Decriminalization

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Chronicle AM: DC Pot Bill Moves, Seattle MedMJ Plan, BC Prescription Heroin, Malta Drug Decrim, More (11/25/14)

A marijuana tax and regulate bill advances in DC, a legalization bill gets filed in Georgia, Seattle's mayor has a plan to regulate medical marijuana, prescription heroin is coming to Vancouver, Malta is ready to decriminalize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine AKA diamorphine AKA heroin. Now on prescription for some in Vancouver. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Committee Approves Tax and Regulate Bill. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs today voted in favor of legislation to tax, regulate, and license the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the nation's capital. The bill is B20-466, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. Movement on the bill comes just three weeks after DC voters overwhelmingly approved the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. That initiative didn't address taxation and regulation because it could not do so under DC law, which leaves such moves to the council. And the council is moving.

Georgia State Senator Files Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills. State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Norcross) Monday pre-filed bills to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. SR 6 is a resolution calling for a state constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, while SB 7 is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow patients to grow their own and possess up to two ounces, allow registered caregivers to grow for patients, and allow for dispensaries.

New Mexico State Representative Talks Pot Legalization. A marijuana legalization bill died in the legislature this year, and prospects for passage in the incoming, even more heavily Republican legislature next year are not good. But that's not stopping Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces). He says the state needs to have the legalization conversation, and he's making his case today during a meeting of the interim Health and Human Services Committee. Click on the link for some McCamley quotes.

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Mayor Releases Medical Marijuana Plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office Monday unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

International

Australia's Queensland to Toughen Penalties for Drug Dealers in Fatal Overdoses. The Queensland state government is set to introduce a bill today that would compel courts to consider the death of a drug user an aggravating factor in sentencing of drug dealers. Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie said the bill was inspired by a case last year in which a man was sentenced only to probation after supplying a shot of morphine to a minor who died of an overdose.

Prescription Heroin Coming to Vancouver. Doctors in Vancouver have received the first shipment of prescription heroin to be used by former participants in a clinical heroin maintenance trial. In all, 120 severely addicted people have been approved by Health Canada to receive the drugs. The first shipment will begin to be administered this week to the first 26 participants. The patients will go to a clinic two or three times a day to receive and inject the drug. They must then wait at the clinic for at least 20 minutes to nurses can monitor them. The project is an outgrowth of the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME).

Chile Celebrates Fourth Legalize Festival. Thousands of people attended the fourth annual Legalize festival in Santiago Monday. Part pot party, part political protest, the festival includes expositions, panels, and live music. Ancient British rockers Deep Purple were among the bands playing yesterday.

Malta Ponders Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. A major drug reform bill, the Drug Dependence Bill, which would decriminalize the first-time possession of drugs, went to parliament Monday. First offenders would face only fines, but repeat offenders would have to appear before a Drug Offender Rehabilitation Board and could be ordered to drug treatment if appropriate. People could grow one marijuana plant without being subject to mandatory jail time, and the bill would also allow for the use of medical marijuana. 

Chronicle AM: DC Council Ponders Pot, NJ Cops Get Naloxone, Denmark Funds MedMJ Research, More (10/31/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 is getting big bucks and using innovative outreach techniques in the final days, the DC council ponders how to implement pot legalization, NYC councilmembers demand the cops quit targeting minority men for pot busts, Denmark funds research on medical marijuana (but not underground trolls!), and more. Let's get to it:

Opioid overdose reversal kit handed out to police in Mercer County, NJ. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy       

Last Minute Contributions Boost Oregon's Measure 91. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed another $250,000 to the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative campaign as the clock ticks down toward election day. That means Drug Policy Action has now donated $1.74 million of the $3.9 million raised by the campaign. The campaign is also getting a boost from pot legalization supporter US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has made an in-kind contribution of $40,020 to help pay for TV ads.

Oregon's Measure 91 Campaign Using Innovative "Did They Vote?" Website. The campaign is using DidTheyVote.org, a web site that allows voters in the state to log on and see if their Facebook friends have voted. If the friends haven't voted, people using the web site can "nudge" them to do so. "Check to see if your Facebook friends turned in their ballots! It takes 60 seconds. If it appears the elections office hasn’t received your friends’ ballots yet, you can give them a little nudge by sending them a reminder message," the web site explains. The web site is a project of the progressive non-profit group Our Oregon.

