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The Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

Last century's international prohibitionist consensus on drug policy continued to crumble this year, with moves to relax controls on medical and personal use of marijuana leading the way. But harm reduction measures such as supervised injection sites are also on the rise, international civil society and even some governments are laying the groundwork for reforming the global drug control regime next year at the UN, America's most stalwart drug war ally in South America changes its tune, and more.

Here are the biggest international drug policy stories of the year, in no particular order:

Canada Elects a Marijuana-Legalizing Prime Minister. We may have a handful of legal pot states, but Canada is about to become the first country in North America to free the weed. Newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made marijuana legalization a central plank of his election campaign, and this month, he immediately ordered his new Justice Minister to get on it after winning the election. In the annual throne speech last week, his government reiterated its intention to legalize it. It won't happen overnight, but it's coming.

The US is No Longer the Bogeyman of International Drug Reform. It's not like 2001, when Jamaican decriminalization got put on the back burner after thunderous protests from the US embassy, or even 2009, early in the Obama administration, when more muffled protests from the US helped put the kibosh on drug decriminalization in Mexico. It's more difficult for Washington to criticize other countries when the Obama administration has signaled it can live with legal marijuana in US states, but the administration seems less inclined to do so, anyway. Last year, William Brownfield, head of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs enunciated a policy of tolerance toward reform efforts abroad, and the State Department reiterated that again this year. It's not all roses, though; the prohibitionist beast may be weakening, but its tail still twitches.

Laying the Groundwork for UNGASS on Drugs. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is coming next spring, and the international drug reform movement was busy preparing for it this year. In May, during the High Level Thematic Debate on drugs, reform groups released an open letter calling on the UN to respect countries' drug policy reforms, and in June, while the UNODC marked global anti-drug day, global civil society fought back with events and demonstrations around the globe. Then, in October, Sir Richard Branson provoked a kerfluffle by leaking a UNODC draft document that urged governments to consider drug decriminalization, forcing the agency to walk it back under pressure from at least one country. At year's end, the European Parliamentary Council called for a public health-oriented global drug policy. A lot more has been going on behind the scenes, too, but drug reform at the UN moves at a glacial pace. Stay tuned.

Afghan Opium Production Declines. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UNODC reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Iran executes drug offenders (handsoffcain.net)
Iran Drug Death Penalty Mania Shows First Signs of Receding. Iran has executed hundreds of people for drug offenses this year, but a campaign to end European and UN funding of Iran's drug war has been picking up steam. Some European countries, including Denmark, Great Britain, and Ireland have stopped funding, and in October, the UN special rapporteur on Iran warned that it was using UN support to justify its aggressive use of the death penalty. But that didn't stop the UN Office on Drugs and Crime from this month increasing funding for Iranian anti-drug operations. While the struggle continues on the international front, this month, Iranian parliamentarians themselves expressed discomfort with the death toll. At least 70 are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. Lawmakers are now preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Columbia Stops Aerial Spraying of Herbicide on Coca Fields, Farmers. With US backing and encouragement, the Colombian government sprayed the herbicide glyphosate on coca crops for years despite peasant protests that it was causing illness and damaging other crops and livestock. But in April, after a World Health Organization report reclassified the herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," the health ministry called for the suspension of spraying. The following month, Colombia ended the program despite US pressure to continue it. Then, in September, President Juan Manuel Santos deepened the departure from two decades of US-style drug policies, unveiling a new national drug strategy that will emphasize alternative development.

Mexico Marijuana Moves. In a country where public opinion does not favor legalization, the Supreme Court stunned the nation in November by ruling that people have the right to grow and use marijuana. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten. It also opened the door for a national debate on marijuana policy, with President Enrique Pena Nieto promising it will occur early next year.

Medical Marijuana Advances. More countries okayed the use of medical marijuana in 2015, including Australia, Croatia, and, just this week, Colombia. Meanwhile, Chile harvested its first medical marijuana crop in April, the Italian Army began growing it in May (to address shortages within the country), and the Dalai Lama endorsed it in June. That same month, Costa Rica outlined requirements for a pending medical marijuana bill, and in July, Israel announced it would make it available in pharmacies and allow more doctors to prescribe it.

