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The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 feature story too.)

The year that just ended has seen a serious outbreak of bloody violence against drug users and sellers in one country, it has seen drug offenders hung by the hundreds in another, it has seen efforts to fight the spread of drug-related HIV/AIDS falter for lack of funding, and it has seen the tenacity of the prohibitionist apparatus in the halls of the United Nations.

But there was also good news emanating from various corners of the world, including advances in marijuana legalization in Canada, the US, and Europe and the flouting of the proscription against the coca trade in the UN anti-drug treaties. And speaking of treaties, alhough we didn't include it this year because the drug policy implications remain unclear, the fruition of years'-long peace negotiations between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC, which brings an end to the Western hemisphere's longest-running guerrilla war, is certainly worth noting.

Here are the ten most notable international drug policy events of 2016, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs saw progress, but achingly little. (Wikimedia.org)
1. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The global prohibitionist consenus was under growing strain at the UNGASS on Drugs, as civil society pressed the UN bureaucracy and member states for reforms as never before. But changes come at a glacial pace at the level of global diplomacy, and the vision of the UNGASS as a platform for discussing fundamental issues and plotting a new course ran up against the resistance of drug war hard-liners like Russia and China, and the studied indifference of European governments, who preferred that the UN drug policy center of gravity remain at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. And while the US delegation advocated for some good stances, it, too, opposed any meddling with the trio of UN conventions that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Still, there were some incremental victories. UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. And it calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability. (Read a detailed report on UNGASS by some of our colleagues here, and read about some of our own work for the UNGASS here.)

2. Global Harm Reduction for AIDS Remains Tragically Underfunded, and Facing Worse. Despite the repeatedly-proven positive impact of harm reduction measures in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, donors continue to refuse to pony up to pay for such measures. The UNAIDS program estimates that $2.3 billion was needed to fund AIDS-related harm reduction programs last year, but only $160 million was actually invested by donors as most member states cut their aid levels. That's only 7% of the requested funding level. That's after 2015 saw the first drop in support in five years (see pages 21-22) in funding for AIDS efforts in low- and middle-income countries. The world spends an estimated $100 billion a year on fighting drugs, but it can't come up with 2.3% of that figure to fight drug-related AIDS harms. Harm Reduction International has proposed a "10x20" shift of 10% of law enforcement funding toward harm reduction services by 2020 to address the gap.

Harm reduction's global funding challenges are further impacted by the global AIDS-fighting budget, which has taken a hit as the rise in the dollar has reduced the spending power of contributions from donor countries that use other currencies. Even worse, many of the countries currently benefiting from UN harm reduction funding have progressed economically to a point at which they are supposed to begin funding their own programs according to the UN development framework. But that may not be a realistic expectation, especially for the sometimes politically fraught programs needed to address disease transmission related to drug use.

3. America's Most Populous State Legalizes Marijuana, and So Do Several More. You know the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling when the rot sets in at home, and that's what happened in November's US elections. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which had led the way in 2012 and 2014. Now, some 50 million Americans live in pot-legal states, and that's going to mean increasing pressure on the government in Washington to end federal pot prohibition. It's also an example to the rest of the world.

4. Europe's Prohibitionist Consensus Begins Crumbling Around the Edges. No European nation has legalized marijuana, but signs are increasing that somebody is going to do it soon. If 2016 was any indication, the best candidates may be Italy, where a broadly supported legalization bill got a parliamentary hearing this year before surprise election results upset the country's political apple cart; Germany, where "legalization is in the air" as Berlin moves toward allowing cannabis coffee shops and Dusseldorf moves toward total marijuana legalization; and Denmark, where Copenhagen is trying yet again to legalize weed. In both Denmark and Germany, legalization isn't currently favored by the central governments, while in Italy, everything is in limbo after Europe's populist uprising swept the prime minister out of office. Still, the pressure is mounting in Europe.