Sacramento Federal Court Hearing on Marijuana Scheduling Ends. In a groundbreaking federal court hearing, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento has heard five days of evidence around whether marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors and scientists made a strong case that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I. The judge issued no immediate ruling, but instead requested extensive briefs from the parties involved. She could rule on the issue two months from now or more. Click on the link to get some flavor of the discussion.

Five NYC Councilmembers Accuse NYPD of Continuing to Target Minority Men for Pot Arrests. Five black or Latino city council members today sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton charging that the NYPD continues to single out young men of color for marijuana arrests. "This is not an abstract issue for us," the letter said. "We approach this issue not just as lawmakers but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices. The NYPD continues to target people who look like us, and we know from our own experiences and those of our peers that these racially skewed arrests create distrust between young men of color and the police." The letter was signed by Councilmen Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), and Donovan Richards (D-Queens). While arrests have declined from the 50,000 in 2011 to some 29,000 last year, minority men are still the primary target, the councilmen said.

DC Council Holds Hearing on Moving Toward Legalization. With the marijuana possession and cultivation initiate Measure 71 heading for an apparent victory at the polls on Tuesday, the DC city council is moving to address how to tax and regulate legal marijuana in the District. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and its Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint hearing Thursday to begin to lay the groundwork. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New York US Representatives Ask Justice Department to Let State Import High-CBD Medical Marijuana for Sick Kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

Harm Reduction

Every Cop Car in Mercer County, New Jersey, To Be Armed With Overdose Reversal Drug. Police departments in Mercer County (Trenton) are now armed with 600 naloxone (Narcan) opiate overdose reversal kits. Beginning tomorrow, every patrol vehicle in the county will have one, as will every detective vehicle and detention center. Police in the state have begun carrying the drug since Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered it made available throughout the state following successful pilot programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Officials said naloxone had saved 325 lives in the state so far.  

International

Britain's Cameron Stands Firm: No Drug Policy Review. Facing an insurrection over drug policy from the junior partners in his governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, after a Home Office report found no obvious link between tough drug laws and drug use levels, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is stubbornly refusing to consider any changes to Britain's drug policy. "I don’t think anyone can read that report and say it definitely justifies this approach or that approach, but the evidence is what we’re doing is working," Cameron said, citing falling levels of drug use. "I don’t believe in decriminalizing drugs that are illegal today. I’m a parent with three children; I don’t want to send out a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe." In a sign of the depth of the discord between the coalition partners, Cameron's statement also included a zinger aimed at the Lib Dems: "The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs."

Denmark to Fund Medical Marijuana Research. The Danish government agreed Thursday to distribute at least $6 million for health research that will include research on medical marijuana. The funding is part of a broader agreement to fund socially relevant research. Strangely enough, the Danish newspaper article linked to above ends by noting that "no additional funds were set aside for the study of underground trolls."

Chronicle AM: Cops for Pot Legalization, British Drug Policy Squabble, Afghan Opium Warning, More (10/30/14)

Cops raise their voices in support of marijuana legalization initiatives, the US government's Afghanistan watchdog slams our drug policies there, Louisiana bans a synthetic cannabinoid and Russia wants to do the same, Britain's Lib Dems and Tories are going at each other over drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Synthetic cannabinoid products (Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals)
Marijuana Policy       

Cops Come Out in Support of Oregon Measure 91. Some 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges have come out in support of the Measure 91 legalization initiative. The campaign held a press conference with some of them yesterday and released a letter from them. "Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,"they said. "Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels."

Former Seattle Police Chief Campaigns for Alaska's Measure 2. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is hitting the hustings up north to garner support for the Measure 2 legalization initiative. The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member has also been making the rounds in Anchorage, appearing on talk radio shows and other media in support of the measure. He is attempting to counter opposition to the measure from the likes of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs.

Vermont Sets Public Hearing on Marijuana Policy. The state government has set a November 12 date for a public hearing that will "provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont." The hearing comes ahead of a mandated January report to the legislature on issues related to marijuana legalization from Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. Click on the link for more event details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans New Synthetic Cannabinoid. After more than 125 people got sick in Baton Rouge this month, state officials Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. The state has twice before banned other synthetic cannabinoids, once in March and again in July. The compound has been sold in products with names like "Mojo," "Spice," and "Scooby Snax." Read the emergency rule here.

