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Chronicle AM -- February 11, 2014

California's narcs are whining about Obama's marijuana remarks, Coloradans seem happy with legalization, a Good Samaritan overdose bill is filed in Maryland, an Israeli newspaper talks pot policy, and a Colombian FARC representative lays out the guerrilla's drug proposals, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plants. The FARC has plans for them. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization More Popular Than Ever in Colorado. A year after marijuana possession became legal in the state and a month after retail marijuana sales began, Coloradans are more supportive than legalization than ever, according to a new poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday had support for legalization at 58%, three points higher than 55% who actually voted for it in November 2012. And 73% said they wouldn't mind if their neighbors grew marijuana in their homes.

California Narcs Unhappy With Obama Marijuana Comments. California's narcs are displeased with President Obama's recent remarks suggesting that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. In an open letter Monday, the California Narcotics Officers' Association took "strong issue" with the president's statements and warned that marijuana poses "significant risks to public health." The full text of the letter is at the link.

Wyoming Activists "Walk for Weed" at State Capitol. Several dozen marijuana legalization activists demonstrated at the state capitol in Cheyenne Monday armed with signs reading "Legalize, Not Legal Lies" and "Turning a Red State Green in 2016." The protest was an action by Wyoming NORML, which aims to put a legalization initiative on the ballot then.

North Carolina Legislator Vows to Introduce Legalization Measure. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) said Monday he will introduce a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment when the legislature reconvenes in May. "It's an inevitable thing," he said. "Trying to stop that movement reminds me of somebody marching out to the beach, holding up their hand and saying the tide will not rise."

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Bills to Fold Medical Marijuana into Legal Marijuana System Moving. A pair of state Senate bills that would end collective gardens for medical marijuana patients advanced last Friday, while a House bill that would reduce the amount of medicine and the number of plants patients or caregivers can possess moved on Monday. Senate Bill 5887 and Senate Bill 6178 each passed 6-1 in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Friday. Both were second substitute versions. House Bill 2149 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Revisions, Sponsor Says. After a three-hour committee hearing Monday, state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 885, said it needed significant revisions before it could advance in the House. The hearing included searing testimony from parents of children suffering seizures, but also from physicians who said the use of CBD cannabis oils needed more study. Another hearing is set for Thursday.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, General Assembly Candidates Filed. A bill that would require candidates for the state House and Senate to undergo drug testing and bar them from running if they test positive has been filed in Illinois. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsythe) said he introduced House Bill 5292 with the political candidate provision because he thinks elected officials should be held to the same standards as food stamp recipients. The bill also calls for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of food stamp recipients. Requiring drug tests of candidates for office, and requiring drug tests of public benefits recipients without individualized suspicion, have both been held unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Overdose Prevention Bill Proposed. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) today proposed a bill that would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession charges if that person contacts police or emergency personnel for reports of an overdose. "While I don't condone illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse, we should make sure overdose victims are brought to safety and not allow them die out of fear of being arrested," said Cardin in a statement. "There is strong evidence that overdose victims and their friends would often rather let someone die than call emergency personnel. This should never happen. This law is a common sense way to literally save thousands of lives." The bill was not yet on the legislative web site as of Tuesday afternoon.

International

In-Depth Interview with FARC Representative on Colombian Guerrilla Group's Drug Policy Proposals. The Voice of Russia has recorded an extensive interview with FARC peace delegation member Laura Villa on the FARC's drug policy proposals, which begin from the premise that drug prohibition has failed. FARC policies call for respect for the coca leaf, decriminalization of the coca crop (in the context of land reform), a public health approach to drug consumption, as well as demilitarization, an end to aerial eradication, and compensation for victims of eradication. The entire interview is quite illuminating and worth the read.

Israel Hayom Debates Marijuana Legalization. Editors and contributors to Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, debated marijuana legalization in the Holy Land. Check out the debate by clicking on the link.

