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

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

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

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

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

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

It sets out six foci:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: CA Cops Raid Indian Reservation Grow, Colombia Announces New Drug Strategy, More (9/23/15)

The era of aerial herbicide spraying of Colombia's coca crops is at an end, California cops raid an Indian reservation marijuana operation, medical marijuana bills are moving in Michigan, and more.

no more spraying Roundup on Colombia's coca fields (
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Bans Traffic Stops Solely for Suspected Marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that police can't stop motorists simply because they suspect the vehicle's occupants may possess pot. The state decriminalized possession of up to an ounce in 2008, and the court based its ruling on that. "Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives" of the decriminalization law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. The case is Commonwealth v. Rodriguez.

Medical Marijuana

California Indian Reservation "Megagrow" Raided by Mendocino County. Mendocino County sheriff's deputies Tuesday raided a commercial marijuana cultivation operation on the Pinoleville Pomo Nation reservation in Ukiah, cutting down about 400 plants, seizing about 100 pounds of trimmed buds, and an undetermined quantity of cannabis oil. The county maintains the operation is illegal under the state's medical marijuana laws.

Michigan House Panel Advances Medical Marijuana Bills. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday passed a package of bills aimed at legalizing dispensaries and edible forms of medical marijuana. The bills have tighter rules than similar measures that failed last year, and some patient advocates are grumbling. Seed-to-sale tracking is one new addition; an 8% excise tax is another. Now it will be up to the legislature's GOP leadership to advance the bills or not.

New Jersey Will Get a Fourth Dispensary. The state Department of Health has issued a permit for Compassionate Sciences in Bellmawr. It will becomes the state's fourth dispensary when it opens next month.

Pennsylvania Patients, Parents Demand Action on Medical Marijuana Bill. Supporters of delayed medical marijuana legislation rallied at the state capitol Tuesday to urge solons to act on a pending bill. A bill passed the state Senate in May, and House leaders earlier this summer created a group to draft a version that would pass in the GOP-led chamber. Protestors urged House leaders to just hold a vote on the Senate-passed bill.


Colombia Shifts on Drug Policy; No More Aerial Eradication. President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday unveiled a new drug strategy for Colombia that will emphasize alternative development, with forced manual eradication of coca crops to be used as a last resort. There will be no more US-backed aerial spraying of crops with herbicides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Report Shows How Western-Imposed Prohibition Policies Hurt Poor Countries [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Wealthy Western countries are undermining good governance and social and economic development in poor, drug-producing countries by pressuring them to enforce prohibitionist policies that exploit peasant farmers and waste millions of dollars a year on failed crop eradication and drug interdiction programs. That's the conclusion of a recent report by the British advocacy group Health Poverty Action (HPA).

Afghan poppy fields (
In the report, Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World's Poorest, HPA shows how the West exports much of the harms of drug prohibition -- violence, corruption, environmental damage -- onto some of the world's poorest societies and weakest states. In fact, the report argues, by forcing these countries to devote scarce resources to trying to keep the West from getting high, the West makes them poorer and weaker.

Whether it's horrific prohibition-related violence in Mexico and Central America, the lack of funds for real alternative development in the coca growing areas of the Andes, or the erosion of public health services in West African countries tasked with fighting the trans-Atlantic drug trade, the policy choices imposed by these countries as conditions for receiving assistance have devastatingly deleterious consequences for local populations.

Here are five ways the report says global drug prohibition and rich countries' insistence that poor ones fight their battles for them hurts poor countries:

  1. Disintegrated and accountable states: Corruption and conflict stemming from current drug policies undermine democracy and make governments unable to adequately provide basic services. States can't function because they're stuck in a losing war against cartels.
  2. Lost resources: The global cost of enforcing anti-drug policies is at least US$100 billion a year. Dealing with the violence, environmental destruction, and health impacts caused by the War on Drugs costs poor countries much more and diverts both resources and attention away from essential services.
  3. Undermined economies: By making poor countries more unstable and tying up government funding in the global drug war, current policies sabotage economic growth and worsen inequality.
  4. Inequality: The War on Drugs disproportionately affects the poor, further marginalizing vulnerable populations and undermining efforts towards social and economic justice.
  5. Poor health: Current drug policies exacerbate health harms such as HIV and hepatitis, and have a serious impact on the social and economic determinants of health.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although changing the international drug prohibition regime is a glacially-paced ongoing project, the pace of change is picking up. The next UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for next year, and the prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Perhaps one of these years, we will arrive at a better, less damaging, way of dealing with the global trade in mind-altering substances.