International

US Afghan Watchdog Warns on Opium. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has warned that the country's opium economy is threatening reconstruction efforts and that the US is not adequately addressing the problem. Anti-drug efforts have "largely fallen off the Afghan agenda," he said in a quarterly report released today. Sopko also criticized the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for "wasting" more than $7 billion on failed drug control policies. "There is nothing that they have said to me or my staff that would indicate that there's any idea of how to improve the situation," he said in an interview ahead of the release of the report. "Has anyone had their job performance -- in the State Department, Department of Defense or [US]AID -- affected by the fact that they failed over the past 13 years to do anything on counternarcotics? No." The report itself is worth a read.

British Drug Policy Squabble. The junior and senior partners in Britain's governing coalition are going after each other in an increasingly nasty fight over drug policy occasioned by a new Home Office report on new synthetic drugs. The report found "there is a lack of clear correlation between tough drugs laws and levels of abuse." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hammered the Tories as being "frightened" of drug reform and having "a totally misplaced, outdated, backwards-looking view" on drug policy. Conservatives shot back that the Lib Dems were using the report for "naked political posturing" and accused the party of pursing "a dangerous and irresponsible" agenda of decriminalization. Get more details by clicking the links.

INCB Meets in Vienna. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) began its 111th session today in Vienna. At the opening, board President Dr. Lochan Naidoo stressed his concerns about insufficient access to medicines containing narcotic or psychotropic drugs and noted the obligation of treaty parties to ensure access to such medicines to ensure treatment and prevent pain and suffering.

Russian Government Submits Bill to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids. President Vladimir Putin today submitted to the State Duma a bill to ban the sale and use of synthetic cannabinoid products. The bill names the cannabinoids as dangerous substances, bans their use, and gives the Federal Drug Control Agency authority to create a registry of such banned substances. The agency reports that more than a thousand users of the drugs have been hospitalized in the last year and 40 have died.

Austrian Neos Party Supports Marijuana Legalization. A neoliberal political party that has just won its first seats in parliament has come out in support of legalization. The Neos (or New Austria) Party embraced the position at its party conference this past weekend.  "We support self- responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense", party leader Mat Strolz said Tuesday. The Neos are the first part to embrace legalization in the wake of a parliamentary citizens' initiative that has so far gathered more than 27,000 signatures, making it the third most popular in Austrian history. It's not just new fringe parties that are considering the issue. The leaders of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats, will vote on legalization at their party convention next month. 

Chronicle AM: Philly Decrim in Effect, Facebook Chides DEA, Mexico Mayhem, More (10/20/14)

New pot polls in New Hampshire and North Dakota, Philly decrim goes into effect, NYC marijuana arrests continue, Nevada senator wants heroin clinics, Massachusetts' chief justice slams mandatory minimums, Facebook sends a stern letter to DEA, mayhem continues in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Cartel's deadly warning: Hacked tweet from account of murdered Mexican citizen journalist.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative Wording. It's back to the drawing board for Mary Berry and her legalization initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of the initiative, citing "ambiguities" in the text and telling her to "redesign" it. McDaniel has already approved the wording for two other initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one that would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana.

New Hampshire Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has 59% of respondents favoring marijuana legalization, with 35% opposed. Support for legalization is up eight percent over last year. Only 27% favored maintaining the pot prohibition status quo. New Hampshire is one of the states activists are eyeing for a legalization push in the next year or two.

North Dakota Poll Has Only 24% Supporting Legalization. In what must be one of most anti-marijuana poll results in recent years, a University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration poll found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents opposed marijuana legalization, with only 24% in favor. Even medical marijuana, which typically polls in the 70s or 80s with a generic question, garnered only 47% support. At least that's more than the 41% who opposed it. Click on the link for more poll details.

Dallas March for Legalization and Medical Marijuana. An estimated 5,000 people showed up in Dallas Saturday to rally for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. The Dallas Marijuana March was sponsored by Dallas-Ft. Worth NORML.

New York City Marijuana Arrests Continue. In a report released today, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project finds that, despite campaign promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio, marijuana possession arrests are on track to equal or even surpass the number of arrests made under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Despite a new mayor and new police commissioner, the NYPD continues its practice of making penny-ante pot arrests, especially of non-white people. Some 86% of those busted under de Blasio were black or Latino. New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual "empty their pockets," thus exposing marijuana to public view.

Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect in Philadelphia. As of today, getting caught with a little pot in Philadelphia will face no more than a $25 fine ($100 if caught smoking it) and, possibly, up to nine hours of community service. The city council approved the measure in June, and Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed the bill into law October 1.

Wichita Advocates Try Again With New Decriminalization Initiative. Hoping that the second time is the charm, Kansas for Change is plotting a new municipal decriminalization initiative. An effort earlier this year came up short after more than half the signatures turned in turned out to be invalid. They will need to gather 3,000 valid signatures by February 19 to make the deadline for the April 2015 ballot.