Chronicle AM -- February 4, 2014

Legalization proves profitable for Colorado's coffers, decrim moves closer in DC, more drug test bills get filed, Vermont attempts to do something about its opioid problem, a crime lab scandal brews in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

meth house (assumptionsheriff.com)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Decriminalization Bill. The District of Columbia city council today gave initial approval to the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409), which would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. The bill still faces another council vote, needs the approval of the mayor, then needs Congress to let it happen.

Colorado Takes in $1.2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month. According to an NBC News survey of Colorado retail marijuana shops, pot sales in the month since they were legal have contributed at least $1.24 million in tax revenues to state coffers. But wait -- there's more: The survey only counted tax receipts from half of the shops that opened New Year's Day, meaning the month's total is probably in the $2.4 million to $3 million range.

Arizona Democrat Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D) and 12 other Democrats have filed a bill to "regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol." The measure, House Bill 2558, allows for the possession of up to an ounce and a small number of plants as well. Another bill, House Bill 2474, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

CBD Oil Medical Marijuana Bill for Epileptic Kids Filed in Utah. A bill that would allow for the importation into the state of marijuana extracts containing cannabidiol for use by epileptic children has been filed in Salt Lake City. Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville) introduced House Bill 100 yesterday.

Hemp

Indiana Senate Passes Hemp Bill. A bill that would allow the production of industrial hemp in the Hoosier State was approved unanimously by the Indiana Senate Monday. Senate Bill 357 would require a waiver from federal law before hemp could be grown there. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Filed. State Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has filed a bill to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for food stamp recipients. The bill is House Bill 772. Similar legislation ordering mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients was signed into law in 2012, but never implemented after a federal judge struck down a similar Florida law.

Northern Marianas Bills Would Require Drug Tests for Candidates, Elected Officials. Bills that would require that candidates for political office and elected officials submit to mandatory drug testing have passed the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations. House Bill 18-21 requires testing for candidates, and House Bill 18-152 requires testing for elected officials. The US Supreme Court has found a similar Georgia law unconstitutional.

Drug Treatment

Vermont Rolls Out Early Intervention Program for Criminal Drug Users. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and other state officials Monday announced a new program to divert crime-committing drug users into a pre-court, 90-day drug treatment program. If they successfully complete the program, they will not be prosecuted. Only those with nonviolent offenses will be eligible. "Instead of treating this as a crime, let's treat it as the disease that it is and offer addicts the opportunity to get into treatment, get the support they need and if they succeed, never to have to go through the criminal process," Shumlin said Monday at the Rutland County Courthouse.

Law Enforcement

Crime Lab Scandal Has Florida Police Reviewing Thousands of Drug Cases. Hundreds of drug convictions may be jeopardized and thousands of drug cases are under review in Florida after a single chemist at a state-run crime lab was accused of tampering with evidence. The chemist, who works at the Pensacola Regional Crime Lab, is suspected of removing "large" quantities of prescription pills from evidence packages and replacing them with over-the-counter medications, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Saturday. That chemist handled at least 2,600 drug cases.

Methamphetamine

Indiana House Passes Meth Property Disclosure Bill. A bill that would require Indiana property owners to disclose to potential new buyers whether the property had previously been used to manufacture methamphetamine passed the House Monday. The bill, House Bill 1141, would require that such properties be listed on a state web site until at least 90 days after it has been certified as decontaminated. The measure now goes to the Senate.

International

Scholar Francisco Thoumi Offers Comprehensive Analysis of FARC Illicit Drug Cultivation Proposals. Colombian scholar Francisco Thoumi, a long-renowned expert on drug production and trafficking there, has authored a lengthy analysis of the FARC's proposals in peace negotiations with the Colombian government in the area of illicit crop cultivation. The article is Las FARC y el campesinado cultivador de plantas ilícitas: dilemas, ideología y decisiones (The FARC and the Drug-Growing Peasantry: Dilemmas, Ideology, and Decisions). It is in Spanish, but can be translated.