Chronicle AM: Lebanon Ag Min Says Legalize Hash, NY MedMJ Regs, "Baby Bou Bou" Medical Bill, More (12/19/14)

New York officials have released draft medical marijuana regs, and advocates aren't too impressed, Lebanon's agriculture minister says it's time to legalize it, Bolivia's president criticizes Mexico's drug war, "Baby Bou Bou" has a million-dollar medical bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has some choice words about Mexico's "failed" drug policies. (
Marijuana Policy

Missouri KC NORML Legalization Petition Needs Editing to Get Official Approval. The KC NORML legalization initiative petition is in for a tune-up after the secretary of state's office rejected it for minor stylistic issues, including incorrect underlining and brackets. Organizers say they will rework and resubmit shortly. There's also another Missouri legalization initiative in the works, courtesy of Show Me Cannabis, but the KC NORML initiative is less restrictive, and less restrictive than the legalization schemes in any of the states that have legalized it so far.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Issues Medical Marijuana Regulations; Advocates Not Too Impressed. The Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations today, but advocates say they are too tight. "New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from getting the relief they need," the Drug Policy Alliance complained. Click on the title link for details on the draft regs.

Asset Forfeiture

Public Hearing Set for Orange County, NY, Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. The public will have one last chance to voice objections to a local asset forfeiture already approved on a party-line vote by the county legislature. The ordinance would allow the county to confiscate assets from those convicted of even misdemeanor drug crimes. The ordinance has been criticized by defense attorneys and others not only for the misdemeanor provision, but also because it would allow for civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. A public hearing is set for December 29. Click on the link for meeting details.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Burned by Flash-Bang Grenade in Botched Drug Raid Faces A Million Dollar Medical Bill. It has cost a million dollars so far to undo the damage done to toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh when a Georgia SWAT team member tossed a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid in which the party sought wasn't even there. Habersham County officials have refused to pay the medical bills, and the family has no means of paying them.


Lebanese Agriculture Minister Calls for Legalization of Hash Farming. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called today for the legalization of marijuana so the state can benefit from hash export revenues. "We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it," Chehayeb said in a morning interview with a local radio station. "Instead of prosecuting the farmers, let's find other solutions for them," he said. "The planting of cannabis must be organized to benefit the state and the industrial sector, and it is one way of helping the farmers." Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made a similar call earlier this week.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peruvian officials announced today that they eradicated 77,000 acres of coca crops this year, the highest total since eradication programs began in 1983. But they didn't touch the country's largest coca producing area, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in south-central Peru. The UNODC says Peru is the world's largest coca producer, and the DEA says it is the world's largest cocaine producer.

Bolivian President Criticizes Mexico's "Failed" Drug War Policies. President Evo Morales said Mexico's failed model for fighting the drug war, citing the recent incident where 43 teachers' college students were disappeared and are presumed dead at the hands of corrupt police working with drug gangs. "The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But… look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico," said Morales. "The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the US. empire. And now there are deep problems. "We do not want to have this kind of problem in Bolivia, of organized crime. It seems that crime groups are above the state. In some regions, not even with the presence of military bases can one fight drug trafficking," he said at a graduation ceremony for National Police cadets.

Chronicle AM: Green Friday, CA Drug Prisoners Walk Free, Mexico Crime Plan, N Korea Meth, More (11/28/14)

California's Prop 47 sentencing reform is kicking in with a vengeance, it's Green Friday in legal pot states, and there's a whole raft of international news. Let's get to it:

Mexican President Pena Nieto finds himself in a tight spot as anger over corruption and impunity reach the boiling point.
Marijuana Policy

In Legal Marijuana States, Black Friday is Green Friday. Legal marijuana retailers in Colorado and Washington are getting in the holiday spirit by offering "Green Friday" specials to customers. Kindman Premium Cannabis in Denver is offering $50 ounces to the first 16 Colorado residents today and tomorrow, while the Green Room in Boulder has their $50 eighths on sale for $40. Some Washington state retailers are offering similar deals.