NORML PAC Endorses Cory Booker in New Jersey US Senate Race. NORML is standing by Sen. Cory Booker (D) in his bid for reelection in New Jersey. The advocacy group's political action committee has again endorsed Booker, as it did during his 2013 election campaign. "Senator Booker kept the promises he made to champion crucial criminal justice and marijuana reform issues in his first term," said NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri. "If reelected for a full six year term this fall, he will be a strong crusader for rolling back our failed war on cannabis at the federal level. We encourage New Jersey voters to support him in his campaign."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Judge Dismisses Lawsuit; Medical Marijuana Vote to Go Ahead. A US district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging next month's vote on a legislative medical marijuana initiative. Attorney Howard Trapp had sued to block the vote last month on the grounds that a "legislative submission" was illegal under Guam law, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Trapp didn't have legal standing to bring it.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Tribal Police Seize Student's Car Over Single Joint. An Arizona State University student is going public with her complaint that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribal police seized her vehicle over a single marijuana cigarette. The student, identified only as Kayla, said she was pulling over for a traffic infraction, admitted to having a joint, and was then arrested for possession and DUI and her car seized. The Indian tribe's laws allow for forfeiture even for minor marijuana possession. Kayla got her car back 4 ½ months later, but only because it was registered to someone else. The tribe remains unrepentant.

Heroin

Nevada State Senator Calls for Prescription Heroin Clinics. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) is calling for the creation of heroin clinics, where addicts could get prescribed doses of the drugs, as a means of dealing with addiction and issues associated with it. He said he will introduce a bill to that effect in the 2015 legislative session. The clinics would also provide counseling and therapy. "The goal is to get people off the street, out of the criminal element, address their addiction and then hopefully figure out a way to get them off of the drug," Segerblom said.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Calls for end to Mandatory Minimums. New chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants has called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences in his first public address since assuming the office. Gants, a former federal prosecutor, noted the "disparate impact" of such sentences on racial and ethnic minorities and challenged drug war orthodoxy. "How well is the status quo working?" he asked. "Heroin is cheaper, more easily available, and more deadly than it has been in my lifetime," he added. "Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding motor vehicle accidents."

Law Enforcement

Facebook Tells DEA to Stop Creating Fake Accounts. The social media giant has sent a strongly-worded letter to the DEA telling the agency to stop creating accounts impersonating real people in its bid to catch drug criminals. The Facebook move comes after the agency was revealed to have used the identity of a real woman, including posting revealing photos of her, as part of its drug-fighting efforts. Facebook is "deeply troubled" by the incident, the letter says, especially since it violates its rules about only using real identities.

International

Mexico Social Media Cartel Watcher Kidnapped, Killed, Body Shown on Her Hacked Twitter Account. Reynosa physician Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio participated in social media crime watch activities, reporting on the doings of drug cartel members, and it cost her her life. She was kidnapped last week and her Twitter account hacked. A photo of her dead body appeared on it, along with a message warning others on her network to close their accounts. "Today my life has reached its end," read one hacked tweet. "I can only tell you not to make the same mistake I did," said another. The hackers also directly threatened another citizen journalist, @ValorTamaulipas, warning that "death is closer than you think."

Mexico Police Arrest Drug Gang Leader Linked to Missing Students. Mexican authorities said last Friday they had arrested Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, head of the Guerrero Unidos drug trafficking organization. The group has been linked to the disappearance of 43 radical teachers' college students, who went missing after participating in political demonstrations in Iguala. Several mass graves have been found, but it's not clear if the bodies in them are those of the missing students. The incident has led to massive public protests and become a serious crisis for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The same day Casarrubias was arrested, thousands marched in Acapulco to demand the students be found alive. Days earlier, demonstrators set fires in government buildings in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Honduras Beefs Up Air Force for More, Better Drug War. The Honduran Air Force has purchased two combat fighters from Brazil's Embraer for $29 million and been donated four helicopters worth $36 million from Taiwan as part of an effort to step up its fight against drug traffickers. Honduran President Juan Hernandez has pledged to crack down on drug trafficking, and the Honduran Congress has given the okay to shoot down suspected drug planes transiting national air space.