Amsterdam's famed cannabis coffee houses look set to final get a legal source of supply. (Wikimedia.org)
5. The Dutch Are Finally Going to Do Something About the "Back Door Problem." The Dutch have allowed for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops" since the 1980s, but never made any provision for a legal pot supply for retailers. Now, after 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference in November, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

6. Canada's Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Continues Apace. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals swept the Tories out of power in October 2015 with a platform that included a clear-cut call for marijuana legalization. Movement toward that goal has been slow but steady, with the task force charged with clearing the way calling for wide-ranging legalization in a report report issued in December. The Liberals say they expect to file legalization bills in the parliament this spring, and Canada remains on track to free the weed.

7. Bolivia Ignores UN Drug Treaty, Agrees to Export Coca to Ecuador. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, opened the year campaigning to decriminalize the coca trade and closed it without waiting for the UN to act by inking an agreement with Ecuador to export coca there. The agreement would appear to violate the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the export of coca leaf because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador seem to care.

Mexico's latest drug war marked its 10th anniversary last month. (Wikimedia.org)
8. Mexico Marks a Decade of Brutal Drug Wars. In December, 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon sent the Mexican army into the state of Michoacan in what he said was a bid to get serious about fighting the drug trade. It didn't work, and in fact, led to the worst prohibition-related violence in the country's history, with an estimated 100,000 + killed and tens of thousands more gone missing. Attention to the cartel wars peaked in 2012, which was a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, and the level of killing declined after that, but has now risen back to those levels. Calderon's replacement, Enrique Pena Nieto, has publicly deemphasized the drug war, but has not substantially shifted the policy. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has weakened his cartel, but that has only led to more violence as new competitors vie for supremacy.

There are signs of hope on the policy front though, if early ones, with medical marijuana being implemented, attitudes toward legalization softening, and the government playing a role in forwarding the international debate on drug policy reform.

9. Iran Has Second Thoughts About the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Islamic Republic is perhaps the world's leading drug executioner, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed in 2015 (2016 numbers aren't in yet), but there are increasing signs the regime could change course. In November, the parliament agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drugs. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors."

10. The Philippines Wages a Bloody War on Drug Users and Sellers. With the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president, the country descended into a veritable blood-bath, as police and "vigilantes" seemingly competed to see who could kill more people faster. Duterte has brushed off criticism from the US, the UN, and human rights groups, and even insulted his critics, although he did have kind words to say about Donald Trump, who had kind words to say about him. As of year's end, the death toll was around 6,000, with the vigilantes claiming a slight lead over the cops.

Chronicle AM: Maine Init Losers Still Fighting, New Cartel Gains Strength in MX, More... (12/29/16)

Maine election losers seek to block the implementation of marijuana legalization, Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by an upstart, and more.

With El Chapo behind bars, the Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by rivals.
Marijuana Policy

Sore Losers Department: Maine Marijuana Foes Now Seek Moratorium on Implementing Legalization. The anti-legalization group Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, whose effort to defeat the marijuana initiative failed and whose effort to overturn the results via a recount also failed, is now calling for a moratorium on implementing the law. The law calls for a nine-month period for regulators to make rules for retailers and social clubs, but the group says that isn't enough.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Michigan Overdose Reversal Drugs Will Be Easier to Obtain Next Week. Thanks to bills signed into law Wednesday, Michiganders will have easier access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) beginning January 1. One bill allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription under a standing order from the state's chief medical officer. Another bill gives school boards the ability to get a prescription for naloxone to be administered by a school nurse or other trained employee in case a student overdoses.

International

DEA Says There's a New Biggest Cartel in Mexico. The days of Sinaloa Cartel dominance of the Mexican drug trade and criminal underworld are over, and "El Chapo" Guzman's men have been ousted by a relatively new player on the scene: the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG in its Spanish initials), the DEA says. The group operates in at least half of Mexico's states, as well as along the entire Pacific Coast of North and South America, as well as having distribution operations in Asia, Oceania, and Europe.

Chronicle AM: AK Sees First Legal Pot Shops, Boston Archdiocese Donates Big to Block Pot Init, More... (10/31/16)

A week out from Election Day, it's looking good in California, the organized opposition is spending big in Massachusetts, but the state's largest newspaper endorses the legalization initiative, and more.