In Colombia, British Liberal Democrat Leader Says UK Should Abandon Current Drug Policies. During a visit to Colombia, British Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Britain should abandon its current drug policies because they're not working. He said new approaches were needed, but declined to back full legalization. He said the Lib Dems would offer their own alternative proposals shortly.

Chronicle AM -- January 15, 2014

As the legislative season gets underway, bills are being introduced all over the place -- good, bad, and ugly. And there's trouble in Mexico, peace talks in Colombia, and more. Let's get to it:

The FARC are negotiating peace and coca crop reductions in Colombia.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Bill Would Ban Local Bans on Marijuana Businesses. A bill introduced Tuesday with 10 cosponsors would essentially bar local governments from banning pot businesses by requiring them to cooperate with state regulators in allowing marijuana stores, grows, and processing facilities to operate. Under House Bill 2322, local governments would have to treat licensed marijuana enterprises the same as any other business that attempts to locate within their boundaries. They'd be barred from adopting zoning or other regulations that impede the establishment of pot businesses. Another measure, House Bill 2144, would offer a carrot to localities by giving them 30% of the state's excise tax on marijuana sales.

New Hampshire Governor Would Veto Legalization Bill. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) said Tuesday that she would veto a pending marijuana legalization bill because she thinks it would send the wrong message to the state's youth. The House is voting on the bill today.

Missouri Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1325. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Rhode Island Legalization Proponents Form Coalition. And then there was Regulate Rhode Island. Click on the link to check out the new coalition and its web site.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1324. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Florida Initiative Campaign Passes Million-Signature Mark. The People United for Medical Marijuana campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot passed the million-signature mark this past weekend, campaign director Ben Pollara said. The group needs 683,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot -- if the state Supreme Court allows it. The initiative has been challenged by state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Pennsylvania. Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The filing of the bill, Senate Bill 1182, marks the first time such a measure has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Kentucky Senate Committee Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is holding a public hearing today on medical marijuana, although the committee chair, Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) said she is only interested in high-CBD cannabis oil. The committee will not vote because it is not addressing a specific bill, even though one medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 43, has already been filed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House Committee. A divided House Public Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug tests. House Bill 49 would require new recipients to be assessed to see whether there was a high probability they were using drugs, and if so, to undergo a drug test. It was expected to go to a full House vote today.

Florida Governor Appeals Federal Court Ruling on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Monday asked the US Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a drug testing policy aimed at state employees. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last year found the measure unconstitutional. Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made a high-profile issue of requiring drug tests for state employees and welfare recipients. But federal courts have ruled against him on both issues, as opponents have argued that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Arizona Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. Republican Reps. Phil Lovas and David Livingston and Republican Sen. Judy Burges have filed a bill that would require people seeking unemployment benefits to undergo drug screening, with drug testing mandated for those who appear likely to be using drugs. The bill, House Bill 2030, is similar to one passed in Texas last year, but put on hold because the federal Department of Labor has yet to determine which professions regularly require drug testing.

International

Colombia's FARC Presents Plan for Reducing Coca Cultivation. Colombia's FARC guerrillas, now in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, have presented a plan to reduce coca cultivation. The plan calls for demilitarizing the countryside and suspending aerial spraying of coca crops. Negotiations to end the country's 50-year-old insurgency have been going on for months and will continue.

Mexican Soldiers Meet Resistance in Bid to Disarm Vigilantes. Anti-cartel vigilantes in Michoacan offered up fierce resistance Tuesday as soldiers began trying to disarm the groups, which have taken control of a number of towns in the agricultural west-central Mexican state. Vigilantes said four people were killed in confrontations with the army; the army said one. The vigilantes said they would not give up their weapons until the government arrested top leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, which is based in the state and headquartered in the town Apatzingan. Vigilantes have taken several villages on its outskirts.