Marijuana Smoke-In in Melbourne Goes Unimpeded by Police. Some 200 people gathered in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday for a marijuana reform rally that included lots of people smoking pot. Victoria State Police didn't bother to show up.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Illinois Taking Medical Marijuana Applications, WaPo Forfeiture Series, NYT on SWAT, More (9/8/14)

Two majors newspapers have special reports on law enforcement related to the drug war, a staunch Kansas Republican says marijuana should be decided by the states -- not the feds -- Illinois is now taking medical marijuana business applications, Britain's Lib Dems are ready to consider drug decrim and marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Republican US Senator Pat Roberts Says Legalization Should Be Up to the States." [Marijuana is] not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally," Roberts said during a campaign debate last Saturday. Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell was inspired to respond: "When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over. But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."

York, Maine, to Vote on Possession Legalization Initiative. York will be the third Maine community to vote on marijuana reform this year. Organizers for an initiative removing penalties for simple pot possession have handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. York joins Lewiston and South Portland in voting on the issue this year. Portland, the state's largest city, approved a similar initiative last year.

Los Angeles Event to Mark 100th Anniversary of First "Marihuana" Raid. Cal NORML and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will host a press conference marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's first "marihuana" raid in LA's Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood on Thursday, September 11 at 10 am on the steps of LA City Hall. And LA NORML will be hosting an "End the 100 Year War on Pot" party on Saturday, September 13. State and local political officials and advocates will address the failed marijuana policy that has cost California billions of dollars in arrest, prosecution and prison expenses; fueled an illegal black market and lined the pockets of violent narcotrafficantes; promoted environmentally damaging trespass grows on public and private lands; and blocked access to useful medicine, all while failing to stem drug abuse in the state and depriving it of billions in tax dollars from a legitimate industry. Click on the title link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.

Asset Forfeiture

Washington Post Takes on Asset Forfeiture, In an ongoing series of articles, The Washington Post is taking a cold-eyed look at asset forfeiture practices and the law enforcement culture that has grown around them. The article linked to above examines a private intelligence network used by cops across the country to trade information on motorists and help them decide whom to subject to pretextual traffic stops in order to look for loot to seize. There's a lot of dirt in here, and there's more to come as the series continues.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Union in Drug Policy Talks.The NFL and its players' union are meeting today to try to thrash out new drug policies. Marijuana use is a key topic. The league has been criticized recently for treating pot-smoking offenses by players more seriously than domestic abuse.

Prescription Drugs

Obama Administration Announces Expanded Prescription Drug Takeback Plan. The White House announced today that hospitals, pharmacies and other medical facilities will be authorized to collect unused prescription drugs, a move designed to keep the drugs out of the hands of people who may attempt to abuse or sell them. "We know if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold," said Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These regulations will create new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the house and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way."

DEA Sets Production Limits for Pain Relievers, With Big Increases for Some. In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the DEA released a list of dozens of Schedule I and II substances subject to production quotas next year. Twenty-two of the 63 substances will see increases in production quotas next year, including cocaine, codeine, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, and ephedrine. The DEA says the changes are based on public comments that quota amounts were "insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the US." Among substances seeing quota decreases are amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methadone.

Law Enforcement

New York Times Video "Retro Report" Takes on History of SWAT. As part of a video documentary series presented by the Times called Retro Report, the nation's newspaper of record examines the rise of SWAT-style policing, tracing its roots to the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s. Once rare, SWAT teams now appear ubiquitous, whether in big cities or sleepy small towns. They are now under greater scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, making this report quite timely.

International

British Liberal Democrats to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Legal Marijuana Sales. Britain's Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, will consider drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization at their party conference next month. The announcement comes after a party policy paper to be debated at the conference called on the party to "adopt the model used in Portugal, where those who possess drugs will be diverted into other services." The paper also said the party "welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state. These innovative approaches are still in their infancy and the data that would allow us to examine their impact are not yet available. We will establish a review to examine the impact of these schemes in relation to public health," it said.

Australia's Tasmania Reverses Course, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Trials. Tasmania's governing Liberals will support medical marijuana trials, the health minister told a parliamentary inquiry. The minister, Michael Ferguson, had rejected a bid for trials in the state just weeks ago in July. But now he has changed his tune. "We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework," he said. "We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis."

Amnesty International Report Says Torture in Mexico Out of Control. Reported cases of torture and mistreatment by police and armed forces in Mexico have increased six-fold in the past decade, according to a new report issued by Amnesty International. The report says much of the increase was driven by the Mexican government's aggressive effort to repress drug trafficking organizations.