With Threat of Initiative Looming, Some Key Massachusetts Lawmakers Start Talking Legalization. Some Bay State lawmakers are saying it's time to pass a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, or else the voters are going to do it themselves. "It's almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right," said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee. "I don't think it's wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question." Not everyone agrees, including Committee on Public Health Chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker. But if the legislature doesn't act, an initiative looks very likely in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona University Professor Fired for Medical Marijuana Research Gets Colorado Grant to Study Pot and PTSD. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.


California Drug Offenders Being Freed Under Prop 47. Hundreds of jail and prison inmates have already been released in the three weeks since California voters approved Proposition 47, which retroactively reduced drug possession (and some other minor offenses) from a felony to a misdemeanor. Scores more people are flooding courts with applications to have their records cleansed of felonies. Nearly 5,000 people in state prison and tens of thousands more in county jails and on probation are probably eligible for resentencing. Those who completed their sentences years ago also can have their felonies erased. Also, thousands of probationers will be released from regular monitoring. Foes expect the worst, but time will tell.


Mexican President Announces National Anti-Crime Plan. Under intense political pressure after the apparent kidnapping and murder of 43 radical teachers' college students in Guerrero in September in a collaboration between corrupt politicians, corrupt police, and drug gangsters, President Enrique Pena Nieto Thursday announced a plan designed to cool public outrage and reform the nation's notoriously corrupt police forces. Pena Nieto is proposing giving Congress the power to dissolve corrupt municipal police and also placing local police under the control of the nation's 31 state governments. The same day Pena Nieto made the announcement, police in Guerrero announced the discovery of 11 burned and decapitated bodies (not the missing students). Similar anti-crime plans aimed at corrupt local police were announced in 2004 and 2008, but didn't succeed in rooting out the problem.

Colombia President Announces Crop Substitution Pilot Program, Says Will End Need for Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday a pilot program for crop substitution in southern Putumayo state and said there will be "no more need" for aerial fumigation of crops once it is implemented. The pilot program is set to start in April. Crop substitution is a key part of the interim agreement on drugs between Colombia and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The two forces have been in extended peace negotiations for the past two years.

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Pharmacy Sales. Although the Uruguayan government had initially planned to start allowing the sale of marijuana in pharmacies by year's end, it has now pushed that goal back to March, and perhaps further. National Drugs Board General Secretary Julio Calzada told reporters Wednesday that the delay loomed. The Reuters report linked to here mentioned "a variety of hurdles," but didn't specify what they are. Under Uruguay's legalization, people can grow up to six plants at home, organize into collectives to grow jointly, or register with the government and buy their pot at the drug store -- once the government crosses those hurdles.

Malay Man Gets Death Sentence for 20 Pounds of Weed. The Malaysian High Court in Alor Setar has sentenced a 37-year-old Penang man to death for trafficking 9.4 kilos of marijuana. Akbar Ali Abdul Rahman was convicted under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for some drug offenses.

North Korea as China's Meth Supplier. The Guardian has in-depth reportage on North Korea's methamphetamine industry, which it says is flooding northwest China with the drug. The report says the Hermit Kingdom's meth industry has shifted from centralized and government-controlled production to decentralized, privatized production. North Korea denies it's doing any such thing. A very informative read.

Australia Report Finds Drug Enforcement Doesn't Affect Drugs on the Street. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has released "the most comprehensive assessment of drug law enforcement ever undertaken in Australia," and found no evidence that increased drug law enforcement -- as measured through seizures and arrests of drug dealers -- affected the amount of drugs on the street or reduced hospital admissions related to hard drugs. The report is "Supply Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm."

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Australia's Tasmania. A bill to allow for medical marijuana and set up a controlled farming regime was filed Thursday in the Tasmania state parliament. Local media says the bill has "broad support," and was cosponsored by a Liberal, a Liberal Democrat, and a Green. The bill is not yet available on the Tasmania parliament web site.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium Funds Elections, Big WA Pot Auction, NV Signatures Handed In, More (11/13/14)

More poppies are growing than ever in Afghanistan, and they helped fund the recent presidential election; the UNODC head tsk-tsks at US legalization votes, Nevada petitioners hand in 2X the signatures needed, federal bills get more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (
Marijuana Policy

UN Anti-Drug Chief Says Legalization in US States Violate Drug Treaties. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Wednesday that American states that have legalized marijuana are not in line with international drug conventions. "I don't see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions," he told reporters. Fedotov is coming to Washington next week to discuss the issue with the US State Department and other UN agencies.