Jah Herb is decriminalized in Jamaica. (wikimedia.org)
Jamaica Decriminalizes Ganja. In February, parliament voted to approve a government-supported decriminalization bill, and the law went into effect in April. Now, anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. Adult Rastafarians can also now use the herb for religious purposes. The law also paved the way for a regulatory authority for medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses. In July, Justice Minister Mark Golding signed an order to expunge minor marijuana convictions, and by December, the government had granted its second "marijuana exemption" allowing Rastafarians at a festival to partake of (and possess and transport) Jah Herb without fear of arrest.

Supervised Injection Sites Expand. The harm reduction measure allows drug users to ingest their drugs under medical supervision and without fear of arrest and has been proven to improve outcomes for users and the community without increasing crime or other negatives and without fear of arrest. At the beginning of the year, there were supervised injection sites in eight countries -- Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. By year's end, two more countries got them up and running, France in the spring and Slovenia in the fall. Late in the year, Ireland approved a supervised injection site in Dublin. Meanwhile, in the US, the Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates are mounting a campaign to open one in New York City, which would be the first (official) one in the country.

Chronicle AM: DE Decriminalizes Tomorrow, Drought Halves Afghan Opium Crop, More (12/17/15)

The Obama administration weighs in on Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado legalization, Delaware decrim goes into effect tomorrow, Hawaii released medical marijuana dispensary rules, drought is hurting Afghan poppy production, and more.

Afghan opium production is down 48% this year, thanks to drought conditions. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law. In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems." Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause. They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce. But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction. The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

Delaware Decriminalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, people caught possessing an ounce of pot or less will face a $100 civil fine instead of a criminal charge. Minors caught smoking pot in public will still face criminal sanctions.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Unveiled. A legalization bill to be introduced next month by Sens. Jeannette White (D-Windham) and Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will allow Vermonters to possess up to one ounce and grow up to 100 square feet. Any harvest from personal grows in excess of an ounce must be kept in a secured location. The bill would also set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce, and it would for public consumption in lounges where customers could purchase and use marijuana.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Wins Preliminary Vote. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would make possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Health Department Issues Dispensary Rules. The Health Department Tuesday released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

International

Drought Forces Decline in Afghan Opium Production. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Mexico City Mayor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana-Based Medicines. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera is pushing a national initiative in the congress to allow the importation -- but not the production in Mexico -- of marijuana-based medications. He said if morphine-based medicines are legal, marijuana-based ones should be, too.

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. (unodc.org)
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.

International

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.

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Regulation Coming to CA, US Senate Passes Drug War Bill, More (10/12/15)

Legal marijuana moves ahead in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana will be comprehensively regulated in California, Jerry Brown splits on a pair of immigration drug deportation bills, Mexican opium poppy production is up dramatically, and more.

Finally, a statewide plan for regulating medical marijuana in California (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado's August Sales Topped $100 Million. For the first time, the state's monthly marijuana sales exceeded $100 million in August. Recreational marijuana came in at $59.2 million, while medical marijuana sales added another $41.4 million. That's $100.6 million in overall pot sales. The state collected $13 million in pot taxes that month.

Washington State Accepting New Retail Shop License Applications. As of today, the State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board is accepting and processing new applications for retail marijuana operations. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will now need to be licensed, and will be prioritized in the licensing process.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed into law a package of bills designed to bring comprehensive, statewide regulation to the state's thriving medical marijuana industry. The three-bill package will establish "a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and sale of medical marijuana," Brown said in his signing statement. "This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system," said Brown. "This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice."

Immigration

California Governor Signs One Bill to Block Immigrant Drug Deportations, But Vetoes Another. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed Assembly Bill 1352, which allows resident non-citizens convicted of a drug offense to seek deferred adjudication and, upon completion, withdrawal of a guilty plea to avoid triggering federal deportation proceedings. But he vetoed Assembly Bill 1351, which would have allowed immigrants to avoid pleading guilty to a drug offense in order to enter drug treatment.

