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

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

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

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

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

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

It sets out six foci:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.


White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.


Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

Chronicle AM: MO Pot Lifer Wins Commutation, MD Gov Vetoes Drug Reform Bills, DEA Heroin Threat, More (5/26/15)

A second Arizona legalization initiative has been filed, a Missouri marijuana lifer gets a reprieve, Maryland's Republican governor vetoes drug reform bills, the DEA warns of the heroin threat, there's more violence in Latin American drug war zones, and more.

The Show Me Cannabis campaign to free Jeff Mizanskey bears fruit. (
Marijuana Policy

Second Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed. The Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana last week filed paperwork for a second legalization initiative in the state. The other initiative, filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project, handed in its paperwork last month. Both would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and propose a 15% tax, but the new initiative would make possession of more than eight ounces a misdemeanor, while the first one would make it a felony.

Maryland Governor Vetoes Marijuana Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have added some housekeeping measures to last year's decriminalization bill. The bill would have decriminalized public pot smoking and possession of pot paraphernalia. Hogan's explanation for the veto was that he is worried police won't be able to do anything about people smoking pot while driving.

Missouri Governor Commutes Sentence of Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mizanskey. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) last Friday commuted the life sentence meted out to 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey, who had been the subject of a campaign led by Show-Me Cannabis to get him released. Nixon's action doesn't free Mizanskey, but does make him eligible for a parole hearing, after which he could be released.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Blocked in House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.


DEA Says Heroin Deaths Highest in a Decade. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, according to a National Heroin Threat Assessment released last Friday by the DEA. Deaths totaled more than 8,200 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of heroin users doubled from 161,000 in 2007 to 289,000 in 2013. Still, heroin overdose deaths pale in comparison with those from prescription drugs, with more than 30,000 people dying of prescription drug overdoses in 2013. [Ed: One cause of increased heroin use is the crackdown on prescription drugs, which has led some users to take to the streets.]

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 528, which would have required police to establish that a property owner knew the property was connected to a crime, set a minimum amount of $300 for triggering seizures, and forbid police from transferring asset forfeiture cases to the federal government (to get around state asset forfeiture laws). Hogan's given reason for the veto was… heroin. "Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic," he said in a veto statement. "The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."


FARC Calls Off Ceasefire After Colombian Military Kills 26 Rebels. Colombia's leftist rebels have ended their unilateral ceasefire during protracted peace negotiations with the government after a government air and ground offensive killed 26 FARC fighters last Thursday. But the FARC said it will continue with peace talks. The Colombian military offensive began after the FARC killed 11 soldiers on patrol last month, but the FARC claims the military has been harassing it throughout the peace talks.

Mexican Cops Kill 42 Drug Suspects in "Shoot Out." At least 42 suspected drug cartel members and one federal police officer died last Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunfight between police and drug gang gunmen. The killings took place in Jalisco state, home of the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel, although authorities did not name the group. While authorities reported a fierce fight, the one-sided death toll is raising eyebrows.

Paris City Council Announces Location of France's First Safe Injection Site. The city council announced Monday that the country's first "drug consumption room" will be located at the city's Lariboisiere Hospital. The site was chosen after the plan for the original site was derailed by neighborhood opposition.

Colombia Suspends Use of Aerial Herbicide to Kill Coca Crops [FEATURE]

[This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.]

No more of this. (
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that he is halting the use of the herbicide glyphosate as part of a US-backed effort to destroy coca crops. More than four million acres of land in the country have been sprayed with the Monsanto-manufactured weed killer.

The US has paid for the program as part of its multi-billion dollar, decades-long anti-drug campaign in the country that had been (and might be again) the world's largest coca and cocaine producer. US contractors paid by the State Department do some of the spraying.

Santos acted a little more than a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the herbicide is probably carcinogenic and days after the Colombian Health Ministry, citing the WHO report, recommended that the program be halted.

Critics of the spraying program had complained for years that the herbicide not only killed coca crops, but also injured people, livestock, and other plant life exposed to it. Those claims got some backing last year when Daniel Mejia, chairman of an expert panel advising the Colombian government on its drug strategy, published research showing high rates of skin problems and miscarriages in areas sprayed with glyphosate.