New legally on sale in Alaska. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy 

Alaska's First Legal Pot Shop Opens. Herbal Outfitters opened for business in Valdez Saturday, becoming the state's first legal marijuana store. The opening comes nearly two years after voters there approved legalization and was met by long lines of eager customers. Stores in Fairbanks are set to open today and Wednesday.

California Legalization Initiative Still Polling Above 50%. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative supported by 55% of likely voters, with 38% opposed and just 6% undecided. That's down from last month's PPIC poll, which had support at 60%, but in line with other recent polls that have had the measure sitting in the mid- to upper-fifties.

Massachusetts Legalization Foes Get Big Give from Boston Archdiocese. Be prepared for a last minute ad blitz against the Question 4 legalization initiative after a late $850,000 donation from the Catholic Church's Boston Archdiocese. That late gift means the opposition now has $2.4 million to spend and only a week to spend it. Pro-legalization forces have outspent the opposition so far by at least $1.3 million, but now it's the foes who have the money in the bank.

Boston Globe Endorses Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. Scolding the state's political class for failing to act to legalize marijuana, its largest newspaper has reluctantly endorsed Question 4. "If the political leaders of the Commonwealth showed even the slightest interest in legalization, it would probably make sense to wait for lawmakers to produce a better-crafted proposal than the current ballot measure," the newspaper wrote. "But Question 4 is all we’ve got. The Globe endorses the yes campaign, despite the proposal’s many flaws, because the harm stemming from continued inaction on marijuana would be even greater."

Even in Wyoming, Support for Marijuana Legalization is Increasing. A new poll from the University of Wyoming's Survey and Analysis Center finds rising support for marijuana in the Cowboy State. Support for legalization is now at 41%, up from 37% two years ago, and support for medical marijuana is even higher, rising from 74% in 2014 to 81% now.  

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Disqualifies One Initiative; One Remains. Responding to a late legal challenge, the state Supreme Court last week disqualified one of the two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot—even though the ballots had already been printing and early voting had begun. Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was disqualified; Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, remains on the ballot. State officials said votes already cast for Issue 7 will not be counted.

Drug Policy

Gallup Finds Fears About Drugs at Lowest Level Since It Started Asking. A new Gallup poll finds that early two-thirds (65%) of Americans say drug problems in the US are "extremely" or "very serious," which seems high, but the figure is the lowest since the polling firm started asking the question in 2000. Back then, 83% said America's drug problems were "extremely" or "very serious." Gallup speculates that the decline may "reflect less-prominent federal anti-drug efforts in recent years than in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In fact, more recently, much of the news about drug policy has focused on state-level efforts to decriminalize marijuana."

International

Cartel Violence Driving Jump in Mexico Murders. Homicides have increased to record highs for the last three months, and are up 20% over last year for the year so far. The death toll hit 1,974 in September—the most since 2011 when then President Felipe Calderon's cartel wars were in full swing. Analysts blame renewed fighting among the cartels for the steady uptick. 

Chronicle AM: OR MJ Shops Open for Business, NV Question 2 Polling Strongly, More... (10/3/16)

We're little more than a month out from election day and Nevada is looking good, Arizona legalization foes have a big war chest, Germany okays its first medical marijuana patient grow, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Foes Have Big War Chest. The organized opposition to the Prop 205 legalization initiative is well-positioned to do damage in the final weeks leading up to election day. According to financial reports filed with the secretary of state's office, the anti-205 Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has more than $1.4 million in the bank right now, while the pro-Prop 205 forces have only $170,000 on hand. The pro forces have raised more money ($3.2 million versus $2 million), but they've already spent most of it.

Nevada Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning Handily. A new Suffolk University poll has the Question 2 legalization initiative favored by 57% of respondents, with only 33% opposed. That's up from the same poll in August, which had 48% in support and 42% opposed.

Oregon's Recreational Pot Shops Are Now Open for Business. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced last Friday it had approved licenses for 26 marijuana retailers. Until now, medical marijuana dispensaries had also served recreational users. But now, with pot shops opening, dispensaries will only be allowed to sell to patients after December 31.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll finds strong support for medical marijuana, with nearly two-thirds (63%) in favor. A medical marijuana bill failed earlier this year after the Mormon Church warned it could do more harm than good, but expect another one to be filed next year. Utahns may be down with medical marijuana, but they don't go for legalization. Only 22% were prepared to endorse that.

