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Beyond UNGASS: Looking Toward 2019 [FEATURE]

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for UN Headquarters in Manhattan next week, and civil society and some European and Latin American countries are hoping to make limited progress in moving toward more evidence- and public health-based drug policies. But, knowing the glacial pace of change at the UN and well aware of how little of substance is likely to emerge from the UNGASS, some eyes are already turning to the post-UNGASS international arena.

UNGASS is coming... and then what? (Creative Commons)
Hopes for more forward movement at the UNGASS, always tentative and facing opposition from global drug war hardliners such as Russia, China, and Singapore, were effectively dashed at the run-up meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting last month in Vienna, whose outcome document was described as "quite awful" by leading Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson.

The outcomes document includes some minor progressive movement, but does not challenge the trio of treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, while its embrace of "flexibility" emboldens regressive, repressive measures (the death penalty for drug offenses, forced "treatment," criminalization of drug users) in hard line countries, despite being helpful for progressive reforms around the edges of the treaties' prohibition.

MacPherson was one of a handful of international drug policy experts and elected officials who took part in a teleconference last week organized by StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), a US-based group that has been deeply involved in civil society organizing around the UNGASS. He wasn't the only one looking beyond 2016.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernández, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Organizations, called this year's UNGASS poses "a step" toward examining the objectives of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, which will be reviewed in 2019. While the CND outcomes document had good language around the need for embracing multiple approaches, such as public health, human rights, gender, and prevention, it also includes serious shortcomings, she said.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernandez (pan.senado.gob.mx)
"There is a lack of recognition of the relative efficacy of demand reduction and harm reduction policies and the absence of an acknowledgement of the high costs that the prohibitionist and punitive approaches have generated," the senator said.

Mexican senators know all too well the high costs of drug prohibition. For the past decade, the country has been battered by brutal prohibition-related violence that has left at least 100,000 dead, tens of thousands more "disappeared," a legacy of human rights abuses by soldiers and police fighting the cartels, and the legitimacy of the state severely weakened.

"The international community should continue to work toward the establishment of indicators that could help measure the impact of drug policies on people's lives and their rights," Rojas said, suggesting this could still happen at the UNGASS.

But she was also looking down the road.

"Something that should be placed on the table in 2019 is a thorough review of the three conventions on drug control that acknowledges the highly detrimental effects of the current approaches," she said. "And we should be more honest about the so-called flexibility of implementation offered by these treaties and acknowledge that there should be a wider range of action for countries to define their own drug policies, taking into consideration their national and cultural context."

Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson (cssdp.org)
Both Rojas and Canada's MacPherson called for some sort of expert mechanism to guide policymakers eyeing the 2019 meeting.

"Organizations and even some governments are beginning to call for a mechanism post-UNGASS to get real with the modernizing of the treaties," MacPherson said, reflecting frustration with the UNGASS process and prospects. "It's really important that UN member states speak strongly for the need for that mechanism, whether it's an expert committee or some other sort of group. And it needs to happen now -- the next three years are critical coming up to 2019. We really do need to have that process in place to [counter] the kind of intransigence of other countries that use the consensus-based model to hold progress ransom."

"The international community should examine the possibility of establishing an analysis mechanism as a working group of experts, for example, with a mandate to formulate recommendations aimed at the modernization of the international system of drugs for the 2019 review process," Rojas added. "And from a longer-term perspective, we need to see the creation of a special office within the UN Human Rights Council, to follow up and monitor the respect of human rights in the context of the enforcement of the drug policies."

The UNGASS hasn't even gotten here yet, and interested observers are already looking past it. Welcome to politics at the United Nations where most things happen at a snail's pace. The global drug prohibition consensus may be crumbling, but it is crumbling very slowly at the level of international conventions and institutions. The work continues.

[A follow-up story on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico will highlight remarks during the teleconference by Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Aram Barra of Mexico United Against Crime, and StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden.]

Virginia Cop Gunned Down Last Week Was Doing a Drug War Training Exercise

The Virginia State Trooper shot and killed at the Greyhound Bus Station in Richmond, Virginia, last week died while on a drug war training exercise aimed at patrons of the transportation hub.

Trooper Chad Dermyer, 37, was gunned down by James Brown III, an Illinois man with a lengthy criminal record, who in turn was shot and killed by Dermyer's colleagues. Two women were wounded in the gunfire, neither with life-threatening injuries.

The two fatalities come as a shock, but hardly a surprise. According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to eleven. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is about on track.

Of those 50 or so drug war deaths each year, only a handful have been police officers. But Dermyer is the second law enforcement officer to be killed upholding drug prohibition in a 10-day period: An Indiana deputy was killed March 22 in a misbegotten midnight drug raid over a single syringe.

In Richmond last Thursday, as Fox 10 TV reported:

State Police were at that station for a training exercise on how to intercept drugs at bus terminals, which are often critical transfer points for narcotics. Dermyer had just been training for his new position around 2:40 when he was shot by a man he approached as part of that training, according to State Police.