The move comes in the midst of peace talks between the Santos government and the rebels of the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces), who have been in rebellion against the government in Bogota for more than 50 years. The two sides had already agreed that aerial eradication should be used only as a last resort.

It was the strength of the rebels around the turn of the century that was a principal reason for the resort to aerial spraying. Their presence in coca-growing areas, where guerrilla fighters protected the crops, made manual eradication risky. At least 62 manual eradicators -- 48 of them soldiers -- have been killed since 2009 and nearly 400 injured, most of them the victims of guerrilla groups.

Colombian coca cultivation had declined for the previous six years, but jumped 39% last year, according to a US government report that came out last week. The conveniently timed report, which blamed the increase on new cultivation outside areas where aerial eradication was allowed, failed, however, to stop the Colombian government from suspending the program.

Chronicle AM: NAACP & NOW Support DC Init, Pot Shop ATM Problems, Mexico Impunity, More (10/23/14):

Marijuana retailers face ATM problems, Seattle dispensaries get a heads up, the DC initiative wins a pair of endorsements, California's Prop 47 is drawing big bucks support, the Mexico missing student teacher story gets uglier, and more. Let's get to it:

You may need cash at your local marijuana retailer after a banking network pulled the plug. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Pew Poll: Latinos Are Even Split on Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Latino voters are slightly less likely than the population as a whole to favor marijuana legalization, but are almost evenly divided in their opinions. Some 49% said marijuana should be legal, while 48% said it shouldn't. A Pew poll earlier this year found support for marijuana legalization among the general population at 53%.

Banking Network Pulls the Plug on Pot Shop ATMs. Hundreds of recreational and medical marijuana retail outlets in Colorado and Washington have had their ATMs shut down after the South Dakota-based MetaBank pulled the plug on them. MetaBank had warned ATM providers in January that the presence of such machines in marijuana retail outlets violated federal rules, but shops had remained unaffected until this week. Other retail outlets using different bank networks were still able to process transactions.

DC Initiative Wins Endorsement from NAACP, NOW Branches. The DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, Measure 71, has picked up the endorsements of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). "The NAACP DC Branch strongly advocates to end the war on drugs, which has caused significant damage in our communities. Endorsement of Initiative 71 does not mean that the NAACP is pro marijuana, however, we view Initiative 71 as a step towards ending discriminatory drug policies." said Akosua Ali, President of the NAACP DC Branch. "Criminalization of marijuana has played a major role in the racial disparities and injustice in the criminal justice system," said Susan Mottet, president of DC NOW. "DC NOW works to end all discrimination in DC and urges the voters to pass Initiative 71 to help put an end to this tool for discrimination."

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Warns Dispensaries They Will Need Licenses, But… The city of Seattle has sent letters to 330 dispensaries operating there that they will need to be licensed by the state. The only problem is there is no such license for medical marijuana businesses. The city council had placed the requirement on hold until the state legislature decides whether and how to license dispensaries, but the letter warns that as of January 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016 if the legislature doesn't act before then), dispensaries must have state licenses or close their doors. Click on the title link to see the letter.


California Defelonization Initiative Picking Up Big Bucks Support. Proposition 47, he initiative that would defelonize drug possession and some other offenses, is getting generous contributions from California-based technology mavens and other business figures, but those donations are being dwarfed by the ACLU, which has contributed more than $3 million. Some of the big names include Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($246,000); Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz ($150,000), Democratic Party funder Quinn Delaney ($100,000), Hyatt Development Corporation CEO Nick Pritzer ($250,000), and app maker Sean Parker ($100,000).


OAS Drug Commission Meets in Colombia. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Cartagena, Colombia, yesterday and today, and addressed the consensus among countries that prison overcrowding in the Americas is a real problem, with more than 1.5 million people detained for drug offenses. The results of this initiative will be presented at the upcoming biannual meeting of CICAD that will take place in Guatemala during the third week of November.

Canadian House of Commons Report on Cannabis Harms. The Conservative-dominated House of Commons has issued a report on the harms of marijuana. It recommends raising "public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use." Click on the link to read the report.