US Representatives from Marijuana States Urge Colleagues Not to Interfere. Members of Congress from states that have legalized marijuana held a press conference in Washington, DC, today to urge Congress not to try to interfere with state-level legalization. Democrats from Colorado (Jared Polis), Oregon (Earl Blumenauer), and the District of Columbia (Eleanor Holmes Norton) were joined by Republican California Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher. With some congressional Republicans grumbling, DC would appear to be at some risk of interference, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Nevada Legalization Petitioners Turn in Twice the Number of Signatures Needed. It looks like Nevada is going to vote on legalization in 2016 (if the legislature doesn't act first). The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada Wednesday turned in 200,000 signatures for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. It only needs 101,667 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Once the signatures are validated, the measure will head for the 2016 ballot unless the legislature decides to just pass it itself next year.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Has Updated FAQs for Recreational Marijuana. In response to public queries, the commission has updated its recreational marijuana FAQs page. Click on the link to see the updates. Here is the full FAQs page.

RAND Briefs Vermont Lawmakers on Legalization Issues; Public Hearing, Too. The RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center, which has been contracted by the state to prepare an in-depth report on the potential financial and social impact of legalization, briefed lawmakers Wednesday with the report's outlines. Center co-director Beau Kilmer told the lawmakers the report will cover the state's marijuana "landscape," analyze health and safety issues, review alternate approaches to taxation and regulation, and provide financial projections. Kilmer identified nine questions lawmakers should be asking themselves; click on the link to see them. The briefing was followed by a public hearing that took place on closed circuit television on towns around the state. The RAND report is due in January.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The bill will be considered in the new session beginning in January. It is SB 686.

Washington Pot Farmer to Auction Off A Ton of Weed. Well, this should help with those reported shortages plaguing the Washington state legal marijuana market. Fireweed Farm, a licensed marijuana producer in Prosser, has announced that its crop is in and processed, and it will be selling its one-ton harvest to the highest bidder (heh) on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill would remove low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It's newest sponsors are Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Allen Lowenthal (D-CA). The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 32 cosponsors -- 18 Democrats and 14 Republicans. It has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce Committees.

Georgia Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Be Debated in January. Lawmakers who tried and failed to get a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana passed this year will be back at it in the coming session. The bill sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), said he will introduce an improved bill to be debated in January. He said he hopes to file it next month.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, is sponsored by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI) and would tighten requirements for asset forfeiture. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Henry Johnson (D-GA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI). The bill now has 19 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and four Democrats. It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Pardons and Clemency

Arkansas Governor Pardons Son for Marijuana Conviction. Gov. Mike Beebe (R) has issued a pardon for his son, Kyle Beebe, who was convicted in 2003 of marijuana possession with intent to deliver. It is one of 25 pardons he is issuing before leaving office in January. Beebe has issued more than 700 pardons during his time in office, including a number of other first time drug offenders.


Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Sponsors. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill would expand grant programs aimed at helping people upon their release from prison. The House version, HR 3465, has now picked up Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), while the Senate version, S 1690, is now cosponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The House version now house 44 cosponsors (36 Democrats and eight Republicans), while the Senate version, introduced by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), now has 22 cosponsors (17 Democrats, four Republicans, one independent).

Drug Testing

Key West Settles With Job Applicant Who Refused Drug Test. The city of Key West, Florida, will pay $75,000 to a former resident who refused to take a pre-employment drug test after applying for a position with the city and was then eliminated from consideration. The city will also pay $60,000 to the ACLU of Florida, which represented Karen Cabanas Voss. She had sued, arguing that the city's drug testing policy was unconstitutional, and a federal district court judge found in her favor.


Opium Helped Fund Afghan Elections, UNODC Says. The amount of land planted with opium poppies this year is at record levels, UN officials said Wednesday, and they said this year's presidential election campaign was part of the reason. "With the presidential election ongoing, there was a huge demand of funding," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a senior official with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "And that funding is not available in the licit economy, and that money has to come from somewhere, so they turned to the illicit economy." In its annual opium survey, UNODC found that the area under cultivation had increased 7%, while eradication decreased by 63% between last year and this year.

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. (
"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

Ohio Man Kills Self During Marijuana Farm Raid Standoff

An Ashville, Ohio, man shot and killed himself after a two-hour standoff 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.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, citing police sources, local authorities were working with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation's Marijuana Eradication and Clandestine Lab unit when a state helicopter spotted pot plants growing on Sturgis's property just outside Ashville.