Turin Approves Medical Marijuana, Challenges Harsh Italian Drug Laws. The city council in the northern Italian city of Turin Tuesday approved a measure allowing for medical marijuana and rejecting a 2006 Italian law that undid the legal distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs. The medical use of marijuana has been already allowed in some Italian regions like Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto, but the recreational consumption of the drug is still taboo there. Turin's move could spur more movement toward allowing recreational marijuana use.

Bermuda Activist Starts Online Petition for Medical Marijuana. Marijuana reform activist and attorney Alan Gordon has started an online petition asking Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley to allow emergency medical cannabis permits for cancer patients with a doctor's recommendation. Gordon says that Bermuda's drug law allows the minister to make case-by-case exceptions to the general ban on marijuana. He also wants the minister to publish rules for making applications for a waiver.

Chronicle AM -- January 9, 2014

Alaska appears poised to vote on marijuana legalization, New York's governor announces a half-step toward medical marijuana, the ACLU fights for our rights on a couple of fronts, and trouble could be coming to the coca fields of Peru. And more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has a new bully pulpit from which to crusade for coca. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of an initiative to legalize marijuana in Alaska handed in 46,000 signatures Wednesday. The campaign only needs 30,000 valid signatures to qualify for the August ballot. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Alabama. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. An as yet unspecified fine would apply to offenders. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and will be scheduled for a hearing when the session gets underway next week.

Alabama Governor Rejects Legal and Medical Marijuana. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Wednesday he opposes legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, although he suggested he would be open to FDA-approved medical marijuana products. "I do believe there are medications out there that will do the same thing," Bentley said. "Now if someone wants to use the medicine that is in marijuana, go through the testing when you do that through the FDA, go through all of that -- that's fine. I have no problem with that."

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Announces Limited Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will initiate a limited medical marijuana program through executive action. Advocates said the measure was not enough and that the state legislature needs to pass pending medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Moving to Undo Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Utah legislature moved late last year to roll back asset forfeiture reforms approved by state voters in a 2000 referendum. In unanimous votes, legislators approved a bill that will kill the provision requiring reimbursement for property owners who win in court and to require prosecutors to file such cases in a timely manner. Read Radley Balko's lengthy report by clicking on the link.

Drugs and Pregnancy

Experts File Brief Challenging Use of Child Abuse Law against Pregnant Women Using Methadone. Some 76 groups and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the New Jersey Supreme Court, urging it to overturn a lower court ruling making the state's civil child abuse law applicable to women who received medically prescribed methadone treatment while pregnant.

Search and Seizure

Indiana ACLU Challenges Pain Medication Drug Test Rules. The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court challenging a new state rule that requires patients prescribed a certain level of pain medications to undergo annual drug tests. The rule concocted by the state Medical Licensing Board last month requires such patients to sign a treatment agreement that includes agreement to undergo the annual tests. The ACLU argues that the rule violates Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Massachusetts ACLU Sues to Block Drug Dog Sniffs of Prison Visitors. The ACLU of Massachusetts and a prisoners' rights group have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court seeking to block the state Department of Corrections from using drug dogs to search prison visitors. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to immediately stop the practice and allow for public comment on the policy, which the department instituted in November. A hearing is set for January 24.

International

Peru Coca Eradication to Target VRAEM for First Time, DEVIDA Head Says. The Peruvian government for the first time will attempt to eradicate large amounts of coca crops in the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM), the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA said Wednesday. The area is the most densely planted coca growing region in the world, accounting for more than half of all Peruvian production, and is the home of Shining Path guerilla remnants who got involved in the drug trade as their rebellion fizzled 20 years ago. DEVIDA wants to eradicate 37,000 acres of coca crops there, about 75% of total plantings in the region. Look for trouble when eradication efforts actually get underway, probably in August.

Bolivia to Use G-77 Post to Push for Legal Coca Leaf Internationally. Bolivian President Evo Morales has assumed chairmanship of the Group of 77 nations, and he said Wednesday that he would use his position to push for removing coca leaf from the 1961 UN Single Convention's list of internationally banned drugs. Bolivia briefly left the treaty in 2012 before returning last year with a reservation that it did not recognize the ban on coca leaf chewing. "Last year, we achieved recognition of traditional consumption of the coca leaf," he said. "Our next task will be to remove the coca leaf from the list of prohibited substances."