NACLA on Race, Class, and Cannabis in the Caribbean. The venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has published a thoughtful piece about marijuana reform in the Caribbean, The Other Side of Paradise. In in, author Kevin Edmonds cites Caribbean activists to the effect that the region must act effectively on reforms or risk losing its lucrative, but currently illicit, pot crops to imported marijuana from places where it's already legal. An interesting read.

Case of Missing Mexican Student Teachers Unveils Tight Ties Between Local Officials, Drug Gang. Mexico's top prosecutor said Wednesday that the mayor of Iguala and his wife ordered the attack on 43 radical student teachers who have been missing for a month now, and that the wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was the "principal operator" of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which is being blamed for disappearing the students. Jesus Murillo Karam said the mayoral couple ran the group's illegal activities out of Iguala's city hall. City hall was attacked again Wednesday by protestors demanding the return of the students, and thousands marched in Mexico City to demand justice in the case, which is turning into a national scandal epitomizing the breadth of corruption and impunity in the country. Several mass graves have been found in the area, but the bodies in them haven't been identified as those of the missing students. That raises another touchy question: Whose bodies are in the mass graves?

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.


Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.


Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Chronicle AM -- July 9, 2014

The White House issues its annual drug control strategy, the Brooklyn DA announces an end to most small-time marijuana possession arrests, a suburban Maryland county adopts a marijuana reform resolution, the first medical cannabis oil permits are issued in Utah, Lebanese hash farmers vow to fight to protect their crops, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, that bud won't get you arrested, but the pipe will. ( fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Offered a Hit of Weed in Denver; Responds With a Smile. During a visit to a Denver bar last night, President Obama was offered some of the state's legal marijuana. "Do you want to hit this?" came a voice from the crowd. The president did not respond to the offer, except to flash his trademark smile. On route to the event, the president was also confronted by apparently pro-marijuana protestors, including one holding a sign saying "Free Weed for Obama." We won't even mention the guy in a horse head mask who shook the president's hand.

Brooklyn DA Announces No More Prosecutions for First-Time Marijuana Offenders, Except… Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time offenders for small-time marijuana possession charges. "This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns." But Thompson added that he would still pursue charges for public pot smoking, if the defendant is a teen (he will be directed to juvenile court and a diversion program), or if the defendant has a criminal record suggesting he may act violently under the influence of marijuana.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Adopts Marijuana Policy Reform Resolution. The Montgomery County council Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority and for revising the state's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law to include pot-smoking paraphernalia. Under the law as written, people could not be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, but they can still be arresting for possessing the pipe to smoke it in.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Issues First Permits to Use High CBD, Low THC Cannabis Oil. Utah officials Tuesday issued the first permits to use high CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy in children under a law passed earlier this year. That law okays the use of cannabis oils containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.3% THC. But while initial permits have been issued, families are likely to have to wait until September to acquire the cannabis oil because the Colorado nonprofit that produces it has a long waiting list and a crop that won't be ready until the fall.

California Medical Marijuana Citizens' Lobby Day Will Be August 4. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has announced that its annual citizens' lobby day in Sacramento will be held this year on August 4. The group is supporting the statewide regulation bill, Senate Bill 1262, but wants some changes, too. Click on the title link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Releases 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) today released its annual drug control strategy. In the big picture it doesn't appear to be a whole lot different from last year's, or the year before that or the year before that or… But there are some good things to be found. Check back here later today for a feature article on it. In the meantime, click on the link to take a look yourself.


Mexico Anti-Cartel Vigilantism Spreads Close to US Border. Vigilante groups targeting criminal drug trafficking organizations first sprung up last year in the west-central Mexican state of Michoacan, where they battled the Knights Templar cartel before eventually being folded into the Mexican police apparatus. Now, they are appearing in Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas. A group known as the Pedro Mendez Column is operating in the city of Hidalgo, where it does nightly patrols to defend the city from the Zetas cartel. It also claims to have killed several Zetas. And the Zetas claim to have killed several people it accuses of being linked to the vigilantes. The Zetas also accuse the rival Gulf cartel of arming the vigilantes.