Three detectives from the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office and the US 23 Major Crimes Task Force approached the property on foot when a spotter saw a man in dark clothing run into the woods. As the detectives drew nearer, they said Sturgis popped out of the wood, pointed an AK-47 rifle at his head, and said he was going to kill himself.

It didn't happen right away. Police said Sturgis called a friend, who in turn called Sturgis's parents, and the parents worked with law enforcement to try to achieve a peaceful end to the standoff. But at 8:17pm, detectives and deputies reported hearing a single shot. They then found Sturgis's body.

Police found seven pot plants growing in a field, 18 more growing in a basement, as well as bags and bottles of processed marijuana. They also found a variety of firearms. All 10 weapons found were found propped near windows in the house on the property, except for the one found beside Sturgis's body.

Ashville, OH
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Dems Just Say Yes, DEA Tightens Screws on Vicodin, CT's First Dispensary Opens, Peru Coca Eradication, Venezuela Plane Shootdowns (8/21/14)

Oregon Dems just say yes, Connecticut's first dispensary opens, the DEA tightens the screws on Vicodin, guess who's more likely to get busted for pot in Ferguson, Missouri, and more. Let's get to it:

coca plants (
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Oregon's Democratic Party has endorsed Measure 91, the New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "A majority of Americans and large majority of Democrats now support state regulation of legal marijuana use," the party said. "Measure 91 is the right approach to legalization in Oregon, strictly regulating use while funding law enforcement and schools. Vote Yes on 91."

No Decriminalization Vote in Toledo in November. Even though Northwest Ohio NORML turned in sufficient signatures to qualify a decriminalization initiative for the local ballot earlier this month, voters will not have a chance to get their say in November because the city council failed to act by today. The council doesn't have another meeting set until last week. It's unclear if the initiative is now dead, or if it will go on the ballot at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. The first dispensary in the state opened Wednesday night in South Windsor. Prime Wellness of Connecticut is the first of six dispensaries approved for licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection. The rest will be opening in coming weeks or months.

Prescription Opiates

DEA Tightens Rules on Popular Pain Relievers. It is about to get more difficult to obtain popular pain medications based on hydrocodone, including widely prescribed drugs such as Vicodin. The DEA announced today that it is moving hydrocodone combination drugs from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to Schedule II. Drugs containing only hydrocodone were already placed on Schedule II, but drug combinations containing hydrocodone plus other substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, have been Schedule III since the CSA was passed in 1970.The DEA will publish the final rule establishing the change in the Federal Register tomorrow. It will go into effect in 45 days.

Law Enforcement

Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, More Than Three Times More Likely Than Whites to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession. In its podcast this week, Missouri drug reform group Show-Me Cannabis points to the drug war connection in the tensions between police and residents in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, plagued by more than 10 days of unrest since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Show-Me's John Payne points out that black residents of Ferguson are 3.25 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Click on the title link to listen to the podcast.


West Africa Drugs Commission Head Says Region Must Step Up, Deal With Political Weakness. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also heads the West Africa Commission on Drugs, said countries in the region must confront their political and institutional weaknesses if they are to get a handle on the drug trade. "West Africa is no longer only a transit zone of drugs but an attractive destination where pushers take advantage of the weak political system to perpetuate their trade," he said during a meeting with Ghana's President John Mahama."We believe that we should confront openly the political and governance weaknesses which the traffickers exploit," Obasanjo said. "Drug barons can buy, they can do, and they can undo -- buy officials in the military, security and pervert justice." The commission has called on West Africa to decriminalize drug use and treat the issue as a public health problem.

Peru Aims to Eradicate 75,000 Acres of Coca Plants This Year. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, says it has already eradicated 30,000 acres of coca plants this year and plans to eradicate another 45,000 acres by years' end. The eradication is being done manually and in tandem with $90 million crop substitution program. About 125,000 acres are under cultivation for coca. Peru is arguably the world's largest coca producer (vying with Colombia), and 90% of the crop is estimated to be destined for the illicit cocaine trade.

Venezuela Has Shot Down at Least Three Suspected Drug Planes in Last Year. At least three planes flying out of Mexico and suspected of carrying drugs have been shot down over Venezuela since last November. This Vice News report goes into detail on the search for one of the missing pilots.

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