attention to prescription drug abuse and more attention paid to new synthetic drugs. [Ed: There is some controversy over how to best approach prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs. e.g. the type of attention to pay to them.]

But the INCB is clearly perturbed by the erosion of the international drug prohibition consensus, and especially by its concrete manifestations in legalization in Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington and the spreading acceptance of medical marijuana.

"The Board is concerned that a number of States that are parties to the 1961 Convention are considering legislative proposals intended to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical and scientific ones" and "urges all Governments and the international community to carefully consider the negative impact of such developments. In the Board's opinion, the likely increase in the abuse of cannabis will lead to increased public health costs," the report said.

Similarly, the INCB "noted with concern" Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which "would not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, particularly the 1961 Convention" and urged the government there "to ensure the country remains fully compliant with international law, which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Ditto for Colorado and Washington, where the board was "concerned" about the marijuana legalization initiatives and underlined that "such legislation is not in conformity with the international drug control treaties." The US government should "continue to ensure the full implementation of the international drug control treaties on its entire territory," INCB chided.

But even as INCB struggles to maintain the legal backbone of global prohibition, it is not only seeing marijuana prohibition crumble in Uruguay and the two American states, it is also itself coming under increasing attack as a symbol of a crumbling ancien regime that creates more harm than good with its adherence to prohibitionist, law enforcement-oriented approaches to the use and commerce in psychoactive substances.

"We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realize that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fueled the rise of organized crime," said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. "As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games."

"For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis," agreed Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory. "Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people's health, safety and human rights. Reform won't be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how."

"This is very much the same old stuff," said John Collins, coordinator of the London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and a PhD candidate studying mid-20th Century international drug control policy. "The INCB views its role as advocating a strict prohibitionist oriented set of policies at the international level and interpreting the international treaties as mandating this one-size-fits-all approach. It highlights that INCB, which was created as a technical body to monitor international flows of narcotics and report back to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has carved out and maintains a highly politicized role, far removed from its original treaty functions. This should be a cause for concern for all states interested in having a functioning, public health oriented and cooperative international framework for coordinating the global response to drug issues," Collins told the Chronicle.

"The INCB and its current president, Raymond Yans, take a very ideological view of this issue," Collins continued. "Yans attributes all the negative and unintended consequences of bad drug policies solely to drugs and suggests the way to lessen these problems is more of the same. Many of the policies the board advocates fly in the face of best-practice public health policy -- for example the board demanding that states close 'drug consumption rooms, facilities where addicts can abuse drugs,'" he noted.

"If the board was really concerned about the 'health and welfare' of global populations it would be advocating for these scientifically proven public health interventions. Instead it chooses the road of unscientific and ideological based policies," Collins argued.

The INCB's reliance on ideology-driven policy sometimes leads to grotesque results. There are more than 30 countries that apply the death penalty for drugs in violation of international law. Virtually every international human rights and drug control body opposes the death penalty for drugs including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial killings, torture and health, among many others.

INCB head Raymond Yans (incb.org)
But when an INCB board member was asked in Thailand -- where 14 people have been executed for drugs since 2001 -- what its position on capital punishment was, he said, "the agency says it neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses," according to the Bangkok Post.

Human rights experts were horrified and immediately wrote asking for clarification, to which the INCB responded, "The determination of sanctions applicable to drug-related offenses remains the exclusive prerogative of each State and therefore lie beyond the mandate and powers which have been conferred upon the Board by the international community," according to Human Rights Watch.

Another area where the board's concern about the health and welfare of global populations is being challenged is access to pain medications. A key part of the INCB's portfolio is regulating opioid pain medications, and this year again it said there is more than enough opium available to satisfy current demand, although it also noted that "consumption of narcotic drugs for pain relief is concentrated within a limited number of countries."

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees about that latter point. A 2011 study estimated that around 5.5 billion people -- or 83% of the world population -- live in countries with 'low to non-existent' access to opioid pain relief for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. These substances are listed by the WHO as essential medicines, and the international drug control conventions recognise explicitly that they are 'indispensable' to the 'health and welfare of mankind.'

Adding to the paradox -- the global supply is sufficient, but four-fifths of the world doesn't have access -- the INCB calls on governments to "ensure that internationally controlled substances used for pain relief are accessible to people who need them."

What is going on?

"The INCB uses totals of requirements for opioid medicines compiled by the UN treaty signatory states," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, which keeps an eye on the agency with its INCB Watch. "Unfortunately there is often a huge gap between these administrative estimates and the actual medical needs of their populations."

The prohibitionist slant of global drug control also creates a climate conducive to understating the actual need for access to pain relief in other ways, Fordham told the Chronicle.

"Many governments interpret the international drug control conventions in a more restrictive manner than is necessary, and focus their efforts towards preventing access to the unauthorized use of opioids rather than to ensuring their medical and scientific availability," she said. "This is a grossly unbalanced reading of the conventions, underpinned by fear and prejudice regarding opioids and addiction."