Top Albanian Christian Democrat Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The head of Albania's Christian Democratic Party, Zef Bushati, has called for the legalization of marijuana on his Facebook page. "Countries are okay with that," he wrote. "First USA, France and now Italy. It's business. It increases the economic level. I never knew or even imagined that cannabis was cultivated all over Albania. When I knew that I started thinking about those families that needed to feed with this kind of job." Christian Democrats have only one member in the Albanian parliament.

Chronicle AM: Massive Marijuana Poll, Saudis Behead Four for Drugs, CA Defelonization Init, More (9/4/2014)

Massive marijuana poll has good news, Cornhuskers ponder legalization "problems," another Florida medical marijuana poll is out, a California defelonization initiative quietly advances, another drug war death, Saudis behead four people for drug trafficking, and more. Let's get to it:

Another poll suggests marijuana is becoming normalized. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Massive Online Polling Survey Finds 58% Support for Legalization. The online polling data company CivicScience has released the results of a massive, two-year online poll that asked more than 450,000 US adults whether they would "support or oppose a law in your state that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol." Some 39% said they strongly supported, and another 19% said they somewhat supported the idea. That's 58% for legalization. Support is even higher in the last three months, with 61% of recent respondents saying they favored legalization. The results are music to the ears of Marijuana Majority head Tom Angell. "This huge poll is yet another indication that marijuana legalization is officially a mainstream issue. With ending prohibition polling better with voters than most elected officials do these days, it'll be really interesting to see which 2016 contenders realize that supporting marijuana reform is good politics and which still don't get it," he said.

Nebraska Legislature to Consider "Problems" of Colorado Marijuana Legalization. Next Monday, the legislature's Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LR 520, a resolution "to gather information about the developing problems that law enforcement is encountering since the State of Colorado legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana." The Marijuana Policy Project is encouraging legislators to examine all the results of legalization in Colorado, not just the "problems."

Medical Marijuana

New Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming Up Just Short. A new Florida Decides poll has a majority in favor of the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, but not the supermajority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. The poll had support at 57%, but 60% is needed. But the poll also had 17% undecided, and if only a fraction of the undecided break in favor of the initiative, it could win. Another poll earlier this week had support at 64%.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Man Kills Himself During Marijuana Garden Raid Stand-Off. An Ashville, Ohio, man shot and killed himself after a two-hour stand-off at a property where he was growing marijuana Tuesday evening. Timothy Sturgis, 42, becomes the 32nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Quietly Awaits Opposition. An initiative that would reduce petty drug (and other) offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Proposition 47, is qualified for the November ballot and is now quietly waiting for a backlash to emerge. It polled at 57% in June and has $3 million in the bank. Opponents have raised only $8,000. But there are still two months left.

International

Saudi Arabia Beheads Four Foreigners for Drug Trafficking. Three Syrians and an Iranian were executed by beheading for drug trafficking offenses, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. The three Syrians were executed for smuggling "a large quantity of banned amphetamine pills" into the kingdom, and the Iranian was beheading for smuggling "a large quantity of hashish." That makes 45 executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year. It's not clear how many were for drug offenses, but the Saudis also executed four people for hash offenses last month.

Guyana Rastafaris Call for National Marijuana Commission. The Guyana Rastafari Council has called for the creation of a National Marijuana Commission. "Among the resolutions passed at the Council's last General Meeting held at the F.E. Pollard Primary School on August 24, was a call on the Government of Guyana to immediately implement the mandate of the last CARICOM Heads of Government meeting, that each CARICOM member state sets up a National Marijuana Commission to complement the Regional Marijuana Commission to look at decriminalizing marijuana for medical, religious and recreational purposes," the council said.

Chronicle AM: Santa Fe Decriminalizes, New Drug Czar Nominated, NYC Heroin Deaths Rise, More (8/29/14)

Santa Fe decriminalizes, no medical marijuana for Alzheimer's in New Mexico, NYC heroin deaths at 10-year high, new drug czar nominated, another drug war death, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli has been nominated to be the new head of ONDCP, the drug czar's office. (whitehousedrugpolicy.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Santa Fe Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. In a surprise move, the Santa Fe city council voted Wednesday night to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move came after the Drug Policy Alliance and Progress Now New Mexico undertook a successful signature drive to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot. Rather than have it go to a vote, the city council simply approved the ordinance instead.