Lebanese Marijuana Farmers Vow to Fight Back Against Eradication Campaign. The Lebanese government has announced it will begin destroying marijuana farms in the Bekaa Valley tomorrow, but farmers there are vowing to defend their crops with their lives. Ali Nasri Shammas, a major grower and spokesman for the illicit industry, said growers would do what it takes to defend their crops, whether by protesting, blocking roads, or more violent means. "We will also use arms to face the security forces, who will damage the crops, even if it leads to bloodshed. Destroying the crops is forbidden no matter the results," Shammas warned. Given the ongoing Syrian civil war next door, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to actually eradicate much of the marijuana crop.

Russians Say They Lose 100,000 People a Year to Drug Overdoses. Russia's Federal Drug Control Service reports that nearly 100,000 people died of drug overdoses last year and that the rate of drug-related deaths in Russian urban areas was 28.7 per 100,000. That rate is 2.7 times higher than the previous year. By contrast, in the US, some 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colombia, FARC Reach Accord on Drug Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chronicle AM -- April 16, 2014

President Obama commutes a marijuana offender's sentence, organized opposition to a legalization initiative emerges in Alaska, draconian heroin bills are moving in Louisiana, and more. Let's get to it:

Heroin would get you even more time under draconian bills moving in Louisiana. (
Marijuana Policy

Denver Crime Rate Drops in First Months of Legal Marijuana Sales. According to crime statistics from the Denver Police, crime is down over the previous year in the first three months of legal marijuana sales there. Violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Gets Organized Opposition. An organized opposition group has emerged to campaign against the Alaska legalization initiative. A group calling itself "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" officially filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission last week. The group includes only a handful of Alaskans and says it is not affiliated with Project SAM, the anti-legalization group that has been playing up the "Big Marijuana" theme across the country.

Legalization Bill Filed in New Jersey Assembly. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) have filed Assembly Bill 3094 to legalize marijuana. The bill is companion legislation to Senate Bill 1986, which was filed by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) earlier this session.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Legislature Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The House voted 97-0 Monday to approve Senate Bill 2531, which would create a four-year study of the use of CBD cannabis oil in treating intractable seizures. The measure passed the Senate last week, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).


Tennessee Senate Passes Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill. A bill that would restrict non-prescription purchases of OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical in meth manufacture, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill would cap purchases at 4.8 grams per month and 14.4 grams per year of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without a prescription. The Senate version differs from the House version in the allowable amounts. The House version has already passed, too, so the two will have to be reconciled before final passage.


Draconian Heroin Bill Passes Louisiana Senate Committee. A bill to increase maximum penalties for heroin offenses from 50 to 99 years received approved Tuesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), now heads for the Senate floor. Another draconian heroin bill, House Bill 332, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie) would double mandatory minimums for heroin use and distribution. The full House passed that bill 94-1, and it will now be heard in the Senate.


President Obama Commutes Sentence for Marijuana Offender. President Obama Tuesday granted clemency to a marijuana offender sentenced to too much time because of a typographical error. Ceasar Huerta Cantu had been sentenced to 180 months in federal prison for marijuana distribution conspiracy and money laundering. Obama commuted the sentence to 138 months, which is what it would have been had his initial sentence been calculated correctly. That means Huerta will get out more than three years early. Obama commuted only one sentence in his first term but has been using the power more in his second.


Mexico Anti-Cartel Militias Refuse to Lay Down Arms. The so-called autodefensa militias in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacán -- which took up arms against the Knights Templar cartel more than a year ago -- are now refusing the government's demand to put down their weapons. The government had allowed them to keep their arms and integrate into the security forces, but early this month, announced its intention to disarm all civilians in the state. But the militias say they will disband only once the leaders of the Knights Templar Cartel are killed or arrested. "We prefer to die at the hands of the government than at the hands of a goddamned son of a bitch who dismembers and butchers you -- without releasing even a fingernail to your family. Because, that's what the criminals do," one militia leader told VICE News.