"The male subject pulled out a handgun and shot Chad multiple times," Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said. "The male subject continued firing his weapon, as two state police troopers opened fire."

The Washington Post added a bit more detail:

[State Police Superintendent W. Steven] Flaherty said Dermyer and other troopers were at the station to train for what is called a counterterrorism and criminal interdiction unit. The unit is assigned to public transit areas and highways to identify and question people deemed suspicious. It is a way of intercepting drugs and guns.

Dermyer, wearing a dark blue uniform that resembles fatigues, had started to question the man when the assailant pulled out a gun and shot the trooper, police said. Dermyer was not wearing a protective vest.

Flaherty said the conversation lasted about 30 seconds. He said he did not know what drew Dermyer's attention to the man. Two other troopers returned fire, police said. Flaherty said the squad's training assignment was: " 'If you see some suspicious behavior, go over and engage and have a conversation.' That was what was taking place here."

While it may have been a "training exercise," what police were doing was surveilling and accosting real people in real life. And it got very real indeed when Dermyer stopped Brown, who was armed and who had an extensive criminal record, with arrests on counts ranging from the petty -- "failure to obey police, resisting a corrections officer, numerous drug charges" -- to the ugly -- "aggravated battery of a pregnant woman" -- to the quite serious -- "murder, intent to kill, aggravated battery with a firearm, felony possession of a weapon." (It's not clear which of those arrests actually resulted in convictions and on what charges.)

According to his aunt, who helped raise him and with whom he stayed until she kicked him out in December, Brown really didn't like cops. The aunt, Edith Brown of suburban Chicago, told WTVR News Brown had been to prison and had had enough.

"He said he would never go back to prison again," she said. "He would fight it out with them. He had a lot of anger about the police in the past," she said. "He pretty much thought he wanted to be infamous... in terms of having a showdown. He always praised those people who got into shootouts with police."

It's difficult to tease out the role of drug prohibition in the incident where Dermyer's and Brown's lives intersected -- and ended. It's embedded in an intricate tapestry of race and class, crime and criminalization, permanent paranoia and militarized policing. But the war on drugs is one of the threads, and now, two more people are dead.

Richmond, VA
United States

Chronicle AM: Senate "Sham" Legalization Hearing, Legalizers Rally in Ann Arbor & DC, More... (4/4/16)

Marijuana legalization activists rallied in Ann Arbor and DC over the weekend, pot-related hearings take place in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the US Senate tomorrow, the California Assembly will take up supervised injection sites tomorrow, British pot arrests are down dramatically, and more.

Could supervised injection sites be coming to California? Stay tuned. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Legalization Foes to Hold Hearing Tomorrow. US Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will hold a hearing in the Caucus on International Narcotics Control titled "Is the Justice Department Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization." The only witnesses are foes of marijuana legalization, making it a "sham hearing" in the eyes of the Drug Policy Alliance. "These hearings are a one-sided sham with the deck stacked with witnesses who have a track record of vehemently opposing marijuana legalization," said DPA deputy director of national affairs,Michael Collins. "An honest evaluation of marijuana legalization would include the undeniable benefits of legalization like the massive drop in marijuana arrests, the billions in taxes, and the transition from an underground market to a regulated one. A more even-handed hearing would also address the destructive harms of marijuana prohibition."

On Eve of Hearing, Connecticut Governor Reiterates Opposition to Legalization. With a legislative informational hearing on legalizing marijuana set for Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) made clear Monday that he remains opposed to the move. "I'm not a believer in it," he said. "I've done all the things I thought were necessary," referring to supporting the state's medical marijuana program and signing a decriminalization bill. "I think when you legalize marijuana, you're encouraging marijuana, and that's not the place I want to go."

DC Pot Activists Fire Up in Front of White House. Led by the DC Cannabis Campaign, hundreds of legalization supporters gathered in front of the White House Saturday afternoon to urge President Obama to reschedule marijuana. The event was held on 4/2 instead of 4/20 because "Obama has been a big zero" when it comes to leading the country out of pot prohibition, the activists said. At 4:20pm, people lit up in a civil disobedience action, but no arrests were forthcoming, although some citations were issued.

Thousands Attend Annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor. Pot lovers and legalizers gathered by the thousands on the University of Michigan's central campus Diag in the Midwest's largest annual celebration of cannabis culture. This was the 45th annual Hash Bash, and stoner icon Tommy Chong addressed the crowd, along with lesser luminaries. Activists were also out collecting signatures for a proposed statewide marijuana legalization initiative. Three people were arrested for marijuana possession.

Rhode Island Hearing on Marijuana Regulation and Policy Tuesday. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin will host a forum on marijuana policy Tuesday at Brown University. Speakers include representatives from the city of Denver, the Washington state attorney general's office, and the Washington Institute on Public Policy, as well as Massachusetts state Sen. Jason Lewis (D), who chairs that state's Special Senate Committee on Marijuana.