Drug Policy

Senate Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The US Senate last Thursday approved S. 32, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would make it a federal crime to manufacture or distribute drugs anywhere in the world if there is "reasonable cause to believe that such substances or chemicals will be unlawfully imported into the United States or waters within 12 miles of the US coast." The bill now goes to the House.

International

British Lib Dems Set Up Panel on Marijuana Legalization Ahead of Parliamentary Debate Today. As Parliament prepared to debate marijuana legalization today in response to a widely signed citizen petition, the Liberal Democrats announced they were creating an expert panel on the subject. Click on the link for much more.

Chile Will Allow Sale of Medical Marijuana Products in Pharmacies. Chilean Vice Minister of Health Jaime Burrows said last Friday that the country will modify its laws to allow the sale of medical marijuana products in pharmacies. Such sales would be allowed with "the authorization of a specialist, a prescription, and strict controls of stock," he said. A decree enacting the changes is now being reviewed by President Michelle Bachelet.

UN Commission on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Retire the Army From the Drug War. The UN body said soldiers should retire from the streets and return to their bases because they are not trained to undertake policing work. "This must be propelled by a real sense of urgency," said the commission's Zaid Raad al-Hussein. "This is not something we can afford to wait months for without an end." The Mexican army has come under sustained criticism over human rights abuses in its war on drug trafficking organizations.

DEA Says Mexican Opium Crop Up By 50%. Jack Riley, the acting administrator of the DEA, told a House committee last week that there has been a 50% increase in poppy production in key Mexican opium-producing states this year. He added that most heroin consumed in the US comes from Mexico.

Chronicle AM: MI Rejects MedMJ for Autistic Kids, US Rejects Afghanistan Opium Eradication...For Now, More (8/28/2015)

California could still see a medical marijuana regulation bill this year, a Michigan official ignores his own advisory panel and bars medical marijuana for autistic kids, California counties strike out in an effort to make Big Pharma pay for damages related to prescription opiates, and more.

In Afghan fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Gutted, But Still Alive. A measure aimed at bringing the state's medical marijuana industry into an era of statewide regulation passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, but there was nothing in the version of the bill approved by the committee. Assembly Bill 266 was gutted and now simply reads: "It is the intention of the state legislature to regulate medical marijuana." It appears the move is designed to make room for input from the office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which has now submitted its language. The governor's language largely mirrors earlier language and would set up a tightly regulated system. The legislature has until next month to get the bill passed.

Michigan Rejects Medical Marijuana for Autism. Although an advisory panel recommended allowing medical marijuana for autism, Mike Zimmer, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday he was rejecting that recommendation. Zimmer said there was not sufficient research and he questioned whether cannabis oil is even allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. Advocates said he was mistaken in his reading of the law, and said they were frustrated with the decision.

Drug Policy

Feeling Political Pressure, Los Angeles County Promoter Cancels Rave After Deaths at Earlier Event. Organizers of HARD Presents… A Night at Fairplex have canceled the September 10 rave in the face of threats from county commissioners to ban raves on county properties after two teens died at the HARD Summer festival at the same venue in early August. The promoter is also scaling back its annual Day of the Dead party set for October 31 and November 1. But some county commissioners say they are still moving forward with plans for a ban.

California Judge Throws Out Counties' Lawsuit Against Prescription Opiate Manufacturers. An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed against five of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies by Southern California counties seeking to make them pay for damages related to prescription drug abuse. The suit accused the companies of fraudulently marketing the pain relievers to undercut the warning labels required by the FDA. The pharmaceutical companies, including PurduePharma, the makers of Oxycontin, argued that the FDA had exclusive jurisdiction. The judge agreed, dismissing the case, but leaving an opening for it to be re-filed after an FDA evaluation.