International

Germany Okays First Medical Marijuana Patient Grow. The federal agency for medicines and health products for the first time granted a patient the right to grow his own medical marijuana plants last week. The patient already has permission to obtain cannabis through a pharmacy, but he cannot afford to buy enough to treat himself. This could be a stop-gap measure, though; the government has crafted a law that makes medical marijuana available by prescription and covered by health insurance. The patient's ability to continue to grow his own will depend on showing that health insurance has not covered his costs.

Sinaloa Cartel Blamed for Attack That Left Five Mexican Soldiers Dead. In the worst attack on the military in more than a year, attackers believed to be Sinaloa Cartel gunmen ambushed a military convoy on the outskirts of Culiacan, leaving two military vehicles burned out and the bodies of soldiers strewn across the highway. The attack left five soldiers dead and freed a wounded cartel figure being transported in an ambulance being guarded by the convoy.

Chronicle AM: LA Times Endorses Prop 64, Urgent Action Time on Kratom, More... (9/19/16)

Donations are starting to flow for and against reform initiatives, California's largest newspaper endorses marijuana legalization, so do Italian cops, a new study suggests medical marijuana may reduce opioid-related auto fatalities, it's time to act to keep kratom off Schedule I, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $660,000 for Legalization Initiatives. The magic soap and organic products maker -- and longtime drug reform supporter -- Dr. Bronner's had pledged to contribute at least $660,000 to the initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. "The expected sweep of these states will exert enormous pressure on federal lawmakers to end the racist outdated policy of cannabis prohibition, that shreds productive citizens' lives and families for no good reason, and focus law enforcement resources instead on actual crime," officials for Dr. Bronner's said in an announcement released Monday.

Los Angeles Times Endorses Prop 64. California's largest newspaper has hopped on board the legalization bandwagon with an editorial endorsing the Prop 64 initiative. Saying that "the federal government has effectively ceded its role and left it to the states to create a new national marijuana policy," the Times editorial board asks if it is time "to treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol" and answers its own question in the affirmative. "On balance, the proposition deserves a 'yes' vote. It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 -- while not perfect -- offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences."

Massachusetts Legalization Supporters Celebrate With Big Freedom Rally Turnout. Thousands of people turned out for the annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, jazzed by the prospect of being able to vote "yes" on the Question 4 legalization initiative in November.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. A measure known as Initiative 60, which would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, has been approved for signature gathering in Mississippi. To make it to the 2018 ballot, organizers will need roughly 86,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 17,000 from each of the state's five congressional districts. They have one year for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Study of Fatal Car Crashes Suggests Medical Marijuana May Curb Opioid Use. A study conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that fewer drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states than before those laws went into effect. The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Florida Medical Marijuana Foes Get a Million Dollars From Sheldon Adelson.Las Vegas casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is again attempting to sway Florida voters away from approving medical marijuana. In 2012, Adelson spent $5.5 million to help defeat the initiative; this year, he has recently kicked in another one million.

Nine out of Ten Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Have No Legal Provider. With the GOP-led legislature's 2011 gutting of the state's medical marijuana program now in effect, 93% of the state's more than 12,000 registered patients have no registered provider. That means unless they can grow it themselves, they are out of luck. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana program, I-182, is on the November ballot.

Kratom

It's Urgent Action Time to Fight DEA's Proposed Kratom Ban. The American Kratom Association is asking supporters to urge their congressional representatives to sign onto a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter asking the DEA to slow down the process of placing the herb on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The group is urging supporters to call or email their reps BEFORE 5:00 PM ET TUESDAY.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Dead for the Year. Efforts to further reform federal drug sentencing in this congressional session are dead, congressional leaders said late last week. While the consensus legislation appeared set to pass earlier this year, opposition from some Republican lawmakers has killed it. Some Republicans opposed cuts in mandatory minimums, others were angry at President Obama for freeing so many federal drug prisoners, and the "law and order" campaign of Donald Trump seems to have been the final nail in the coffin.