Although the agency has cooperated somewhat with the WHO in attempting to enhance access to the medicines, said Fordham, it bears some blame for rendering the issue so fraught.

"The INCB has continually stressed the repressive aspect of the international drug control regime in its annual reports and other public statements, and in its direct dealings with member states," she said. "The INCB is therefore responsible for at least some of the very anxieties that drive governments toward overly restrictive approaches. This ambivalence considerably weakens the INCB's credibility and contradicts its health-related advocacy."

Fordham joined the call for a fundamental reform of global drug prohibition, and she didn't mince words about the INCB.

"The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already," she said before leveling a blast at Yans and company. "But the INCB is notable as the most hard line, backward-looking element, regularly overstepping its mandate in the strident and hectoring manner its adopts with parties to the treaties, in its interference in functions that properly belong to the WHO and in its quasi-religious approach to a narrow interpretation of the drug control treaties."

The INCB should get out of the way on marijuana and concentrate on its pain relief function, said Collins.

"The INCB should stay out if it," he said bluntly. "It is a technocratic monitoring body. It should not be involving itself in national politics and national regulatory systems. So it doesn't need to be either a help or hindrance on issues regarding cannabis reform. It has no reason to be involved in this debate. It should be focusing on ensuring access to essential pain medicines. These debates are a distraction from that core function and I would argue one of the reasons it is failing to meet this core function."

Sorry, INCB. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM -- February 6, 2014

A slight majority in Rhode Island say legalize it, CBD medical marijuana bills are popping up in several states, Uruguay's marijuana-legalizing president gets a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, and more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (gob.uy)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill to Study Legalization Advances. A bill that would direct the state Department of Justice to examine laws to see what changes would need to be made in the event of marijuana legalization passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. That bill is House Bill 4099, which now moves to the Budget Committee. This is not the bill that would have the legislature put an initiative on the November ballot. That bill is Senate Bill 1556.

Slight Majority Supports Legalization in Rhode Island Poll. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project has support for legalization at 53%. The poll also found that 38% thought marijuana was safer than alcohol, compared to 21% vice versa. Another 21% thought the two were equally dangerous, while 20% said they didn't know. Click on the title link for the poll results.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Bill Wins Committee Approval. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would allow for the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for certain medical conditions, including seizures, severe or chronic pain, or "any other condition that is severe and resistant to conventional medicine." The bill is Senate Bill 174, which now goes to the full Senate.

CBD Bill Filed in Kentucky. State Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) and eight cosponsors Wednesday filed Senate Bill 124, which would allow the use of CBD cannabis oils for children with epilepsy.

Public Hearing Next Tuesday on Oregon Local Control Dispensary Bill. There will be a public hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday on Senate Bill 1531, which would allow local government to regulate or ban dispensaries. The bill is supported by associations of state city and county governments, but opposed by medical marijuana supporters. The legislature voted last year to approve a system of statewide dispensary regulations, which will begin to take effect March 1.

Americans for Safe Access Seeks Petition Signatures to Boost Effort on Organ Transplants for California Medical Marijuana Patients. Americans for Safe Access is seeking to show support for possible legislation protecting California medical marijuana patients who may need organ transplants. Hospitals and doctors have been reluctant to okay transplants for medical marijuana patients, whom they deem drug abusers. Click on the title link to get to the petition.

Rhode Island Attorney General Chides Dispensary on Advertising. In a Wednesday press release, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin chided the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center for recent email advertising campaigns offering discounts and special holiday packages. "Can you imagine the public outcry if the local pharmacy started offering [half] off Oxycontin or medicinal drugs?'' Kilmartin said. "Compassion centers should be held to the same standard and should be prohibited from offering discounts or sales on medicinal marijuana.'' The dispensary said it would stop advertising its products.

International

Uruguay's Marijuana-Legalizing President Mujica Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was nominated by members of his own Frente Amplio political party, as well as a Dutch NGO, the Drugs Peace Institute. His supporters cited his pioneering policy of legalizing and regulating marijuana commerce.

Peru Says Still Committed to Eradicating 75,000 Acres of Coca in the VRAEM. Carmen Masias, head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA, said Tuesday the Peruvian government remains committed to eradicating 75,000 acres of coca crops in the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). The area accounts for more than half of all Peruvian coca production. [Ed: Historically coca eradication has merely shifted growing from one area to another -- causing deforestation in the process. A recent report highlighted the impact drug trafficking (not growing, but a similar idea) has on forests, and the author suggested reforming drug policies.]

Australia's Victoria Plans Construction Site Drug Testing; Union Strongly Objects. Victoria Premier Dennis Napthine said Thursday he would require construction companies to implement strict alcohol and drug testing policies to qualify for government contracts. The main construction union, the Victorian Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CSMEU) condemned the move as a "slur" on construction workers, saying there was no evidence that people in the industry had any more drug problems than anybody else.

Iranian Meth Offender Survives Execution, Gets Sentence Reduced to Life. An Iranian man who was revived in the morgue after being hung for possessing a kilo of meth has been granted a reprieve by the Iranian amnesty commission. The man, identified only as Alireza M., 37, instead will now be sentenced only to life in prison. The man's revival after execution raised thorny questions for Iranian jurists and clerics about whether he should be re-executed or not.