International

US Rules Out Opium Eradication in Afghanistan, At Least For Now. The US will not support eradication programs in the world's largest opium producer until and unless there is a comprehensive alternative development program that will provide a stable source of income for poppy farmers, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "This is a tough problem to get at, but to simply, you know, work towards some eradication program -- to burn them to the ground, while that may have an immediate effect, it doesn't necessarily do anything for long-term stability and security for Afghan farmers," he said. "You have to be able to work on supplementing it for something else, and we have worked with Afghan authorities for many years about trying to find other crops that farmers can grow to make a good living, and there's been some success in that," he said.

Chronicle AM: Reps Call for Better DEA Head, US Afghan Opium Boondoggle, Mexico Violence, More (5/1/15)

The House rejects medical marijuana for vets, Georgia's governor signs a CBD cannabis oil bill, Congressmembers call for a progressive DEA head, the US spent $8.4 billion to wipe out Afghan poppy crops and got squat, there's a new report on prohibition-related violence in Mexico, and more.

The US has spent $8.4 billion to wipe out Afghan poppies, but the crop is bigger than ever. (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

House Rejects Medical Marijuana Access for Vets by Three Votes. An amendment from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to allow Veterans Administration doctors to fill out state medical marijuana recommendation forms for veterans was defeated Thursday by a vote of 213-210. The amendment was to the spending bill to the Veterans Administration.

California Assembly Passes Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act. The Assembly approved Assembly Bill 258, filed by Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael). The bill bars anyone in the organ transplant process from using a patient's use of medical marijuana to deny them a transplant, unless that use is clinically significant to the transplant process. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) Thursday signed into law House Bill 1, the "Hailey's Hope Act." The law will allow qualifying patients to use CBD cannabis oils containing less than 5% THC. Click on the link to see the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Policy

Congressmembers Call for a More Progressive DEA Head. Eight members of Congress have sent a letter to the White House urging it to replace disgraced outgoing DEA head Michele Leonhart with someone who will "reflect your administration's policies. Leonhart, they said, "leaves behind a legacy of strident opposition to efforts to reform our nation's drug policy." Click on either link for more.

International

Afghan Opium Production Jumps Despite $8.4 Billion US Effort. The US has dumped $8.4 billion into fighting opium production in Afghanistan since invading and occupying the country in late 2001, but has basically gotten squat for its efforts, according to the latest counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, and the country is the global leader in illicit opium cultivation and production," the quarterly report concluded.

Italian Army Begins Growing Medical Marijuana. To address a shortage of medical marijuana in the country, the Italian Army has begun growing medical marijuana in a bunker inside a pharmaceutical plant in Florence. "The aim of this operation is to make available to a growing number of patients a medical product which isn't always readily available on the market, at a much better price for the user," Colonel Antonio Medica told Italian website Corriere della Sera. The operation is expected to produce about 220 pounds annually.

Mexico Drug Trafficking Violence Declines, But Still Deadly. An annual report from the University of San Diego's Justice in Mexico project finds that homicides have declined for the third year in a row and that cities such as Acapulco, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juarez have seen dramatic reductions in violence, but that new areas of concern have emerged, including the states of Morelos and Jalisco. "Violence remains relatively high and the security situation remains problematic in certain parts of the country," said the report, Drug Violence in Mexico.

Mexican Gunmen Shoot Down Military Helicopter in Jalisco, Killing Three Soldiers. A military helicopter trailing carloads of suspected cartel gunmen was hit with gunfire from the convoy today, resulting in a crash landing that left three of the 11 troops on board dead. The attack came as violence roiled the state: More than a dozen trucks and buses were torched in Guadalajara, gunmen clashed with police in the town of Autlan, and five banks were torched in Ciudad Guzman. This is the turf of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which killed 20 police officers in the state in two ambushes in March and April.

Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Blocked, AL Life Sentence for Pot, Ominous Afghan Opium News, More (2/18/15)

A New Jersey coalition for marijuana reform has formed, an Alabama judge sentences a man to life in prison over 2 1/2 pounds of pot, the Hawaii legislature advances a dispensary bill, asset forfeiture reform gets slapped down in Virginia and Wyoming, the opium trade is expanding in western Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Coalition Forms, Includes Prosecutors. Representatives from a number of groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association held a news conference in Newark today to announce the formation of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Cannabis Chamber Supports Tightened Regulations on Caregivers. The chamber, which represents recreational marijuana business interests, has come out in support of Senate Bill 14, which would require medical marijuana caregivers to be licensed and registered with the state. The measure would help law enforcement maintain a tighter control on who is growing how much marijuana for whom. The chamber said the "caregivers system is being abused" by people who don't want to abide by the same regulations as the rest of the industry. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins House Committee Vote. Fourteen years after the legislature approved medical marijuana, it may finally get around to approving dispensaries. A bill that would do that, House Bill 321, was approved by the House Committee on Health and the Judiciary Tuesday. It now goes before the House Committee on Finance. A similar proposal in the Senate was slated for a decision in a joint committee hearing today.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Senate Committee Vote. An asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week has been killed in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure, House Bill 1287, was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James County) said the bill will now be studied by the State Crime Commission.

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have made it more difficult for police and prosecutors to seize property from people they believe are involved in drug crimes. The bill, Senate File 14, would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. Mead, a former US attorney, said he didn't believe asset forfeiture had been abused in the state. The measure passed both houses by a veto-proof margin, so stay tuned.

Harm Reduction

Virginia 911 Good Samaritan Bill Awaits Final Senate Vote. A bill that would provide protection from prosecution to people who report drug overdoses has passed the Senate and House of Delegates, but was amended in the House and now requires a final Senate concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The measure is Senate Bill 892.

Sentencing

Alabama Man Gets Life in Prison for Marijuana Distribution. A Houston County judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to life in prison Tuesday for trafficking 2 ½ pounds of pot. Richard Bolden was also hit with another eight years for bail-jumping -- to be served consecutively. Bolden had one prior federal drug conviction and was out on bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, but had not been convicted of that. He had also been arrested 37 times, but never actually convicted in any of those arrests. But prosecutors said he was "a habitual and dangerous criminal offender" and the judge agreed.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Man Jailed on Three Meth Charges Freed After Tests Showed Powder Was Vitamins, Not Amphetamines. Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, spent three months in jail on meth charges after a Mankato police officer mistook his vitamins for meth. Burrell tried to tell the cops what the powder was, but they didn't believe him and jailed him on $250,000 bail. He was set for trial February 4, but test results came back two days before, and police were forced to admit he was telling the truth. The charges were dropped and Burrell was released. No mention of restitution.

International

Opium Booms in Western Afghanistan; Taliban, ISIS, Corrupt Officials Benefit. A weak government in Kabul is unable or unwilling to reign in rampant opium production and trafficking in remote western Farah province bordering Iran. Taliban insurgents control half the region, a former Taliban commander who has pledged allegiance to ISIS is roaming the area with a band of dozens of gunmen, and police and local government officials seem more interested in profiting off the crop than suppressing it. That bodes ill for the Kabul government. Much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Chronicle AM: NM MJ Legalization Bill Dead, Fed Crackdown on Drug Courts, More (2/6/15)

State legislatures are keeping us busy with lots of drug-related bills, New York's attorney general gets a deal on naloxone pricing, the feds will crack down on drug courts that don't allow opiate maintenance, and more. Let's get to it:

Drug courts will have to get on board with opiate maintenance if they want to keep their federal funding. (henrico.us)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. The House Agriculture and Wildlife Committee voted 7-1 to table House Bill 160, which would have legalized marijuana and allowed for regulated and taxed sales. Opponents said it would lead to more drug use on the job and impair public safety.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia CBD Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 1235, which would allow patients with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. The measure passed 37-1. A similar bill has already passed out of committee in the House and awaits a floor vote.

Hemp

Federal Industrial Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 525, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill now has 52 cosponsors -- 34 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The newest are Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).