Germans Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. Only 29% of Germans said they favored legalizing marijuana in a new poll, while 65% were opposed. The only political party with a majority favoring legalization was the Greens, and just barely, with 51%. A Green politician, Monika Herrmann, is trying to open a Dutch-style cannabis coffee shop in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, but would need federal government approval. This poll isn't going to help.

France Approves Marijuana-Based Medicine for Multiple Sclerosis. France's health ministry announced Thursday it had approved the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray, to treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug is the first marijuana-based medicine to be made available in the country. Sativex is already approved in more than 20 countries.

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

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

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

#1 Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana

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

#2 The Global Prohibition Regime is Under Increasing Attack

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

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

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

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

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

#5 The Dark Net Emerges as a Drug Marketplace

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

#6 Mexico: New President, Same Old Drug War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#10 Colombian Peace Negotiations Progress

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

Chronicle AM -- December 20, 2013

A pair of state appeals courts slap down cops who take people's medicine and won't give it back, there are problems with Kansas' drug testing law, Peru is buying shining new toys to prosecute its drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Hash is medicine, and the cops have to give it back, the Oregon appeals court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DPA California Initiative Revised. The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana initiative, filed earlier this month by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), has been revised. The new version increases the personal grow limit from four plants to six, makes the 1,000-foot buffer rule around schools optional instead of mandatory, and makes the California Industrial Hemp effectively immediately. Left intact were no changes in criminal penalties, no changes in the state's medical marijuana law, and a 25% tax on adult retail sales. DPA head Ethan Nadelmann said in a conference call yesterday that the group would decide early next year whether to move forward for 2014.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Hash. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Oregon v. James Jonathan Ellis that a medical marijuana patient whose hash was seized during an arrest can get it back. A district court judge had refused to order it returned, finding that hash wasn't covered under the state's medical marijuana law, but the appeals court disagreed, citing the federal Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana, which Oregon's law adopted, and which includes "every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its resin."

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Marijuana. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in Colorado v. Robert Clyde Crouse that a district court judgment ordering Colorado Springs Police to return marijuana seized from leukemia patient Crouse was correct. Colorado Springs authorities had argued that federal drug laws preempted their returning Crouse's medicine, but neither the district court nor the appeals court was buying it.

Wyoming Legislator to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) said this week that she intends to introduce a bill in the legislative session that starts early next year to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Wallis said the death a year ago of her husband, Rod McQueary, brought the issue of legalizing medical marijuana into sharp focus for her. She said he benefited greatly from medical marijuana from Colorado in his last days.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislator Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill, House Bill 5213,that would prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless and until a person is convicted of a criminal offense. "Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," Rep. Irwin said. "[But] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers. We need to change how asset forfeiture works. By requiring a person be convicted of a crime before their seized property is subject to forfeiture, we will stop the worst abuses and curtail the insidious incentives that lead some law enforcement to short circuit due process and the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."

Drug Testing

Kansas Drug Testing Law Punishes Welfare Recipients, But Lets Lawmakers Skate. The Kansas legislature this year passed a bill, Senate Bill 149, that allows for drug testing of welfare recipients. Amid charges of hypocrisy, solons added language to include drug testing of themselves. But Wednesday, the director of Legislative Administrative Services, who is charged with implementing legislator testing, told legislative leaders that the law does not include any ramifications for a positive drug test and does not explicitly make the results public, so he will be treating them as confidential medical records.

Sentencing

Connecticut Sentencing Commission Recommends Cutting Drug-Free Zones. The Connecticut Sentencing Commission recommended Thursday that lawmakers sharply curtail drug-free zones around schools. The commission said they created racial disparities, unfairly affecting blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to dwell in urban areas, where schools and day cares are more densely packed. The commission recommended scaling the zones back from 1,500 feet to 200 feet. It also recommended limiting drug-free zone charges to those actually intending to infringe on the zones, as opposed to those just passing through.