International

Italy's Largest Police Union Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The SIULP, Italy's primary police union, has now come out in support of legalization. A bill to do just that is currently before the Italian parliament, with growing support.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero State Again Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo has again called for the legalization of poppy production for medicinal purposes. "We must look for other paths that bring about less tension, less conflict, and less violence," he said as he reiterated a call first made in March. Guerrero is one of the centers of opium production in Mexico, and production is increasing as local farmers switch from coffee to poppy due to low coffee prices.

Chronicle AM: MI Init Nixed, MedMJ Legal in OH, Cartels Shoot Down Mexican Chopper, More.. (9/8/16)

Alaska cannabis cafes are delayed again, Michigan legalizers strike out in court, Ohio becomes the latest medical marijuana state, and more.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio, but a legal supply is still a couple of years down the road. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Again Delay Decision on Cannabis Cafes. The state's Marijuana Control Board first issued draft rules for an "on-site consumption endorsement" for pot shops back in May, but month's later the rules haven't been finalized, and the board has now decided it will not even take up the issue again for another seven weeks. At least one board member, Brandon Emmett, accused the board of trying to avoid allowing consumption at cannabis cafes. "We can spin it however we want, but it's becoming quite apparent that there is an effort by this board to stamp out consumption anywhere other than one's home," Emmett said.

Michigan Supreme Court Nixes Legalization Initiative's Appeal. It's official: There will be no legalization initiative on the ballot in November. The state Supreme Court Wednesday denied an appeal over signature gathering rules from initiative sponsors MI Legalize. The group had sought to have signatures counted that were gathered outside a 180-day limit, but state courts, now including the highest court, have ruled against them.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Ohio, But… As of today, medical marijuana is legal in the Buckeye State, but it could be years before it legally gets into the hands of patients. The state must first create a system to grow, distribute, and regulate medical marijuana. The state has 30 days to appoint a Marijuana Control Commission, which will then have 240 days to set up rules around the fledgling industry. And actually getting businesses up and running and crops in the ground will take even longer.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio County Will Offer Immunity to People Turning in Heroin, Opioids. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters has asked for blanket immunity from prosecution for anyone turning in heroin or other deadly drugs, and Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Robert Ruelman has agreed to the move. The move comes as the region grapples with high levels of heroin and opioid misuse.

Drug Testing

DC Private Schools Sue Over Random Drug Tests of Teachers. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington has sued the District of Columbia for threatening to pull their licenses if they do not subject their teachers to "random and suspicionless" drug testing. Under a DC law, some employees in "safety sensitive" positions in "child development facilities" are required to undergo random drug tests. Some of the private schools in the association have "child development facility" licenses. Until 2013, elementary and secondary schools were exempt from the requirement, but that year, DC issued a memo requiring the schools to employ random drug testing. That's what the schools are suing over.

International

Mexican Police Helicopter Shot Down Over Michoacan Three police officers and the pilot were killed when suspected cartel members shot down their chopper near Apatzingan, Michoacan on Tuesday. The area has been a hotbed of cartel activity, as well as the scene of armed conflict between the cartels and (sometimes) government-supported vigilantes. This is the worst helicopter attack since May 2015, when gunmen in Jalisco brought down a military helicopter, killing ten soldiers.

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, Court Rules No Guns for MJ Patients, More... (8/31/16)

President Obama continues commuting drug sentences, the 9th Circuit upholds a ban on gun ownership for medical marijuana patients, Albuquerque gets sued over its asset forfeiture scheme, and more.

Obama meets federal prisoners at El Reno, Oklahoma. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Gun Sales to Medical Marijuana Cardholders. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

New York Expands Program, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries. The state Department of Health said Tuesday it will allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana for patients and allow dispensaries to make deliveries. The department also said it was considering whether to include chronic pain on the state's list of qualifying conditions.