Chronicle AM -- January 20, 2014

Marijuana law reform bills just keep coming, a most likely unconstitutional food stamp drug test bill gets filed in Georgia, Australian regulators block urine drug testing of state energy company workers, Jamaican legalizers grow impatient, and more. Let's get to it:

Jamaican marijuana users want something to smile about (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Resolution Introduced in New Mexico Senate. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo County) Friday pre-filed Senate Joint Resolution 10, which would amend the state constitution to tax and regulate marijuana use by persons 21 and older. If the bill passes the legislature, the amendment would be placed on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Indiana Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) last week introduced Senate Bill 314, which would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Similar legislation was defeated there last year.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Health Department Rejects Adding New Medical Marijuana-Eligible Conditions. The Arizona Health Department last Friday decided not to approve adding post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and migraines to the official list of debilitating conditions that are treatable by medical marijuana. Director Will Humble said the decision was due to a lack of published data regarding the risks and benefits of using medicinal cannabinoids to treat or provide relief for those conditions. The department will accept new petitions January 27 through 31.

Bill to Undo Virginia's Already Toothless Medical Marijuana Law Filed. Virginia has had a law allowing for the medical use of marijuana on the books for years, but it has never actually been used. Now, a Republican legislator, Delegate Robert Marshall of Manassas, has filed a bill to repeal even that. House Bill 684 (click on the link) was set for a hearing today.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Providers Drop by Half. The number of medical marijuana patients registered with the state declined slightly in 2013, but the number of providers declined much more dramatically, by nearly 50%. The number of patients dropped from 124,000 to 118,000, a 5% decline, while the number of providers dropped from 50,000 to 27,000, according to two annual reports required by the state legislature. The decline in providers is attributed to new laws regulating the industry and adverse court rulings and prosecutions. The state did, however, realize a $6.9 million profit in receipts from fees over program costs, up from a $6.3 million profit in 2012.

New York Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A poll released Monday (see questions 36 and 37) showed strong support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The Sienna Poll found majority support for the legislature taking action on the issue, while a smaller number of respondents favored Gov. Cuomo's limited pilot program. Only about one out of five respondents wanted medical marijuana to remain illegal and unavailable.

Drug Testing

Georgia Suspicionless Food Stamp Drug Testing Filed. A bill that would require all food stamp applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing was filed last Friday. House Bill 772 is the brainchild of Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia). A similar bill passed the state legislature in 2012, but was put on hold after Florida's mandatory suspicionless drug testing was successfully challenged in the federal courts.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Meth Crackdown Bill Gets Hearing Date. A bill that would make pseudoephedrine a Schedule III controlled substance requiring a prescription and would heighten penalties for some methamphetamine possession and trafficking offenses will have a January 27 hearing. The bill, House Bill 1248 (click on the link), is sponsored by Indianapolis Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz.

International

Vietnam Sentences 30 Drug Traffickers to Death. A court in Quang Ninh province has sentenced 30 people to death in a massive heroin smuggling conspiracy case involving over two tons of the drugs. Dozens of others got prison sentences of from two years to life in the largest drug trafficking trial in Vietnamese history. Vietnam sentenced at least 86 people to death in 2012, but it's unclear how many were drug offenders.

Australia's New South Wales Unions Welcome Drug Test Ban. Unions in New South Wales cheered after the state's Fair Work Commission last week upheld a 2012 decision to block a state-owned energy company from doing drug testing based on urine samples. Such testing, which measures off-duty drug use (as opposed to on-the-job impairment), is "unjust and unreasonable," the commission said, ordering the company to use mouth swab drug tests, which would detect only immediate recent use. "While oral testing accurately identifies recent drug use... urine tests unfairly monitor workers' private lives," Neville Betts, from the Electrical Tr ades Union's NSW branch, said in a statement.

Jamaica Marijuana Reformers Want to Step Up Pressure on the Government to Act. The Jamaican Ganja Law Reform Coalition wants a more aggressive campaign to pressure parliament to act on legalizing marijuana. "We need a young MP to break the party ranks and put forward proposals for more meaningful legislation than the half steps that they are taking," coalition chairman Paul Chang told the opening session of the Cannabis Stakeholders Conference organized by the coalition. Parliament is currently dithering with bills that would decriminalize pot possession and expunge arrest record for marijuana offenses, but that's not enough, coalition members said.

Chronicle AM -- January 17, 2014

Washington's attorney general has dealt a body blow to the statewide legalization of marijuana commerce there, medical marijuana continues to keep state legislatures busy, a New Mexico town and county pay out big time for a horrid anal search, heroin legislation is moving in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Washington Attorney General Rules Localities Can Ban Marijuana Businesses. In a formal opinion released Thursday, the Washington attorney general's office held that "Initiative 502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions." The ACLU of Washington said the attorney general's opinion is mistaken and it "will go to court if necessary" to see it overturned, while the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 said that the "opinion would be a disappointment to the majority of voters who approved the law."