International

Peru in Half-Billion Dollar Deal to Buy Russian Helicopters for Anti-Drug, Anti-Terrorism Effort. The Peruvian and Russian governments announced a deal Wednesday in which Russia will provide 24 Mi-171 helicopters to the Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvians plan to use them for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism work in the central mountain areas where coca leaf and cocaine production are widespread.

Belgian Cannabis Social Club Raided. Belgian police acting on orders of the Justice Ministry raided the country's second cannabis club Wednesday (sorry, link in Dutch only). Raiders hit the Mambo Social Club in Hasselt, which follows the country's one-plant-per-person guidelines, seizing plants, records, and computer equipment. No word yet on any criminal charges.

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

They may be smoking more pot in Washington state than anyone thought, the Florida medical marijuana signature-gathering campaign is going down to the wire, opium production is up in the Golden Triangle, and aerial eradication is down in Colombia (after planes get blown out of the sky). And more. Let's get to it:

Aerial spraying of coca plants is on hold in Colombia after the FARC shot down two planes this fall. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Reason-Rupe Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 49%. In the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 49% of respondents favored legalizing marijuana, with 47% opposed. That puts it on the low side of recent polls on the topic, most of which are now showing majorities for legalization now. The poll found majority support among Democrats (55%) and independents (51%), but not Republicans (37%). Click on the link for more demographic and methodological details.

NYC Lobbyist Forms Marijuana Legalization PAC. The New York City lobbying and consulting firm Sheinkopf LTD, headed by Hank Sheinkopf, has registered a political action committee to advocate for marijuana legalization. The "Legalize Now" PAC was registered this week with the New York State Board of Elections. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills are pending in the legislature.

Washington State Marijuana Consumption Twice Previous Estimate, RAND Says. Marijuana consumption is about twice as much as officials had previously thought, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Consumption had been estimated to be about 85 metric tons in 2013, but the new study says the range is between 135 and 225 metric tons, with 175 metric tons as the median.

Medical Marijuana

Clock is Ticking on Florida Initiative. Time is running short for Florida's United for Care medical marijuana initiative. Organizers have until February 1 to gather 683,189 valid voter signatures, and say they have gathered 700,000 raw signatures, but only 162,866 have been certified as of Tuesday. Organizers are assuming a 25% rejection rate, so they are looking to gather a million signatures by deadline day.

Harm Reduction

Jack Fishman Dead at 83; Helped Create Naloxone.A scientist who played a key role in the development of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone has died. Dr. Jack Fishman died earlier this month at age 83. Naloxone (Narcan) is credited with saving countless people from overdoses of heroin and other opioid drugs. Naloxone has been approved to treat overdoses since 1971, but only some states allow it to be distributed to drug users, community support groups, and local health clinics.

Sentencing

New Brennan Center Proposal Aims to Reduce Mass Incarceration. The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute based at the NYU School of Law, has unveiled a new policy proposal to shrink prison populations, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration. It was discussed last week at the National Press Club in Washington by a panel including Jim Bueerman of the Police Foundation, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations.

International

Golden Triangle Opium Production Up, UNODC Says. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle (Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) is up 22% this year over 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 - Lao PDR, Myanmar. Most of the production is in Myanmar, which produced 870 of the regions estimated 893 tons. The Golden Triangle accounted for 18% of global opium production this year, the report said.

Colombia Coca Spraying Halted After FARC Shoots Down Two US Pilots, One Killed. US-funded aerial eradication of coca crops in Colombia has been suspended indefinitely after FARC rebels shot down two spray planes, leaving one US pilot dead. The downings occurred in September and October, but the news that the FARC shot them down and that the program had been suspended didn't come until this week.