Asset Forfeiture

Albuquerque Sued for Refusing to Shut Down Asset Forfeiture Program. An Albuquerque woman whose car was seized after he son was pulled over for drunk driving filed suit in state court Wednesday arguing that the city's asset forfeiture program violates recently passed state-level asset forfeiture reforms and "is driven by a pernicious -- and unconstitutional -- profit incentive" that deprives her of her due process rights. Although the state passed the reforms last year, the city has continued to seize vehicles like Harjo's, arguing the law does not apply to it. The city was already sued by two lawmakers, but that suit was dismissed, with the court ruling they lacked standing to sue. The city has seized more than 8,000 vehicles since 2010.

Pardons and Commutations

President Obama Commutes Sentences for 111 More Drug Offenders. The president continued his pardon push Wednesday, commuting sentences for 111 more drug offenders. That brings to 325 the number pardoned this month alone -- a record -- and to 673 the number whose sentences Obama has commuted throughout his term. That's more than the previous 10 presidents combined.

International

Mexico Federal Police Chief Fired Over Massacre of Cartel Suspects. President Enrique Pena Nieto Monday fired federal police chief Enrique Gallindo over the apparent massacre of 22 suspected cartel members in Michoacan last year. Earlier this month, the National Human Rights Commission released a report saying the victims had been "executed arbitrarily."

Chronicle AM: Second AR MedMJ Init Should Qualify, Philippine Death Toll Doubles, More... (8/22/16)

Marijuana reform foes in Arizona and Missouri go to court to try to block initiatives, a second Arkansas medical marijuana initiative is poised to qualify for the ballot, Duterte's festival of death continues apace, and more.

Arkansans could have two chances to vote for medical marijuana in November. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Foes Appeal to State Supreme Court to Block Initiative. Even though a state superior court judge last week ruled that their challenge to the Prop 205 legalization initiative made no legitimate claims, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have vowed to take their case to the state Supreme Court.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Initiative Should Qualify for Ballot. There's already one medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, but there could be another. Backers of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment handed in additional signatures last Friday after they came up short in the original round of petitioning. The amendment needed 84,589 valid voter signatures, but only came up with 72,000 valid ones on July 8. Being so close, however, qualified the amendment for a second round of signature gathering, and it has now handed in another 35,000 raw signatures, meaning it should now qualify. If both initiatives appear on the ballot and both pass, the one with the most votes will become law.

Missouri DAs Seek to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaigns Challenge on Invalidated Signatures. A dozen state prosecutors have filed legal action to block the New Approach Missouri medical marijuana initiative from getting on the ballot. The group is challenging official signature counts that say it came up short, but the DAs argue that that isn't the real issue. They argue that the state cannot put on the ballot issues that would result in laws in conflict with US law.

International

Duterte's Philippines Drug War Death Toll Doubles to 1800. The number of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against drug users and sellers has now reached 1,800, police said Monday. Police said they had killed more than 700 drug offenders, while more than 1,000 killings were carried out "outside police work." The UN has called on Manila to end the extra-judicial killings, but Duterte has responded by saying he could quit the UN.

Mexico Police Accused of Massacring 22 Suspected Cartel Members. The deaths of 22 alleged cartel members in a May 2015 incident at a ranch in Michoacan was not a gun battle, but a mass execution, the country's human rights commission declared last Friday. The commission said police killed the men, then moved bodies and planted guns to support the official account that there had been a shoot-out. "The investigation confirmed facts that show grave human rights violations attributable to public servants of the federal police," said the commission president, Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales, who oversees the federal police, rejected that charge, and did so at a press conference called before the commission had finished its own.

Chronicle AM: Clinton Renews Rescheduling Call, Kerry Gets MX Human Rights Letter, More... (8/12/16)

The DEA's refusal to reschedule marijuana yesterday elicits reactions from Hillary Clinton and DC activists, a California bill to tax medical marijuana farmers dies in committee, Secretary of State Kerry gets a letter from Congress urging him to prioritize human rights when it comes to financing Mexico's drug war, and more.

DC activists are set to give the White House an earful after the DEA refused to reschedule marijuana.
Marijuana Policy

In Wake of DEA Decision, Hillary Clinton Reiterates Call for Rescheduling Marijuana. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will move to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II substance, her campaign said in a statement after the DEA rejected reclassification Thursday. "As president, Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy," senior Clinton advisor Maya Harris said.