NORML Endorses Alaska, DC, Oregon Legalization Initiatives. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has officially endorsed all three marijuana legalization initiatives on statewide (or District-wide) ballots this fall. "NORML's board of directors endorses these cannabis legalization measures. All three support basic tenets of reform. They differ slightly in scope and implementation based on local considerations of law, customs and polled public sentiment," the group said. Both the Oregon and Alaska initiatives envision a legalize, tax, and regulate scheme, while, because of peculiarities in local law, the DC initiative only legalizes the possession and cultivation -- but not the sale and taxation of -- small amounts of marijuana.

Alaska Conference of Mayors Opposes Legalization Initiative. The Alaska Conference of Mayors announced Thursday it had voted to oppose Measure 2, the state's marijuana legalization initiative. The mayors' group is also kicking in $5,000 to the opposition campaign. The group expressed concerns over public safety, increased enforcement costs (?), and possible effects on youth.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Overrides Advisory Board, Denies Medical Marijuana for Alzeimer's. The Secretary of Health yesterday denied a petition to add Alzheimer's disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had unanimously recommended that Alzheimer's be added. Click on the link to read some reactions.

Georgia Medical Marijuana Study Committee Holds First Hearing. The Georgia Medical Cannabis Joint Study Committee held the first of five scheduled public hearings at the state capitol yesterday. The hearings are aimed at drafting legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana for epilepsy and other conditions. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates Acting Drug Czar to Head ONDCP. The White House has nominated acting drug czar Michael Botticelli to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic, has been acting drug czar since March, when his predecessor, Gil Kerlikowske, left to take over Customs and Border Protection. Prior to coming to ONDCP in 2012 to serve as Kerlikowske's deputy, he headed the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.

Heroin

New York City Heroin Overdose Deaths at Ten Year High. Some 420 people in New York City died of heroin overdoses last year, the highest figure since the 438 recorded in 2003, according to data released Thursday by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. After peaking in 2003, the number of heroin deaths declined steadily, bottoming out at 209 in 2010. Since then, they have been steadily increasing.

Law Enforcement

Armed Orlando Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid is Year's 31st Drug War Death. Members of Orlando SWAT team serving a drug search warrant shot and killed an armed man this morning. The man, who is as yet unnamed, becomes the 31st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. According to the Orlando Sentinel, citing police sources, the SWAT team hit an apartment on Orange Blossom Trail about 8:00am. At least two members of the SWAT team opened fire on the man as he pointed his weapon at them.

What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

children walking from home to school in Bamako, Mali (JoeyTranchinaPhotography©2014 Sète, France)
And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

West Africa
"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

drug, security, and insurgency analyst Vanda Felbab-Brown (brookings.edu)
But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

Growing Demands for UN Drug Policy Reform [FEATURE]

The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has wrapped up the High-Level Segment portion of its annual meeting in Vienna. The session revealed schisms among countries about future steps on global drug control even as the global drug bureaucrats gave signs of softening in some policy areas, especially around emphasizing public health as opposed to criminalization.

An indication of relaxation came when a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC -- which includes Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- released the recommendations as the session got underway. The working group recommendations say 'criminal sanctions are not beneficial' in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

Getting down to business at the CND in Vienna (unodc.org)
The meeting ended with a formal joint ministerial statement agreed to at the last minute after months of contentious wrangling, but one where countries failed to agree on a common approach and where certain fractious issues -- such as the use of the death penalty for drug offenses or even the mention of the term "harm reduction" -- were omitted entirely.

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

It's not just change in the halls of the UN drug bureaucracies, but changes on the ground that are helping to drive the debate. Uruguay and two US state, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana in apparent contravention of the global drug treaties, and Latin American countries in particular have for several years now expressed growing dismay at the drug war status quo.

Uruguay's decision to legalize marijuana commerce was "not a solution to dealing with the world's drug problem," UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Yuri Fedotov said just days ago, and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) called the Uruguayan government "pirates" for going up against the UN drug conventions. But the UN drug bureaucrats were singing a slightly softer tune last week in Vienna.

Taking in the discussions in Vienna (idpc.net)
"My impression from the debates so far is that the prevailing mood is to say no to dismantling the provisions of the conventions, but yes to returning to the original spirit of the conventions: protection of health, welfare, and safety of people," Fedotov said in anodyne remarks at the release of the ministerial statement.

"The provisions of the conventions indeed are flexible, human rights based, and founded on the protection of health. I would like particularly to stress the need of strengthening the public health in a comprehensive, balanced, scientific evidence-based approach, that is very important, and fully consistent with human rights standards," Fedotov continued. "There is also a growing need for every country to move away from compulsory treatments and punitive measures and towards embracing these approaches, including protection against HIV/AIDS, as envisaged by the Conventions."