Mexican Human Rights Commission Warns Government on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights warned Tuesday that the rise of vigilante groups to confront drug trafficking organizations undermines the rule of law and could lead to increased violence. The commission blamed the rise of the vigilantes on the government's failure to provide security and accused the government of encouraging the formation of some of the groups. The commission said there were some 7,000 vigilante members in Guerrero alone, with thousands more in Michoacan, where dozens have been killed in clashes among vigilantes, police, soldiers, and drug traffickers.

Chronicle AM -- December 3, 2013

Denver's city council calls off ban on "front porch" marijuana smoking, New Jersey's governor claims medical marijuana is a ploy, Vermont rolls out a naloxone pilot project, Colombia's FARC want decriminalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone can reverse opioid drug overdoses. Now, a pilot program is getting underway in Vermont.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Reverses Course, Votes Down Front-Porch Pot Smoking Ban. In something of a surprise move, the Denver city council Monday night voted 7-6 for an amendment to its marijuana ordinance that removes the ban on smoking on one's own property if it is visible to the public. The ban had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. Now, one more vote is needed next week to approve the ordinance.

Jackson, Michigan, Cops Will Heed Voters' Will on Decriminalization Initiative. Police in Jackson, Michigan, will enforce a new marijuana ordinance that tells them to leave alone people over 21 who possess up to an ounce of pot on private property. Police Chief Matthew Hein said police will not enforce state law, which is harsher, except in limited circumstances, such as when a known drug dealer with multiple convictions is caught with less than an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Just Says No to Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters Monday he opposes expansion of the state's medical marijuana law because it is just a backdoor route to marijuana legalization. "See this is what happens. Every time you sign one expansion, then the advocates will come back and ask for another one," the governor said during a press conference. "Here's what the advocates want: they want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances. So we're done."

Michigan House Judiciary Committee Hears Medical Marijuana Bills Thursday. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on three medical marijuana bills.HB 4271 would protect locally licensed dispensaries to help ensure patients have regular and safe access to their medicine. HB 5104 would create clear legal protection for marijuana extracts, which are often used in edibles. The third bill, SB 660, would create a "pharmaceutical grade" standard for medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Pilot Program for Naloxone to Fight Drug Overdoses Gearing Up. The Vermont Health Department is launching a pilot program to distribute naloxone as an antidote for opioid drug overdoses. The drug will be distributed directly to drug users, their friends, and family members. The Health Department said it is working with law enforcement to provide protections for people who report overdoses.

Sentencing

Kentucky Lawmaker Seeks Harsher Heroin Sales Sentences. State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) Monday announced plans to pre-file a bill that would impose harsher sentences for heroin distribution. He blamed a 2011 sentencing reform law for making the state attractive to heroin dealers. Under that law, heroin sales went from a Class C to a Class D felony. The sponsor of that law, Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) said heroin use has indeed increased, but not because of the reform. The causes "are much more complex, with the chief ones being the state's recent crackdown on prescription drug abuse and the new tamper-resistant versions of the pain drugs Oxycontin and Opana," which were formerly crushed and abused by pain-pill addicts.

International

Colombia's FARC Calls for Decriminalizing Coca Growing. Colombia's FARC guerrillas called for the decriminalization of coca growing and drug use as it entered a third round of peace talks with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The FARC is proposing "demilitarization of anti-drug policies, non-intervention by imperialism, and decriminalization of the rural poor" who grow coca, said FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo. Drug policy is the third item on the talks' agenda; already covered are agrarian reform and the FARC's return to political life after a peace agreement. Still to be decided are drug issues, reparations for victims of the five-decade-old conflict, and disarmament.

Spanish Cannabis Club Persecuted, Needs Your Help. The Spanish cannabis social club Pannagh is being prosecuted as drug traffickers by Spanish authorities and needs your support before a court date Thursday. Click the story link above to read more and see how you can help. Their web page (see above) has been closed down by Spanish authorities, and Pannagh members, who transparently grew small amounts of marijuana for themselves, are facing years in prison and asset forfeiture on trumped up charges.