Harm Reduction

California Assembly Hearing on Supervised Injection Sites Set for Tomorrow. The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 2495, which would allow localities to establish supervised drug consumption services and let drug users consume controlled substances there under public health supervision. The bill is sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

International

British Marijuana Arrests Down By Nearly Half Since 2010. Arrests are down 46%, warnings fell by 48%, and charges filed declined by 33% between 2010 and 2015, according to official data from police forces. Some forces admitted no longer targeting pot smokers, saying their officers had been "freed up" for "more important work."

Indian Opium Addicts Block Highway to Protest New Ban on Poppy Husk. Hundreds of people addicted to "doda post," as dried opium husk is known in the area, blocked a highway in Rajasthan to protest a ban on the trade that went into effect April 1. Police managed to clear the road, but demonstrations against the ban continued. One local doda user attempted to commit suicide, and his father, Himatram, said he and his son had been using doda for years. "This government banned doda while supplying liquor publicly," he said. "It is not justified." Doda users said authorities had begun "de-addiction" drives, but were supplying them with medications that were useless.

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations, SC Town Pays Big for Killing Teen in Pot Bust, More... (3/30/16)

The president has commuted sentences for another 61 federal drug offenders, Maine legalizers are fighting to get their signatures validated and their initiative on the ballot, a South Carolina town pays out big for the death of a local teen in a small-time pot bust, and more.

Zach Hammond's family has settled a lawsuit over his death in a small-time pot sting operation gone bad. (Hammond family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Senate Approves Marijuana DUID Bill. The Senate voted 19-14 Wednesday to pass LD 1628, which establishes a blood level for THC over which the driver is presumed to be impaired. The bill sets the limit at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the same as the states of Colorado and Washington. The bill now goes to the House.

Maine Legalization Campaign Gets Hearing On Invalidated Signatures. At a court hearing Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fought to get more than 17,000 invalidated signatures reinstated. The campaign accused Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of using an "unconstitutionally vague" interpretation of election laws to invalidate the signatures -- all of which were notarized by the same person. Dunlap said the notary's signature didn't match his on-file signature. By invalidating the 17,000 signatures, Dunlap ensured that the initiative campaign would not qualify for the November ballot. The court has until April 11 to render a decision.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Edibles Bill. Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1511, which allows people 21 and over to purchase edibles and extracts at dispensaries. The bill also allows recreational pot stores to sell medical marijuana tax-free to registered patients.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Patients Protest Proposed Medical Marijuana Tax. Protestors gathered at the State House Tuesday to just say no to Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) plan to impose a tax on patient and caregiver growers. "We have pain, we have cancer, taxing us is not the answer," they chanted. Under her plan, caregivers would have to pay $350 per plant and patients who grow their own would have to pay $150. The protest took place just before the House Finance Committee took up the proposal.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Full Transcript of President Obama's Atlanta Remarks on Heroin and Pain Pills. The White House has released the full transcript of the discussion panel in which President Obama took part Tuesday as part of the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. Click the title link for the transcripts.

Law Enforcement

Family of Zach Hammond Settles Police Killing Lawsuit. The South Carolina teenager was shot and killed by police last summer as he sat in his pick-up truck. The teenage girl who was his passenger was the target of an attempted bust over the sale of a bag of weed, and police shot Hammond as he attempted to pull away from the scene. His family has settled the lawsuit for $2.1 million. State investigators last year concluded that the killing was justified, but the city has just paid up.

Sentencing

Obama Pardons More Drug Offenders. President Obama today granted clemency to 61 more federal drug offenders, more than a third of whom were serving life sentences. That brings to 248 the number of sentences commuted by Obama, more than the six previous presidents combined. He was also set to meet today with people whose sentences had been commuted by previous presidents to discuss their experiences with reentry and how the process can be strengthened. On Thursday, he will hold a Life After Clemency briefing at 2:00pm EDT, which can be viewed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Drug War Idiocy: One Indiana Deputy Killed, Another Wounded in Midnight Drug Raid Over a Syringe

Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Carl A. Koontz, 27, was shot and killed and Sgt. Jordan F. Buckley, 35, was shot and wounded in a midnight drug raid gone wrong Sunday night in Russiaville, Indiana. The target of the raid, Evan Dorsey, 25, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the mobile home that was raided.

According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to nine. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is right on track.

In this case, they died over a syringe. That's right -- as the Indianapolis Star reported, the deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Dorsey for failure to appear in court over possession of a syringe.

The deputies went to the mobile home where Dorsey was staying shortly after midnight Sunday. According to Howard County Sheriff Steven Rogers, they were part of a team that included sheriff's deputies, Kokomo police officers, and the Russiaville town marshal.

Rogers said officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, but got no answer. He said the deputies "were shot as they entered the home."

Roger's account (or the Star's reporting) doesn't make clear just exactly how officers "entered the home." No one answered the door, so they either just opened it and entered or broke it down and entered. In either case, there were now armed intruders in the residence in the middle of the night. They were met with gunfire from Dorsey.