In Wake of DEA Decision, Emergency Demonstration at the White House Tonight. Washington, DC, DCMJ legalization activists are gathering in front of the White House tonight at 8:20 PM to protest the DEA's refusal to move marijuana from Schedule I, the same schedule as heroin. "Here we are, 43 years and millions of marijuana arrests later, and we being told that cannabis is still as dangerous as heroin. WHAT THE HELL?!?!" organizers wrote on Facebook. "The Obama Administration's DEA thinks Americans should go to jail for a non-toxic plant. WE THINK OTHERWISE!"

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Tax Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have imposed a tax on commercial medical marijuana growers has been killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Assembly Bill 2243 would have imposed a tax of up to $9.25 per ounce of marijuana buds, $2.75 for pot leaves, and $1.25 for immature pot plants. The panel killed the bill after patient advocates said it would impose a burden on patients.

International

Canadian Medical Marijuana Patients Will Be Able to Grow Their Own. Health Canada said Thursday that medical marijuana patients will be able to grow limited amounts for themselves or have a caregiver do so. The move comes as the government attempts to comply with a federal court ruling that struck down the previous Conservative government's ban on patients growing their own. Patients would also still have the option of buying from one of 34 producers licensed by the federal government.

Congresspersons Sign Letter to Secretary of State Kerry Urging That US Prioritize Human Rights in Mexico. Some 68 members of Congress have signed onto a letter urging Kerry to make human rights a priority in US relations with Mexico. The letter expresses concern over the "27,000 unresolved cases of people who have disappeared in Mexico since 2007, and the slow pace of reforms in the military, law enforcement and justice sectors," as well as the persistent use of torture in criminal investigations. It calls for US support for the ongoing investigation and search for the 43 disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers' college. And it reiterates the need for accountability and justice in the cases of grave abuses committed by Mexican security forces in Oaxaca and Tlatlaya. The letter comes as the State Department is reviewing the Mexican government's compliance with human rights conditions attached to US anti-drug funding.

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

Trump VP Pick Mike Pence is Bad News on Marijuana, Drug Policy

The Republican nominee's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate means Trump has selected a man who is the very embodiment of last century's "tough on drugs" prohibitionist attitudes.

Trump VP pick Mike Pence doesn't have a great record on drug policy. (flickr.com/gage skidmore)
Pence's anti-drug reform stances are part and parcel of his overall social conservative, Tea Party positions. He has also been a strong opponent of gay marriage and abortion rights and a strong supporter of "religious freedom."

Indiana has tough marijuana laws, with possession of even the smallest amount of pot worth up to six months in county jail and possession of more than 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce) a felony punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison. Selling any amount more than 30 grams is also a felony, again punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison.

Mike Pence is just fine with that. In fact, three years ago he successfully blocked a move in the legislature to reduce some of those penalties, saying that while he wanted to cut prison populations, he didn't want to cut penalties to achieve that end.

"I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties," he said. "I think this legislation, as it moves forward, should still seek to continue to send a way strong message to the people of Indiana and particularly to those who would come into our state to deal drugs, that we are tough and we're going to stay tough on narcotics in this state."

Pence did sign emergency legislation allowing for needle exchange programs in some Indiana counties last year, but only after initial resistance, during which more than 150 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in one county alone. His hesitance was in line with his anti-drug values, as evidenced by his 2009 vote as a US representative to keep intact a federal ban on funding for needle exchanges.

Pence is also a gung-ho drug warrior when it comes to the Mexican border, having voted to support billions in funding for Mexico to fight drug cartels and for using the US military to conduct anti-drug and counter-terror patrols along the border.

Bizarrely enough, there is one drug Pence has no problems with, but it's a legal one: nicotine. That's right, the drug warrior is an apologist and denier for Big Tobacco.

"Time for a quick reality check," he said in 2000. "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill."

Pence has been handsomely compensated by tobacco companies for his advocacy against anti-smoking public health campaigns, even though they have proven wildly successful in driving down smoking rates. Pence can be viewed as a man who rejects proven public health interventions for one dangerous substance while insisting on failed punitive, prohibitionist policies for another, less dangerous, substance.

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

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