Marijuana Reforms Will Be on the Legislative Agenda in Louisiana Again This Year. State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has already introduced House Bill 14, which would dramatically lessen the state's draconian marijuana penalties, and further-reaching bills could be forthcoming. The Badon bill passed the House last year before dying in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Hearing This Month. State Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R) said Thursday he had scheduled a public hearing for January 28 on a medical marijuana bill introduced this week. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, is cosponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R).

Hawaii House Speaker Says State Needs Dispensaries. House Speaker Joe Souki said Wednesday that the lack of places for medical marijuana patients to obtain their medicine was "a gap in the law" that needs to be addressed. That patients can use medical marijuana but have no place to obtain it is "an anomaly," he said. Addressing dispensaries is a "humanitarian" issue, he added.

Utah Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new Salt Lake Tribune poll has 51% of Utahns supporting medical marijuana, but 67% opposing decriminalization or legalization.

Georgia Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new InsiderAdvantage poll has 51% of Georgians supporting medical marijuana "in very specific instances, such as in a liquid form to reduce seizures from young children." Some 27% were opposed, and 22% undecided. "The key here is that any legislation must be on a limited basis. That said, Republicans and Democrats both support this legislation by well over 50 percent, while independent voters are close to a majority as well," said Matt Towery, president of InsiderAdvantage and a former legislator.

Heroin

Kentucky Senate Approves Bill to Reduce Overdose Deaths, Increase Trafficking Penalties. The state Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 5, which would create more treatment beds for heroin users and lengthen prison sentences for heroin and methamphetamine traffickers. A similar version of the bill passed the Republican-led Senate last year, but stalled in the Democratic-led House. The bill would require the state Medicaid program to cover several inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people addicted to opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers. It also would divert some of the state's hoped-for savings from a 2011 prison sentencing reform package to expand treatment programs. But the bill would also stiffen penalties for people convicted of trafficking in larger quantities of heroin, methamphetamines or both, requiring them to serve at least half of their prison sentences before they are eligible for shock probation or parole.

Search and Seizure

New Mexico Town, County Pay Out Big Time for Forced Anal Searches of Drug Suspect. A Deming, New Mexico, man who was subjected to a hospital anal exam involving three enemas, a colonoscopy, and being forced to defecate in front of police and medical personnel in a fruitless search for drugs will get $1.6 million in damages in a settlement from Deming and Hidalgo County. David Eckert will most likely win additional damages from a local hospital where doctors agreed to perform the exam.

Sentencing

Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Funded in Federal Spending Bill. The omnibus federal spending bill filed this week and expected to pass quickly includes $1 million to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, an independent, bipartisan grouping that will examine a number of challenges facing the federal correctional system, including overcrowding and ways to minimize growth, violence behind bars, rehabilitation, and reentry. Colson was a Nixon administration official jailed in the Watergate scandal who became a prison reformer in the wake of that experience.

International

Spurred by Attorney, Bermuda's Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up. Attorney Alan Gordon's online petition to have the Bermudan government allow emergency access to medical marijuana for cancer patients has spurred considerable notice on the island, with National Security Minister Michael Dunkley and Gordon publicly clashing over the law and whether Dunkley can act. Click on the link to see Dunkley's comments and Gordon's well-publicized written response.

Vietnam Sentences Three Drug Offenders to Death; Iran Executes Six. And the resort to the death penalty against drug offenders continues. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, three Vietnamese men charged with heroin trafficking got death sentences, while Iran, the world's leading drug offender execution, hung another six.

The Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

What a year in drug reform! 2013 saw a historic breakthrough on the international front, as well as evidence that powerful currents are shifting inexorably away from the prohibitionist consensus of the last half-century. There were also new, innovative approaches to regulating drugs and new, innovative approaches to buying and selling them illegally.

But on the other hand, there were also continuities. Major drug producing regions kept producing drugs, major drug-related conflicts continued, and the global drug war continues to grind on. A bullet-point Top 10 list can't hope to offer a comprehensive review of the year on drugs internationally, but it can illuminate some key events and important trends. With apologies in advance for all those important stories that didn't make the cut, here is Drug War Chronicle top ten global drug policy-related stories of 2013:

#1 Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana

No question about it; this has to be the top international drug policy story of the year. After a year and a half of laying the groundwork, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and his ruling Broad Front pushed marijuana legalization through the legislature and Mujica signed the bill into law just before Christmas. Uruguay now becomes the first signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Drugs to break decisively with the treaty and the global prohibition regime on marijuana policy. Uruguay's example is already causing reverberations in Argentina and Chile, and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called it "an important step" that could serve as "a pilot plan" in the regional war against drug trafficking. And that's even before the new law goes into effect in a few weeks.