A SWAT team was called to the scene, but got no response from Dorsey. Two hours later, the SWAT team entered the home and found Dorsey dead of a gunshot wound. An autopsy released Monday described the wound as self-inflicted.

The death of a sheriff's deputy and a citizen in this incident should call into question the decision-making that led to the fatal encounter. Is failure to appear in court for possession of a syringe such a serious offense that it requires a midnight drug raid? In a nation where owning guns is seen as an inalienable right, should police be risking their lives breaking into homes in the night when they could reasonably assume an armed resident might mistake them for intruders? And above all, in retrospect, was it worth it?

While some states have legalized the possession of syringes without a prescription, many continue to criminalize their possession through drug paraphernalia laws. In Indiana, possession of a syringe is a violation of the paraphernalia law, and possession of a syringe with any detectable amount of an illicit drug exposes carriers to drug possession charges.

Russiaville, IN
United States

Myths, Moralism, and Hypocrisy Drive the International Drug Control System

Julia Buxton is Associate Dean and Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest. Follow her on Twitter: @BuxtonJulia

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

In April 2016, the international community will convene for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). This event, held two years early due to the urgency of the drug situation and intensity of drug-related violence, presents an opportunity to question the fundamentals of international drug policy. Despite overwhelming evidence that a century-long quest to control human behavior and drug markets through international treaties and national legislation has failed, there is little expectation of change. The vested interests in retaining the status quo are significant, with sclerosis legitimized through the recurrent exhortation to improve international co-operation.

Major institutional and policy change is required and will ultimately be unavoidable. The treaty system and international drug control institutions stemming from the first international drug conference in 1909 have set us on an orientation within drug policy that does not reflect the dynamics of global drug markets or protect us from drug related harms. Control efforts and resources are skewed toward drugs such as cocaine and heroin, when synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine dominate markets. Enforcement is focused on countries of the global south, when the global north is the world’s key zone for the manufacture and export of illicit substances, and where the bulk of drug trade profits are realized.  

Framed by history

 

From its initiation, the drug control system has responded to the perceived risk from narcotic plants grown in the global south. In 1909, the ‘great powers’ of the day met in Shanghai to discuss controls on opium, a freely traded commodity derived from opium poppy. The result was a seismic market shift, overturning centuries of colonial engagement in opium poppy cultivation in far flung empires of south Asia, and ending the popular use of opium for purposes of pain or pleasure.

The resulting 1912 International Opium Convention of The Hague was the first international drug treaty. It set the intellectual and institutional direction for the drug control system, strategies and approaches that operate today. To put it another way, today we respond to the complex, transnational challenges of HIV/AIDS, internet-based drug sales and international organized crime through a framework devised by imperial powers at a time when women could not vote or wear trousers, when nose size and skin color were seen to determine brain size and civility, and when addiction was understood as a problem of ‘godlessness’.

Over the course of a century, the treaty system has evolved through to the most recent 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, incorporating into the control system a diversity of plants, weeds, shrubs and chemicals deemed “evil” and harmful to the “health and welfare of mankind”. At no point has the United Nations, which administers and oversees the treaty system, reconsidered first principles – as set out in 1912 and institutionalized in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – that it is desirable or even possible for states to prohibit access to a selected range of intoxicating substances. 

Sovereign states remain locked into the goal of eliminating, or at least significantly curbing the production, distribution and use of drugs. They must cooperate on international control efforts and, in line with the 1961 Single Convention, they are required to treat participation in the drug trade as “punishable offenses when committed intentionally”, and as “serious offenses […] liable to adequate punishment particularly by imprisonment or other penalties of deprivation of liberty”.

A legacy of failure

 

These efforts to control human behavior and to terminate the supply of harmful substances cannot succeed, even if recurrently stepped up, militarized and coercively enforced. According to the latest figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug in 2013. This is despite punitive national policies to prevent consumption, including by depriving users of illegal drugs of their freedom, access to their children, employment and medical care, and even their right to life.

The use of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines remains a ‘global habit’ in a borderless world, configured around a sophisticated, lucrative and innovative transnational market that supplies a diversity of ever cheaper drugs to an estimated 246 million people.  

The 1961 Single Convention looked to eliminate opium use within 15 years, with a 25-year schedule for cocaine and cannabis. In 1998, the UN promoted a “drug-free world”, to be achieved within ten years, and a host of cultivating countries have, over the decades, committed to achieving zero-cultivation of narcotic drug crops. But just as demand reduction targets have never been met, neither have those relating to supply. At over 7,000 tons in 2014, opium production reached its highest level since the 1930s. There was an estimated 120,000 hectares under coca bush cultivation in 2013 (with potential for the manufacture of 662 to 902 tons of cocaine). Meanwhile, as stated in the UNODC’s “World Drug Report 2015”, advances “in cannabis plant cultivation techniques and the use of genetically selected strains have led to an increase in the number of cannabis harvests, as well as in the yield and potency of cannabis”.