Chronicle AM -- February 10, 2014

State legislatures are busy with drug policy issues, particularly marijuana and medical marijuana, a Texas grand jury refuses to indict a man who killed a cop in a no-knock drug raid, Mexican vigilantes are duking it out with the Knights Templar in Michoacan, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Southern Cannabis Reform Conference in Atlanta Next Month. Peachtree NORML is hosting a marijuana reform conference in Atlanta on March 22. Click on the title link for ticket information.

Washington Bill Would Use Marijuana Revenue to Help Fund College Tuition. A bill introduced by Sen. Mike Baumgartner (R-Spokane) to effectively cap tuition rates at state colleges and universities relies in part on expected marijuana tax revenues. The bill, House Bill 6043 is part of Baumgartner's broader plan to improve basic education and ease the tuition burden on college students.

Legalization Bill Stalls in New Mexico Senate. A bill that would let New Mexico voters decide whether to legalize marijuana is stalled -- at least for now -- in the state Senate. The Rules Committee last Friday failed to debate it, but bill sponsor Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said he hoped the committee would take it up this week.

New Hampshire House Subcommittee Meeting on Legalization Bill Today. A House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee is discussing the revenue and regulatory aspects of a bill that would make marijuana legal and regulate it like alcohol in the Granite State. House Bill 492 would make personal possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults age 21 and older. It would also direct the state to license and regulate marijuana retail, cultivation, production, and testing facilities. The subcommittee is expected to consider changes to the bill's proposed system for taxing and regulating marijuana. The bill has already passed the House once, but must do so again before heading to the Senate.

Los Angeles Mayor Suggests He Could Support Legalization. In an interview with a local TV station, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested he could support an initiative that legalized marijuana. "[Legalizing marijuana] would make life easier to me in terms of the regulations... I think there's probably a majority of Californians that would like to see that, and I generally would be for that. I've never seen much of a difference between marijuana and alcohol... alcohol has rules around it," Garcetti said. "If we had something similar with marijuana it would probably be a good revenue generator." To listen, go to the 3:23 mark in the second video.

Hawaii Appeals Court Nixes Local Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative. The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that a voter-approved Hilo County initiative directing law enforcement to make adult personal use of marijuana on private property its lowest priority is unenforceable. The 2008 initiative won handily in Hilo, but the county council failed to implement it. Both a district court and now the appeals court have ruled that state marijuana laws preempt it. Advocates vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Oregon Bill to Refer Legalization to Voters Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would put a legislature-written marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot gets a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 1556 is set for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Bill to Let Localities Ban Dispensaries Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would allow cities and counties to ban dispensaries gets a hearing Tuesday. The bill, Senate Bill 1531, will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Colorado Patient Wins Fight to Stay in Federal Housing. A quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was threatened with eviction from the Longmont Housing Authority has prevailed in her struggle to remain, and she has prompted the housing agency to create a new policy. Ashley Weber is that patient.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Guam at 55%. A University of Guam poll has support for medical marijuana at 55%. The poll comes as the Guam legislature considers a bill that would ask residents to vote in a referendum to approve medical marijuana.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Kentucky at 52%. The latest Bluegrass Poll has support for medical marijuana in Kentucky at 52%, with 37% opposed. Last year, the same poll had support for "prescribed" marijuana at 60%. This year's poll dropped "prescribed," and that accounted for the difference, said pollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA. A CBD medical marijuana bill is currently before the legislature.

Support for Medical Marijuana Amendment in Florida at 57%. A Gravis Marketing poll has support for the state's medical marijuana initiative at 57%, with 31% opposed. But support dropped dramatically when voters were reminded that the production and sale of marijuana remained illegal under federal law, with 54% opposing, 27% supporting, and 19% uncertain.

Arizona Officials Propose Easing Rules. State health officials are proposing changes for Arizona's medical marijuana program, including one that would allow additional permit holders to grow their own. Click here to check out the proposed draft rules.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Wednesday. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil gets a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Children and Families Wednesday. The bill, Assembly Bill 726, has three Republican cosponsors, but faces other hostile Republican legislators.