#2 The Global Prohibition Regime is Under Increasing Attack

In May, the Organization of American States released a report that included an analysis of alternatives to prohibition, including regulation and legalization regimes. The report was an outgrowth of Latin American criticism of the drug war at the Cartagena Summit in 2012. In September, Latin Americans took the call for drug reform to the UN General Assembly, and in a consensus statement agreed to by Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and others, called on the UN "to reevaluate internationally agreed-upon policies in search of more effective responses to drug trafficking, from a perspective of health, a framework of respect for human rights, and a perspective of harm reduction." And in December, a leaked draft document revealed even broader divisions among member states, with several European nations offering serious criticism of the drug prohibition status quo.

#3 Bolivia Reenters UN Drug Treaty, But Rejects Coca Chewing Ban

The UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, took a hit in January, when Bolivia successfully rejoined the convention, but only with the reservation that it would ignore the treaty's ban on coca leaf chewing despite the objections of the US and the International Narcotics Control Board. Bolivia had withdrawn from the treaty the year before to protest the inclusion of the ban on coca chewing, a traditional indigenous practice that had gone on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before Eurocentric treaty negotiators managed to criminalize it internationally under the Single Convention.

Coca Museum, La Paz (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
#4 New Zealand Moves to Regulate -- Not Prohibit -- New Synthetic Drugs

In July, New Zealand took a historic step away from drug prohibition and toward regulation when a new law went into effect to regulate and control new synthetic drugs. The law had breezed through Parliament on a 119-1 vote. Synthetic drug manufacturers who meet safety standards are now licensed and regulated, and their products are available legally at retail outlets. The law is designed to avoid the dangers of driving the trade underground and to end the perpetual game of prohibitionist catch-up played with synthetic drug makers, who, when one drug is criminalized, simply tweak a molecule or two to create a new one.

#5 The Dark Net Emerges as a Drug Marketplace

After quietly lurking in the dark corners of the Internet, the online illicit drug (and other goodies) marketplace Silk Road hit the big time in a big, bad way in October, when its operator, Ross William Ulbrict (AKA the Dread Pirate Roberts) was arrested by the FBI on drug trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking charges. Silk Road and other "dark net" web sites require an anonymized browser (Tor) that was supposed to keep operators and users safe from prying government eyes, although the Ulbrict and related busts suggest that isn't entirely the case. Other sites, including Sheep Marketplace and Black Market reloaded, sprung up to replace it, but they have had their own problems. In November, Silk Road announced it was back, in Version 2.0. Meanwhile, the saga of the original Silk Road continued at year's end, with Ulbricht suing the federal government for the return of $30 million worth of bitcoins he argues were improperly seized. The battle between governments and Internet black marketers is doubtlessly continuing, even if most of us don't know about it until after the fact.

#6 Mexico: New President, Same Old Drug War

The wave of prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico didn't garner the media attention last year that it did in 2012, a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, but it continued nonetheless under incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012. According to Milenio's annual survey of drug war deaths, there were more than 10,000 killed last year. That is down from over 12,000 the year before, but still unconscionably high. Pena Nieto came into office vowing to reform the government's approach, but so far the changes have been mainly rhetorical, with the government shifting emphasis from going after top capos to increasing public safety and security. And the top leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful, remain apparently untouchable.

Afghan anti-drug art (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2005)
#7 Afghan Opium Production Hits All-Time High

Thirteen years after the Taliban virtually eliminated opium production in a bid to win foreign favor and US funding, and 12 years after the US invaded Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power, Afghan opium production was at its highest level ever, about 5,500 metric tons, accounting for around 90% of global illicit production. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, opium production increased a whopping 49% over 2012, while the area under cultivation increased 36%. The previous high was in 2007. US anti-drug policies have been consistently relegated behind US counter-insurgency imperatives during the US and NATO occupation of the country, leaving Afghanistan with little likelihood of significant changes after the bulk of Western forces are scheduled to leave at the end of this year.

#8 Peru Overtakes Colombia to Regain Title as World's Largest Coca Producer

Twenty years ago, Peru produced about 60% of the world's coca crop, from which cocaine is derived. But crop disease and aggressive anti-trafficking efforts in Peru hurt output there even as cultivation blossomed in Colombia, which took first place honors by the turn of the century. But this year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Peru was once again back on top. According to the UNODC, Peru had 151,000 acres under cultivation, compared to 125,000 for Colombia. The return to first place comes even as the government of President Ollanta Humala steps up eradication and enforcement efforts and suggests that 2014 could be a conflictive year in the coca valleys of Peru.

#9 Iran Continues to Execute Hundreds of Drug Offenders Each Year

Sharing a 1,300 mile long border with Afghanistan and its booming opium trade, Iran suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates and battles mightily to suppress the cross-border drug trade. One of the grisliest weapons in the mullahs' arsenal is the hangman's noose. In recent years, the Iranians have executed hundreds of drug traffickers each year, and last year was no exception. Final figures are not available, but Iran began the year by executing 21 drug offenders in January alone and ended the year with more than 30 executions in December. It's not clear how many of those were drug offenders because reports from Iran are often sketchy, but it appears safe to say that 2013 was another year where Iran hanged hundreds of drug offenders.