As set out by Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, “we have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system”. This acknowledgement has not led to any questioning of mission, or the plausibility of prohibiting access to certain drugs – even with evidence that nine out of ten users are not considered dependent or problematic. Neither has there been engagement with the reality that making certain substances illegal has made them more attractive to produce and supply. Criminalization has converted freely growing plants into billion dollar crops, high profit margins incentivize illicit supply, while the ‘success’ of drug seizures serves only to elevate prices. A utopian goal is being pursued through a strategy that makes it unachievable. 

A northern bias

 

In policy and implementation, drug control remains overwhelmingly preoccupied with opium poppy and coca leaf. International counter-narcotics efforts and assistance – both military and development – have focused on ‘producer’ states such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru (coca leaf), Mexico (opium poppy) and south Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Burma and Laos PDR (opium poppy). However, as successive UNODC World Drug Reports demonstrate, opioids and cocaine are not the most widely consumed drugs, or arguably the most dangerous.

Contemporary drug markets, measured in terms of seizures and reported use, are increasingly dominated by synthetic drugs: ‘Amphetamine Type Substances’ (ATS) such as methamphetamine and amphetamine, as well as Ecstasy (MDMA) and a raft of ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ (NPS) of which 450 were reported in 2014. The key manufacture and export zones for these drugs are not the global south, but west and east European countries and north America. Patterns of drug flows are the reverse of the dynamics envisioned in the treaty framework. The old delineation of consumer and producer states no longer exists, and the global north is now the key producer region, including for cannabis.

This raises the more difficult question of accounting for the inconsistent application of counter-narcotics efforts, and the gross inequalities in terms of costs and impacts. An estimated 164,000 people were killed during the counter-narcotics surge of 2007 to 2014 in Mexico, a death toll higher than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. But the thought of militarizing supply control in the Netherlands – a leading producer country – on the level experienced by Mexico, is unconscionable. Why are Colombia, Bolivia and Afghanistan acceptable theaters for violent weaponized counter-narcotic operations, and not Poland or Canada?

Moreover, the lack of high level violence in the drug markets of these northern producer countries signifies that illicit markets can be peaceful. From this perspective, it is the disruptive market interventions, weapons flows and training of paramilitary counter-narcotics units that are the drivers of violence in the global south, not the drug markets themselves. Similarly, in relation to northern interventions, how can it be the case that the EU and US fund cannabis eradication in the global south while legalizing or decriminalizing domestically? 

The north’s deflection of its leading role in the drug trade is institutionalized in the treaty system and international drug control institutions. The result is that we have remarkably little information about the evolving threats to mankind’s ‘health and welfare’ posed by synthetics. As set out in the preface to the 2013 World Drug Report, ATS use “remains widespread globally, and appears to be increasing in most regions”, with crystalline methamphetamine “an imminent threat”. Yet while we have each hectare of coca and opium meticulously researched, there is a paucity of data and information on the manufacture of synthetic drugs, or their consumption. It was not until 2008 that the UNODC launched dedicated ATS analysis through the UNODC Global SMART Program(Synthetics Monitoring: Analyzes, Reporting and Trends), with the aim of generating, analyzing and reporting on the synthetic drug market, and improving global responses to the rise in ATS manufacture, trafficking and consumption.

Drug control is constantly re-legitimized by a moral narrative of protecting health, welfare and security. Yet by downplaying the role of European and North American countries in the drug trade, and the historical salience of synthetic markets by default, the system is creating public health risks, it cannot anticipate change in dynamic markets, and it has an insufficient evidence base for policy. Indicative of this is the acknowledgement in the 2016 World Drug Report that, “the sheer number, diversity and transient nature of NPS currently on the market partly explain why there are still only limited data available on the prevalence of use of many NPS. Those difficulties also explain why both the regulation of NPS and the capacity to address health problems related to NPS continue to be challenging.”

In 2012, the International Narcotic Control Board that monitors treaty enforcement, set out that, “dividing countries into the categories of “drug-producing”, “drug-consuming” or “transit countries” has long ceased to be realistic. To varying degrees, all countries are drug-producers and drug-consumers and have drugs transiting through them.” Despite institutional acknowledgement of market transformations, the new geopolitical realities of the drug trade are not reflected in enforcement activities, in the language of drug control institutions, or in the allocation of resources for research, education, treatment and rehabilitation. These remain concentrated on coca and opium poppy, cocaine and heroin.

From the local to the global level, we are, with some small exceptions, locked into arcane, counterproductive and illogical policies that violate fundamental rights and freedoms, spread disease, exacerbate violence, and which impede development – in the view of other UN agencies. The UNODC, which sits in an institutional silo, uses the benign term “unintended consequences” to refer to the wholly negative impact of counter-narcotics policies and how these are disproportionately borne along stratified racial, class and geographic lines. The myths, Victorian moralism and hypocrisy that frame international drug policy need to be confronted if we are to progress to rights-based interventions that genuinely reduce harm. In other words, drug policies which are fit for the twenty-first century.           