Morocco Lawmakers Meet Tomorrow to Discuss Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Lawmakers in Rabat will meet Wednesday to debate whether to allow marijuana cultivation for medical and industrial purposes. The debate is being pushed by the Party of Authenticity and Modernity. More than three-quarters of a million Moroccans depend on marijuana cultivation for the livelihoods, with most of it processed into hashish for European markets.

Venezuela to Shoot Down Drug Planes

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro warned last week this his government will shoot down planes using Venezuelan air space to smuggle drugs. The National Assembly passed a law allowing for such actions in May, but it did not go into effect until this month.

"Let drug traffickers know that starting today any plane that enters Venezuela (to smuggle drugs) will be forced to land in peace, or else it will by shot down by our Sukhoi, our F-16s and the entire Venezuelan Air Force," Maduro said in a speech last Wednesday. "I will begin applying this law immediately in coordination with our armed forces," he added.

While Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, it has become a key transit route for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, only this year displaced by Peru as the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The US government has placed Venezuela and its South American ally Bolivia on its annual list of countries not complying with US drug war objectives, a charge both countries categorically rejected. (Oddly enough, neither Colombia nor Peru are on that list, nor Mexico, the country from which the most drugs are imported to the US.)

The drug plane shoot-down law, known officially as the Law of Control for the Integral Defense of Airspace, was originally proposed in 2011 by the late President Hugo Chavez. After Chavez's death last December, the law was approved by the National Assembly.

While an apparent violation of international civil aviation law, the shooting down of civilian planes suspected of drug running led to the downing of at least 30 planes by Peruvian authorities in the 1990s. The US suspended its cooperation with Peru in that effort after Peruvian fighter jets working with CIA spotters blasted a plane carrying American missionaries out of the sky in 2001, resulting in the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her infant child. Brazil also has had such a policy in place since 2004.

Caracas
Venezuela

Peru Retakes Spot as World's #1 Coca Producer

And the wheel turns. Twenty years ago, Peru produced about 60% of the world's coca crop, from which cocaine is derived. But crop disease and aggressive anti-trafficking efforts in Peru hurt output there even as cultivation blossomed in Colombia, which took first place honors by the turn of the century.

coca leaf statues in Peruvian village (Phillip Smith)
But now, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Peru has regained its status as the number one producer. In a report issued last week, UNODC estimated that Peru had 151,000 acres of land devoted to coca production, compared to 125,000 acres in second place Colombia and about 63,000 acres in third place Bolivia.

Just as aggressive eradication and interdiction campaigns in Peru -- including a US-aided policy of shooting down suspected drug trafficking planes -- reduced the coca supply there in the 1990s, the massive US aid program known as Plan Colombia, with its aerial fumigation and aggressive eradication programs, has managed to shrink production in Colombia.

At its peak in 2000, Colombia accounted for 90% of the world's cocaine, with about 400,000 acres planted with coca. Since then, that figure has shrunk by about one third.

But in a clear example of "the balloon effect," Peru has taken up the slack, and has been well-situated to take advantage of growing Brazilian and European demand for cocaine. Peru's reemergence as the global coca leader comes despite renewed efforts by President Ollanta Humala to crack down on coca cultivation, as well as the trafficking and armed rebel groups -- remnants of the feared Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s -- who protect and profit from it.

Peru actually managed to decrease cultivation this year by about 4,000 acres, or 3.4%, according to UNODC. But given continuing declines in Colombia and stable, lower-level production in Bolivia, the country retakes first place even with the decline.

Unlike Colombia, both Peru and Bolivia have long histories of indigenous coca use, and both countries have large legal coca markets. But according to the UNODC, of Peru's estimated 129,000 tons of dried coca leaves, only 9,000 tons were destined for the legal market. That leaves 120,000 tons of leaves ready to be turned into cocaine hydrochloride and snorted up noses in Rio de Janeiro, Rome, and Riyadh.

Peru

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