#10 Colombian Peace Negotiations Progress

Forty years ago this year, the leftist guerrillas of the FARC rose up in armed struggle against the Colombian state. Based in the country's rural peasantry, the FARC generated enough wealth from the coca and cocaine trades to finance its insurgency, fighting the Colombian military, backed with US assistance, to a sweaty stalemate. Now, however, weakened by years of offensives by the Colombian military and convinced that the government of President Santos is willing to negotiate in good faith, the FARC has been engaged in a so-far months-long series of talks with government negotiators in Havana. Based as it is in the peasantry, one of the FARC's key concerns is agricultural reform; another is dealing with the coca/cocaine economy. The FARC is calling on the government to initiate alternative development and crop substitution programs, and wants to be involved, and in December, the FARC called for the decriminalization of drug use and coca cultivation. It's too early to tell if the negotiations will lead to an end to the world's longest insurgency, but the progress so far is a positive sign.

Chronicle AM -- November 26, 2013

Medical marijuana gets attention in the statehouse, another drug war atrocity in New Mexico, Greece's first safe injection site is open, and a gram of opium or a few pounds of pot can get you the death penalty if you're in the wrong place. And more. Let's get to it:

This is three times the amount of opium that could get an immigrant worker executed in Dubai. (erowid.org)
Medical Marijuana

Key Michigan Politico Says Medical Marijuana Top Priority in December. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said Monday his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first,House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey Lawmaker Files Bill Allowing Patients to Buy Out of State. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) Monday introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

Alabama Lawmaker Ready to Try Again on Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation again next year, she said Monday. The bill would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

Hemp

New Jersey Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would create an industrial hemp license to regulate the "planting, growing, harvesting, possessing, processing, selling, and buying" of the crop passed the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 2415, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), would require the end of federal hemp prohibition before licenses could be issued.

Law Enforcement

New Mexico Woman Sues over Vaginal Macing During Drug Arrest. What on earth is going on in New Mexico? Just weeks ago, it was forced enemas and colonoscopies for drug suspects; now, another New Mexican, Marlene Tapia, is suing Bernalillo County after she says jail guards strip searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina, where she was hiding drugs. The ACLU of New Mexico is taking the case.

New Jersey Bill Would Increase Drug Penalties. A bill that would reduce the amount of heroin necessary to be charged with a first-degree crime and allow prosecutors to charge drug offenses by the number of units of the drug involved instead of their weight passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 4151, is sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic).

International

Greece Sets Up First Supervised Injection Site. Greece has opened its first "drug consumption" room in a bid to slow the spread of blood-borne diseases among injection drug users there. The site has been open since last month and has been used by more than 200 people so far.

European Drug Experts Urge Austerity-Battered Governments Not to Cut Drug Treatment. Drug experts and policy makers from around Europe gathered in Athens Monday to urge governments to exclude drug-abuse treatment from austerity budget cuts, citing an alarming rise in HIV infections among drug users in Greece. Included in the call are harm reduction programs like the Greek supervised injection site, which is funded with Council of Europe funds.

Colombia's FARC Wants to Lead Alternative Crop Pilot Project. The leftist guerrillas of the FARC, now in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, want an active role in a pilot project to get coca farmers to grow alternative crops. The group is proposing that one of its local military units team with the government in a village in southern Colombia in a five-year project intended to get farmers to quit growing coca.

Malaysia Court Gives Thai Woman Death Sentence for Weed. A judge in Malaysia Monday sentenced a 36-year-old Thai woman to death after she was caught with about 30 pounds of marijuana at a bus depot. Barring a successful appeal, Thitapah Charenchuea will be hanged. DPP Nor Shuhada Mohd Yatim prosecuted the case.

Dubai Prosecutors Seeks Death Penalty for Less Than One Gram of Opium. Prosecutors in Dubai are seeking the death penalty for an Iranian worker accused of possessing 0.8 grams of opium. They charged he possessed it for "promotional purposes," the equivalent of "with the intent to distribute."

Chronicle AM -- November 18, 2013

A bill to protect the guns rights of legal marijuana users has been filed, hempsters hit the halls of Congress, a new medical marijuana bill is filed in Pennsylvania, and more. Let's get to it:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) filed a bill to protect the gun rights of legal marijuana users.
Marijuana Policy

Polis Files Federal Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Legal Marijuana Users. US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) last Thursday filed House Resolution 3483 to override a 2011 ruling by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms that medical marijuana patients cannot legally buy or own guns. The bill's summary says its purpose is "to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law."

Washington State Now Taking Applications for Pot Business Licenses. Beginning today, Washington state is taking applications for licenses to grow, process, and sell legal marijuana. The licensing application period lasts 30 days. Under rules drafted by the Liquor Control Board, the state will license up to 2 million square feet statewide for marijuana production and up to 334 retail outlets.

Near Majority for Marijuana Legalization in Wisconsin. A Marquette University Law School poll has Wisconsin hovering on the cusp of majority support for legalization. The late October poll had support for legalization at 49.7%, with 44.9% opposed, 4.7% not sure, and 0.8% who refused to answer.