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organization with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Chronicle AM: Canada Wakes Up the CND, Tampa Pot Decrim, CA Legalization Init Getting Signatures, More... (3/17/16)

California's leading legalization initiative is one-quarter of the way home, Tampa is the latest Florida locality to decriminalize pot possession, the Canadians wake up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs with a very reform-oriented speech, and more.

Canada came out strong for harm reduction and marijuana legalization at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna this week.
Marijuana Policy

California AUMA Legalization Initiative Has 25% of Needed Signatures. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) initiative has accumulated nearly 100,000 signatures since petitioning began in January. It has until July 5 to turn in a total of 365,880 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. While other initiatives are out there, this one, supported by tech billionaire Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), is the one most likely to have the dollars behind to actually make the ballot.

Tampa Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council has passed an ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. The move was supported by the mayor and the police chief. Now, possession will no longer be a misdemeanor, but will be a civil infraction punishable by a $75 fine for a first offense, $150 for a second, and $450 for any subsequent offenses.  Tampa now joins a number of South Florida localities that have decriminalized, as well as Central Florida's Volusia County.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Senator Unveils Medical Marijuana Expansion Package. State Sen. Diane Savino  (D-Staten Island) has introduced a package of bills—Senate Bills 6998, 6999, and 7000—designed to expand the state's constricted medical marijuana program. One bill would allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, another would allow the five organizations licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana to double the amount of dispensaries they can open from four to eight, while another would expand the conditions for which marijuana could be recommended.

Law Enforcement

Denver Cops Instructed to Not Punch Suspects Believed to Be Swallowing Drugs. The Denver Police Department's Office of the Independent Monitor recommended Tuesday that the department adopt new policies to provide guidance to officers when they arrest a suspect believed to be trying to swallow the evidence.  "The OIM recommends that the DPD revise its Use of Force Policy to provide specific guidance on what types of force are permitted, and prohibited, to remove potential contraband from the mouths of persons being placed under arrest. The OIM further recommends that this revised policy prohibit the use of strikes to force persons being place under arrest to spit out potential contraband," the report reads. The recommendation comes in the wake of a widely-decried 2014 incident in which an officer was recorded repeatedly punching a man who was allegedly trying to stuff a heroin-filled sweat sock into his mouth.

Sentencing

Groups File Brief Seeking Reduction in Life Sentence for Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) filed an amicus brief Thursday urging the US 2nd Court of Appeal to reduced the life without parole sentence meted out to Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the Silk Road drug sales website. Joining DPA in the brief were Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, JustLeadershipUSA, and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner.  "Mr. Ulbricht’s draconian sentence flies in the face of evolving standards of decency," said Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney at the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and lead author of the brief. "Nationally, lawmakers are working across the political aisle to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. And, many of our allies in Europe consider life without parole sentences inhumane."

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Wakes Up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting. A speech from a Canadian representative at the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna this week was met with eruptions of applause from the audience after the speaker, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Hilary Geller, made clear that the Liberals were embracing harm reduction, including safe injection sites, and marijuana legalization. Geller's speech not only contrasted sharply with the previous Conservative government's anti-drug reform positions, but also with the cautious pronouncements made by other nations. At the end of the speech, the audience of government officials and NGO leaders gave Geller a standing ovation.

Mexico Captures Cartel Leader Tied to Border Shootouts. After a bloody weekend in Reynosa, where at least a dozen people were killed in clashes between cartel gunmen and soldiers and cartel gunmen set up burning street barricades, federal police Monday captured the Gulf Cartel leader who was allegedly the target of the federal action on the border. The man arrested is Cleofas Alberto Martinez Gutierrez, who officials said was the cartel's number two boss in Reynosa. They found him at a Mexico City race track. 

Chronicle AM: PA MedMJ Bill Finally Moving, WA Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill, More... (3/15/16)

Rhode Island voters may get a say on pot legalization, no medical marijuana deliveries for Los Angeles, the Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill is finally moving, Colombia's high criminal court expands the parameters of decriminalization, and more.

No hemp fields for Washington state after the governor vetoed the hemp bill because...budgets. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Open to Legalization Referendum. Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) said today that she is open to the idea of a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization proposed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D). The referendum would be non-binding. There is "some talk at the General Assembly of maybe putting it on the ballot to ask the voters their opinion of should we do this? And I would be open to that, because I think it's a big issue and it would be good know where the voters stand," Raimundo said. The talk comes as the legislature considers pending legalization proposals.

Medical Marijuana

California Appeals Court Upholds Ban on LA Pot Deliveries. A three-judge appellate court panel Monday upheld a lower court's decision to temporarily ban Nestdrop, an app that allowed people in the city to have marijuana delivered to their door. But the decision will have an impact beyond Nestdrop; the justices held that under the city's zoning law, Proposition D, all delivery services are barred from operating in the city.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Moves After Long Delay. The House Monday night passed an amended version of Sen. Mike Folmer's Senate Bill 3. The vote comes 10 months after the bill passed the Senate. The bill still faces a final House vote and then must return to the Senate for its approval of the amended version.