New Synthetics

New Hampshire Bill to Ban Synthetic Drugs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 106, which would restrict the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. The bill would give the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to "add, delete, or otherwise revise" the list of substances included in the law and set a $500 fine for businesses caught distributing the drugs.

Asset Forfeiture

House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Federal Asset Forfeiture Next Week. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will hold a hearing on federal asset forfeiture uses and reforms. The hearing is set for next Wednesday at 10:00am.

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Vote Stalled. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has been stalled. Senate Bill 6 was supposed to have a committee hearing this week, but the hearing has been delayed, with no make-up date announced.

Harm Reduction

New York Attorney General Gets Deal to Reduce Price of Overdose Reversal Drug. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that will result in cheaper prices for the company's formulation of naloxone, which can reverse opiate overdoses. The company nearly doubled the price of the drug last fall as demand rose, giving rise to a chorus of complaints. The deal would give New York state naloxone buyers a $6 per dose rebate. But the company had increased the price of the drug by about $20 per dose.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Narrows Public Benefits Drug Testing Proposal. Gov. Scott Walker (R) no longer plans to require drug screening and possible drug testing for all public benefits recipients; instead, now only childless adults will face the screening.

Law Enforcement

Feds to Crack Down on Drug Courts That Don't Allow Opiate Maintenance. Acting drug czar Michael Botticelli said during confirmation hearings Thursday that drug courts receiving federal funds will no longer be allowed to deny opiate addicts access to opiate maintenance treatments such as suboxone. Click on the link for more details.

International

New Cartel Violence in Matamoros Sends Newspaper Editor Fleeing to Texas. At least 15 people have been killed in the past week in confrontations between drug trafficking factions in Tamaulipas state, across the border from South Texas. And a newspaper editor from Matamoros has fled to Texas after being threatened upon publishing reports of a shootout that left nine people dead. Enrique Juarez Torres, editor of El Manana, said he had been kidnapped, beaten, and threatened with death for his reporting. The Thursday edition of the newspaper carried no news of his kidnapping or any other reports on cartel activity.

Laos Vows Crackdown on Drugs; Will Target Addicts as Well as Traffickers. Laotian security officials say they will be going after important drug rings and street dealers, but also drug users. "We're targeting the buyers, sellers, and consumers," a security official said. Laos has already ratcheted up drug law enforcement, with drug arrests up five-fold in 2014 over 2013. The moves come as opium production continues in the country and next door in Myanmar.

The Big Global Drug Policy Stories of 2014 [FEATURE]

2014 was a big year for drug reform, and for a change, the US is pulling things in the right direction. But it some places, it's been business as usual, and in others, things have gone in the wrong direction. Here are our big international stories of the year.

Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield dropped a bombshell in October. (state.gov)
Marijuana Legalization Expands in the US

Two more states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana at the ballot box this year. That makes four states and DC that have legalized it. The US has historically been the leading enforcer of global drug prohibition, but the actions of voters in American states have seriously undercut the (now former, see below) US position, as well as providing an example to the rest of the world.

The US Signals a New Openness to Drug Reform at the International Level

In a little-heralded, but groundbreaking move, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), made it clear that the US is willing to embrace flexibility, up to and including drug legalization in other countries, in the face of rising calls for international drug reform.

Brownfield succinctly laid out the US approach in an October speech: "First, respect the integrity of the existing UN Drug Control Conventions. Second, accept flexible interpretation of those conventions… Third, to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs. All these countries must work together in the international community. We must have some tolerance for those differing policies. And our fourth pillar is agreement and consensus that whatever our approach and policy may be on legalization, decriminalization, de-penalization, we all agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain. Respect the conventions; flexible interpretation; tolerance for national policeis; criminal organizations -- that is our mantra."