The ministerial statement itself, a compromise document, for the most part blandly supported the existing international drug control regime, although it, too, signaled a shift toward a more public health-oriented approach, and it obliquely referenced ongoing dissent by noting "the ongoing discussions in some regions on how to address the world drug problem, in light of the current situation and policies, and emphasize the importance of a broad, transparent, inclusive and scientific evidence-based discussion among Member States, with inputs from other relevant stakeholders, as appropriate, in multilateral settings, on the most effective ways to counter the world drug problem consistent with the three international drug control conventions…"

But behind the smooth language of the official statements, there was real anger and dismay at the toll of more than a half-century of global drug prohibition.

"People have been sacrificed in our actions to tackle the drug problem," Colombian Justice Minister Gomez Mendez told delegates. "We call for more effective ways to achieve the objectives stated in international agreements. Alternatives are needed. Drug policies cannot travel at the speed of a telegraph while drug problems develop at the speed of broadband Internet."

ENCOD's Coffee Sniffer Brigade reenacted prohibitions of yore, to the bemusement of CND security. (encod.org)
"We should not be driven by ideologies and wishful thinking. We unfortunately know today that the idea of a drug-free world based on the belief that, if we eradicate supply, we will reduce demand, is not achievable. We should look to and evaluate alternative regimes appearing in North and South America and in Europe rather than just be silent about it", said the Czech Republic delegate, echoing the calls for drug policy reform made by not only Colombia, but also Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay.

"Since 1961, due to a rigid and narrow interpretation of the UN drug conventions, there has been one single means to control the use of cannabis -- criminalization has been imposed, "said Diego Canepa, representative of the delegation of Uruguay. "We have don't have a magic recipe, but we are trying to find a way out and snatch the market away from traffickers. We have a responsibility to represent our citizens, and not to take the challenge and act accordingly would be an unforgivable error."

The Mexican delegation said that health policies should be encouraged instead of the criminalization of drug use and that a thorough review of the international drug strategies is required. The delegation of Guatemala highlighted that "the revision of the UN drug conventions is needed and that the Latin American hemispheric debate is ongoing."

"The failure of present drug policies has generated questions from governments, policy-makers, intellectuals and civil society organizations from across the region," said the Ecuadorian delegation. "Many voices are calling for a change in paradigm in the understanding and approach to the drug phenomenon."

Even the US delegation was sounding eerily reformist. Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli called for continuing down "the path of criminal justice reform" and cited recent Obama administration moves to minimize mandatory minimum drug sentences.

But the call for reform came most loudly in the person of Eliot Ross, representing the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, who noted that human rights law and drug control law continued to be inconsistent, and called for a comprehensive overhaul of the treaties and amnesty for drug prisoners.

Changing the global drug control system for the better is agonizingly slow work -- it's been 16 years since hundreds of global intellectuals signed an open letter in The New York Times calling on the last UNGASS on Drugs to begin to adopt fundamental reforms. But, under the weight of rising pressure, the creaky machine is starting to move.

"We derive hope from the fact that, contrary to earlier CND meetings, there are now countries openly condemning prohibition as the basic answer to drug problems," said ENCOD (the European NGO Council for Just and Effective Drug Policies). "More than ever, not just governmental but UNODC officials see the writing on the wall. Instead of insisting on the need to create 'a drug free world', they refer to the need to protect people and societies from the damages of drugs and drug trafficking. We continue to urge governments to put these words into action and steadily direct their policy towards legal regulation as the only way to reduce harms and increase public safety. We hope for and expect major change at the 2016 UNODC meetings in New York. Prohibitionary drug laws are the problem. Removing them is the solution."

In a theatrical jab at prohibitions gone by, ENCOD activists reprised the strange saga of the Coffee Sniffer Brigade, a group of disabled soldiers who had to enforce the ban on coffee roasting and brewing that was imposed by the Prussian King Frederick the Great in the second half of the 18th Century. Delegates reacted first with reservation, then with support, the activists reported.

"The remaking of the system is happening before our eyes. For decades governments used the United Nations to push a one-size-fits-all approach," said Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The dissent we're seeing today is the deconstruction of the international drug war."

"This is the beginning of a serious re-think on drug control," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. "Billions of dollars have been wasted, millions of people have been criminalized, thousands of lives have been lost and the drug cartels carry on getting richer. Given this reality, the charade of a global consensus on drugs is now unacceptable, and some governments have found the courage to speak out."

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