Hemp

Washington Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill for No Good Reason. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has vetoed Senate Bill 6206, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. Inslee's reason nothing to do with the substance of the bill; he is irritated with the legislature for failing to pass a budget bill. Inslee said the hemp measure was "a worthy bill," but he couldn't sign it until "a budget agreement is reached." The bill passed the House unanimously and the Senate 48-1, so a veto override is possible.  

International

Colombian Supreme Court of Justice Rules "Addicts" Can Carry More Than "Minimum Dose" of Drugs. The high criminal court ruled that "addicts" can carry more than the legal "minimum dose" of drugs out of "necessity" without being charged with a crime. The ruling came in the case of soldier caught with 50 grams of marijuana, 2 ½ times the decriminalized amount of 20 grams. Instead of the "minimum dose," the courts will have to contend with the "supply dose," enough of the drug to meet to the user's needs. Prior to this ruling, people caught in excess of the "minimum dose" faced charges of drug possession with intent to traffic. They can still be charged that way, but now have an additional defense.

Bloody Gunfights in Mexico's Reynosa.  Prohibition-related violence flared in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, Sunday, when at least nine suspected cartel gunmen died in battles with government forces. At least three separate armed clashes took place, with gunmen also setting vehicles afire and blocking roads. The operation was aimed at taking down Gulf Cartel leaders in the city, but it wasn't clear if the police and military found their targets.

 

February's Drug War Deaths

The war on drugs continues to exact a lethal toll, with drug law enforcement-related deaths occurring at a pace of just under one a week so far this year. There were three in January, and four more last month, bringing this year's toll so far to seven.

Of the February killings by police, one was of an unarmed white man, one was of an unarmed black man, and two were of armed black men. In all four cases, police shooters claimed they feared for their lives. In the cases of the three black men killed in the drug war, protests broke out after each killing. That didn't happen with the white guy, though.

The unarmed white man allegedly struggled with an arresting officer, the unarmed black man was holding a cell phone mistaken for a weapon, one armed black man was shot fleeing from police in disputed circumstances, and the other was shot by police as he wore a holstered weapon.

Where the war on drugs intersects with the American obsession with firearms possession, the bodies fall fast. None of the victims actually fired at an officer, but officers' fears of being shot impact the way they approach their duties, and the results are deadly -- even when there's not actually a real gun around.

Here's the February death toll:

On February 5, San Antonio police Officer John Lee shot and killed Antronie Scott, an unarmed black man, after an officer trying to arrest him said he mistook a cell phone in Scott's hand for a weapon. Scott, who was wanted on drug possession and weapons warrants, was being tracked by two detectives, who radioed the uniformed officer to make the arrest.

According to My San Antonio, at a press conference the following day, Police Chief William McManus explained that: "Officer Lee stated that he feared for his life when he discharged a single round" and the shooting happened "in the blink of an eye."

Audio of the incident confirms that Lee shouted, "Show me your hands!" and then shot within seconds. Lee told McManus he though Scott was holding a gun, but it turned out to be a cell phone.

There is no video of the incident because San Antonio police are not yet equipped with body cameras and the officer's dashcam had an obstructed view.

The killing sparked angry protests organized by activist Alvin Perry and Scott's family the following week.

"Just like my shirt says, 'Will I be next?' Anyone one of us could be next," said Perry. "Things like this have happened in San Antonio, but it's been swept under the rug or overlooked."

By the week after that, Scott's family had filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Lee, the police department, and the city of San Antonio. The lawsuit charges that "no reasonable police officer and/or law enforcement officer given the same or similar circumstances would have initiated such a vicious and unwarranted attack on Mr. Scott within a second of directing Mr. Scott to show his hands."

The lawsuit also cited department policy, which allows police too much discretion in use of lethal force.

Chief McManus moved to fire Officer Lee, placing him on "contemplated indefinite suspension" as the first step toward termination.

*****

On February 21, a Seattle police officer shot and killed armed black man Che Taylor, 47, after they encountered him apparently selling drugs while they conducting surveillance in the Wedgewood neighborhood.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing police accounts, officers spotted Taylor wearing a holstered handgun and, knowing he was barred from carrying firearms because of a past felony conviction, swooped in to arrest him as he stood beside the passenger window of a parked car. When officers tried to detain him, he allegedly refused to show his hands and lower himself to the ground as police ordered. So one officer opened fire on him.

The Seattle Police made available dashcam video of the shooting, but it does not clearly show Taylor's actions before he is shot. It does show two police officers armed with rifles approaching an apparently oblivious Taylor, who jerks his head up as they draw near, and then appears to be trying to comply with their contradictory demands -- "Hands up!" and "Get on the ground!" -- before being shot repeatedly by one of the officers.