Calls for an End to Drug Prohibition Increase as the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs Looms

This year saw the pressure for reform of the international drug control regime grow even more intense, and fractures in a now crumbling prohibitionist consensus grew even deeper. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna in March revealed schisms among countries about future steps on global drug control even as the global drug bureaucrats gave signs of softening in some policy areas, especially around emphasizing public health as opposed to criminalization. The meeting ended with a formal joint ministerial statement agreed to at the last minute after months of contentious wrangling, but one where countries failed to agree on a common approach and where certain fractious issues -- such as the use of the death penalty for drug offenses or even the mention of the term "harm reduction" -- were omitted entirely.

Former UN head Kofi Annan made his drug reform presence felt this year. (un.org)
Countries critical of the global drug policy status quo, particularly from Europe and Latin America, were joined by an ever-stronger civil society presence at the CND. The message of reform grows ever louder and presages an especially contentious next step, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, set for 2016.

During the rest of the year, the call for reform from civil society only grew louder. In May, the London School of Economics (LSE) published a Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries.

"It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis," the report says forthrightly. "The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage. These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world."

That was followed in June by the West Africa Commission on Drugs, which was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria, is 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. The commission 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.

And then, in September, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes Annan, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), and others, issued a new report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. It boldy called on "governments to decriminalize a variety of illegal drugs and set up regulated drug markets within their own countries."

Uruguay Forges Ahead With Marijuana Legalization

President Jose "Pepe" Mujica may be gone -- his term expired -- but his legacy of legalizing the marijuana trade lives on. There was some doubt as Uruguayans voted on his replacement -- the opposition candidate vowed to roll it back -- but they chose a successor from his same party who will uphold and implement the legal marijuana commerce plan. Uruguay never criminalized pot possession, and now it is the first country to legalize the trade. Implementation should continue apace next year.

Afghanistan Pumps Out More Opium

As the US and NATO declare an end to their Afghan war, Afghanistan is growing and producing as much opium as ever. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014, land under poppy cultivation increased 7% this year. UNODC estimated opium production this year at 6,400 tons, up 17% over last year. But while annual production has been at 6,000 tons or more for the past few years, it is not as high as the record year of 2007, when production totaled over 8,000 tons. And this as the US spent $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since invading in 2001.

And the Golden Triangle Is Back, Too

Opium production increased again in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle this year, continuing a pattern of growth that has now gone on for at least the past eight years. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014, the region produced 762 tons of opium this year, with the vast majority coming from the Burmese Shan State. While Golden Triangle production accounts for only about 10% of global opium production, Burma is now the world's second largest opium producer, behind Afghanistan.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow... and grow. (unodc.org)
Mexican Drug War

It's been the best of times and the worst of times for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his government's prosecution of its war against the drug cartels. While media attention to the Mexican drug war has declined dramatically since 2012 -- an election year in both the US and Mexico -- the drug war hasn't gone away, and the death toll has plateaued, but not declined. The year started off great for Pena Nieto with the arrest of the heretofore seemingly invincible Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Other major cartel figures have been killed or arrested throughout the year. But things turned sour again this fall when drug gang-connected elected officials in Iguala, Guerrero, sicced local police and the local Guerreros Unidos gang, on busloads of protesting radical teachers' college students, leaving 43 missing and presumed dead. That led to mass protests against lawlessness, official corruption, and impunity across the country.

Now Part of Russia, Crimea Rolls Back Harm Reduction Measures

Whatever one thinks of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, it's been bad news for Crimean drug users. While Ukraine has embraced a harm reduction approach to hard drug use, Russia rejects such an approach and has some of the most repressive drug laws in the world. And it moved quickly in Crimea, banning the use of methadone almost immediately, which the International HIV/AIDS Alliance called "a disaster for health, human rights and the HIV epidemic in the region." By June, with more than 800 people cut off from access to opiate maintenance, activists were reporting 20 deaths among drug users and that many others had fled to Kiev, while those that remained were turning to street drugs. Things have only gotten worse, and Ukraine shares somes of the responsibility for using the opiate maintenance programs as a political weapon against Crimea. Now, only does the ban on opiate maintenance remain, but drug users face assaults in the streets, as well as stays in jail. And the only "treatment" offered is Russian-style "psychiatric treatment."

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