No Decriminalization in Puerto Rico This Year. Marijuana decriminalization won't happen this year in Puerto Rico. The legislative session has ended without the lower house taking up a decriminalization bill passed earlier by the Senate. Recent polls showing little support for decriminalization and even medical marijuana helped dampen things, but decrim bill sponsor Sen. Miguel Periera said he will reintroduce it in the new session in January.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Forms Virginia Chapter. The national medical marijuana advocacy group is coming to the Old Dominion. The state chapter, Safe Access Virginia, will lobby elected officials to pass a comprehensive Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The group had its inaugural meeting Saturday in Richmond.

Oregon Committee Reviewing Dispensary Rules Meets Today. The committee charged with drafting rules for medical marijuana dispensaries is meeting in Salem today. It will consider an opinion from the Oregon Legislative Counsel that says regulating dispensaries is the job of the state, not localities. Some localities have already moved to ban dispensaries.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) introduced a limited medical marijuana bill Monday. While the text is not yet available, Leach's remarks suggest that it seeks to allow medical marijuana with a high CBD content that could be used by children suffering from epilepsy.

Hemp

Hemp Lobbyists go to Washington, DC. Led by David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, several dozen supporters of industrial hemp were on Capitol Hill Monday urging Congress to lift the federal ban on domestic hemp production. "It's time to grow hemp," Bronner said. "I mean, it's been a long and ridiculous situation."

International

Ireland Stops Anti-Drug Aid to Death Penalty States; Britain Pressed to Do Same. Last Friday, Ireland announced it was stopping "funding to UNODC's Illicit Trafficking and Border Management program because of human rights concerns related to the use of the death penalty in Iran." The British justice reform nonprofit Reprieve is now pressing the UK government to do the same. "Britain is rapidly becoming isolated as the only country which thinks supporting the death penalty machines of Iran and Pakistan is acceptable. Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in these countries in the last few years for non-violent drug offenses -- helped by millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money. Britain could end this problem tomorrow by putting in place conditions on the aid that it cannot be used to support the death penalty -- why are ministers refusing to do so?"

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Investigators in western Mexico have dug up 19 bodies from a series of eight mass graves after being led to them by corrupt police officers who had been working for drug cartels. More bodies may be coming. They are believed to be victims of turf wars between the Knights Templar and New Generation Jalisco drug trafficking organizations. The corrupt cops were arrested after two federal police were abducted in Michoacan. The missing federal cops are not among the bodies found so far. Meanwhile, in Guerrero, five more bodies were pulled from a mass grave.

Chronicle AM -- November 14, 2013

Years in prison for growing weed in Missouri, life in prison for drug smuggling in Singapore -- we still have a long way to go. There's more drug policy-related news as well today. Let's get to it:

Canadian addicts are suing Ottawa over its moves to block prescription heroin.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Brother and Sister Get 20+ Years for Growing 12 Pot Plants. If anyone still wonders why marijuana law reform is needed, here's why: An eastern Missouri brother and sister, ages 24 and 36, have been sentenced to 22 years and 15 years in prison, respectively, for growing 12 pot plants and eight seedlings. Prosecutors sought the harsh sentences, saying it was a "large-scale" grow and that guns and bullet-proof vests were present in the home. But neither guns nor vests are illegal, and the couple wasn't charged with a weapons enhancement; they got a combined 37 years in prison for growing a few plants.

NORML Endorses Pennsylvania Governor Candidate. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed John Hanger for governor. Hanger is running for the Democratic Party nomination and won NORML's endorsement in part because of his three-point plan to legalize marijuana in the Keystone State by 2017. "NORML PAC is pleased to endorse John Hanger in his campaign to become Pennsylvania's next governor," said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. "Mr. Hanger is the only candidate who isn't afraid to openly discuss and campaign on a platform that calls for widespread reform of Pennsylvania's marijuana laws."

Medical Marijuana

I-502 Leader Calls for Medical Marijuana Home Grows to Remain. Alison Holcomb, architect of Washington state's successful marijuana legalization campaign, has called on state regulators to continue allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. I-502, the legalization initiative, does not allow home cultivation for non-patients, and regulators have proposed ending home cultivation for patients as well, but have run into considerable flak for that and other proposals that impinge on the existing medical marijuana system. Holcomb's statement came Wednesday, the last day for public input on the issue.

Criminal Justice

Virginia's Criminal Justice System Cruel, Ineffective, and Crisis-Bound, Report Says. The Justice Policy Institute released a report Wednesday bemoaning the state of criminal justice in the Old Dominion. The report's title pretty much says it all: Virginia's Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective, and Unfair. While the state has made some recent progress, it "continues to suffer under misguided policies and practices of the past," the report concluded. The report made a number of reform recommendations, including reintroducing parole and reducing the focus on drug offenses.