While police said Taylor was trying to reach for his holstered handgun, the video doesn't show that. It does show the second officer opening fire on Taylor as soon as he (the officer) comes around the car, in what looks an awful lot like a summary execution.

The officer has been identified as Michael Spaulding. This wasn't his first killing. In 2013, he shot and killed a mentally ill man after slipping and falling, arguing that he no choice but to defend himself. That killing was ruled as justified by a King County inquest. The following year, he signed onto a desperate lawsuit to block Justice Department-mandated police use-of-force reforms.

The alternative weekly The Stranger consulted with several veteran police officers who criticized police for issuing contradictory demands and said that, contrary to the police account, he was complying with police orders. One, recently retired from the Kings County Sheriff's Office, who asked not to be identified had this to say:

"From the angle presented, I cannot draw any type of conclusion [about whether the shooting was justified]," he said. "If those officers had body cameras, it would be a lot easier." They were not wearing body cams.

"If they know they're dealing with a person that's armed," he said, "then you want to come in with force showing."

The way officers rush toward the car with their guns out is "standard stuff... That looks pretty textbook."

"From what I saw, he was told to get down, and he was getting down. And while he was down, I don't know what prompted them to shoot... He's getting down. But we can't tell if he's getting all the way on the ground."

"He was obeying commands," the former officer said. "And it looks like the other officer was going in to take control of him, when the officer with the rifle began to shoot."

Here's the video:

 

*****

On February 26, a Pennington County, South Dakota, sheriff's deputy shot and killed Abraham Mitchell Fryer, an unarmed white man. According to the Rapid City Journal, citing police sources, Deputy Robert Schoeberl pulled over Fryer, who was wanted on drug charges, in Rapid Valley just before midnight. Within moments, Fryer was dead, with the Journal reporting that "the shooting apparently came after the two men had fought."

Both men were transported to a local hospital, where Fryer was pronounced dead. Deputy Schoeberl was treated for unspecified injuries and released.

Police were quick to release Fryer's criminal history, calling it "extensive," and noting that he was wanted for failure to appear on marijuana possession, drug possession, and possession with intent to distribute charges in neighboring Meade County. He was also wanted by federal authorities on a weapons charge, but was unarmed at the time he was killed.

The shooting is under investigation by the state Department of Criminal Investigation, which is expected to issue a report within 30 days.

*****

On February 29, Raleigh, North Carolina, police Officer J.W. Twiddy shot and killed Akiel Denkins, an armed black man, after a foot chase. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Twiddy was attempting to arrest Denkins on outstanding felony drug charges when Denkins took off running.

Police and witnesses agreed that the pursuit began outside a business on East Bragg Street, in a heavily African-American neighborhood, but disagreed on much else. According to a preliminary report from Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Twiddy caught up with Denkins behind a nearby house and grabbed him. As the pair struggled, Denkins allegedly pulled a handgun from his waistband and "began to move it toward Officer Twiddy," the report said.

"While still struggling with Mr. Denkins, Officer Twiddy drew his duty weapon and fired multiple shots as Mr. Denkins continued to move the firearm in his direction," the report said. "After the first shots were fired, Officer Twiddy felt Mr. Denkins' hand or arm make contact with his duty weapon. Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins, who still had the firearm in his hand."

But the report clashes with accounts from witnesses. Denkins' former basketball coach, M.M. Johnson, said he talked to numerous people who were on the street when Denkins got shot.

"They said he took off running," Johnson said. "Everybody that was standing out there was talking about it. Ain't nobody said nothing about a struggle. They said he took off running and the police officer fell and started busting (shooting) because he couldn't catch him."

A preliminary autopsy report showed that Denkins was hit by four bullets -- one in his chest, one on his left forearm, one on his right upper arm, and one on his right shoulder. But the report does not say whether any of the shots came from behind.

Joe Jabari, owner of the building where the pursuit began, said he heard "a lot of people" say Denkins had been shot in the back and that he was "absolutely shocked" at the police chief's report.

"This kid came to me many times, saying, 'I wish I didn't have a felony charge because I need to change,' " he said. "He was trying, honest to God he was trying. That day, I don't know what happened. I'm not defending nobody, but some of these kids feel like they have no choice."

Denkins had previous drug convictions and was out on $10,000 secured bond after being charged in October with two counts of selling or delivering cocaine and one count of felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver. He had failed to show up for a court date, and an arrest warrant had been issued days before he was killed.

After the shooting, neighborhood residents broke into spontaneous protest, chanting "No Justice, No Peace," and later that evening, a small group gathered around "an anti-police sign with an expletive" that was hoisted on a utility pole.

Denkins' funeral last Friday was attended by more than 200 people, with "people wearing baggy jeans, red bandanas and anti-police T-shirts mingled with people wearing smart suits," as ABC News put it.

"Justice will be served whether we know it or not. Not by men, not by a judge but by the ultimate Supreme Court, Jesus Christ," said friend Aaron Cummings.

Officer Twiddy has been placed on administrative leave while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the matter.

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

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