South Dakota Bill to Add State to National Monitoring System Passes Senate. A bill that would add South Dakota to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) passed the Senate last week and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 24 is supported by Attorney General Marty Jackley and other state officials. Under the bill, retailers selling pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed) would electronically submit the purchaser's name, date of birth and address, along with the quantity sold at the specific time and date. [Ed: Methamphetamine manufacturing rings have gotten around pseudoephedrine purchase limits by hiring "smurfers" to buy the substance for them. It's not clear how the national database will be more effective in this regard than previous monitoring systems.]

Drug Testing

West Virginia Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Targets Felons and Drug Offenders. Convicted felons and drug offenders would have to pass a drug test before obtaining federal or state assistance under a bill introduced in the state legislature last Thursday. House Bill 4433 would mandate that those who fail the drug tests would be ineligible to apply for assistance for two years, but that would drop to six months if they took drug treatment and passed a second drug test. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.


Missouri Criminal Code Revisions Would Cut Drug Sentences. An 1,100-page bill that revamps the state's criminal laws reduces a number of drug sentences. Marijuana possession would be reduced from up to a year in jail to no jail time for first offenders. Felony drug possession maximum sentences would drop from seven years to four. The bill has more support in the Senate than in the House, where Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he opposed using the bill to change the drug laws. The bill is Senate Bill 491.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences, Citing Likely Federal Sentencing Reforms. Why wait? A Tennessee federal judge last Thursday gave reduced prison sentences to three major marijuana offenders, saying he expects Congress to act to lower sentences for drug offenders. Judge Curtis Collier citing the pending approval of the Smarter Sentencing Act and recommendations from the US Sentencing Commission. The three defendants got about half the prison time they otherwise would have.

Law Enforcement

Innovative Diversion Program Underway in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe city council has approved adoption of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program pioneered in Seattle. Instead of sending minor offenders back into the criminal justice system, LEAD offers them a chance to obtain essential wraparound services, such as housing, job training, transportation, counseling and addiction treatment -- all of which might help them stay away from crime and live a better life. The Drug Policy Alliance is credited with turning local leaders on to the program.

Utah Cops Pay $75,000 to Settle Wrong House Drug Raid Lawsuit. Salt Lake City will pay $75,000 to settle a claim filed by a 76-year-old woman after narcotics detectives raided the wrong house and pointed a gun at her. The no-knock raid in 2012 led to an immediate apology by the police chief and new leadership in the narcotics division. The claim was actually settled in November, but local media only unearthed it after filing FOIA requests.

Texas Grand Jury Refuses to Return Murder Indictment Against Home Owner Who Killed Cop in No-Knock Drug Raid. A Central Texas grand jury has refused to return a murder indictment against a Burleson County man who shot and killed sheriff's Sgt. Adam Sowders as Sowders led a group of law enforcement raiders through the door of the man's mobile home in a no-knock, pre-dawn drug raid on December 19. The raiders had a search warrant for the home of Henry Goedrich Magee and were looking for marijuana plants and guns. But when they burst through the door, Magee, who was sleeping with his girlfriend, feared a home invasion robbery, grabbed a gun from his bed side, and opened fire, killing Sowders.


Britain's Nick Clegg Continues Stirring the Pot on Drug Reform. Liberal Democrat leader and coalition government junior partner Nick Clegg continues to demand that drug reform be taken seriously in Britain. He penned a strong op-ed in The Observer Sunday bewailing the failures of the drug war and calling for an end to "the tradition where politicians only talk about drug reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences."

Colombians Say Mexican Cartels are Now Cooking Their Own Cocaine. Mexican drug cartels are moving on from importing South American cocaine and are now manufacturing their own, according to Colombian authorities. The claim came after Colombian police busted a load of more than a thousand pounds of coca paste as it was being loaded on a plane to Mexico. "It's the first time we've made that kind of seizure," General Ricardo Restrepo, head of the police anti-narcotics unit, said. "If they're buying paste, it's because they have a laboratory there."

Mexican Vigilantes Take Over Cartel-Held Michoacan City. Anti-cartel vigilantes now organized as part of state police forces arrived in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, Michoacan, on Saturday. Hundreds of vigilantes, backed by armored vehicles and army troops moved into the center of town. Searches for Knights Templar leaders and members are now reportedly underway.

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