International

Canadian Addicts Sue for Prescription Heroin. Five Vancouver heroin addicts and Providence Health Care have launched a constitutional challenge to the federal government's ban on prescribing the drug. Health Canada's special access program (SAP) had recently approved applications from BC doctors to give diacetylmorphine (heroin) treatment to about 20 patients who were completing their participation in a Vancouver-based clinical trial -- the first time it had ever done so, but the federal health ministry denounced the decision and immediately changed policies to ensure it was never allowed again.

Mexican Cartel Pays $25 Million a Year in Bribes, Newspaper Says. The Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) drug trafficking organization in Michoacan is paying nearly $25 million a year to different officials in the state, the Mexico City newspaper El Milenio reported. The group also spends about $5 million a year in bribes in other states where it has a smaller footprint. In Michoacan, federal police commanders are getting more than $25,000 a month, state police commanders are getting more than $18,000 a month, and so are some officials in prosecutors' offices. Journalists are also on the cartel's payroll, with print reporters getting $3,000 a month and radio reporters getting nearly $2,000 a month. The numbers come from an intelligence report made available to reporters.

Colombia's FARC Ready to Deal with Coca Issue. As the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian government enter the next phase of their negotiations to end the nearly half-century-old armed struggle there, the FARC's top leader, Timoleon Jiminez, said the issue of illicit drug cultivation, which is next on the agenda, could be addressed, but only in the context of social justice for the peasantry. "We understand that if rural communities are satisfied in their basic aspirations as a result of agreements in dialogs and many negotiation tables taking place in the country, the problem of illegal crops would have disappeared forever in Colombia," he said. "Our satisfaction for a Colombia without coca will be enormous, much more, if the way leads to a Colombia without poverty that can make use of its political rights without any threats and violence." Peace talks resume next week in Havana.

First Singapore Drugs Death Row Inmate Re-Sentenced. The first person to benefit from Singapore's reform of its draconian death-penalty-for-drugs law was re-sentenced Thursday. Yong Vui Kong had been sentenced to death for bringing less than two ounces of heroin into the country, but under the sentencing reform, he was re-sentenced to life in prison and 15 lashes of the cane. The changes allow judges the discretion to sentence a courier to life imprisonment and caning if he is found to have substantively assisted the authorities in the fight against drug-trafficking.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- November 7, 2013

Portland's police chief demonstrates why local initiatives are only a start, a new Urban Institute report has ideas for reducing the federal prison population, the Irish parliament rejects marijuana legalization on its first go round, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Portland Police Chief to Ignore Legalization Initiative Victory. Portland, Maine, voterd Tuesday to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his officers will continue to issue citations for pot possession under state law. But Sauschuck also said Portland police didn't consider small-time pot possession a high priority even before Tuesday's vote, and the numbers back him up. In the last two 12-month periods, police there have averaged about one pot possession ticket a week.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Groups Launch Fundraising Campaign for 2014 Arkansas Initiative. Arkansas medical marijuana advocates Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) have joined forces with the national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to raise enough money to get the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act initiative on the 2014 ballot. The campaign kicks off Saturday in El Dorado with a concert sponsored by Budweiser (!), which will give a portion of the proceeds to ACC.

Sentencing Reform

Urban Institute Report Says Best Way to Reduce Federal Prison Population is Modify Sentencing, Prosecution Policies. A new report from the Urban Institute, Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System, concludes that "reducing the number of drug offenders is the quickest way to yield an impact on both prison population and cost," and recommends changes in both prosecution ("front end") and sentencing and reentry ("back end") policies.

International

The Silk Road is Back. The anonymous online marketplace notorious as a drug-buying and -selling venue is back up and running. It went down earlier this year when FBI agents arrested its operator, Ross Ulbrict, but was up again as of yesterday.

David Nutt Calls Britain's Drug Laws an Obstacle to Research.Scientist David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs, says Britain's drug laws are stifling research into the benefits of drugs like marijuana and Ecstasy. "The UK has gone from being early adopters of evidence based harm reduction -- prescription heroin, needle exchanges and opiate substitute therapy -- to lagging behind many countries across the globe that are modifying their drug policies to better reflect advances in our understanding of drugs," he told Forbes. Nutt, who was fired from the commission over his views on drug policy, recently won the John Maddox Prize, which is awarded for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility.

Irish Parliament Rejects Marijuana Legalization. The Irish Dail (parliament) soundly rejected a bill to legalize marijuana Wednesday. The private member's motion filed by TD Luke "Ming" Flanagan was defeated on a vote of 111-8. Still, the occasion marked the first time the Dail has seriously debated marijuana policy.

Czech Activists Denounce Grow Shop Raids, Plan Protests. The Czech marijuana reform group Legalizace has denounced Monday's mass raids on grow shops as "an absolutely unacceptable and scandalous infringement upon civil rights and freedoms" and is calling for a protest Saturday evening at Prague's Old Town Square.

Iran Drug Executions Continue. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's leading executioner of drug offenders, and this month is no different. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, which monitors Iranian press reports, 11 people have been hung for drug offenses so far this month, and we haven't even finished the first week. The annual number of people executed for drug offenses in Iran is in the hundreds.

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